Family Activities in the Bay of Islands
Ocean, islands and endless summer, the Bay of Islands is the ideal family escape. Just over three hours north of Auckland, the Bay of Islands and its towns of Paihia, Kerikeri, Kawakawa and Russell, feel a world away from the hustle and bustle. It’s a place to embrace nature with amazing dolphin cruises, stunning waterfalls, kauri walks and beaches. You’ll also find a few surprises along the way, from historical sites to chocolate factories. We’ll guide you through some of the best picks for families in this list of things to do in the Bay of Islands with kids.
For more advice on planning a family getaway, head over to The Guide to the Bay of Islands for Families.
1. Look Out for Dolphins on a Bay of Islands Cruise
See what the Bay of Islands is named after by taking one of the popular cruises, like The Cream Trip with Fullers GreatSights. See some of the 144 islands in the bay, including a short stop on Urupukapuka Island with a stunning beach and bar/cafe – a great place to get ice cream! Throughout the cruise, your guides will be on the lookout for dolphins, whales and seals, giving you time to watch them if you’re lucky enough for an encounter. Be aware that it’s a seven-hour trip, so make sure this is suitable for your family.
Location: Trips depart from Paihia and Russell wharves.
2. See the Giants of the Forest on the Manginangina Kauri Walk
Be awed by some of the largest trees of New Zealand on the Manginangina Kauri Walk. An easy trail suitable for families and even strollers, this 15-minute boardwalk loop showcases enormous kauri trees in the Puketi Forest. Alternatively, the Puketi Nature Trail a little further south is a similar walk but takes about an hour to complete. Check out more free activities in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in the Bay of Islands.
Location: The Manginangina Kauri Walk is approximately 20km (12 miles) from Kerikeri via Pungaere Road.
3. Parasail Over the Bay
For families with a sense of adventure, try out parasailing in Paihia with Flying Kiwi Parasail. Children must only weigh over 20kg (44lbs) to join in, which with tandem and triple flights available, makes for a fun shared family experience. From high in the sky, see the many islands scattering the bay! The experience lasts approximately 1h30mins.
Location: Trips depart from Paihia Wharf.
4. Learn About New Zealand History and the Maori Culture at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
A must near the town of Paihia is the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. The grounds where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed are full of attractions and activities that are fun and educational for the whole family. Visit the on-site museum to learn about how New Zealand became a nation, check out some heritage buildings, watch Maori carvers, do a bushwalk and watch a Maori cultural performance in a carved meeting house.
Location: Tau Henare Drive, Waitangi, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Paihia town centre.
5. Walk to the Beautiful Rainbow Falls
A popular and free thing to do in the Bay of Islands with kids is the Rainbow Falls Walk in Kerikeri. Admire a stunning 27m (89ft) waterfall on this easy 10-minute walk that is suitable for baby strollers. From Rainbow Falls, you can enjoy a 1h30min walk along the Kerikeri River Track to The Stone Store and Kemp House.
Location: Rainbow Falls Road, 4.5km (3 miles) from Kerikeri town centre.
6. Do a Nature Cruise and Kayak Under a Waterfall
Entertain the kids is on a cruise and kayaking tour with Bay of Islands Cruise & Kayak. Enjoy a relaxing nature cruise down the Waitangi River to see birds, fish and mangrove forest before arriving at the amazing Haruru Falls where your family can get up-close to the falls on kayaks or stand-up paddleboards. The combination of the boat cruise and kayaking makes for a not-to-strenuous family outing. See more like this in the 7 Water Activities in the Bay of Islands.
Location: Tours depart from Paihia Wharf.
7. See the Glowworms at the Kawiti Glowworm Caves
For an experience almost like magic, delve into the glowworm caves of Kawiti Glowworm Caves just south of Kawakawa. A tour of this large limestone cave reveals amazing stalactites, stalagmites and thousands of glowworms. Learn about the interesting lifecycle of the glowworms and enjoy a short bushwalk too on this tour that lasts approximately 45-60 minutes. Note that this tour is not suitable for baby strollers. The Kawiti Glowworm Caves is also included in the half-day Bay of Islands Highlights Tour with Bay of Islands Tours, as well as the full-day tour to the Waipoua Forest with Fullers GreatSights.
Location: Waiomio, just off State Highway One approximately 21km (13 miles) from Paihia.
8. Do a Day Trip to Urupukapuka Island
Take the Explore ferry from Paihia Wharf or Russell and enjoy an amazing family outing on Urupukapuka Island. The island is ideal for kids thanks to its sheltered shallow bay for swimming, fish to snorkel with by the wharf, a cafe/bar with garden games to play, kayaks and paddleboards to hire, and a number of walks around the island. With several sailings to the island throughout the day, you can stay for as little or as long as you please.
Location: Ferries depart from Paihia and Russell wharves.
9. Watch Chocolate Being Made at Makana Confections
In the quaint town of Kerikeri, Makana Confections is a boutique chocolate factory where you can watch the action! See the chocolatiers make all sorts of treats through the large windows in the gift shop, then treat the whole family to some irresistible hot chocolates in the cafe next door! Check out more experiences like this in the 10 Things to Do in the Bay of Islands for Foodies.
Location: 504 Kerikeri Road, Kerikeri.
10. Enjoy Some Family Beach Time
Finally, take some time to relax with swimming and building sandcastles at one of the Bay of Islands’ magnificent beaches. Popular picks include Oneroa Bay in Russell, The Strand Beach on the waterfront of Paihia, and Te Tii Bay at the northern end of Paihia.