The Bay of Islands is a peaceful subtropical micro-region located on the northern tip of the North Island. All together, the area is home to 150 islands, over 800 kilometers of coastline, countless bays and inlets, and plentiful marine life. The Northland region enjoys New Zealand’s warmest weather, often called the “Winterless North.”
The Bay of Islands is where many New Zealanders go to vacation and own second homes. The towns are quiet—Kerikeri is the largest with just over 5,000 residents—where days are spent relaxing and enjoying the coastal scenery and magnificent sunsets. For travelers, there are a number of ways to get out and experience the Bay of Islands including boat tours, kayaking, hiking, and fishing.
Make sure to soak up the historical significance of the area: the Bay of Islands was the cradle of European settlement in New Zealand. The Treaty of Waitangi—the founding document for the modern state of New Zealand—was signed by Maori chiefs and British officials at the Bay of Islands in 1840.
Best of the Bay of Islands
Historic Russell once was a rough-and-tumble town for whalers and convicts, which couldn’t be further from its present state. The waterfront is now dotted with cafes, restaurants, shops, and historic buildings. All told, it’s the Bay of Islands most pleasant town.
A fun and easy way to see the Bay of Islands is a scenic cruise (departures from Paihia and Russell). The most popular trips are to famous Hole in the Rock; dolphins are often spotted along the way.
Paihia is not quite as charming as Russell but is considerably bigger and has more options for tourists. The Bay of Islands widest range of accommodations can be found in Paihia and the majority of tours and outdoor shops are located there.
The Bay of Islands’ warm weather and clear waters make it one of New Zealand’s top destinations for water sports. For kayaking and stand up paddleboarding, the settled conditions suit all levels of experience. The Bay of Islands has excellent dive spots and a first-rate surfing beach just north at Shipwreck Bay. For swimming, Tapeka Beach near Russell has white sand and good conditions during all tides.
The ocean gets most of the attention but the Bay of Islands has a number of excellent hiking trails. The Opua Forest Lookout Track (1 hour return) behind Paihia offers good views of Waitangi and Russell. For a strenuous hike, the Cape Brett Track (16.5 km; 8 hours one way to Cape Brett Hut) is one of the best walks on the North Island.