Things to Do in Bay of Islands
Paihia is a regular stop for cruise ships visiting New Zealand—and it’s not difficult to see why. This charming port town and eponymous scenic harbor nestled in the Bay of Islands is the home base for many of the region’s tour operators. It’s also a great place to stay as you explore the Northland region.
Marked by a squat lighthouse and a gnarled 800-year-old pohutukawa tree, Cape Reinga is the northernmost point of New Zealand that’s open to the public, and the site where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea come together. The area is popular for its coastal views, which you can enjoy from a series of windswept nature walks.
As the site of a significant event in the country’s history, the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the northern village of Waitangi is an unassuming cornerstone of modern New Zealand society. Visitors can learn about Aotearoa’s social and political past while exploring the Treaty Grounds and surrounding forest and beaches.
Located at the mouth of the Kerikeri River and overlooking the peaceful Kerikeri Inlet, Kerikeri is the largest town in Northland and one of its most historic spots. Kerikeri was once the site of one of New Zealand’s oldest missionary stations and is now a tranquil subtropical getaway surrounded by waterfalls and dense kauri forest.
While Haruru Falls may be small, at around 16.5 feet (5 meters) high, but they’re wide, spanning the width of the Waitangi River as it flows inland. One of several striking waterfalls in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, Haruru is a great spot to cool off during the hot Northland summers with some swimming or kayaking.
The Kerikeri Stone Store is the oldest stone building in New Zealand and part of Kerikeri’s historic Mission Station. Built in 1832, the Stone Store has been a trading post, a library, a barracks, and more. Today you can explore the store and hear the stories of the chiefs, settlers, and missionaries who passed through the station.
Although other parts of New Zealand boast taller or faster-flowing waterfalls, none is as conveniently located—and few are as photogenic—as spectacular Otuihau Whangarei Falls. This 85-foot (26-meter) cascade surrounded by birdsong and native bush is just minutes from Whangarei’s city center, making for a perfect pit stop or half-day hike.
Discover the history of New Zealand’s native kauri trees and so much more at Matakohe’s Kauri Museum. With interactive exhibits, life-like dioramas, and well-preserved heritage buildings, the Kauri Museum tells the stories of New Zealand’s colonial settlers and the mighty trees they felled to make ships, homes, and just about everything else.
Sprawling across 51,000 acres (20,640 hectares) west of Kerikeri, Puketi Forest (Puketi Kauri Forest) is one of New Zealand’s remaining kauri rain forests. Get close to these giant native trees on the forest’s elevated boardwalks, or try one of the forest’s longer walks and discover some of the more than 360 indigenous plant species that call Puketi home.
The Bay of Islands Cruise Port (Waitangi Wharf) offers access to important historical sites such as Russell, New Zealand’s first capital, and the house where the Treaty of Waitangi—an agreement between the British crown and Maori chiefs—was signed. It also serves as a jumping-off point for more than 140 islands, the waters of which are home to whales and dolphins.
More Things to Do in Bay of Islands
Located on the Aupouri Peninsula, Te Paki is the northernmost region in New Zealand and hosts one of the nation’s most diverse ecosystems. It’s home to rare–and endangered–flora and fauna, such as the giant flax snail and Bartlett’s rata tree.
Ranging from coastal dunes to tall forest, through both wetlands and shrublands, Te Paki is home to a surprising variety of ways to get in some outdoor fun. The east coast of the peninsula is sheltered, with sandy beaches and rocky headlands that provide great places to scuba dive, snorkel and fish. The west coast is more exposed and home to the golden sand dunes of 90 Mile Beach. Along this stretch of coastline, it’s not only possible to catch waves from a number of classic surf breaks but also to carve up the steep dunes on a sandboard. Prior snowboarding experience is recommended, but sand tobogganing and body boarding are great options for beginners.
The three-day, 30-mile (48-km) Te Paki Coastal Track hike takes in the entire coastline from Spirits Bay to Te Paki Stream, where it joins the 90 Mile Beach. Several shorter hikes, including the Pandora Track and Rarawa Beach Walk, are available for visitors not keen on spending multiple days on the trail.
Overlooking the Bay of Islands and the Pacific Ocean, Cape Brett is a remote and remarkable part of New Zealand’s coastline. Trek 10 scenic miles (16 kilometers) to the tip of the peninsula, or take a day cruise or speedboat to the cape’s famous Hole in the Rock, a natural rock tunnel that comfortably fits the boats that sail there and back.
When Europeans were first beginning to establish settlements in New Zealand, a race was on between British and French for who would have the most influence. While the Protestant British would eventually win out and form an island colony, the French still managed to build multiple settlements and influence local Maori. One of those ways was through Catholic texts that were translated and distributed in Maori, which were printed, tanned, and bound right here at the Pompallier Mission and Printery (Pompallier House) by Russell. Accessible today through a guided tour, the Pompallier Mission offers visitors a glimpse of early European settlements, as well as a thorough explanation of how British, French, and Maori tribes all skirmished and negotiated for land. Aside the early printing press and info relating to printing, the Pompallier building is a sight in itself, having been constructed in 1842 in a rammed-Earth style that was typical of the day in the French city of Lyon. It also has an extensive heritage garden, with sweeping views that look across the bay towards Waitangi and Paihia.