Free (and Cheap) Activities in Paihia, Kerikeri, Russell and the Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands doesn’t have to be all about cruises, skydives, scuba diving, kayaking and the like. There are plenty of cheap and even free things to do in the Bay of Islands to complete your itinerary and stick to your budget. We go over some of the budget-friendly highlights of Paihia, Kerikeri, Kawakawa, Russell and beyond in this list of free and cheap things to do in the Bay of Islands.
While you’re here, don’t miss our complete bible to all things budget in the Bay in The Budget & Backpacking Guide to the Bay of Islands.
1. See the Majestic Rainbow Falls – FREE
A great way to save money in the Bay of Islands is by visiting its free natural attractions. A must-see is Rainbow Falls which is just outside of Kerikeri! A short walk from the Rainbow Falls Road car park brings you to several viewpoints of the waterfall. The walking trail then continues along the Kerikeri River all the way to the Stone Store (see below), which takes approximately 1 hr 30 mins one way. For more experiences nearby, including plenty of free stuff, check out the 15 Best Things to Do in Kerikeri.
Location: Rainbow Falls Road, just 4.5 km (3 mi) from Kerikeri town centre.
2. Walk to Haruru Falls – FREE
For those based in Paihia, an excellent waterfall alternative is Haruru Falls. While Haruru Falls is easy to access just off Haruru Falls Road, we recommend taking the Waitangi-to-Haruru Falls Track along the Waitangi River. The winding mangrove boardwalk and bush trail take around 2 hrs 30 mins to complete one way. For more freebies close to town, check out the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Paihia.
Location: Haruru Falls Road, approximately 5 km (3 mi) from Paihia town centre. Alternatively, the Waitangi River Walk starts opposite the road from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Tau Henare Drive, Waitangi, approximately 3 km (2 mi) from Paihia town centre.
3. Visit the Stone Store Museum and Take a Tour of Kemp House – CHEAP
The Bay of Islands might be steeped in history, but some of its most popular historical attractions aren’t exactly cheap. An affordable alternative, however, is the Stone Store and Kemp House in Kerikeri. Visit one of New Zealand’s earliest stores, the Stone Store, which is free to browse downstairs. Alternatively, it’s only around NZ$20 to take a look around the museum upstairs, which also includes a guided tour of the oldest surviving house in New Zealand, the Kemp House. For more affordable sites to discover in the region, check out the 10 Best Historical Places in Northland.
Location: 246 Kerikeri Road, Kerikeri.
4. Take the Ferry to Russell – CHEAP
Experience a bit of history, scenery, food or whatever you decide to do in the town of Russell. The historic town is easily accessed via ferry (less than NZ$20 return) from Paihia Wharf. Once there, take a look around Pompallier Mission, either around NZ$7 to access the gardens or NZ$15 for a guided tour of the old printery, tannery and storehouse for the French Marist mission. You can also admire Christ Church, New Zealand’s oldest surviving church, hike up Flagstaff Hill for the views, or indulge at the historic pubs or dessert places around town. For more ideas, just head to the 10 Best Things to Do in Russell.
Location: Passenger ferries are available from Paihia Wharf. Vehicle ferries are available from Opua, 6km (4 miles) south of Paihia. Pompallier Mission – 5 The Strand. Christ Church – 1 Church Street. Flagstaff Hill – Titore Way.
5. Go to the Beach – FREE
The beach is always a good place to spend some time in the Bay of Islands, whether it’s for a stroll or a swim. Some of the best beaches in the area include Oneroa Bay behind the town of Russell, Paihia Town Beach and Te Tii Bay at the northern end of Paihia town.
See how these beaches compare to the 20 Stunning Beaches in New Zealand.
6. Watch the Chocolatiers at Work at a Chocolate Factory – FREE
In Kerikeri, pop into Makana Confections to watch the chocolatiers hard at work through the large windows of their chocolate factory and store. They also have a cafe next door should you want to treat yourself to some chocolatey goodness. For more tasty activities like this, check out the 10 Best Foodie Experiences & Wine Tours in the Bay of Islands.
Location: 504 Kerikeri Road, Kerikeri.
7. See the Famous Toilets of Kawakawa – FREE
That’s right, New Zealand’s most famous public toilets can be found in the town centre of Kawakawa! The mosaic bathrooms were designed by a local artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who you can learn all about on the flyers displayed outside of the toilets while you wait for your other half to do their business. The toilets are not the only free attraction in the town, so be sure to check out the 10 Best Things to Do in Kawakawa.
Location: 62 Gillies Street (State Highway 1), Kawakawa town centre.
8. Admire the Giants of Puketi Forest – FREE
Be awed by some of the largest trees in New Zealand on the walking trails of the Puketi Forest. A popular option is the Manginangina Kauri Walk, a 15-minute boardwalk loop that showcases enormous kauri trees. Alternatively, the Puketi Nature Trail is a similar walk that takes about an hour to complete. For something longer, try the Pirau Ridge Track, which is a 4-hour hike. These walks are suitable for kids, which we also recommend in the 10 Things to Do in the Bay of Islands with Kids.
Location: The Manginangina Kauri Walk is approximately 20 km (12 mi) west of Kerikeri via Pungaere Road. Yellow and green Department of Conservation (DOC) signs point out other walks in the Puketi Forest.
9. Take in the Views from the Waitangi Golf Club – FREE
Either walk or drive up to the Waitangi Golf Club to get some amazing vistas of the Bay of Islands. There is a large parking area at a scenic viewpoint, which is a great place to take a picnic and admire the view.
Location: Tau Henare Drive, Waitangi, approximately 4 km (2.5 mi) from Paihia town centre.
10. Grab Some Cheap Eats – CHEAP
Fish and chips, bagels and ice cream: these are some of the staples of the Bay of Islands that you can enjoy on a budget. For instance, Hell Hole (19 York Street, Russell) has a creative mix of bagels, croissants and baguettes, while Letz Cafe (9 Williams Road, Paihia) serves up hearty bagels, burgers, sandwiches and a wide selection of gelato. Speaking of gelato, don’t miss a cold cone from Cellini’s Ice Cream & Espresso (Williams Road, Paihia) or Mövenpick (2a Williams Road, Paihia). Finally, while nothing glamorous, JFC (40 Marsden Road, Paihia) and Oceans 68 (68 Marsden Road, Paihia) do popular fish and chips, as does Russell Fish Co. (2 Cass Street, Russell).
For more foodie stuff, head over to The Food Guide to the Bay of Islands: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
10 More Free and Cheap Things to Do in the Bay of Islands
And now for some honourable mentions of the Bay of Islands’ best free and cheap activities:
- Te Ahurea – A replica pre-European Maori village with a small entry fee – 1 Landing Road, Kerikeri
- Kororipo Pā – Easily accessible pā site in Kerikeri dating back to pre-1775 – 246 Kerikeri Road, Kerikeri
- Opua Forest Paihia Lookout – 1-hour walk through native forest with views over Paihia – School Road, Paihia
- Paihia to Opua Coastal Walk – 3-hour one-way walk over beaches, mangrove boardwalk and forest – Te Haumi Stream road bridge, Paihia
- Twin Coast Cycle Trail – 2-day cycle trail from the Bay of Islands to the Kauri Coast – Opua Wharf
- Russell Museum – A small entry fee applies to explore the artefacts and history of the Bay of Islands – 2 York Street, Russell
- Charlie’s Rock – Popular swimming spot with a waterfall – Landing Road, Kerikeri
- Akeake Reserve Track – 15-30 mins walk to a beach, pā site and viewpoint – Opito Bay Road, Kerikeri
- Bay of Islands Farmers’ Market – Thursday afternoons in Paihia – The Village Green, 60 Marsden Road – and Sunday mornings in Kerikeri – Post Office Carpark, 10 Hobson Avenue
- The Old Packhouse Market – Every Saturday and Sunday morning – 505 Kerikeri Road, Kerikeri.
More Free and Cheap Things to Do in the Bay of Islands
That’s it for our list of cheap and free things to do in the Bay of Islands. For more ways to stick to your travel budget, check out these insightful guides:
- 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Paihia
- 10 Best Budget Accommodations in the Bay of Islands
- The Budget & Backpacking Guide to the Bay of Islands
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in The Complete Travel Guide to the Bay of Islands. Plus, for more free stuff, check out the 50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand.