The Must-Dos in the Bay of Islands
Beautiful beaches, pristine islands, energetic marine life, waterfalls, forests, history… The Bay of Islands is as dreamy as its name and then some. You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to things to do in the Bay of Islands!
The Bay of Islands is a small and stunning district of New Zealand’s Northland region. On the coast, you have the main hub of Paihia and Waitangi where you can find most of the water-based activities of the area. Go out on a cruise to check out the wildlife in dolphin swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaking and sailing. Across the water from Paihia is Russell, New Zealand’s first capital which is steeped in history. Inland are the towns of Kerikeri, Kawakawa, Kaikohe and Kaeo where there are heaps of natural features, historical sites and great foodie experiences to enjoy.
So take a look at the list below to see the must-dos in the Bay of Islands!
1. Cruise Around the Bay of Islands
Starting off our list of the best things to do in the Bay of Islands is getting out on the water. Paihia Wharf and Russell Wharf are the starting points for many adventures in the Bay of Islands. How you want to explore the islands is just a matter of choosing. Speed off into the distance on a trip to the famous Hole in the Rock, take it easy on a sailing trip, or even join a dolphin-watching cruise. Whatever you choose, you’ll get to see and even stop off at some of the 144 islands dotted around the bay, look out for marine mammals, and take in the glorious views of the islands. Compare cruises in the 10 Best Cruises in the Bay of Islands and see more experiences like this in the 8 Luxury Activities in the Bay of Islands.
Location: Tours from the Paihia Wharf and Russell Wharf are available with Explore NZ (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) and Fullers GreatSights (on Viator and Tripadvisor). Additionally, Albatross V Expeditions (on Viator and Tripadvisor) offers tours from Russell.
2. Ride at the Waitangi MTB Park or On the Twin Coast Cycle Trail
Not all the adventure is out on the water, you know! The Bay of Islands has a couple of fantastic biking options for all levels of mountain biking. Check out the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park for downhill blasts and heaps of features to play around on (more info on Viator and Tripavisor). Alternatively, take the 85km (53 miles) journey of the Twin Coast Cycle Trail taking you through old railway tunnels and through some stunning rural countryside. Check out more about bike trails around the country in The Best Mountain Biking Regions in New Zealand.
Location: Waitangi Mountain Bike Park, 33 Bayly Road, Waitangi. Ask bike operators, like Paihia Mountain Bikes, about transport to or from the Twin Coast Cycle Trail. Find out more on Viator and Tripadvisor.
3. Visit Rainbow Falls
Next on our list of the must-do Bay of Islands activities is Rainbow Falls. This waterfall is one of the most accessible and stunning waterfalls in the country. The 27m (88ft) Rainbow Falls has many different viewpoints from the top to the bottom of the falls. You can even clamber your way behind the waterfall if you are feeling adventurous! Just find a place to cross the stream at the bottom of the falls and make your way around the back (in a safe and cautious manner, of course). For more must-see waterfalls, check out 12 Most Wonderful Waterfalls in New Zealand.
Location: Waipapa Road, Kerikeri.
4. Explore Urupukapuka Island
If you love beaches, views, walks and birds then you’ll love Urupukapuka Island. The largest island in the Bay of Islands is well connected with walking trails to take you to some of the best views in the Bay of Islands, as well as historical Maori pa sites, forests and numerous beaches. The island is also alive with birdsong thanks to it being a predator-free sanctuary. When you are finished on the island, treat yourself to a drink or ice cream at the island’s bar before taking the ferry back to Paihia. If you ask us, this is one of the best things to do in the Bay of Islands.
Location: Ferries depart from Paihia Wharf with Explore. Booking recommended.
5. Skydive from 20,000ft and Land on the Beach
If you’re itching to do something crazy like a skydive in New Zealand, then the Bay of Islands is an awesome place to do it. When the weather is good, you get the best drop zone in the country right on the beach! There are three heart-thumping heights to choose from with Skydive Bay of Islands and great photo packages if you want to capture the action. Check them out on Viator and Tripadvisor. Plus, check out more skydives around New Zealand, take a look at 12 Places to Tandem Skydive in New Zealand. Admit it, this will go straight onto your to-do list of the Bay of Islands activities.
Location: Skydive Bay of Islands, 182 Wiroa Road, Kerikeri. They can do pick-ups in the Bay of Islands.
6. Go Scuba Diving or Snorkelling
The waters of the Bay of Islands are teeming with life from marine mammals to thousands of fish species. While some cruise and sailing companies offer snorkelling trips, there are also various scuba diving operators in the area taking divers to reefs, wrecks and underwater caves. There’s plenty to see in the kelp forests around the Bay of Islands, so pop on your mask and snorkel and start exploring! For more dive sites check out 10 Places to Scuba Dive in New Zealand.
Location: Paihia Dive – 35 Williams Road, Paihia. Dive Zone Bay of Islands – 5 Klinac Lane, Kerikeri.
7. Kayak or Walk to Haruru Falls
Everyone likes a good waterfall but it’s the journey to Haruru Falls that’s the appeal. Either take the Mangrove Boardwalk along the Waitangi River to reach the falls or go on a kayaking trip up the Waitangi River. At high tide, you can kayak among the mangrove forest or take a cruise/kayak tour to see wildlife along the way. With double kayaks and an easy boat ride to the falls, kayaking is one of the best Bay of Islands activities for families.
Location: Start the walk from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds or find kayaking operators at the mouth of the Waitangi River, including Bay of Islands Cruise & Kayak (more in on Viator and Tripadvisor), Coastal Kayakers (on Viator and Tripadvisor) and Bay of Islands Kayaking (on Viator and Tripadvisor).
8. Check Out the Hell Hole of the Pacific
That’s right, Russell was New Zealand’s first capital and was once known as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific”. With that, there are a few historical sites to check out like the first church, Christ Church on Church Street, as well as the first hotel and licensed pub in New Zealand, The Duke of Marlborough on The Strand. Walk up to Flagstaff Hill and get some awesome views of Russell and the bay. Plan your visit using the 10 Best Things to Do in Russell.
Location: Passenger ferries operate every 10 minutes from Paihia Wharf. Car ferries operate every 10 minutes from Opua Bay.
9. Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is one of the most historically significant sites in New Zealand. This is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed and New Zealand became a nation. More information about that can be found in What is Waitangi Day? A day pass to the grounds includes entry to the Museum of Waitangi, the colonial house, guided tours, bushwalks, the Waka House and a cultural show at the carved meeting house. Find out more about the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on Viator, Tripadvisor and the 5 Reasons to Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
Location: Tau Henare Drive, Waitangi.
10. Fly Over the Islands in a Helicopter
Nothing allows you to truly appreciate the bay’s 144 islands quite like a scenic flight from Paihia. Salt Air offers an array of experiences by air and even combined with boat and land tours. You could cruise to one of the islands before embarking on a helicopter flight over the Hole in the Rock on the Heli Cruise Island Escape. Or how about flying from Paihia to Ninety Mile Beach on the Cape Reinga Tour? Or, just keep things simple and enjoy the views on the Hole in the Rock helicopter flight. Find out more about Salt Air on Viator and Tripadvisor. See more experiences like this in the 8 Luxury Activities in the Bay of Islands.
Location: Tours depart from Paihia Wharf.
11. Do a Winery-Hopping Tour
Experience one of the most underrated wine-growing regions of New Zealand on a winery-hopping tour with Rogue Pony. They offer unique private tours in a luxury Jeep or Mustang, either spending the day visiting multiple wineries or checking out some of the main attractions before sitting down for a winery lunch. Find out more about Rogue Pony’s tours on Viator and Tripadvisor. Alternatively, check out Mullarkeys Tours, which combine local wines, craft beer and chocolate on their wine and craft beer tour. More details on Mullarkeys Tours can be found on Viator and Tripadvisor. See more experiences like this in the 7 Things to Do in the Bay of Islands for Foodies.
Location: Pick-ups are available from accommodations in Paihia and Kerikeri with Rogue Pony. Mullarkeys Tours depart from the Paihia i-SITE.
12. See the Giants of the Forest in the Puketi Forest
Be awed by some of the largest trees in New Zealand on the walking trails of the Puketi Forest. A popular walk that’s suitable for families and wheelchair-users is the Manginangina Kauri Walk, a 15-minute boardwalk loop that showcases enormous kauri trees. We also like the Puketi Nature Trail, which is similar but takes an hour to complete. For something longer, try the 4-hour Pirau Ridge Track. We also list this activity in the 10 Things to Do in the Bay of Islands with Kids.
Location: The Manginangina Kauri Walk is approximately 20km (12 miles) from Kerikeri via Pungaere Road. Yellow and green Department of Conservation (DoC) signs point out other walks in the Puketi Forest.
13. Tackle the Cape Brett Track
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 the hilltops of Cape Brett through a mix of native bush and exposed hills revealing commanding coastal views. The two-day hike has a fee of around NZ$40 each for track maintenance and NZ$15 for the hut accommodation, which, while maybe unappealing to some, keeps the trail blissful uncrowded. See more experiences like this in the 10 Romantic Activities in the Bay of Islands for Couples.
Location: Start the track from Oke Bay in Rawhiti, approximately 32km (20 miles) from Russell.
14. Parasail Over the Bay of Islands
Wrapping up our list of the best things to do in the Bay of Islands is Parasailing. Fly high above the Bay of Islands with Flying Kiwi Parasail and take in some incredible views! Two parasailing companies operate from Paihia Wharf where they fly you to around 1200ft over the water. Brave it alone, do tandem-style or triple (weight-depending) as you are attached to a huge canopy. We guarantee you will be the most colourful thing in the sky. Find out more about Flying Kiwi Parasail on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: Trips depart from Paihia Wharf.