Bay of Islands – A Tropical Paradise to Discover on Your New Zealand Vacation

Landmarks & Icons

Aerial View of Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Only a 3 hour drive or a 35 minute flight from Auckland, the Bay of Islands beckons to those on a New Zealand vacation who are looking for a subtropical land where beaches exist amid attractive small towns. Known for its stunning beauty and its historical significance, the Bay of Islands encompasses some 140 islands complete with sandy beaches, hidden coves, dramatic coastlines and sophisticated small, urban areas. Spending time here is totally relaxing and at the same time, fulfilling. Accommodation is plentiful and includes historic hotels, motels, lodges, self-contained apartments, guesthouses, and camp sites.

Activities Abound

Activities in which one can partake include swimming of course, cruising, sailing, deep sea fishing, golf, diving, various other water sports, and walking. However, the real attraction here is the scenery, with a coastline backed by a green rolling landscape.

Kayaking in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Enjoy kayaking in the Bay of Islands
Beach Limbo in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Beach limbo in the Bay of Islands

Its Important Historical Significance

A little background helps to understand the historical importance of the Bay of Islands. The area was given its name by Captain Cook in the late 1700s and was the birthplace of European colonization of New Zealand. It was also the site of the first British settlement. Maori inhabited the area and is of great significance to them as it is to the early European settlers. It was here that the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the Maori and the British. Waitangi’s importance to New Zealand cannot be overstated as it was here that a nation was born.

Where To Go and What To See

So now you have a general idea about the Bay of Islands, let’s look at some of the destinations and their individual appeal. A good place to start is the resort town of Paihia, which is known as the “Jewel of the Bay of Islands.” It is a hub of activity with ferry boats leaving from here to most other major islands. There is abundant shopping and a lively nightlife. Paihia is the social centre of the Bay of Islands and there is always something taking place, whether it is a live band in a local bar, a party on the beach, or a local food festival. Excellent restaurants offer exquisite food and fine wine. Paihia is a base from which game fishing, swimming with dolphins, and lazy days on the beach are all available. Trips into the Bay of Islands, whether for exploration or water sports, are very easy to arrange. Leisurely cruises leave daily from the wharf.

Paihia, Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand
Paihia, a great place to relax

Just 2 kilometres/1 mile from Paihia is Waitangi Treaty Grounds – site of the Treaty of Waitangi and known as the “Birthplace of the Nation.” It is New Zealand’s most important cultural site and the best place to learn about the country’s turbulent history. The Treaty grounds incorporate not only the Treaty House, one of the oldest buildings still standing and dating back to 1834, but also the Whare Runanga, a Maori meeting house. The latter was built to commemorate the centenary of the Treaty and has an exhibit of carvings and folklore from Maori tribes across New Zealand. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a spiritual place where both sides of the treaty are celebrated and honoured. In addition, one can experience traditional Maori performances, feasts, and celebrations throughout the year. It is also a nature reserve. Covering swathes of the Bay of Island’s estuary, native bush and wildlife-filled mangrove forests make a visit here a must on your New Zealand vacation.

Sunrise Over Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Sunrise over Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Looking across the bay from Paihia, you can’t miss the historic town of Russell, easily reached by a short 15 minute ferry ride. Russell was New Zealand’s first capital, which might surprise you considering the size of the place. The town has an unforgettable charm with its timeless appeal and where history comes alive. It is ideally located for taking advantage of some wonderful walks and cycling routes along the coastline, passing through ancient forests and giving you unforgettable spectacular viewpoints across the sea. Russell itself is a thriving town steeped in the history of the early European settlers. There are many dining and drinking options. You can enjoy fresh fish from the Bay of Islands along with award-winning white wines, from the surrounding vineyards, to enhance your stay here.

View of Boats at the Harbour in Russell, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
View of boats at the harbour in Russell

Opua, known as the “Gateway to the Bay of Islands,” is a beautiful seaside town well known as a sailing haven and an ideal spot from which to walk. One can explore the rain forests of the Harrison Scenic Reserve or take the Coastal Walking Path which runs from Opua around the bay to Paihia and beyond. The walk to Paihia takes around 2 hours and is beautiful when the sun is shining, with a couple of attractive spots from which to swim in the glistening sea. The town centres around the marina with its excellent seafront restaurant. You can sip local wines and indulge in fresh seafood while watching the light changing across the endless scenery of the Bay of Islands. Opua offers the opportunity to get out into the Bay of Islands and really explore. There are boats for hire as well as organized excursions in sail schooners.

The landscape that surrounds the lovely little town of Kerikeri is astonishing. By far the best way to explore Kerikeri is on foot. There are some idyllic walks – the most popular being the 1.5 hour bush walk to the Rainbow Falls and the trails of the Kauri Forest. For those who want something more relaxing, the best views of the area are from the historic steamboat that sails gently around the bay. Kerikeri is an ideal place to explore, from New Zealand’s oldest building to the Parrot Place, Palmco Gardens to the Chris Booth sculptures. Culture thrives here with year-round exhibitions, craft markets, and food festivals.

A Short Walk Along the Kerikeri River Leads You to the Spectacular 27 metre Waterfall Rainbow Falls
A short walk along Kerikeri River leads you to the spectacular 27 metre Rainbow Falls

The Beauty and the Bay

To sum up, the beautiful Bay of Islands offers the visitor almost everything, with every opportunity to be active or to just relax and unwind on their New Zealand vacation.

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