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Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand

Explore the Bay of Islands in Northland, North Island


The Bay of Islands Paihia

The Bay of Islands Paihia

Image Courtesy of Getty Images/Brian Lawrence

The Bay of Islands is one of New Zealand's leading tourist destinations with a combination of stunning scenery and unique and important history. Of all of the places in the North Island to visit, the Bay of Islands should be at the top of the list.

Read more: North Island Highlights

Captain Cook gave the bay it's name and with 144 islands enclosed within it, it is a paradise for sailing, fishing, diving and water sports of all kinds. And being close to the top of New Zealand, its mild, subtropical climate makes it a good place to visit at any time of the year.

A notable feature of the Bay of Islands is its history. This was the first place in New Zealand to be settled by Europeans. There are strong reminders everywhere of a past in which Europeans and the Maori people first began to create New Zealand's unique culture.

Location and How to Get There

The Bay of Islands is in Northland and is approximately 230 kilometers (145 miles) north of Auckland, a drive of just over 3 ½ hours. On the way you will pass through Whangarei, Northland's largest settlement and only city.

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The Bay is on the eastern coast of the North Island. This is the side with all the pretty bays and sheltered coastline where most of the water activities are enjoyed.

Where to Go in the Bay of Islands

The Bay itself has a number of small settlements, each with their own character and attractions.

This is the main tourist hub of the Bay of Islands. It is here that most of the scenic attractions and activities are based. It is a small town with a large selection of accommodation and cafes and restaurants. It is the ideal place to be based to explore the whole region.

Waitangi is New Zealand's most historically significant area. It was here, on the Maori marae, that the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed in 1840.

This is another very historic place. It sits across the Bay from Paihia and is a small and quaint town. This belies it's lively past; in the whaling days of the early European settlers it was knows as the "Hellhole of the Pacific".

Near Russell is also the site of New Zealand's first capital when established as a British colony in 1840.

Opua is the port of the Bay of Islands and the location of a large boat marina. It is also from where the car ferry to Russell departs.

The Islands
Of course there are the islands. Most of these are either uninhabited or with just a sprinkling of holiday homes and offer plenty of walking tracks, bays and places to explore.

Although not strictly in the Bay of Islands, the nearby town of Kerikeri is linked to the history of the Bay. It contains the oldest European building in New Zealand, as well as some good shops and restaurants.

Haruru Falls
On the road between Paihia and Kerikeri, Haruru Falls is a small place clustered around the waterfall after which it is named.

What to See and Do in the Bay of Islands

Many boat trips operate in the Bay, mainly departing from Paihia. These include island cruises (including a visit to the famous 'Hole in the Rock'), sailing trips, diving and snorkeling trips and even opportunities to swim with dolphins.

Fishing (especially game fishing) is also extremely popular, and said to be some of the best in the world.

Everywhere on land there are great walks and trails to explore. There are also many vantage points that give magnificent views of the Bay itself.

Inland from Kerikeri is the Puketi Forest, one of the largest areas of ancient kauri forest in Northland.

Paihia, Russell and many of the islands of the Bay have nice beaches for swimming and sunbathing.


Kerikeri, Waitangi and Russell are amongst the most historic settlements in New Zealand. There are many building and places of interest that show the development of Maori and European settlement in the country.

Dining and Nightlife

Cafes and restaurants are to be found in Paihia, Russell and Kerikeri.

Where to Stay

Paihia has a large array of accommodation options, from backpacker hostels to luxury resorts. There are also motels in Kerikeri and boutique hotels and homestays in Russell. The Waitangi hotel is in a magnificent setting next to the Maori treaty grounds.

Beyond the Bay of Islands

As well as exploring the Bay itself, the Bay of Islands makes a great base from which to discover the whole of the Far North region. Cape Reinga at the top of the north island, is a pleasant day trip from Paihia or Kerikeri (in fact a number of companies offer this as a daily tour).

Other places within easy driving distance of the Bay of Islands that are well worth visiting include Mangonui, Cooper's Beach, the Karikari Peninsula, Kaitaia and Ninety Mile Beach.

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