Guide to Paihia for Budget Travellers
Welcome to the jewel of the Bay of Islands, Paihia! Steeped in history, packed with adventure, and with heaps of ways to get out on the water, you’ll want to spend more than just a couple of days in the action-packed coastal town. We’ll go over all the fun stuff you can get up to in this Paihia guide for backpackers.
Whether you want to get on the ocean and explore some of the 144 islands of the Bay of Islands, or you prefer to keep your feet dry with a hike, mountain bike or a skydive, you’ll have plenty of things to do in Paihia. Historic sites, bush walks and beaches are all within walking distance from Paihia, while adventures out on the water usually depart right from the centre of town at Paihia Wharf. Go check out the marine wildlife on and under the water’s surface in wildlife cruises or scuba diving. Explore islands dotted with pristine beaches, forests and birds. See the beautiful coastal area from the skies in parasailing or skydiving. The sky is literally not the limit when it comes to things to do in Paihia.
Once you’ve found your dream activities, be sure to fill in the rest of your time with these 10 Free or Cheap Things to do in Paihia.
Walks in Paihia
Opua Forest Lookout (1-hour Return)
This quick and convenient walk takes you through native forest to a stunning viewpoint overlooking Paihia and the coast. Start the walk from School Road.
The Bay of Islands Coastal Walkway (8 Hours Loop)
For a full-day adventure, follow the Coastal Walkway from Paihia to Opua where you join the ferry service from Opua (all you need is some spare change for this) over the water to Okiato. From Okiato, walk through a mix of wetlands and forest to historic Russell. We recommend having a look around the historic town before hopping onto a passenger ferry from Russell Wharf back to Paihia.
Haruru Falls Track (1h30min One Way)
Start this track through the fascinating mangrove forest from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds (a 5-minute drive or 30-minute walk from Paihia) which then leads to a forested riverside walk. Look out for wetland birds along the way where you will finally arrive at the Haruru Falls. Return the same way.
Urupukapuka Island (10-minutes to 8-hours)
Take a ferry from Paihia Wharf out to the Bay of Island’s largest island, Urupukapuka. The bird sanctuary is well connected with walks of varying lengths. Spend 10 minutes walking to some awesome viewpoints or spend all day walking from beach to beach.
Water Activities in Paihia
Spending time in Paihia is not complete without getting out on the water! You have more than enough ways to enjoy this coastal paradise, from kayaking to scuba diving.
Wildlife and Island Cruises
Cruises depart daily from the Paihia Wharf out onto the water to visit some of the 144 islands spread across the bay. Along the way, your skipper and team will be on the lookout for regular visitors to the Bay of Islands, bottlenose dolphins. Some boat trips also give you the chance to swim with the dolphins if the opportunity arises, such as these trips with Explore NZ and Fullers GreatSights. Seasonal wildlife also includes orcas and seals. [Update: swimming with bottlenose dolphins is now prohibited in the Bay of Islands. Dolphin viewing cruises are still available in with the above companies on afternoon sailings].
Hoist the sails and get behind the helm in a scenic sailing tour around the Bay of Islands with either Barefoot Sailing Adventures or with the tall ship R. Tucker Thompson. Stop off at various swimming beaches and snorkelling spots along the way, or sit back and relax with a drink at sunset.
Kayaking, Waka Paddling and Stand-up Paddleboarding
When you want to paddle yourself, then you have plenty of ways to do it in Paihia. Hire a freedom kayak and paddle around the bay. Take a tour down the Waitangi River with Bay of Islands Cruise & Kayak or with Bay of Islands Kayaking where you will be met by the roaring Haruru Falls (where kayaking or paddle-boarding into the falls is not necessary but definitely encouraged). Finally, try your hand at paddling a traditional Maori canoe called a waka down the Waitangi River with Taiamai Tours.
If you thought the islands and the coast were spectacular, then wait until you see Paihia’s underwater world. The Bay of Islands is teeming with marine life found in reefs and kelp forests. Qualified divers can even do a couple of wreck dives in the area down to the Rainbow Warrior or The Canterbury. Additionally, explore underwater caves and all the hidden wildlife they possess.
Go out on a fishing charter in the Bay of Islands and it’s more than likely that you’ll return with a few snappers for dinner. Either take a fishing charter or make it an overnight experience with one of the overnight cruise operators, such as The Rock Adventure Cruise.
Learn more about Paihia’s water activities in 12 Paihia Must-Dos.
Adventure Activities in Paihia
If you prefer to keep your feet dry, then try one of these memorable adventure experiences in Paihia!
The Paihia Wharf is where many parasailing adventures begin in the Bay of Islands. Get harnessed under a huge colourful canopy and fly up to 1200ft over the Bay of Islands. If the take-off and landing on the back of the boat weren’t awesome enough, then the sensational views will certainly be! Book your parasailing adventure here.
Looking for something a little higher? A little more extreme? Then take the plunge in the Bay of Islands! Reach up to speeds of 200km/h as you freefall from either 9,000ft, 12,000ft or 16,000ft! When the weather is good, you even get the opportunity to land on the beach – the only beach landing in New Zealand! Skydive Bay of Islands can pick you up from your Paihia accommodation.
Check out more activities in 10 Must-Dos in the Bay of Islands.
Mountain Biking in Paihia
Paihia offers the best of both worlds when it comes to mountain biking. Either cruise along a scenic 87km trail or blast down some feature-filled downhill mountain biking trails.
The Waitangi Mountain Bike Park
Found past the Waitangi Golf Course and down Bayley Road, the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park is an ever-growing dedicated mountain bike park with trails for everyone. Jump trails, cross-country, scenic, introductory downhills, and something for the more advanced riders. Weave between the trees of the pine forest on trails that always keep you on your toes! Remember to register to ride for a small fee at the Waitangi MTB Park website so this community project can keep on going. Plus, transport and bike rentals can be organised with Paihia Mountain Bikes.
The Twin Coast Cycle Trail
Cycle through a mix of farmland countryside, forest, historic tunnels on the Twin Coast Cycle Trail. This grade 1-3 87km trail goes between Opua and Horeke. Opua is just a short drive down the coast from Paihia, but local tour operators, like Paihia Mountain Bikes, can hire out bikes and transport you to one end of the trail and pick you up at the other (or whichever sections you want to do).
Historic Sites in Paihia
New Zealand as a nation began right here in the Bay of Islands. With that, there are plenty of places easily accessed from Paihia where you can learn heaps about New Zealand history.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
In Paihia neighbouring settlement of Waitangi, visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where New Zealand’s most significant document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed. You can get a little bit more of a history lesson in What is Waitangi Day? At the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, just a 5-minute drive or 30-minute walk from Paihia, a day pass will give you access to the Museum of Waitangi, the Waka House holding the world’s largest ceremonial canoe, as well as a compelling Maori cultural show. The attractions are linked by bush walks which will lead you to a flagstaff, a carved meeting house, the Treaty House and guided walks are also available. For more information, check out 5 Reasons to Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
Russell – The Hell Hole of the Pacific
Well, the town doesn’t really go by that name anymore. Russell was New Zealand’s first capital with more than 200 years of stories to discover. It’s taken quite the transformation from a whaler’s paradise where there were no rules to the more civilised cafe and bar-clad coastal town that it is today. Learn more about the fascinating history of Russell by visiting the Russell Museum, York Street, or Pompallier Mission and Printery, The Strand, where French Marist missionaries established the place to promote Catholicism to the Maori. Other historic sites include Flagstaff Hill where you can get some epic views of the Bay of Islands, as well as the first church in New Zealand, Christ Church on Church Street, and finally, The Duke of Marlborough on The Strand was the first hostel and licensed pub in New Zealand. You can still go there and get a drink today.
To get to Russell, either take the passenger ferry operating every 10 minutes from Paihia Wharf or take the car ferry from Opua Bay.
If You Have More Time in Paihia…
- Take a day trip to Kerikeri to see Rainbow Falls, the Stone Store and more! (More info in Bay of Islands – Guide for Backpackers)
- Tick off everything in 10 Free or Cheap Things to do in Paihia
- Then tick off everything in 10 Paihia Must-Dos
- If it’s raining, check out 11 Things to do in the Bay of Islands on a Rainy Day
- Take a day trip to Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach
- Eat yourself silly at the many cafes and eateries in Paihia and Russell.