Getting There and the Best Time to Visit
Getting from Auckland to Bay of Islands is fairly straightforward. By road, it’s about a three and a half hour drive north, giving you an opportunity to savour the breathtaking landscapes of North Island.
The Bay of Islands weather is typically mild, making it an appealing destination year-round. Summer (December-February) is warm and perfect for beach and water activities. Spring (September-November) and Autumn (March-May) are cooler but ideal for outdoor exploration, while Winter (June-August) is the quietest season but can offer a serene experience if you want to avoid crowds.
The Rich Tapestry of History
The Bay of Islands holds a prominent place in New Zealand's history. This is where both Māori and European settlers first landed, making it a melting pot of cultures.
From Waitangi, where New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed, to Russell, the country's first seaport and European settlement, the historical imprints are vivid and fascinating.
Top 10 Things to Do in Bay of Islands
With over 140 subtropical islands dotted with secluded bays and an abundance of marine life, the Bay of Islands offers a multitude of activities. Here are our top picks for what to do in the Bay of Islands:
1. Explore the Waitangi Treaty Grounds:
As the birthplace of modern New Zealand, this is a must-visit site for understanding the country's history. Walk around the beautifully manicured grounds, visit the Treaty House, and witness a Māori cultural performance.
2. Discover Paihia:
The primary tourist town in the Bay of Islands, Paihia is full of charm. Spend your day strolling along its beautiful beaches, indulge in some local seafood at a waterfront restaurant, or check out local shops and markets.
3. Go Whale Watching:
An encounter with these magnificent creatures is an experience of a lifetime. Companies like Fullers GreatSights Bay of Islands offer whale watching in the Bay of Islands, and if you're lucky, you'll also spot playful dolphins and diverse birdlife.
4. Take a Ferry to Russell:
Known as the “hell hole of the Pacific” during its rowdy days in the 19th century, Russell is now a tranquil town filled with preserved, historic buildings. It’s a quick ferry ride from Paihia and offers lovely beachfront cafés, galleries, and boutiques.
5. Hike up Flagstaff Hill:
For panoramic views over Russell, Bay of Islands and the surrounding area, take the short but steep walk up Flagstaff Hill. It's also of historical significance, as it was here that local Māori cut down the British flag four times in protest during the early settler years.
6. Embark on a Dolphin Cruise:
The Bay of Islands is home to a diverse range of marine life, including dolphins. Join a guided tour that offers the chance to spot these playful creatures in their natural habitat. Remember, while it's an amazing experience, it's important to respect these beautiful animals by keeping a safe distance.
7. Dive at the Rainbow Warrior Shipwreck:
For adventure seekers, diving at the Rainbow Warrior Shipwreck is a unique experience. Sunk by French Secret Service agents in 1985, the ship now lies in Matauri Bay, serving as a fascinating artificial reef teeming with marine life.
8. Savour Seafood in Opua:
Known as a yachting haven, Opua is also the perfect place to enjoy fresh seafood. Visit the Opua Cruising Club for dinner with a view, where you can watch the sailboats while savouring the local catch of the day.
9. Discover Kerikeri's Historic Sites:
Home to New Zealand's oldest standing European buildings, Kerikeri is a treasure trove of history. Visit the Stone Store and Kemp House for a glimpse of life in the early 19th century.
10. Tour the Bay by Sea Kayak:
Experience the tranquility of paddling a sea kayak through the serene waters of the Bay of Islands. Numerous companies offer guided tours that cater to all levels of experience, making it a fantastic way to explore secluded beaches and hidden coves.
Maximising Your Bay of Islands Experience
Visiting the Bay of Islands in a motorhome or campervan from Campervan New Zealand is a convenient and affordable way to discover this stunning region. With the freedom to set your own pace and schedule, you can easily visit each of these ten locations and so much more.
Consider your preferences, whether you're into history, adventure, nature, or gastronomy, and plan your itinerary accordingly. For a seamless experience, book activities and tours in advance, particularly during the peak season.
The Bay of Islands, with its unrivalled mix of history, culture, adventure, and natural beauty, truly offers something for every traveller. Whether you're planning a family holiday, a romantic getaway, or a solo adventure, this gem in New Zealand's North Island promises an unforgettable experience.