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10 Best Things to Do in Kawakawa

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The Top Activities and Attractions in Kawakawa

Kawakawa is the gateway to the Bay of Islands and a fascinating little town not to be missed! The colourful town centre is decorated with murals and New Zealand’s most famous public toilets. If you arrive on a weekend, don’t be surprised if there is a large steam train making its way right through the town centre. The little Bay of Islands settlement is a highlight of the Twin Coast Cycle Trail and a great excuse to stop and grab a famous New Zealand coffee or a bite to eat at one of the many quaint cafes. If you’re not sure how to spend your time in this lesser-explored Bay of Islands town, just take a look at the list of things to do in Kawakawa below!

1. Take a Pee Break at the Hundertwasser Toilets

Yes, New Zealand’s most famous public toilets are right here in Kawakawa. They are probably going to be the most colourful and artistic toilets you’ll ever get the chance to relieve yourself in. The Hundertwasser Toilets are decorated in mosaic ceramic and glass bottles, designed by the famous Austrian artist who made his home in the Bay of Islands, Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

Location: 62 Gillies Street (State Highway 1), Kawakawa town centre.

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2. Cycle the Twin Coast Cycle Trail

This 87 km (54 mi) cycle trail crossing from the Bay of Islands to the Hokianga Harbour passes right through Kawakawa. The Twin Coast Cycle Trail follows an old railway corridor and is an easy-going right suitable for all ages. While the whole trail takes 2 days to complete, a popular section is the Opua to Kawakawa, which is around 11 km (7 mi) long. Bike hire and transport can be arranged in Paihia or Opua with Paihia Mountain Bikes.

Location: Start from Opua Wharf and follow the well-marked Twin Coast Cycle Trail to Kawakawa.

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3. See the Art at the Kings Theatre Creative

This refurbished 1930s Kings Theatre Creative is now the home of a refreshing art gallery full of creations from around the Far North and Bay of Islands districts. See local Māori art and other thought-provoking pieces in this gallery which is open from Thursday to Sunday.

Location: 80 Gillies Street (State Highway 1), Kawakawa town centre.

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4. Ride a Vintage Train

Every weekend, the vintage steam train, Gabriel, chugs its way through the town centre of Kawakawa at the start of its scenic railway journey. Get in on the action by hopping on the train at the Kawakawa Station with the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway. If you don’t manage to make it to Kawakawa on a weekend or between January and March when trails run daily, there are still restored locomotives and carriages on display outside of the Kawakawa Station.

Location: Gillies Street, just off State Highway 1, Kawakawa.©

5. See the Kawakawa Mural

Kawakawa is an artsy town and another addition is the beautiful mural found alongside the Hundertwasser Toilets. This remarkable Hundertwasser-inspired piece of art was made by local school children which makes an amazing photo opportunity.

Location: Beside the Hundertwasser Toilets, 62 Gillies Street (State Highway 1), Kawakawa town centre.

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6. Visit the Kawiti Glowworm Caves

Just 5 km (3 mi) south of Kawakawa is the magnificent Kawiti Glowworm Caves. Take a guided tour through this gorgeous cave network, while listening to stories from your local Māori guide. You’ll also learn about the fascinating (yet brutal) lifecycle of the glowworm. Check out more of the 10 Places to See the Famous Glowworms in New Zealand.

Location: 49 Waiomio Road, Waiomio, approximately 5 km (3 mi) south of Kawakawa via State Highway 1.

7 Best Things to Do in Kawakawa©

7. Walk Among New Zealand’s Largest Trees on the Opua Kauri Walk

For those feeling a little more active, a pleasant stroll through kauri forest can be found just north of Kawakawa. The Opua Kauri Walk is a 30-minute return walk partly over boardwalk through a classic example of kauri forest. Kauri here range from 25 to around 400 years old! The Oromahoe Traverse links the Opua Kauri Walk to Paihia, taking a further two hours. Once you discover this enchanting forest, you’ll definitely want to hit the 10 Best Kauri Forests in Northland.

Location: Oromahoe Road, Opua, approximately 12 km (7 mi) north of Kawakawa.

7 Best Things to Do in Kawakawa© Department of Conservation

8. Unwind in the Ngawha Springs Hot Pools

Based in the centre of a geothermal hotbed and landscaped with Māori carvings and rock gardens, the Ngawha Springs Hot Pools provide a warm and soothing experience. Just take your pick out of one of the 16 small pools of 34-40°C (93-104°F) with varying mineral contents and some with bubbles to leave the skin rejuvenated. For more experiences towards the neighbouring town of Kaikohe, check out the 10 Best Things to Do in Kaikohe.

Location: 303 Ngawha Springs Road, Ngawha Spring, approximately 30 km (18 mi) west of Kawakawa via State Highway 12.

7 Best Things to Do in Kawakawa© Northland Inc

9. Grab Yourself a Coffee and a Bite to Eat

Kawakawa is one of those classic Kiwi towns with great food and great coffee! The main street has four fantastic cafes to choose from, giving you a great excuse to stop by while travelling around the Bay of Islands. Recommendations include 39 Gillies Cafe (39 Gillies Street), Railway Station Cafe (102 Gillies Street) and, for fish and chips, Stumpys Fish (2 Station Road).

Location: Gillies Street (State Highway 1), Kawakawa town centre.

7 Best Things to Do in Kawakawa©

10. Visit Paihia

If all else fails, at least Kawakawa is close to the main tourist centre of the Bay of Islands, Paihia. Less than a 20-minute drive up the road, the beachside town is awash in activities between cruises among the bay’s 144 islands and historical sites like the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Simply head over to the 20 Best Things to Do in Paihia to get inspired.

Location: Paihia, approximately 15 km (9.5 mi) north of Kawakawa via State Highway 11.

7 Best Things to Do in Kawakawa©

More Things to Do Near Kawakawa

That’s it for our list of the best things to do in Kawakawa. While exploring the Bay of Islands, don’t miss the highlights in these nearby towns:

Finally, plan the rest of your North Island excursion using the 50 Best Things to Do on the North Island.


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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