How to Plan the Best Trip to Paihia and the Bay of Islands
A subtropical escape to the Bay of Islands should be on the bucket list of anyone who loves sand, sea and beaches and is planning a trip around New Zealand. The 144 islands scattering the vibrant blue waters of the Bay of Islands are a place to get out on the water, whether it’s on a relaxing sailing cruise or under a parasailing canopy. When you’re not discovering the Bay, you can take some time to learn more about New Zealand’s history through the first capital, the town of Russell, or catch a Māori performance where the controversial Treaty of Waitangi was signed.
Sounds like your sort of place? Pick out the best activities, accommodations and restaurants for your preferred style of travel with this complete travel guide to the Bay of Islands.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Bay of Islands
Let’s cut to the chase; what are the most common questions travellers have about visiting the Bay of Islands?
Is the Bay of Islands worth seeing?
Yes – if you have the time to spare, the Bay of Islands offers some of the most scenic beaches and islands in New Zealand. However, if you have limited time to explore the North Island, then the Bay of Islands can often be skipped in favour of other more accessible beach destinations like The Coromandel.
Where is the Bay of Islands located?
What is the weather usually like in the Bay of Islands?
The Bay of Islands has a subtropical climate. The daily average temperature is 16°C (60.8°F), while the yearly average rainfall is 1,500 mm (59.1 in). Find out more in What is the Weather Like in New Zealand?
How do you get to the Bay of Islands?
Paihia and Kerikeri are well connected to the rest of New Zealand by road and by air with a domestic airport in Kerikeri. The closest international airport is Auckland Airport which has plenty of car rental options available. The Bay of Islands is also on the main national bus route, which you can find more information about in our guide to the Bus Networks in New Zealand.
Where can I base myself in the Bay of Islands?
How many days do you need in the Bay of Islands?
We recommend at least two days in the Bay of Islands but there’s enough to do here for three to five days!
What to Do in the Bay of Islands
The first thing that springs to mind when talking about the Bay of Islands is getting out on the water and exploring some of those 144 islands – and you should totally do that! But some of the most memorable experiences come from the historical sites where the first Māori and Europeans colonised New Zealand, while inland offers many hidden gems, from vineyards to waterfalls.
The Top Experiences in the Bay of Islands
What are the must-dos? Here are some of the Bay of Islands highlights:
- Jump on one of the many exciting cruises around the Bay of Islands
- Check out Rainbow Falls
- Take the ferry to Urupukapuka Island
- Skydive and land on the beach with Skydive Bay of Islands
- Kayak to Haruru Falls
- Take the ferry to Russell or enjoy one of the other day trips in the Bay of Islands…
… And the list continues over in our 40 Best Things to Do in the Bay of Islands. You might also like to see what’s going on in specific towns, such as the 30 Best Things to Do in Paihia, 10 Best Things to Do in Russell, 15 Best Things to Do in Kerikeri and 10 Best Things to Do in Kawakawa.
Rainy Day Activities
The Bay of Islands has a subtropical climate, meaning it gets its fair share of rainy days. That doesn’t mean the fun has to stop though, as you can wait out the rain by doing these experiences:
- Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
- Delve into the Kawiti Glowworm Caves
- Take a tour around Russell with Russell Mini Tours.
Of course, there’s more where that came from over in our 15 Things to Do in the Bay of Islands on a Rainy Day.
Where to Stay in the Bay of Islands
Other than the accommodations we recommend on the righthand side of this complete travel guide to the Bay of Islands (or at the bottom, if you’re reading this on mobile), we have compiled entire lists of places to stay based on price, what’s best for families or a couples’ getaway, as well as premium stays. What’s more, each list is compiled by real writers; not some algorithm.
Where to Eat in the Bay of Islands
No matter what type of traveller you are, you’ll want to incorporate some foodie aspects into your trip to the Bay of Islands. It could be through a winery-hopping tour, exploring the Bay of Islands on a sailing cruise with a gourmet barbecue, or simply trying out the chocolates at the local chocolate factory. We’ve also handpicked some excellent places to stay to make the most of the restaurants, local produce or in-villa dining in The Food Guide to the Bay of Islands: Places to Eat & Food Tours so start planning your food-orientated getaway!
The Best Restaurants in the Bay of Islands
- Marsden Estate (56 Wiroa Road, Kerikeri)
- Terra Restaurant (76 Marsden Road, Paihia)
- Charlotte’s Kitchen (69 Marsden Road, Paihia)
- The Old Packhouse Cafe (505 Kerikeri Road, Kerikeri)
- The Gables (19 The Strand, Russell)
- Tipsy Oyster Tapas & Bar (24 Kings Road, Paihia)
- Delish Coffee and Ice Cream (4 Cass Street, Russell)
Again, more details about these eateries, as well as more recommendations, can be found in The Food Guide to the Bay of Islands: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
Things to Do for Foodies
- Do a variety of tastings on a wine, craft beer and chocolate tour with Mullarkey Tours
- Mingle with the locals at the Bay of Islands Farmers Market
- Learn a new dish with a market tour and vegetarian cooking class with Travelling Spoon
- Enjoy a sailing cruise with a gourmet barbecue lunch with Sunkissed Gourmet Sailing
- Watch chocolates being handmade at Makana Confections.
For elaboration on each recommendation, take a look at the 10 Best Foodie Experiences in the Bay of Islands.
The Bay of Islands for Budget Travellers
The Bay of Islands is a destination of amazing natural attractions and historical sites which are either free to visit or at least with an affordable admission fee. Waterfalls can be admired in Paihia and Kerikeri, while Russell and Kerikeri also offer historically significant sites, like some of New Zealand’s longest surviving buildings. If that’s not your thing, however, you can always rely on the Bay of Islands for some beach time. It’s also worth saving some of your budget for the must-dos. Get more advice in The Budget & Backpacking Guide to the Bay of Islands.
Things to Do in the Bay of Islands on a Budget
- See the magnificent Rainbow Falls
- Take a tour of the Stone Store Museum and Kemp House
- Take the ferry to historic Russell
- See New Zealand’s most famous public toilets in Kawakawa
- Walk to Haruru Falls.
For more ideas and elaboration, check out the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in the Bay of Islands and 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Paihia.
Motels and holiday parks can be found in Paihia, Kerikeri and Russell, offering cheap accommodations for all types of travellers. Those on a more limited budget are best to check out the hostels in Paihia and Kerikeri. Find out more in the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in the Bay of Islands and 10 Best Backpacker Hostels in the Bay of Islands.
The Bay of Islands for Luxury Travellers
With premium villas nestled on hilltops overlooking the bay, private tours by land, sea and air, and world-class golf courses to try out, the Bay of Islands is a no-brainer for discerning travellers looking for something special. Enjoy a well-balanced getaway of adrenaline, food and/or relaxation with a variety of premium experiences to treat yourself to. Want to know more? The best place to start planning a more lavish trip to the bay is in The Luxury Guide to the Bay of Islands.
Luxury Tours and Experiences
- Fly over the Bay of Islands with Salt Air
- Indulge in a spa day at one of the luxury hotels
- Skydive from 20,000 ft with Skydive Bay of Islands
- Get a tailored experience of the Bay on a private charter with Island Getaway Tours
- Have a swing at the Kauri Cliffs Golf Course.
Discover more about each experience in the 10 Best Luxury Experiences in the Bay of Islands.
From five-star hotels and resorts to luxury private villas set among the vineyards, there are accommodations across the Bay of Islands for a truly memorable stay. Check out some of the highlights in the 10 Best Luxury Accommodations in the Bay of Islands.
The Bay of Islands for Families
Learn and adventure together as a family in the Bay of Islands! With dolphin cruises one day and exploring the historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds the next, the Bay of Islands certainly has enough going on to keep even the fussiest kids stimulated. You can even do parasailing with the youngsters, as kids have done it from age four and above! Find out more about planning a family getaway to the Bay with The Guide to the Bay of Islands for Families.
Family Tours and Activities
- Look out for dolphins on a Bay of Islands cruise with Fullers GreatSights
- See the giants of the forest on the Manginangina Kauri Walk
- Soar over the Bay with Flying Kiwi Parasail
- Learn about New Zealand history and the Maori culture at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
- See the glowworms at the Kawiti Glowworm Caves.
For more details on each experience, check out the 10 Things to Do in the Bay of Islands with Kids.
Families have a range of choices to suit their needs and budgets, with the most abundant family accommodations being motels. Holiday parks are also available in Paihia, Kerikeri and Russell, which are also a popular choice with families. Nevertheless, if you prefer, hotels are an option in Paihia. See some of our top recommendations in the 10 Best Family Accommodations in the Bay of Islands.
The Bay of Islands for Couples
With a scattering of 144 islands across the sparkling waters of the southern Pacific Ocean, could there be a more romantic setting? How about combining that with some shared experiences, from doubling up in a kayak to making each other unique gifts in a jewellery workshop? To complete the experience, stay in one of the Bay’s quaint B&Bs or if your budget will allow, a romantic stay in a luxury hillside villa. Plan the ultimate getaway with The Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to the Bay of Islands.
Things to Do for Couples
- Unwind on a sunset sailing cruise with Barefoot Sailing Adventures or the R. Tucker Thompson
- Tackle the uncrowded Cape Brett Track
- Double up in a kayak and paddle under Haruru Falls with Bay of Islands Cruise & Kayak
- Buddy up on a scuba diving trip with Dive Paihia
- Make a special gift for each other in a jewellery-making workshop with Rogue Pony.
For elaboration on each experience, see the 10 Most Romantic Things to Do in the Bay of Islands.
Those looking for a convenient location by the Bay of Islands’ popular attractions are best to stay in Paihia or Kerikeri and its quaint B&Bs, apartments and hotels, while couples seeking seclusion and a romantic retreat will find many on the hillsides of Russell. Find out more in the 10 Best Romantic Accommodations in the Bay of Islands.
Bay of Islands 3-Day Itinerary
Although our complete guide to the Bay of Islands allows you to curate your own itinerary, here’s a quick sample Bay of Islands itinerary for three days which offers a blend of history, culture and natural beauty.
Day 1: Explore Paihia and Waitangi Treaty Grounds
- Morning: Start your adventure in Paihia, the heart of the Bay of Islands. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the beach, and don’t miss out on the Paihia Lookout for stunning views of the bay.
- Lunch: Grab lunch at one of Paihia’s waterfront cafes, offering local seafood and a variety of cuisines.
- Afternoon: Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a significant site in New Zealand’s history. Join a guided tour to learn about the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document of the country, and explore the beautifully carved meeting house and the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe.
- Evening: Dine in Paihia or opt for a dinner cruise to enjoy the sunset over the bay.
Day 2: Cruise Around the Islands and Visit Russell
- Morning: Embark on a boat cruise from Paihia to explore the Bay of Islands. Options include dolphin watching, visiting the iconic Hole in the Rock, and discovering secluded beaches.
- Lunch: Enjoy a picnic lunch on a remote island beach or partake in a BBQ lunch offered on many cruises.
- Afternoon: Take the ferry to Russell, New Zealand’s first capital. Wander through its historic streets, visit Pompallier Mission, and climb Flagstaff Hill for panoramic views.
- Evening: Enjoy dinner at a historic waterfront restaurant in Russell, savouring fresh local seafood.
Day 3: Adventure in Kerikeri and Rainbow Falls
- Morning: Drive to Kerikeri, known for its vibrant arts scene, historic sites, and vineyards. Visit the Stone Store and Kemp House, New Zealand’s oldest European buildings.
- Lunch: Sample local wines and enjoy lunch at a vineyard café in Kerikeri, surrounded by picturesque landscapes.
- Afternoon: Hike to Rainbow Falls, an easy walk leading to a spectacular waterfall. The area offers several trails for exploring native bush and river scenery.
- Evening: Return to Paihia. For your final evening, relax at a beachfront bar, reflecting on the beauty and adventures experienced in the Bay of Islands.
More About the Bay of Islands
That’s it for our complete travel guide to the Bay of Islands but by no means the end of our Bay of Islands travel tips! Check out the following guides for more advice on what to do in the region:
- 10 Best Cruises in the Bay of Islands
- The Best Day Trips from Paihia
- 40 Best Things to Do in the Bay of Islands
Finally, plan more of your North Island trip using the North Island in Two Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary or North Island in One Week: Road Trip Itinerary. You’ll also find more advice for planning an epic NZ trip in The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand.