The Bay of Islands is aptly named; there are officially 144 islands in the Bay and it ranks as the finest water playground in New Zealand. Exploring at least some of them is a must for any trip to the region and there are a whole host of ways to do this. Here are some of the best ways to explore one of New Zealand's most beautiful regions.
Big Boat 'Hole in the Rock' Cruise
This is one of the best ways to get an orientation of the entire bay. Cruise on a large and comfortable catamaran and visit many of the interesting islands. A highlight is the Hole in the Rock. This is a small island on the outer fringe of the bay which is distinguished (as the name suggests) by a large hole through its center. In the right conditions the boat is able to motor right through it.
Another great feature of this trip is the dolphin watching. The boat makes a point of seeking out pods of dolphins; in fact, if dolphins or whales are not found on a trip you will receive a voucher to return another time.
The cruises depart mornings and afternoons and last about four hours. They leave from Paihia and Russell.
- Book Your Big Boat 'Hole in the Rock' Cruise
- Book Your Bay of Islands and Hole in the Rock Scenic Helicopter Tour
There is a faster way around the Bay of Islands and through the Hole in the Rock, and that's on one of the two high speed powerboats, the Mack Attack or the Excitor. Both offer an adrenalin-pumping ride of 1.5 hours; fortunately they provide waterproof gear!
Swimming with the Dolphins
The Bay of Islands is one of only a couple of places in New Zealand where it is possible to actually swim amongst a pod of dolphins (the other is at Akaroa near Christchurch). As part of the trip you will also receive a commentary on the fascinating marine life of the Bay, which includes seals and whales.
Tall Ship the "R Tucker Thompson"
This grand tall ship has been plying the waters of the Bay for a number of years. It gives you the chance to see the Bay at a leisurely pace - and even lend a hand with sails if you're feeling energetic. Cruises are for a full day (approximately 6 hours) or evening. Day cruises include lunch and an island stop for a swim or snorkel.
Bareboat Yacht Charters
There are a number of charter companies operating in the Bay of Islands which offer the opportunity sail your own boat. Obviously some sailing experience is required. It is also possible to hire a skipper to sail the boat for you. Rental is by the day, allowing you the flexibility to choose the duration of your sailing holiday.
Sailboat Day Trips
For a sailing experience on a skippered yacht, try one of the privately owned boats that offer day trips. There are catamarans as well as monohull yachts. Usually the trips last the full day and also include lunch, refreshments and snorkel gear. The boats are usually operated by the owners and so offer a very personal experience of enjoying the Bay of Islands.
The quality of the game fishing in the Bay of Islands has been internationally recognized since American writer Zane Grey established a base here in the 1920s. There are a number of charter operators who will take you out for a day's fishing. In addition to the prized marlin are a number of smaller fish species including snapper, kahawai and tuna.
Spending an evening in the solitude and peace of a sheltered bay on one of the islands is a special experience. There are a couple of companies which offer overnight trips. Fullers' Overnight Cruise departs daily at 12.30pm and arrives back the following day at 10.30am. It includes a full commentary and meals and is aboard a large and comfortable vessel.
For the younger crowd (or if you're looking for something with a bit more of a party atmosphere) the local YHA operate The Rock; this unique 'hostel on the water' has a 24-hour trip. Accommodation is as in a backpackers hostel, with dorm beds and private rooms available.