Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand

Bay of Islands: A Travel Guide

The Bay of Islands is a subtropical region, found in Northland, New Zealand. It is a must-visit destination for any traveler heading to Northland, with stunning natural scenery, rich history, charming towns, and plenty of activities for outdoor adventure lovers like us!

The Bay of Islands is made up of 144 different islands, with numerous golden, secluded bays and beaches, perfect for soaking up the sun! It is an incredible place for boating and kayaking, with crystal-clear warm waters, protected from the wild ocean by the Purerua Peninsula. If you’re lucky, you can spot some of New Zealand’s gorgeous marine wildlife, with dolphins, whales, and seals calling the bay home. 

In addition to its natural beauty, the Bay of Islands has a rich cultural heritage, with numerous historic sites and landmarks. These include the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the Maori chiefs and the British Crown in 1840, as well as numerous museums and galleries.

How to get to the Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is located in Northland, the northernmost region of the North Island of New Zealand! It is an incredibly popular tourist destination for both locals and international visitors, and so it is fairly easy to travel to from the major city of Auckland.

If you are driving:

If you are planning to travel to the Bay of Islands by car, you can drive from major cities such as Auckland or Whangarei. The drive takes approximately 3 hours from Auckland or 1.5 hours from Whangarei.

If you are taking public transport:

If you are not able to drive or would prefer to travel by public transport, it’s easy to travel to the bay! Bus Companies such as InterCity run services between Auckland and Paihia, one of the main towns located in the heart of the Bay of Islands. From there, there are buses, taxis, and ferries that are able to take you to wherever you would like to go!

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

If you’re looking for warm weather and plenty of sunshine, the summer months of December to February are the best time to visit. During this time, temperatures can reach highs of around 25-30°C and the days are long and sunny. This is a great time to enjoy outdoor activities such as swimming, hiking, and exploring the region’s beautiful beaches. However, this is also the peak tourist time in the Bay of Islands, and so you could find yourself having to share your adventures with a bunch of other people!

If you want to escape the crowds a bit, the shoulder months of September-November, and March-May, can also be a good time to visit the bay! The temperature is still quite warm, with days averaging between 15-20°C, and you can enjoy the region’s attractions without competing with other tourists. This is also a fantastic time to go, as it is a lot cheaper than travelling in summer, and often you don’t have to book tours in advance.

Towns to explore in the Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is home to a number of charming towns, each with their own unique character and attractions. Here I will talk about some of the main towns in the Bay of Islands, so you can check them out for yourself!


Paihia is a lively seaside town and a great place to base yourself on your adventure around the Bay of Islands! It has an awesome range of accommodation for whatever budget, delicious restaurants and a good-sized town centre to explore. It is also an excellent starting point if you are looking to get out of the town and explore the many coves and beaches of the bay, with cruises and ferries of all types leaving from the wharf daily! Popular local adventures include cruising to the ‘Hole in the Rock’ at the tip of Cape Brett, exploring the outer islands, or hiring a kayak and paddling around too one of the many secluded beaches nearby.

How to get to Paihia

Paihia is the biggest town in the Bay of Islands, and is relatively easy to get to, no matter how you are planning to travel!

Travelling by Car

From Auckland, the drive to Paihia will take about 3 hours. Follow State Highway 1 northward until you reach the small town of Kawakawa. From here, follow the signs onto SH11, which should take you down a windy road to the coast, where you will find your destination!

Travelling by Public Transport

Another option is to take an inter-city bus from Auckland to Paihia, which will take around 4 hours, with stop-offs along the way. There are several bus companies that operate this route, and offer multiple departures per day. I would recommend the Intercity bus service, as they offer good pricing and are comfortable for longer journeys!


Russell is a charming and historic town located on a peninsula just across the harbour from Paihia, and makes for a lovely day trip! Funnily enough, the town is the oldest European settlement, and was once known as the “Hellhole of the Pacific” due to its wild reputation during the whaling and trading days. Russell of today is a far cry from its history, filled with heritage buildings, churches, and museums. After a stroll through the town centre, I would recommend a stop at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, for a refreshing beverage overlooking the waterfront. This place is special – it was the first establishment in New Zealand to have its liquor licence, and has been around since 1827!

How to get to Russell

Getting to Russell from the central town of Paihia is simple! There is a fantastic ferry service that will take you across the beautiful harbour straight from the Paihia Wharf over to Russell, with the journey only taking around 15 minutes. The ferries run every hour up until around 10 pm during the summer months, and cost $13 for a return ticket. 


Waitangi is a small town located just north of Paihia, across the beautiful Waitangi River. It is one of New Zealand’s most significant historic sites, and is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. The treaty was signed between the British Crown and several Māori chiefs, and established British sovereignty over New Zealand while recognizing Māori rights to their land and resources.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

While visiting Waitangi, you should make sure to plan a visit to explore the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. These incredible grounds include a museum, a marae (Māori meeting house), and a carved waka (canoe). One of the highlights of a visit to the grounds are the powerful Māori cultural performances. You can see a Māori cultural show, including traditional song and dance, as well as demonstrations of Māori crafts and games. For more information on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, see my post here!

Not only is Waitangi interesting to visit from a cultural perspective, it is also a very beautiful place to explore. Walk through the lovely gardens surrounding the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, or take a tour up the Waitangi River on a 40 ft Waka Taua (War Canoe) with experienced local guides.

Paihia to Waitangi Walk

If you are wanting to enjoy a day trip to Waitangi, I would highly recommend the Paihia to Waitangi Coastal Walk. This gorgeous coastal walk takes you from the main waterfront in Paihia, over a small rocky headland, and along the broad sweep of Te Tii Beach. At the northern end of the beach you will see the historic Te Tii Marae on the left. This marae is where the Māori chiefs retired before deciding to sign the Treaty of Waitangi on the 6th February 1840, and so holds cultural significance. Finally, you will walk across the Tui bridge over the Waitangi River, and enter Waitangi. The walk is easy, on a well-maintained path, and should take about 30-minutes.

How to get to Waitangi

Waitangi is located just north of Paihia, and is easy to get to if you are based there! From the centre of Paihia, follow the SH11 north, and then travel straight through the roundabout onto Te Karuwha Parade. This will take you on a bridge over the beautiful Waitangi River, and there you are! The drive should take around 4 minutes (told you it was close!)


Kerikeri is a gorgeous town to visit in the north of the Bay of Island region, and is known for its warm climate and abundance of amazing fresh produce, giving it the name ‘The Fruit Bowl’ of the North. The road into Kerikeri is bordered by orchards, and they often have small stalls with seasonal fruits and veggies for sale, so keep your eyes peeled as you drive in! There are also two markets where you can grab some fantastic locally grown fruit and veg; The Old Packhouse Markets and the Bay of Islands Farmers Market.

The Old Packhouse Market

Open every Saturday and Sunday until 1:30pm, this is an awesome market to go and explore! Along with fresh fruit and veg, you can find arts and crafts stalls, delicious bakery goodies and, of course, fantastic coffee! Just make sure you bring some cash!

Bay of Islands Farmers Market

This amazing market happens every Sunday morning, rain or shine! I would recommend getting there early to get the best selection of organic and local produce, and have a good ol’ chat with the lovely people who grow it!

Arts and Crafts

f you are more in the mood to mooch through interesting stores and check out some incredible art, Kerikeri is the place for you! There is a thriving arts and crafts scene, with many galleries and stores showcasing the work of local artists


Kerikeri also has a long and colourful history, which can be explored around the town. During the early 1800’s, a fearsome Māori chief, Hongi Hika, terrorised many smaller Māori villages in the North Island. Just above the Kerikeri basin, you can walk around the old terraced pa site, known as Kororipo. This pa site is protected by the Department of Conservation, and you can walk up a steep hill and wander the tracks around the village, learning about the incredible history of this area, and admiring the views over the bay.

Stone Store and Kemp House

From the base of the pa site, you will find two gorgeous old buildings – the Stone Store and the Kemp House, which make up the Kerikeri Mission Station. These are some of New Zealand’s oldest surviving European buildings, and are over 200 years old! There is a guided tour around both the Stone Store and the Kemp House, which also gives you access to the museum, where you can learn more about the incredible history of these two buildings. Around the Mission Station are award-winning heritage gardens and orchards, which are a lovely place for a walk and a coffee in the sun!

Kerikeri River Walking Track

From the Stone Store, you can cross the bridge and follow a lovely path up that winds its way through the young native forest along the side of the Kerikeri River. This path is very scenic and easy, however it can get quite muddy after rain! It takes you past the remains of an old hydro-electric station, as well as the stunning Wharepuke Falls and Fairy Pools, until you reach the incredible 27-metre Rainbow Falls! These falls are named as such due to the rainbows made in the spray, and are surrounded by beautiful native bush, making it an awesome place for a rest or even a swim (if you’re feeling brave!). The walk is 3.5km one way, and will take around 1.5 hours to walk.

How to get to Kerikeri

Getting to Kerikeri from the main hub of Paihia is easy, and makes for an awesome day trip! There are several ways to get to Kerikeri, depending on whether you have a car or are relying on public transport.

Travelling by Car

Kerikeri is only a 25-minute drive north of Paihia! Follow SH11 out of Paihia, where it will connect with the main road north on SH10. From here, follow the signs to the right, where you will see Kerikeri Road/ Twin Coast Discovery Hwy. This will take you all the way into the centre of town! 

Travelling by Bus

There are several bus services that run between Paihia and Kerikeri, including the Bay of Islands Shuttle and the Fullers GreatSights bus service. The bus journey takes approximately 30 minutes.

Best place to stay while visiting the Bay of Islands

Overall, I would say the best town to stay at in the Bay of Islands in Paihia, as it has a good central location to all the fantastic activities and attractions that this region has to offer! From here, you can jump on a boat and explore the gorgeous bays, swim at the local beach, and plan day trips out to the nearby towns of Russell, Paihia, and Kerikeri.

Accommodation in the Bay of Islands

There is plenty of accommodation options in the Bay of Islands to suit any budget! I’ve listed a few here, with options for those who like a bit of luxury and some for those (like us) who are travelling cheap as chips!

Luxury Accommodation in Paihia

  1. The Suite @ #12 Abri 
  2. Koru Cottage
  3. Te Wahi Mahana (A Warm Place)
  4. Craicor Boutique Apartments

Budget Accommodation in Paihia

  1. Waitangi Holiday Park
  2. Bay of Islands Holiday Park
  3. Seaview Campervan Park 
  4. Centabay Lodge and Backpackers

I hope you enjoyed this post about the amazing towns and things to see and do in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand! If you are planning on travelling more of Northland, check out my travel guide here!

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