The Travel Guide to the Bay of Islands for Families© Northland Inc
The Travel Guide to the Bay of Islands for Families

The Family Guide to the Bay of Islands

© Northland Inc

How to Plan a Family Trip to Paihia, Kerikeri and the Bay of Islands

Venture north to New Zealand‘s land of endless summer, the Bay of Islands. Made up of the seaside towns of Paihia and Russell and the quaint inland communities of Kerikeri and Kawakawa, the Bay of Islands is an idyllic family escape for a long weekend. Cruise the bay and its 144 islands while looking out for dolphins, visit towering waterfalls and even more towering kauri trees, be awed by glowworms, and enjoy some relaxing family time at the beach – it’s what a holiday in The Bay is all about! You’re also spoiled for choice with hotels, holiday homes, motels and holiday parks, as well as delectable dining with plenty to suit even the fussiest eaters. So, let us guide you through it all in this family travel guide to the Bay of Islands.

10 Family Activities in the Bay of Islands

What does a family trip to the Bay of Islands look like? Here’s a quick activity overview before we dive into more details in the family guide to the Bay of Islands below.

  1. Look out for dolphins on a Bay of Islands cruise
  2. See the giants of the forest on the Manginangina Kauri Walk
  3. Soar over the Bay with Flying Kiwi Parasail
  4. Learn about New Zealand history and the Māori culture at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
  5. Walk to the beautiful Rainbow Falls
  6. Do a nature cruise and kayak under a waterfall with Bay of Islands Cruise & Kayak
  7. See the glowworms at the Kawiti Glowworm Caves
  8. Do a day trip to Urupukapuka Island
  9. Watch chocolate being made at Makana Confections
  10. Enjoy some family beach time.

For more details on each experience, check out the 10 Best Things to Do in the Bay of Islands with Kids.

The Guide to the Bay of Islands for Families©

Family-Friendly Adventure Activities

Unsurprisingly, most family-friendly adventures in the Bay of Islands are out on the water, whether it’s looking out for dolphins on a cruise or parasailing high over the islands. We’ve compiled a few ideas to get you started.

Bay of Islands Dolphin-Spotting Cruises

See what the Bay of Islands is named after by taking one of the popular cruises, such as Fullers GreatSights (Paihia/Russell Wharf). 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. Being a five-hour trip, the half-day tour is varied enough to suit most attention spans.

Find out more about cruises with Fullers GreatSights on Viator and Klook. Plus, check out more cruise options, including sailing, small-group cruises and more, in the 15 Best Cruises in the Bay of Islands.


For families with a sense of adventure, try out parasailing in Paihia with Flying Kiwi Parasail (Paihia Wharf). Children must only weigh over 20 kg (44 lbs) 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 1 hr 30 mins.

Waterfall Kayak Tour

Entertain the kids on a cruise and kayaking tour with Bay of Islands Cruise & Kayak (1 Tau Henare Drive, Waitangi). 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. Find out more about Bay of Islands Cruise & Kayak on Viator and Klook.

For more adventures for families, check out the 10 Best Things to Do in the Bay of Islands with Kids.

The Guide to the Bay of Islands for Families© David Kirkland - Northland Inc

All-Weather Activities for Families

Yes, even in the sunny Bay of Islands the weather doesn’t always play ball. Aside from the 15 Things to Do in the Bay of Islands on a Rainy Day, here are a couple of excellent options for families.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Whether you’re caught in the rain or not, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds (Tau Henare Drive, Waitangi) has plenty of all-weather attractions 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 to see how people would have lived in the 1800s, and watch a Māori cultural performance in a carved meeting house. Find out more about the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on Viator and Klook. Plus, get more tips for visiting from The Waitangi Treaty Grounds: Visitor Tips & 5 Reasons to Visit.

Glowworm Caves

For a magical and mainly undercover experience, delve into the glowworm caves of Kawiti Glowworm Caves (49 Waiomio Road, Waiomio) 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 are also included in half-day guided tours with Mullarkey Tours and Bay of Islands Tours.

For more suggestions, check out the 10 Best Things to Do in the Bay of Islands with Kids.

The Guide to the Bay of Islands for Families© Unsplash

Free Family-Friendly Activities

Stick to your travel budget in the Bay of Islands by also adding some free experiences to your family itinerary.

Rainbow Falls

One of the free highlights is the Rainbow Falls Walk (Rainbow Falls Road, Kerikeri). Admire a stunning 27 m (89 ft) waterfall on this easy 10-minute walk that is suitable for baby strollers. From Rainbow Falls, you can enjoy a 1 hr 30 min walk along the Kerikeri River Track to The Stone Store and Kemp House, which are fascinating historical sites with a family-friendly museum (entry fees apply). Learn more about these attractions in the 15 Best Things to Do in Kerikeri.

Manginangina Kauri Walk

Another easy trail suitable for families and even strollers is the Manginangina Kauri Walk (Pungaere Road, Okaihau), approximately 20 km (12 mi) west of Kerikeri. Be in awe of kauri trees, the largest type of tree in New Zealand, on this 15-minute boardwalk loop in the Puketi Forest. Alternatively, the Puketi Nature Trail, a little further south, is a similar walk but takes about an hour to complete.

For more ideas, see the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Paihia and 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in the Bay of Islands.

The Travel Guide to the Bay of Islands for Families© Northland Inc

Family-Friendly Dining

Although self-catering is an easy way to stick to a budget, treating the family to dinner at one of the Bay of Islands’ charming cafes and restaurants is all part of the experience! The region is famous for its abundance of orchards and vineyards, as well as fishing for fresh kai moana.

5 Family-Friendly Restaurants in the Bay of Islands

  1. The Black Olive (308 Kerikeri Road, Kerikeri) prides itself on Northland seafood, wines, pizzas and more, as well as an outdoor area with a children’s playground should you have little ones to let loose
  2. Marsden Estate (56 Wiroa Road, Kerikeri) is a winery and restaurant open daily all year round. Kids love exploring the extensive gardens
  3. Zane Grey’s Restaurant (69 Marsden Road, Paihia) keeps the kids stimulated with a 60,000litre aquarium while dining on crowd-pleasers
  4. Hone’s Garden (10 York Street, Russell) serves up wood-fired pizzas in a quirky outdoor setting that’s interesting for all ages
  5. Cellini’s Ice Cream & Espresso (Williams Road, Paihia) reminds you that a family trip to the Bay of Islands is not complete until you’ve had ice cream!

For many more recommendations, don’t miss The Food Guide to the Bay of Islands: Places to Eat & Food Tours.

The Travel Guide to the Bay of Islands for Families© Northland Inc

Frequently Asked Questions About Planning a Family Trip to the Bay of Islands

And for all those practical tips, here are some FAQs to help you plan a memorable family trip to the Bay of Islands.

What is the best time to visit the Bay of Islands with family?

The best time to visit the Bay of Islands is during the New Zealand summer and early autumn months, from December to April. During these months, the weather is warm and sunny, ideal for exploring the beaches, islands and outdoor activities that the region is famous for. The warmer months also offer the most comfortable conditions for water-based activities, such as swimming, kayaking and dolphin watching.

Are there accommodation options suitable for families?

Yes, the Bay of Islands has a wide range of family-friendly accommodation options, including holiday parks with playgrounds and pools, self-contained holiday homes, beachfront resorts with family rooms, and hotels offering additional amenities for children. It’s advisable to book in advance, especially during the peak season, to secure the best options for your family’s needs and budget. See the list of recommended accommodations beside this article (or at the bottom on mobile), or check out the 10 Best Family Accommodations in the Bay of Islands.

How can I make transportation easier for my family around the Bay of Islands?

The most convenient way to explore the Bay of Islands with family is by hiring a car. This gives you the flexibility to travel at your own pace and access more secluded spots, as public transport is limited in this region. Several ferry services also connect the islands and coastal towns, making for easy and scenic trips. For families without a car, there are local tour operators, such as Mullarkey Tours and Bay of Islands Tours, that offer day trips to popular attractions with pick-up services from major accommodation areas.

What should I pack for a family trip to the Bay of Islands?

For a trip to the Bay of Islands, packing should include:

  • Sun protection (sunscreen, hats, sunglasses)
  • Swimsuits and beach towels
  • Comfortable walking shoes for exploring
  • Light layers for the evenings, which can be cooler
  • Insect repellent, especially if you’re planning to hike or visit forested areas
  • A waterproof camera or case for memorable water adventures.

For more ideas that apply to the Bay of Islands, as well as the rest of the country, check out our New Zealand Packing List: What to Pack for New Zealand.

Are there any safety tips for families visiting the Bay of Islands?

  • Always supervise children near water, even in shallow areas.
  • Be sun-smart: apply sunscreen regularly, wear hats and seek shade during the hottest parts of the day.
  • Follow all safety guidelines and instructions provided by tour operators, especially on boat trips and water activities.
  • Check the weather forecast and plan your activities accordingly, especially if you’re planning to be out on the water.

More About the Bay of Islands for Families

That’s it from the travel guide to the Bay of Islands for families. For more insightful ideas to plan the perfect family trip to the Bay of Islands, take a look at the following guides:

Finally, discover even more family trip tips in The Travel Guide to New Zealand for Families.


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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