Attractions, Tours and Activities in Russell
Often only discovered via a short ferry trip from Paihia, Russell is a destination in the Bay of Islands well worth staying a while to explore. The town is steeped in characterful history as New Zealand’s first capital. This, in turn, makes many of the buildings here the oldest in New Zealand. It’s not all about the past though, as the quaint beachfront town has glorious beaches and walks to discover, as well as cute cafes. Make the most out of your visit with this list of the best things to do in Russell.
1. Hop on a Cruise of the Bay of Islands
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be staying in Paihia to enjoy the Bay of Islands’ most popular cruises. Experience smooth sailing on one of the catamaran tours, such as with Fullers GreatSights (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) or Explore (on Viator or Tripadvisor). Look out for wildlife like dolphins, seals, seabirds and more on the way to the main event, which is a giant archway island known as the Hole in the Rock. For more options, head to the 10 Best Cruises of the Bay of Islands.
Location: Tours depart from Russell Wharf.
2. Do a Sightseeing Tour
See the historic and scenic highlights of Russell all within a one-hour tour with Russell Mini Tours. Jump on board a mini-bus for onboard commentary and an educational journey around the town, surrounding bays and Flagstaff Hill. Find out more about the tour on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: 27 The Strand, Russell.
3. Walk to Flagstaff Hill
Walk or drive to the historic site of Flagstaff Hill where the Union Jack was cut down four times by the local Maori as a gesture against British rule. The flag pole still remains with interpretation signs and mosaic to learn more about the area. You’ll also get some good views of Russell and the Bay of Islands, as well as likely encounters with a flightless bird called a “weka”.
Location: At low tide, start from the end of The Strand and walk across the beaches to Watering Bay. At high tide, start at the corner of Wellington and Kent streets.
4. Visit the Russell Museum
Another interesting place to dive deeper into the stories of the past is at the Russell Museum. See artefacts and replica ships from Russell’s early Maori settlements, whaling days and learn how the town got its name as the “Hellhole of the Pacific”. Note there is a small admission fee.
Location: 2 York Street, Russell.
5. Pop into the Pompallier Mission
Join a heritage tour of New Zealand’s oldest industrial building at Pompallier Mission. The building was built in 1842 by a couple of French brothers who used it as a bookbinder, translating religious texts into te reo Maori. See interesting architecture and beautiful gardens on this affordable tour. Check out more attractions like this in the 10 Best Historical Places in Northland.
Location: 5 The Strand, Russell.
6. Take the Ferry to Urupukapuka Island
Escape to one of the gorgeous islands of the Bay of Islands by taking the Explore ferry to Urupukapuka Island. As well as walks among birds, beaches and breathtaking views, the island has safe swimming beaches and a cafe.
Location: Ferries depart from Russell Wharf.
7. Relax at Oneroa Bay
Also known as Long Beach, Oneroa Bay is one of Russell’s most beautiful beaches. It’s the ideal place to soak up that sub-tropical climate. Enjoy a long stroll and/or safe swimming in the warmer months. Either walk or drive to the beach from Russell – note there’s a short but steep hill on the way there.
Location: Long Beach Road, approximately 1.2km (0.7 miles) from Russell town centre.
8. Check Out New Zealand’s Oldest Existing Church
Another historical find and a free thing to do in Russell is checking out Christ Church. The church built in 1835 is New Zealand’s oldest running church, featuring bullet holes still visible from the Maori Wars. A church service runs every Sunday at 10.30am. Check out more attractions like this in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in the Bay of Islands.
Location: Church Street, Russell.
9. Indulge in the Cafes, Restaurants and Historic Pubs
Russell’s waterfront and town are lined with all sorts of delightful eateries, from sweet treats such as at Delish Coffee and Ice Cream to the winery of Omata Estate. It’s also worth popping into the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, the oldest operating hotel and tavern in New Zealand. See The Foodie Guide to the Bay of Islands for more recommendations.
Location: Delish Coffee and Ice Cream – 4 Cass Street, Omata Estate – 212 Aucks Road, approximately 8km (5 miles) from Russell, Duke of Marlborough Hotel – 35 The Strand, Russell.
10. Hike the Cape Brett Track
Finally, for those wanting to escape the crowds and embark on a real adventure, consider hiking the Cape Brett Track. The trail is a traverse over hilltops through a mix of native bush and exposed hills with steep drop-offs. The day or overnight hike has a fee of around NZ$40 for walking over private land. Either stay in the hut overnight or return via water taxi.
Location: Oke Bay, Rawhiti, approximately 32km (20 miles) from Russell.