bay of islands new zealand

Nestled on the northern shores of New Zealand’s North Island, the Bay of Islands is a sublime mixture of natural beauty, historical significance, and vibrant culture, making it a top destination for travelers from around the globe.

This stunning region is not only famous for its picturesque maritime park consisting of over 140 subtropical islands, but it’s also revered as a historical hub where both Maori and European histories intertwine dramatically.

The Bay of Islands offers an unrivaled blend of adventure and relaxation.

Whether you’re sailing across the clear blue waters, exploring lush native forests, or soaking up the rich history at sites like the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, there’s an abundance of activities to suit every taste.

The region’s appeal lies in its ability to provide a serene escape while simultaneously offering thrilling adventures; it’s a place where one can unwind on pristine beaches by day and delve into lively local culture by night.

For those drawn to explore, discover, and relax, the Bay of Islands is your gateway to an unforgettable journey through scenic landscapes and captivating cultural experiences.

As we delve deeper into what makes the Bay of Islands a must-visit location, prepare to uncover the top 15 amazing things to do that highlight the best this spectacular region has to offer.

1. Exploring Paihia

Bay of Islands paihia

Paihia is often celebrated as the vibrant heart of the Bay of Islands and serves as the primary launch point for adventures throughout the region.

This charming seaside town is not just a hub for travelers but also a destination replete with attractions that beckon visitors to explore its lively atmosphere and stunning natural surroundings.

As the gateway to the Bay of Islands, Paihia makes it effortlessly easy to engage in a variety of water-based activities.

The town’s golden beaches are perfect for a day of swimming and sunbathing, with the gentle waves of the Pacific providing a soothing backdrop.

The warm, inviting waters are ideal for first-time swimmers and families seeking a safe, enjoyable beach experience.

Waterfront dining is another highlight of Paihia.

The town boasts an array of restaurants and cafes that offer everything from quick bites to gourmet meals, all with a view of the sea.

Visitors can savor fresh, local seafood that is a staple of Northland’s culinary scene, accompanied by world-class New Zealand wines.

Dining by the water, you can watch boats drift by or catch a glimpse of dolphins playfully navigating the waves.

For those looking to soak up the sun, take leisurely strolls along the wharf, or embark on scenic ferry rides to nearby islands, Paihia offers a perfect blend of relaxation and adventure.

It’s a place where every activity promises memorable experiences and scenic beauty, making it an essential stop in the Bay of Islands.

2. Discovering Historic Russell

Bay of Islands russell

Steeped in history and exuding old-world charm, Russell is a must-visit for anyone traveling to the Bay of Islands.

Known as New Zealand’s first capital, and formerly known by its Maori name Kororāreka, Russell is a town rich with New Zealand’s early colonial and Maori history.

Today, it stands as a serene and picturesque locale, but its tranquil streets were once the center of early New Zealand politics and saw frequent encounters between settlers and local Maori tribes.

Visitors to Russell will find a treasure trove of historical sites that offer a window into the past.

One of the primary attractions is the Russell Museum, which provides insights into the town’s whaling and early mission history.

The museum houses fascinating exhibits, including a replica of Captain Cook’s ship, the Endeavour, and detailed accounts of the town’s transformation from a rough seaport to a peaceful tourist haven.

Another historical gem is the Pompallier Mission, the only surviving building from the French Catholic mission to the Western Pacific.

Here, visitors can learn about the printery and tannery workshop, which produced some of New Zealand’s earliest printed documents.

Demonstrations of leather and printmaking offer a hands-on history lesson that brings the missionary era to life.

Christ Church, another landmark, holds the distinction of being New Zealand’s oldest surviving church.

Built in 1836, the church still bears the scars of musket ball fire from the conflicts of its early days.

A visit here is a poignant reminder of the turbulent times that shaped this region.

The serene church grounds offer a place of reflection and a panoramic view of the bay, making it a perfect spot to ponder the rich tapestry of cultures that have shaped Russell.

Exploring Russell offers a compelling blend of history, culture, and scenic beauty, making it a captivating destination within the Bay of Islands.

Whether you’re a history buff, a lover of beautiful landscapes, or simply in search of a peaceful retreat, Russell provides an enriching and educational experience that resonates with all who visit.

3. Cruising to the Hole in the Rock

Hole in the Rock

One of the most exhilarating ways to experience the natural beauty of the Bay of Islands is by embarking on a boat tour to the iconic Hole in the Rock.

Located at Piercy Island, at the very edge of the Bay, this distinctive natural arch formation is a revered site, both culturally for the local Maori and visually for visitors from around the world.

The journey to the Hole in the Rock is as breathtaking as the destination itself.

As your boat slices through the pristine waters of the Bay of Islands, you’re likely to be greeted by the local marine life, including playful dolphins that often accompany the boats.

These sociable creatures seem to enjoy the company of humans, and spotting them is a delight that adds an extra layer of magic to the tour.

Once you arrive at the Hole in the Rock, the scale and natural beauty of the arch are awe-inspiring.

The rock walls tower above the water, with the hole itself formed over centuries by wind and waves.

Navigating through the arch is a thrilling experience when conditions permit, and it offers a unique perspective on the geological forces that have shaped this landscape.

For photography enthusiasts, the tour offers endless opportunities to capture the stunning scenery of the Bay.

The changing light through the arch, the clear blue waters, and the rugged cliffs provide a dynamic backdrop that is perfect for dramatic landscape photos.

Even those without a camera can’t help but be moved by the scenes of natural splendor.

This cruise is not just a journey across water but a voyage through breathtaking views and exhilarating encounters with wildlife.

It encapsulates the adventurous spirit of the Bay of Islands, making it a must-do activity for anyone visiting this remarkable part of New Zealand.

4. Visiting Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds hold a place of unparalleled significance in New Zealand’s history as the location where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6, 1840.

This treaty established the framework for the relationship between the indigenous Maori population and the British settlers, making it a pivotal site for understanding the nation’s founding and ongoing cultural interactions.

Visitors to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds can fully immerse themselves in New Zealand’s history and culture.

The experience begins at the Museum of Waitangi, which provides comprehensive insights into the Treaty’s origins, the events leading up to its signing, and its lasting impacts on the country.

The museum houses a vast collection of artifacts and interactive displays that narrate the complexities and significance of this historical event.

Guided tours are available and are an invaluable way to gain deeper understanding and context.

Knowledgeable guides explain the historical sites within the grounds, including the Treaty House, the carved Meeting House, and the flagstaff marking the spot where the Treaty was signed.

These tours not only highlight historical facts but also share stories of the people involved in the Treaty’s creation.

Another highlight of visiting the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is the opportunity to witness a live cultural performance.

These performances are a vibrant showcase of Maori culture, featuring traditional songs, dances, and the famous haka.

The energy and emotion conveyed in these performances are both moving and mesmerizing, providing visitors with a profound sense of the living traditions and cultural pride of the Maori people.

Overall, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds offer a rich, educational experience that resonates with all who visit.

Whether you are a history enthusiast, a cultural connoisseur, or simply looking to expand your understanding of New Zealand’s heritage, the Treaty Grounds provide a deeply meaningful and memorable exploration of one of the most important sites in New Zealand’s history.

5. Kayaking and Water Sports

bay of islands kayaking

The Bay of Islands is not just a place of scenic beauty and historical importance; it’s also a playground for water sports enthusiasts.

With its calm, clear waters and myriad of coves and beaches, the area offers ideal conditions for a range of activities, from kayaking and paddleboarding to the more thrilling parasailing.

Kayaking is a popular choice among visitors, as it allows for a serene and intimate way to explore the small inlets and hidden coves scattered throughout the Bay.

For those new to kayaking or seeking guided experiences, several local providers offer rental services along with guided tours.

These tours can take you to some of the less accessible, secluded parts of the islands, providing a peaceful escape and the chance to see wildlife up close in their natural habitat.

Paddleboarding has gained popularity as a fun and relaxing way to enjoy the Bay’s waters while getting a bit of exercise. Stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) are available for rent at many locations around Paihia and Russell.

Beginners can start in protected areas with calm waters before venturing out further. It’s an invigorating way to explore the coastline at your own pace, with the added benefit of a full-body workout.

For the more adventurous, parasailing offers an unparalleled view of the Bay of Islands from above.

This exhilarating activity can be done solo or in tandem, so you can share the experience with a friend or family member.

Local operators are well-equipped to ensure safety and provide an unforgettable aerial view of the turquoise waters and the lush greenery of the islands.

Recommended Locations and Providers

  1. Paihia Dive offers both kayak rentals and guided tours, ensuring that all skill levels are catered to. Their tours often include visits to remote spots known for their natural beauty and tranquility.
  2. Bay of Islands Kayaks located near Russell, provides guided kayak tours that include historical insights and ecological information, making the trip educational as well as enjoyable.
  3. Skydive Bay of Islands is the go-to provider for parasailing, offering not just rides but complete packages that include photography, ensuring you have lasting memories of your sky-high adventure.

Whether you’re paddling quietly along the coastline, balancing on a SUP, or soaring high above the ocean, engaging in water sports in the Bay of Islands is an excellent way to experience the area’s natural beauty.

Each activity offers a unique perspective of this enchanting region, making for truly memorable experiences.

6. Fishing and Big Game Hunting

bay of islands game fishing

The Bay of Islands is not only famous for its stunning vistas and historical landmarks but also as a world-renowned fishing destination.

Anglers from around the globe flock here to experience some of the best saltwater fishing, with the opportunity to catch a diverse array of species including snapper, kingfish, and the prized marlin.

This makes it an ideal spot for both casual fishing enthusiasts and serious anglers pursuing big game.

Fishing in the Bay of Islands

The bay’s rich marine environment is influenced by the meeting of warm subtropical waters with cooler currents, creating an ideal habitat for various types of fish.

The region is particularly famed for big game fishing, and it was here that renowned author Zane Grey, in the early 20th century, popularized the pursuit of marlin and other large game fish.

Today, the Bay of Islands continues to host several fishing tournaments throughout the year, attracting competitive fishermen from across the world.

Tips on Charters and the Best Fishing Spots

Choosing a Charter: When selecting a fishing charter in the Bay of Islands, look for operators with good local knowledge and a proven track record. Experienced captains can make all the difference in a successful outing, as they know the best times and tides, and importantly, the ideal fishing spots that offer the best chances for a noteworthy catch.

Recommended Charter Services:

  1. Spot-X Fishing Charters offers tailored experiences based on current weather conditions and fish movements, ensuring optimal chances to target specific species.
  2. Blue Sea Charters is another excellent choice, known for their experienced skippers and well-equipped boats suitable for both novice and experienced anglers.

Best Fishing Spots:

  • The Black Rocks: Found in the northern part of the Bay, these volcanic rocks are known for attracting snapper, kingfish, and sometimes even marlin during the season.
  • Cape Brett: A little further out, the waters around Cape Brett are perfect for chasing bigger game like marlin and tuna, especially during the summer months.
  • Deep Water Cove: This spot is favored not just for its deep waters ideal for big game fishing but also for its stunning scenery, making it a fantastic spot for a fishing trip.

Whether you’re hoping to reel in a dinner of snapper or fight a powerful marlin, fishing in the Bay of Islands offers an unforgettable adventure with the chance to catch some of the most sought-after fish in the ocean.

With professional charters available and numerous ideal fishing spots, both amateur and experienced anglers can look forward to a rewarding experience on the water.

7. Diving at the Rainbow Warrior Wreck

Rainbow Warrior Wreck

The Rainbow Warrior, a ship belonging to the environmental organization Greenpeace, is steeped in both tragedy and heroism, making it a site of significant historical and emotional resonance.

Originally sunk in 1985 by French intelligence agents in Auckland to prevent it from interfering in nuclear tests in the Pacific, the Rainbow Warrior was subsequently refloated and then scuttled in the Cavalli Islands, off the coast of the Bay of Islands, to serve as a dive wreck and artificial reef.

The Story of the Rainbow Warrior

The Rainbow Warrior was pivotal in global environmental campaigns and its sinking marked a dramatic moment in New Zealand’s history.

The incident not only strained France-New Zealand relations but also highlighted New Zealand’s staunch anti-nuclear stance and commitment to environmental causes.

Today, the wreck serves as a living monument to environmental protection and peace.

Diving at the Rainbow Warrior Site

What to Expect: The Rainbow Warrior wreck has transformed into a vibrant marine habitat, making it one of the premier dive sites in the Bay of Islands. Located at a depth suitable for both novice and experienced divers, the site offers a unique opportunity to explore a piece of modern history enveloped by marine life.

  • Marine Life: Over the years, the hull of the Rainbow Warrior has been colonized by a variety of marine species. Divers can expect to see a colorful array of sea creatures, including schools of snapper and kingfish, moray eels, and sometimes even stingrays and octopuses.
  • Visibility and Conditions: The visibility around the wreck is generally good, ranging from 10 to 20 meters depending on weather conditions, allowing for clear views of the wreck and its marine inhabitants.
  • Dive Experience: The dive involves exploring the exterior and safe parts of the interior of the wreck. Key features include the mast, which is still standing, and the wheelhouse, where divers can swim through and explore.

Recommended Dive Operators:

  1. Paihia Dive is highly regarded for their wreck dives and offers trips to the Rainbow Warrior, including full briefings on the history and significance of the site.
  2. Dive North offers comprehensive dive packages that cover not only the Rainbow Warrior but also other notable dive sites in the area, providing equipment and guidance suitable for various levels of diving experience.

Diving at the Rainbow Warrior wreck is more than just a dive; it’s an immersion into a story of environmental activism and a tribute to those who fight for the planet.

This dive site not only offers a unique underwater adventure but also serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggles for environmental conservation.

8. Hiking on Urupukapuka Island

Hiking on Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka Island, the largest island in the Bay of Islands, is a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Known for its stunning landscapes, rich Maori history, and well-preserved archaeological sites, the island offers a variety of trails that cater to hikers of all levels.

It is easily accessible by ferry from Paihia or Russell, making it a perfect day trip for those looking to explore its natural beauty and historical significance.

Exploring Urupukapuka Island

Trails and Scenic Walks: Urupukapuka Island features an extensive network of trails that weave through native bushland, over rolling hills, and along pristine beaches. These trails offer breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding islands and the clear blue waters of the Bay of Islands.

  • Otehei Bay Loop: This easy loop starts and ends at Otehei Bay, the main arrival point on the island. It’s perfect for families and casual hikers, offering stunning sea views and beach access.
  • Archaeological Walk: For a more educational hike, the Archaeological Walk takes you through several ancient Maori pa sites (fortified villages). Informational signs along the way provide insights into the island’s historical importance as a Maori settlement.
  • Zane Grey Track: Named after the American author who loved fishing in these waters, this moderate track climbs to one of the highest points on the island, providing spectacular views over the Bay and neighboring islands.

Viewpoints Worth Visiting:

  • Paewhenua Lookout: This is one of the highest points on the island and offers unmatched 360-degree views. On a clear day, you can see across the entire Bay of Islands and even spot the distant shores of the Northland coast.
  • Sunset Point: As the name suggests, this is the ideal spot for watching the sunset. The western view provides a stunning backdrop as the sun dips below the horizon, painting the sky with shades of orange and pink.

Visiting Tips

  • Conservation Efforts: Urupukapuka is part of Project Island Song, an ecological restoration project. Visitors are encouraged to follow biosecurity measures to protect the native wildlife and plants.
  • Facilities: There are basic facilities available, including picnic areas and toilets, making it convenient for day-trippers to enjoy their visit comfortably.
  • Guided Tours: For those interested in a more in-depth exploration, guided tours are available. These tours often focus on both the natural and cultural history of the island, providing a richer understanding and appreciation.

Hiking on Urupukapuka Island not only promises physical activity but also a spiritual and historical enrichment, making it a standout adventure in the Bay of Islands.

Whether you’re trekking through lush greenery, relaxing on secluded beaches, or soaking up panoramic vistas, Urupukapuka offers a memorable experience for every visitor.

9. Exploring Haruru Falls

Haruru Falls

Haruru Falls, located just a short distance from Paihia in the Bay of Islands, offers visitors a spectacular natural setting that combines the serene beauty of a waterfall with the rich, green landscapes typical of Northland, New Zealand.

The name “Haruru” means “big noise” in Maori, aptly describing the sound of the water as it cascades over a wide, horseshoe-shaped ledge into the Waitangi River below.

Description of Haruru Falls

Haruru Falls is distinctive for its natural amphitheater shape, which amplifies the sound of the falling water, creating a powerful presence in a relatively compact area.

The waterfall is particularly impressive after a rain, when the increased volume of water makes the falls even more dramatic.

Surrounding the falls is a lush forest that offers shade and adds to the tranquility of the area, making it a perfect spot for photography, picnicking, and simply enjoying the peaceful nature.

Activities at Haruru Falls

Kayaking: One of the most enchanting ways to experience Haruru Falls is by kayak. Paddling up the Waitangi River from Paihia, kayakers can journey right up to the base of the falls, experiencing the mist on their faces and the roar of the water up close. This gentle river paddle is suitable for all skill levels, including beginners, and offers a unique perspective of both the falls and the diverse wildlife along the riverbanks.

Walking Tracks: For those who prefer to stay on dry land, the Haruru Falls walking track provides a scenic route to explore the area. This well-maintained track starts at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and follows the river through mangrove forests to the waterfall. The walk is about 5 kilometers one way and offers a moderate trek with plenty of opportunities to observe native birdlife and the unique mangrove ecosystem.

  • Waitangi to Haruru Falls Track: This track is particularly popular for its historical and natural significance, as it traces part of an ancient Maori trail. Along the way, informational signs provide insights into the area’s history and ecology, enriching the hiking experience.

Nearby Attractions: Adjacent to the waterfall, there are several areas of interest that visitors can enjoy:

  • Waitangi Treaty Grounds: A visit to Haruru Falls can easily be combined with a trip to the Treaty Grounds, offering a full day of cultural and natural exploration.
  • Paihia Town: Close by, Paihia offers numerous cafes, shops, and beaches, making it a great base for exploring Haruru Falls and the surrounding region.

Visiting Haruru Falls allows for a diverse range of activities from adventurous water sports to tranquil walks and historical exploration, making it a versatile destination for all types of travelers in the Bay of Islands.

Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in nature, capture stunning photographs, or enjoy a peaceful day out, Haruru Falls delivers an experience that is both refreshing and memorable.

10. Discovering the Kauri Forests

Kauri Forests

The ancient Kauri forests of New Zealand are a national treasure, revered not only for their stunning beauty and imposing stature but also for their ecological importance.

These magnificent trees are among the oldest and largest species in the world, with some specimens dating back over 2,000 years.

Visiting these forests offers a unique glimpse into New Zealand’s natural heritage and the rich biodiversity that these ecosystems support.

Ecological Importance and Beauty of Kauri Trees

Kauri trees (Agathis australis) play a crucial role in their ecosystems.

They are known for creating a unique forest environment, often called “Kauri cathedrals,” due to their massive trunk girths and towering canopies which dominate the forest skyline.

These trees influence soil composition and forest ecology, supporting a diverse range of plant and animal species.

Their leaves, bark, and roots interact with the environment in ways that benefit lesser plants and maintain the health of the forest.

The beauty of Kauri trees lies in their impressive stature and the smooth, silvery bark that encases their trunks.

Walking among these giants is like stepping back in time, providing a profound sense of connection to the earth and its ancient past.

Visit to Puketi Forest

Puketi Forest, located in the heart of Northland, is home to one of the most accessible Kauri forests in New Zealand.

This forest contains a substantial area of mature Kauri, along with a rich assortment of native flora and fauna, making it an essential destination for nature lovers and eco-tourists.

Exploring Puketi Forest:

  • Guided Walks: To fully appreciate the ecological significance and historical context of Kauri trees, guided walks are available. These tours are led by knowledgeable guides who provide insightful commentary on the conservation efforts and the role of Kauri in Maori culture.
  • Forest Trails: For those who prefer a self-guided experience, Puketi offers well-marked trails that range from short walks to more extensive hikes. The Kauri Walk provides an easy route that is family-friendly and wheelchair accessible, offering everyone the chance to admire these ancient giants up close.
  • Conservation Efforts: Visitors to Puketi are educated on the importance of biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of Kauri dieback disease, which has threatened Kauri populations across New Zealand. This includes cleaning shoes before and after forest visits, sticking to designated paths, and following all conservation guidelines provided at the site.

Puketi Forest not only offers a chance to explore one of the few remaining Kauri forests but also serves as a reminder of the importance of conservation and respect for our natural environments.

Whether you are a passionate hiker, a casual walker, or someone interested in the ecological and cultural history of New Zealand, a visit to the Kauri forests is an enriching and enlightening experience.

11. Sailing Around the Islands

bay of islands sailing

Sailing around the Bay of Islands offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience the region’s stunning maritime environment.

With its calm, clear waters and over 140 picturesque islands, this area is a sailor’s paradise.

Whether you’re an experienced sailor or a newcomer eager to learn the ropes, the Bay of Islands provides a range of sailing options that cater to all levels.

Options for Yacht Rentals and Sailing Tours

Yacht Rentals: For those looking to captain their own adventure, yacht rentals are available throughout the Bay of Islands. You can choose from a variety of vessels, from small sailing dinghies to fully equipped luxury yachts. Many charter companies offer the option of renting a yacht with or without a skipper, depending on your sailing experience and comfort level.

  • Bareboat Charter: For experienced sailors, a bareboat charter provides the freedom to explore the islands at your own pace. Local charter companies such as Bay of Islands Yacht Charters offer a range of yachts that you can navigate yourself.
  • Skippered Charters: If you’re less experienced or simply want a more relaxed experience, a skippered charter allows you to enjoy the journey without the responsibilities of handling the boat. Skippers also serve as excellent guides to the area, often sharing hidden spots and local knowledge.

Sailing Tours: For those who prefer a more structured experience, several companies offer scheduled sailing tours. These tours can range from a few hours to several days and often include stops at key attractions, guided walks, and opportunities to swim or snorkel in secluded bays.

  • Day Sails: Companies like Explore Group offer day sailing tours that include activities like island hiking and snorkeling.
  • Sunset Cruises: For a romantic or tranquil evening, sunset cruises provide a stunning backdrop as the sun dips below the horizon, lighting up the sky in fiery colors.

Highlights of Sailing Routes

Circumnavigating Urupukapuka Island: This route offers stunning views and the chance to anchor in secluded bays, where you can enjoy the island’s beaches and hiking trails.

Passage through the Black Rocks: Sailing near these volcanic formations is a visual treat and offers excellent photo opportunities due to the dramatic landscape.

Visiting Roberton Island (Motuarohia): Famous for its twin lagoons, Roberton Island is a must-visit for snorkelers and those interested in marine life, making it a popular stop on many sailing itineraries.

Sailing in the Bay of Islands not only provides a sense of freedom and adventure but also allows you to appreciate the natural beauty of this unique maritime landscape from a different perspective.

Whether you’re steering your own course or relaxing under the expert guidance of a skipper, sailing around these islands is an unforgettable way to explore one of New Zealand’s most iconic destinations.

12. Enjoying Local Wineries and Craft Breweries

bay of islands Winery

The Bay of Islands is not only renowned for its stunning natural beauty but also as a burgeoning hub for wine and craft beer enthusiasts.

The region’s mild climate and fertile soils make it ideal for vineyard and brewery ventures, offering visitors a delightful taste of local artisanal beverages.

Whether you’re a connoisseur of fine wines or a lover of unique, handcrafted beers, exploring the local wineries and craft breweries provides a flavorful insight into the area’s agricultural and entrepreneurial spirit.

Overview of Local Vineyards and Breweries

Vineyards: The Northland region, encompassing the Bay of Islands, is known for its boutique vineyards, which produce a variety of wines, with an emphasis on Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Syrah. These vineyards often boast intimate settings, offering personalized experiences that are both educational and enjoyable.

  • Omata Estate: Located on a sun-drenched hillside with sweeping views of the Bay, Omata Estate is known for its robust Syrah and refreshing Rosé. Visitors can enjoy a guided tasting session followed by a leisurely lunch at the estate’s rustic restaurant.
  • Paroa Bay Winery: Another gem in the Bay of Islands, Paroa Bay Winery combines traditional winemaking techniques with modern innovation. The winery offers tastings accompanied by tours of their state-of-the-art facility and stunning vineyards.

Craft Breweries: The craft beer scene in the Bay of Islands is vibrant and growing, with local breweries producing a range of styles from classic lagers to experimental ales.

  • McLeod’s Brewery: Located in Waipu, just a short drive from the Bay of Islands, McLeod’s Brewery is known for its award-winning beers. They offer a brewery tour that includes tastings of their flagship and seasonal brews.
  • Bay of Islands Brewing Company: Nestled in the heart of Paihia, this brewery offers a quaint taproom where visitors can sample a variety of beers brewed on-site, from crisp pilsners to rich, dark stouts.

Recommendations for Tastings and Tours

When visiting local wineries and breweries, here are some tips to enhance your experience:

  • Book in Advance: Many wineries and breweries encourage or require reservations for tours and tastings, especially during peak tourist seasons.
  • Check for Events: Look for special events like harvest festivals, live music nights, or special release parties, which can add an extra layer of enjoyment to your visit.
  • Consider a Guided Tour: Some local tour operators offer wine and brewery tours that include transportation and a curated selection of stops. This is a great way to explore multiple venues safely and with insight from an experienced guide.

Enjoying the local wineries and craft breweries in the Bay of Islands offers not only a taste of unique, locally produced beverages but also provides a glimpse into the region’s culture and community.

Each visit supports local artisans and gives visitors a memorable and tasty aspect of their travel experience.

13. Sampling Local Cuisine


The Bay of Islands is not only a feast for the eyes but also the palate, with its rich array of local cuisine that draws on the area’s abundant natural resources and cultural heritage.

The local dishes are a reflection of both the Maori traditions and the bounty of the sea, offering visitors a delicious opportunity to explore the region’s culinary delights.

Introduction to Local Dishes

The culinary landscape in the Bay of Islands is heavily influenced by its coastal location, resulting in a predominance of seafood in its local cuisine.

Dishes are often prepared with a simplicity that highlights the freshness of the ingredients.

Besides seafood, traditional Maori foods, which utilize native ingredients and cooking methods, offer a unique taste of New Zealand’s history and culture.

Where to Find Local Dishes


  • Kingfish, Snapper, and Scallops: These are staples in local diets and can be found on the menus of most seaside restaurants in Paihia and Russell.
  • The Gables Restaurant: Situated in a historic building in Russell, this restaurant offers dishes like freshly caught fish and chips, which you can enjoy with a view over the water.
  • Charlotte’s Kitchen: Located at the end of Paihia Wharf, this popular eatery offers a modern twist on seafood, serving up dishes like seafood chowder and salt and pepper squid.

Maori Traditional Foods:

  • Hangi: This traditional Maori method of cooking food uses heated rocks buried in a pit oven. It’s not just about the food but also the experience surrounding its preparation.
  • Rewena Bread: A type of potato sourdough bread that is a Maori staple, often served as a side dish with meals.
  • Copthorne Hotel and Resort in Waitangi: They often host traditional Hangi feasts and performances, providing a full cultural experience.

Focus on Seafood and Maori Traditional Foods

Seafood dishes in the Bay of Islands are renowned for their freshness and quality, often caught the same day they are served.

Local chefs pride themselves on creating dishes that meet the high expectations of diners looking for an authentic taste of the region’s best offerings.

From simple preparations like smoked fish to more elaborate creations such as seafood risotto, the variety is impressive.

Maori traditional foods provide a deeper understanding of the region’s cultural heritage.

Hangi-prepared meals are a highlight, featuring meats and vegetables cooked slowly underground, giving them a distinctive smoky flavor that can’t be replicated with modern cooking methods.

Sampling these dishes offers insight into the traditional lifestyle and practices of the Maori people, making it a must-try for those seeking to immerse themselves in local culture.

Sampling the local cuisine in the Bay of Islands is not just about eating; it’s an exploration of the region’s history, culture, and natural resources.

Each meal is a discovery of flavors that are as local and authentic as the landscapes are scenic.

14. Participating in Cultural Events

maori culture

The Bay of Islands is not only a hotspot for natural beauty and outdoor activities but also a vibrant center for cultural events.

Throughout the year, the region hosts a variety of festivals and cultural nights that celebrate its diverse heritage and contemporary artistry.

Participating in these events offers visitors a wonderful opportunity to engage with the local community and experience the lively culture of this unique area.

Calendar of Local Events

Music Festivals:

  • Bay of Islands Jazz and Blues Festival: This popular event takes place every August and features a fantastic lineup of local and international jazz and blues artists. The festival spans multiple venues in Paihia, Russell, and Kerikeri, offering lively music in picturesque settings.
  • It! Bay of Islands Food and Wine Festival: Held in October, this festival is a celebration of Northland’s best culinary offerings, paired with live music and entertainment. It’s a perfect event for foodies and families alike.

Maori Cultural Nights:

  • Waitangi Cultural Performances: At the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, visitors can enjoy year-round cultural performances that include traditional Maori songs, dances, and the famous haka. These performances are not only entertaining but also deeply informative, offering insights into Maori traditions and history.
  • Ngapuhi Festival: One of the largest tribal festivals in New Zealand, this event celebrates the Ngapuhi iwi (tribe) culture. It features Maori music, dance, art, and food, providing an authentic and immersive cultural experience.

How Visitors Can Engage with These Events

Planning Your Visit:

  • Check Local Listings: Before traveling, it’s beneficial to check local listings and tourism websites for any scheduled events that might coincide with your visit. The Bay of Islands Tourism website and local visitor centers are excellent resources.
  • Book in Advance: For events that are likely to draw large crowds, such as the Jazz and Blues Festival or the Food and Wine Festival, it’s advisable to book your tickets and accommodations well in advance.

Participation and Etiquette:

  • Interactive Workshops: Many festivals offer workshops and seminars where visitors can learn more about local crafts, culinary techniques, or traditional Maori arts. Participating in these workshops can provide a more hands-on experience.
  • Respect Cultural Protocols: When attending Maori events, it’s important to be aware of and respect local customs and protocols. For example, during a Maori performance, there may be protocols around when and how to applaud or participate.

Supporting Local Artisans:

  • Craft Markets: Many cultural events include markets where local artisans sell their crafts, artwork, and food. Purchasing from these markets not only supports the local economy but also helps preserve traditional crafts and practices.

Engaging in the Bay of Islands’ cultural events enriches your travel experience, providing not just fun and entertainment, but also a deeper understanding of the region’s cultural dynamics.

Whether you’re tapping your feet at a jazz festival, savoring local delicacies at a food festival, or experiencing the power of a live haka, these events promise memorable moments and a true taste of local life.

15. Luxurious Spa Retreats

bay of islands spa

For those seeking a serene escape into luxury and relaxation, the Bay of Islands offers a selection of top-notch spa resorts that combine natural beauty with indulgent treatments.

These retreats provide a perfect blend of relaxation and rejuvenation, offering unique therapies that incorporate local ingredients and traditional techniques.

Best Spa Resorts in the Bay of Islands

Eagles Nest: Located just outside Russell, Eagles Nest is a luxury retreat that not only offers breathtaking views over the Bay of Islands but also a range of spa services that can be enjoyed in the privacy of your own villa. The resort’s therapies include traditional Maori massage techniques, which use rhythmical movements to relax and heal the body.

The Sanctuary at Bay of Islands: This eco-friendly spa resort is nestled on a secluded hilltop and is surrounded by native bush, offering panoramic views of the bay. The Sanctuary specializes in treatments that utilize natural, locally sourced ingredients like Manuka honey, kiwifruit, and volcanic clays. Their signature treatments are designed to detoxify and rejuvenate, enhancing both physical and mental well-being.

Services Offered

Unique Local Treatments:

  • Manuka Honey Facials: Renowned for its antibacterial properties, Manuka honey is used in facials to nourish and heal the skin. This treatment leaves the skin feeling refreshed and revitalized.
  • Rongoā Māori Massage: This traditional Maori herbal medicine practice includes massage techniques that are believed to restore balance and energy flows within the body. Herbs and oils used during these massages are often foraged locally, providing a deep connection to the land.
  • Geothermal Mud Therapy: Utilizing the mineral-rich volcanic mud from New Zealand’s geothermal regions, this treatment detoxifies and exfoliates the skin, leaving it soft and rejuvenated.

Additional Spa Services:

  • Hot Stone Therapy: Smooth, heated stones are placed on key points on the body, which helps to relax and ease tense muscles and damaged soft tissues throughout the body.
  • Aromatherapy: Incorporating essential oils extracted from native New Zealand plants, aromatherapy sessions promote healing and a sense of well-being.
  • Yoga and Wellness Programs: Many spas offer yoga classes and personalized wellness programs that complement the physical treatments by promoting mental and spiritual health.

Visiting these spa retreats in the Bay of Islands allows guests to step away from the stresses of daily life and into a world of tranquility and relaxation.

Each spa aims to harmonize beauty, wellness, and environmental consciousness, ensuring that every aspect of your spa experience is imbued with the essence of New Zealand’s natural splendor.

Whether you’re looking for a rejuvenating afternoon or a longer wellness retreat, the Bay of Islands has a range of luxurious options to meet your desires.


The Bay of Islands is a veritable paradise that blends stunning natural beauty with rich cultural history and vibrant modern activities, offering something truly special for every type of traveler.

From the adventurous at heart who might sail around the picturesque islands, dive at the historic Rainbow Warrior wreck, or kayak up to the majestic Haruru Falls, to those seeking a more relaxed experience with leisurely walks through ancient Kauri forests or luxurious spa treatments using local ingredients, this region promises a memorable and diverse experience.

Recap of the Top Activities

For the Adventure Seeker: Activities such as sailing, fishing, and diving offer thrilling experiences in the beautiful natural surroundings of the Bay. The iconic Hole in the Rock and the waters surrounding the many islands provide not just scenic beauty but also an adrenaline rush for those looking to explore the outdoors.

For the Culture Enthusiast: The rich history of the area is showcased through visits to historical sites like the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and the quaint town of Russell, New Zealand’s first capital. The cultural performances and local Maori heritage offer deep insights into the region’s history.

For the Nature Lover: The ecological tours through lush forests and the conservation efforts in places like Urupukapuka Island highlight the Bay’s commitment to preserving its stunning natural environment. The peaceful walks and the opportunity to observe local wildlife in their natural habitats are perfect for those who wish to connect with nature.

For the Relaxation Seeker: The luxurious spa retreats and quiet vineyards offer a perfect escape to rejuvenate and unwind in serene settings, all while enjoying panoramic views of the bay.

bay of islands

FAQ’s About the Bay of Islands:

Is it worth going to Bay of Islands?

Absolutely, the Bay of Islands is well worth a visit.

This stunning region offers a rich blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and outdoor activities that appeal to a wide range of interests.

From exploring historic sites and sailing pristine waters to engaging in adventure sports and relaxing at luxurious spas, the Bay of Islands provides a unique and memorable experience for all visitors.

What is special about the Bay of Islands?

The Bay of Islands is special for its incredible natural scenery, comprising over 140 subtropical islands with secluded bays and sandy beaches.

It is also historically significant as the site of the first European settlements in New Zealand and the place where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

This combination of breathtaking landscapes and deep cultural significance makes the Bay of Islands a unique destination.

How many days should you spend in Bay of Islands?

To fully experience what the Bay of Islands has to offer, a minimum of three to five days is recommended.

This allows sufficient time to explore key attractions like Paihia, Russell, and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, as well as to enjoy activities such as sailing, fishing, and visiting some of the more remote islands.

Which Island to visit in Bay of Islands?

Urupukapuka Island is highly recommended for a visit.

It is the largest island in the Bay of Islands and offers a range of activities, including hiking, bird watching, and swimming at beautiful beaches.

The island also has significant archaeological sites and provides stunning views across the Bay.

Where do cruise ships dock at Bay of Islands?

Cruise ships visiting the Bay of Islands anchor offshore and tender passengers to the small town of Paihia or sometimes directly to Russell.

These locations serve as gateways for exploring the region, with easy access to local tours, shops, and dining options.

What is the best base for the Bay of Islands?

Paihia is considered the best base for exploring the Bay of Islands due to its central location and the availability of a wide range of accommodations, restaurants, and tourist services.

From Paihia, visitors can easily access boat tours, cultural sites, and other attractions in the region.

Why do people go to Bay of Islands?

People are drawn to the Bay of Islands for its stunning natural beauty, water sports, and historical significance.

The area is a popular destination for sailing, fishing, and exploring New Zealand’s early European and Maori history.

Additionally, its relaxing atmosphere and scenic landscapes offer a perfect getaway for those looking to unwind in a beautiful setting.

Can you swim in Bay of Islands?

Yes, swimming is a popular activity in the Bay of Islands.

The region’s many beaches and secluded coves offer safe and inviting waters for swimming.

The water temperatures are pleasant, especially during the summer months, making it ideal for water-based activities.

What is the best way to see the Bay of Islands?

The best way to see the Bay of Islands is by boat.

Various tours offer sailing, fishing, and scenic cruises that navigate between the islands, providing spectacular views and the chance to explore multiple locations.

For those interested in a comprehensive experience, a combination of boat tours and land-based exploration offers the most thorough way to enjoy the Bay’s attractions.

bay of islands in new zealand

(Island Expert)

Christian is a dynamic serial entrepreneur and a licensed real estate agent with a relentless passion for unlocking the potential of island real estate. Christian's expertise extends beyond entrepreneurship and property transactions. He possesses a profound expertise in crafting captivating content and persuasive copywriting tailored exclusively to the enchanting realm of island real estate.

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