The Bay of Islands is one of my all time favourite places in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is a haven of beautiful beaches, that can be found on the east coast in the far north of the North Island. You will find the Bay of Islands in the far north of the North Island. This part of Aotearoa New Zealand has a special place in my heart for sure!If you are planning to spend some time in the Bay of Islands then I would suggest you base yourself in Paihia. Buses run from downtown Auckland to this town daily. There is a really good variety of accommodation options from camping to hotels. If you plan to be there in the summer time it is super busy so you will be best to book in advance. I am quite happy to camp or stay in a hostel and Haka Lodge hostel is one I would recommend. I have had a very pleasant stay here, it is in a great location and has a lovely views over the water.
From Paihia you can do a selection of activities including:
Boat ride out to Motu Kōkaka, more commonly known as the Hole in the Rock
Swimming with Dolphins and snorkelling/diving
Ferry to Urupukapuka Island for swimming, camping and hiking
Waitangi Treaty Grounds for colonial history
Ferry to Russell where you will find great places to eat and some great stores to buy souvenirs and gifts
Diving and fishing charters for a real marine experience
I would recommend a day trip with one of the many companies that go to Te Rerenga Wairua also known as Cape Reinga. It is a long day but so much fun and so much to see! You will climb on board a bus with an entertaining driver who will drive you on the sand along Nintey Mile Beach. The driver will also stop for some exhilarating sand boarding on the massive sand dunes. And then you will spend some time at the very top of New Zealand where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. This is a very spiritual place for Māori. It is believed that this is where the spirits of the dead leave this land to return to Hawaiki, the original place of the Polynesian people. If you have a car you can also drive here while exploring more of Northland.
Another must do while in the Bay of Islands is to check out the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This is where the official treaty between Māori and the British Crown was first signed back in 1840. A lot of colonial and cultural history can be found here. If you happen to be here around the 6th February you will get to witness the activities that take place to commemorate the signing. For the whole of New Zealand it is a national holiday. It can be intense, exciting and overwhelming all in one but an experience to never be forgotten.If you have a car, or you can find a ride, you have an opportunity to explore a little further to places like Kerikeri, Russell and Ngaiotaonga Forests and Rawhiti. Kerikeri is the biggest town in the Bay of Islands and where you will find the icon Stonehouse. The Russell Forest has some great hiking tracks and Ngaiotaonga Forest is where you will find the giant majestic kauri trees. My all time favourite though is Rawhiti where you will find Oke Bay and the start to the Cape Brett Track. If you are going to spend some time in Rawhiti you can stay at the Kaingahoa Camping Reserve which I would recommend if camping is an option. It is right across the road from the water and Oke Bay is just a short stroll up the road and over the hill. You will also find a range of options from Backpackers to luxury accommodation on Book a Bach.
An activity that I have enjoyed here is kayaking out to Urupukapuka Island for a few nights camping, fishing and hiking. Kayaking to Urupukapuka is an easy forty minute paddle. Just be sure to watch out for the big ferries and boats coming through regularly as this is the main highway to the open ocean. There are a few DOC camp sites which you must book in advance and can do so easily online or at the office in Paihia. Urupukapuka Bay Campsite is the easiest to get to from Rawhiti if you are kayaking or boating. You can also get to this islands main wharf by ferry from Paihia. The snapper at the wharf can be hand feed but no fishing allowed here. I went swimming with them and it was tempting to grab one for my dinner! This island is pest free which makes it a safe place for some of our endangered birds like the Tūturiwhatu / New Zealand Dotterel. So be sure you check all your gear and make sure you don’t have any stowaways on board. The walk out to Cape Brett starts at Oke Bay, a beach which is worth a visit in its own right. Probably my favourite beach in New Zealand! To get out to Cape Brett is definitely not a stroll and for most it is a whole day (8 hours) walk. I would recommend planning to spend a night at the very nice hut below the light house. However, if you only have one day you can organise to have a boat ride in one direction. If you get away early you can plan to stop at Deep Water Cove for lunch and a swim. The first time I went out here I had only planned to stay one night. The last few hours hiking were wet and pretty miserable with poor visibility. However, the next morning the sun was out and I could see what an amazing place it was so I decided to stay another night. The weather for the walk back was much better than the walk in and I got to see how steep some of the sections were. I have done a lot of hiking in the North Island of New Zealand and this track in the Bay of Islands is by far one of the best tracks I have done.I can not put into words how fantastic this place is and that you can not leave it off your ‘to do’ list if visiting New Zealand. There is so much more to be said about the Bay of Islands but the best advice I can now give you is to go and check it out for yourself!