The Guide to the Bay of Islands on a Budget© Unsplash
The Guide to the Bay of Islands on a Budget

The Budget & Backpacking Guide to the Bay of Islands

© Unsplash
Article Single Pages©
Article Single Pages©
NZ Pocket Guide is 10 years old. Thank you for trusting us with your trip for over a decade!

How to Plan a Trip to the Bay of Islands on a Budget

Lucky enough to be able to fit the Bay of Islands in your New Zealand itinerary? You’ll have a blast in the Winterless North! Beaches, waterfalls and historical sites are plentiful and free to visit, so you don’t have to blow your bucks on a skydive or dolphin cruise every day (although they are fun to do too).

With a range of budget accommodations across Paihia and Kerikeri, the two main towns of the Bay of Islands, all you need to worry about is how many ice creams you’ll have. So let us guide you through the activities, accommodations, eats and more in this budget and backpacking guide to the Bay of Islands!

5 Tips for Visiting the Bay of Islands on a Budget

Before we get started, here are five easy tips to save money when visiting the Bay of Islands:

  1. Visit in the off-season (June to October) to see discounted rates for some activities and accommodations
  2. Suck it up and stay in budget accommodations – they’re really not that bad, as Paihia and Kerikeri have some fantastic motels, holiday parks and hostels
  3. Choose accommodation with self-catering facilities to save money on food
  4. If you have your own vehicle, hit all the free attractions of the Bay of Islands
  5. If you don’t have a vehicle, get a ferry ticket to Russell to explore more of the Bay of Islands (and go at sunset for a cheap sunset cruise)!

For more general tips, check out the 20 Ways to Save Money When Travelling in New Zealand.

The Guide to the Bay of Islands on a Budget© Unsplash

The Top Free Activities in the Bay of Islands

Sticking to your budget is easy in “The Bay” when there are so many free ways to enjoy it.

Rainbow Falls

A great place to start is the Rainbow Falls Walk (Rainbow Falls Road) just outside of Kerikeri. A short walk from the car park brings you to several viewpoints of the majestic Rainbow Falls plunging into the river below. You can also extend your experience by taking the Kerikeri River Track down to the Stone Store, taking about 1 hr 30 mins one way.

Haruru Falls

For those based in Paihia, a great waterfall alternative is Haruru Falls (Haruru Falls Road). While Haruru Falls is easy to access just off Haruru Falls Road, we recommend taking the Waitangi to Haruru Falls walk (Tau Henare Drive, Waitangi) along the Waitangi River, which takes around 2 hrs 30 mins to complete one way. The walk starts opposite the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.


The beach is always a good way to spend some time in the Bay of Islands, whether it’s for a stroll or a swim. Some of the best beaches in the area include Oneroa Bay behind the town of Russell, Paihia Town Beach and Te Tii Bay at the northern end of Paihia town.

Puketi Forest

Be awed by some of the largest trees in New Zealand on the walking trails of the Puketi Forest (1756 Waiare Road, Okaihau). A popular option is the Manginangina Kauri Walk, a 15-minute boardwalk loop that showcases enormous kauri trees. Alternatively, the Puketi Nature Trail is a similar walk that takes about an hour to complete. For something longer, try the Pirau Ridge Track, which is a 4-hour hike.

For more inspiration, see the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in the Bay of Islands and 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Paihia.

The Guide to the Bay of Islands on a Budget©

The Top Cheap Activities in the Bay of Islands

For those willing to spend a little, there are also some decent and affordable activities to treat yourself to in the Bay of Islands.

Stone Store and Kemp House

While the Bay of Islands is steeped in history, one of the cheapest historical attractions is the Stone Store and Kemp House (246 Kerikeri Road) in Kerikeri. Visit one of New Zealand’s earliest stores, the Stone Store, which is free to browse downstairs. Alternatively, it’s only around NZ$20 to take a look around the museum upstairs, which also includes a guided tour of the oldest surviving house in New Zealand, the Kemp House. For more affordable sites to discover in the region, check out the 10 Best Historical Places in Northland.

Explore Russell

Combining history, scenery, food or whatever you decide to do, Russell is an interesting town once known as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific”. The historic town is easily accessed via ferry (less than NZ$20 return) from Paihia Wharf. Once there, take a look around Pompallier Mission, either around NZ$7 to access the gardens or NZ$15 for a guided tour of the old printery, tannery and storehouse for the French Marist mission. You can also admire Christ Church, New Zealand’s oldest surviving church, hike up Flagstaff Hill for the views, or indulge at the historic pubs or dessert places around town. For more ideas, just head to the 10 Best Things to Do in Russell.

Plus, see the 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in the Bay of Islands and 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Paihia.

The Guide to the Bay of Islands on a Budget©

Cheap Eats in the Bay of Islands

While cooking your own meals in self-catering accommodation is always a good way to stick to your food budget, if you can’t resist trying out some of the local eateries, then these are the ones that won’t empty your wallet too much…

One thing that the Bay of Islands has a lot of, that’s affordable, are bagels! Hell Hole (19 York Street, Russell) has a creative mix of bagels, croissants and baguettes, while Letz Cafe (9 Williams Road, Paihia) serves up hearty bagels, burgers, sandwiches and a wide selection of gelato.

Speaking of gelato, don’t miss a cold cone from Cellini’s Ice Cream & Espresso (Williams Road, Paihia) or Mövenpick (2a Williams Road, Paihia).

Finally, while nothing glamorous, JFC (40 Marsden Road, Paihia) and Oceans 68 (68 Marsden Road, Paihia) do popular fish and chips, as does Russell Fish Co. (2 Cass Street, Russell).

For more foodie stuff, head over to The Food Guide to the Bay of Islands: Places to Eat & Food Tours.

The Budget & Backpacking Guide to the Bay of Islands©

More About Paihia and the Islands

The small holiday town of Paihia is where many backpackers and travellers on a budget choose as their base while visiting the Bay of Islands. In fact, Kings Road should be named ‘Backpacker Road’ with its street full of hostels from the big NZ hostel brands to the independent backpackers. On this street also is the one ‘hip n’ happening’ late-night bar in Paihia, Sandspit Poolroom & Bar, which is well worth checking out.

Cruises and Water Activities in Paihia

All backpacker roads aside, Paihia Wharf is where water adventures begin. Take a ferry or a speedboat out to some of the stunning islands to snorkel, walk or relax on the beaches. Of course, cruises can take you out to the Hole in the Rock, for your token Bay of Islands photo. You can also go on a scuba diving expedition to the sunken Greenpeace ship, The Rainbow Warrior, which has become a manmade reef.

Stay closer to the water’s surface on a Fullers GreatSights‘ trip to the Hole in the Rock, as featured on Viator and Klook. Not to mention the laid-back sailing trips, like those with Barefoot Sailing Adventures, where you can explore the Bay of Islands, stop for a snorkel, and/or kick back with a beer at sunset.

If you want to spend more time floating on the water, take a kayaking tour with Bay of Islands Cruise & Kayak up the Waitangi River. Manoeuvring through the Mangrove forests while trying to not hit every single tree growing from the water is a bit of a challenge, if not just a bit funny. Find out more about the tour on Viator and Klook.

For more ways to have fun out on the water, see the 15 Best Cruises in the Bay of Islands.

Hikes and Adventure Activities in Paihia

In total contrast, see the islands by parachute at 1,200 ft on a parasailing trip with Flying Kiwi Parasail (Paihia Wharf). There’s no getting wet, at least if the driver doesn’t screw up, and it’s fun to do with a friend or two. If you want to parachute from extreme heights, check out Skydive Bay of Islands (182 Wiroa Road, Kerikeri Airport) who offer pick-ups from Paihia.

Back on Earth, there are a few walks to take for some decent picture opportunities. The Paihia School Road Track (School Road) offers views of Russell and Waitangi. The 1-hour return track is easily accessed just a couple of minutes from the town.

Also easily accessible is the Paihia to Opua Walkway, which you can start from the far eastern end of Paihia Town Beach to scramble around the coast or start from the southern end of the Te Haumi River Bridge where a well-formed trail starts. The walk to Opua takes approximately 3 hours one way. Return the same way or make a loop with a few cheap ferry crossings, as described in the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Paihia.

The Budget & Backpacking Guide to the Bay of Islands©

More About Russell

It’s hard to imagine this small town was New Zealand’s first capital city! It was also dubbed the “Hell Hole of the Pacific” because it was a base for drunken sailors and whalers. Today, a quick ferry from Paihia, the car ferry from Opua, or a long drive along the coast can take you to this quaint town of Russell.

For an awesome view of the Bay of Islands and to step onto a significant part of the Māori and British history, take a walk to Flagstaff Hill. The 30-minute loop walk is north of Russell. At low tide, you can start from Watering Bay and at high tide, start from the Wellington and Kent Streets intersection. Otherwise, you can march to the end of Wellington Street and straight up to the flagstaff and the remnants of the fifth flagstaff after the others flying the British flag were cut down by local Māori during New Zealand’s colonisation.

Between historical buildings, a museum, beautiful beaches and more, there’s plenty to fill your time in Russell on the cheap, as listed in the 10 Best Things to Do in Russell. As an extra tip, most cruises and boat tours that depart from Paihia do pick-ups from Russell Wharf, so you won’t miss out if you fancy staying on the alternative side of the Bay of Islands.

The Budget & Backpacking Guide to the Bay of Islands©

More About Waitangi

If you have spent any time in New Zealand, you will have heard of the Waitangi Treaty. The town is situated about 2 km (1.2 mi) north of Paihia. On 6 February 1840, a treaty was signed between the Māori people and the British Crown. Particularly famous for its controversy, The Treaty of Waitangi was not translated correctly between the English language and the Māori language, which resulted in the Māori losing much of their land.

If you are looking for some culturally significant sights in Waitangi, don’t miss the Waitangi Treaty Grounds (Tau Henare Drive). It holds the Treaty House, built for the first British resident, a beautiful marae (Māori meeting house) Runanga, the 35 m (115 ft) long waka taua (war canoe), the naval flagpole marking the spot where the treaty was signed, and much more. Admission tickets are available on Viator and Klook. Plus, for more information, check out The Waitangi Treaty Grounds: Visitor Tips & 5 Reasons to Visit.

A lesser-known but worthwhile discovery in Waitangi is the Waitangi MTB Park (33 Bayly Road). There are trails scattered across the forest for a range of riding abilities. While entry is via donation, mountain bike hire is available for a reasonable cost with Paihia Mountain Bikes, also located at the park.

The Budget & Backpacking Guide to the Bay of Islands©

More About Kerikeri

With warm sunny weather providing excellent fruit-growing conditions, Kerikeri is a good spot to find some WWOOfing work.

If you are a fan of tasting, eating and drinking then Kerikeri is perfect. See how the chocolates are made at Makana Confections (504 Kerikeri Road) and have a few cheeky samples. There are a few small wineries and vineyards in the area where wine tastings are relatively inexpensive, such as Marsden Estate (56 Wiroa Road), Fat Pig Vineyard (177 Puketotara Road, Waipapa) and Kainui Road Vineyard & Brewery (1 Conifer Lane, Waipapa).

For a walk and waterfall, head to the Kerikeri River Track (Between Stone Store and Rainbow Falls Road) for a stroll along the river. The end of the track treats you to the 27 m (89 ft) high Rainbow Falls.

To get an idea of what a Māori village looked like before the Europeans came to New Zealand, visit Te Ahurea (1 Landing Road). This full-scale replica includes a marae, chief’s house, canoe, and hangi pit (ground oven).

For more experiences in Kerikeri, including plenty of freebies, check out the 15 Best Things to Do in Kerikeri.

More About the Bay of Islands on a Budget

That’s it from the travel guide to the Bay of Islands on a budget. For more tips to make the most of a shoestring budget in The Bay, check out the following guides:

Finally, check out even more money-saving tips in The Budget & Backpacking Guide to New Zealand.


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Laura S.

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

Was this article useful?