Bay of Islands

This pristine natural harbour consists of 144 islands, ranging in size from large establishments to tiny rocky outcrops. 

The water is calm and clear all year round, making this a popular spot for swimming, diving, kayaking, fishing and boating. There’s also a strong art, music and creative scene – fuelled by a forward-thinking and innovative community of laid-back locals.

It’s also one of the best places in the country to learn about Maori history and culture – as Waitangi was the location of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, just around the corner from tourist hot-spot, Paihia.

History lovers will be fascinated by the village of Russell, a short ferry ride from Paihia. It’s now a charming bay-side town, but it was known in the 19th century as the “Hellhole of the Pacific” due to the hedonistic antics of its population of escaped convicts from Australia.

From history to wildlife, beaches to cafes, boat cruises to wineries, the ‘Birthplace of New Zealand’ has a lot to enjoy. Whether you visit on a weekend getaway from Auckland, or take a little bit longer to explore, you’ll fall in love with these sun-soaked Northern islands.

(Pictured: the quaint town of Kerikeri, 30 minutes inland from Paihia).


Activities & Attractions


This region has a lush subtropical climate and it offers fresh seafood, abundant fruit and vegetables and excellent locally made wines.

There are many culinary experiences you’ll want to add to your Bay of Islands itinerary.

Visit the quaint, welcoming town of Kerikeri for their famous farmer’s markets, and then treat yourself to a lunch platter at Marsden Estate or Ake Ake winery, paired perfectly with their delicious wines. And you can’t forget to finish it off with dessert from the local Makana Chocolate Factory.

Don’t miss the chance to have lunch on the sunny verandah of the Duke of Marlborough in Russell – the oldest licensed pub in New Zealand – pictured here on a beautiful evening.

The Duke of Marlborough


With 144 islands and countless beaches, the Bay of Islands has many choices for a scenic nature walk.

Take the Opua Forest Paihia Lookout trail, which starts on a track past the wetlands and climbs up through native forest to a stunning lookout point over the town.

Or, there’s the Flagstaff Hill Loop walk near Russell, which leads up Flagstaff Hill to a breathtaking 360 degree view across the harbour.

If you’re looking to combine a hike with a cool-down swim, Long Beach Walkway (also near Russell) is a well-maintained track that begins on Long Beach Road and will take you to a gorgeous, secluded swimming spot.


If you are looking for something unique and special to bring home with you from your trip to the Bay of Islands, this region has many local artisans serving up handmade crafts and souvenirs.

Paihia is lined with designer clothing boutiques, homeware emporiums, accessory shops and more, in particular High Street and Williams Road.

There’s also the Kerikeri Farmers Market, which takes place every Sunday from 8:30am to 12:00pm and offers fruits, vegetables, wine and local artisan creations.

kerikeri packhouse markets


The collection of quirky and informative museums in the Bay of Islands will give you a fascinating insight into the early days of New Zealand.

The New Zealand Maritime Museum is also an intriguing place to visit. It celebrates the local bond with the sea and tells many captivating tales of sailing, exploration, immigration and discovery in the region.

And, one of the most important historic sites in the entire country is here – the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where you will learn about the signing of this important treaty and why this site is considered the “Birthplace of New Zealand.”

Boat Trips

Taking a boat cruise is the ultimate way to experience the elements, the sea life, the picturesque harbour, white sandy beaches and the hundreds of islands that make up the landscape.

There are many cruises available which offer you the option to explore, snorkel, kayak, fish or just sit back and watch the sunset.

You can sail through the Bay to see the stunning ‘Hole in the Rock’, or try to cast a line and catch a kingfish or a Marlin. You might even spot some dolphins swimming alongside your boat! There are also options where you can swim with dolphins, with certain conditions permitting.

Hole in the Rock

History & Culture

The Bay of Islands is a historically significant place. It was home to the first capital city of New Zealand – and the first signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Maori tribes originally settled in the area in the 10th century, based on artefacts found on Motorua Island. The Te Ama people arrived in the 15th century and occupied the Eastern Bay of Islands for over three hundred years. Eventually the Nga Manu tribe arrived in the 19th century and became the dominant tribe in the area.

Captain Cook arrived here in 1769, making it the first area of European settlement and the birthplace of New Zealand as a nation. Not long after, land speculators, Christian missionaries and traders arrived.

In the 1820s there were numerous infamous battles between the settlers and the tribes. In 1840, the founding document of New Zealand – the Treaty of Waitangi – was signed in the Bay of Islands by 43 Maori chiefs and the British Crown.

The New Zealand Land Wars still raged here until the 1870s as the cultures struggled to adapt and reconcile.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Key Facts

  • The Bay of Islands is about 3 hours’ drive north of Auckland on State Highway 1. Or, you can catch a 45 minute flight from Auckland Airport to Kerikeri, with Air New Zealand.
  • This region of New Zealand is known as the “winterless north” due to the subtropical mild winters and hot summers.
  • In a scientific study in 2006, the Bay of Islands was discovered to have the second bluest sky in the world, only surpassed by Rio de Janeiro.
  • Due to the climate here in the far north of New Zealand, you’ll see flora and fauna as well as fish, that aren’t found anywhere else in the country.

Bay of Islands with MoaTrek

MoaTrek tours that visit the Bay of Islands and Northland include the following;

  • A guided tour Waitangi Treaty House where in 1840 Maori chiefs and Queen Victoria’s representatives signed the treaty making New Zealand a nation.
  • A harbour cruise to Cape Brett and the famous “Hole in the Rock”.
  • Free time to explore Russell (Kororareka). You can learn about the history of the area by visiting its colonial buildings and take a stroll up iconic Flagstaff Hill before returning on the ferry to Paihia.
  • An introduction to Maori culture with the Ngapuhi tribe in the ancient Waipoua Kauri forest where we walk to the magnificent kauri tree “Tane Mahuta”.
  • A visit to the Stone Store in Kerikeri – the oldest stone building in New Zealand.
  • Explore the Kauri Museum to learn the history and significance of the mighty kauri tree.
  • Enjoy a cruise on the Hokianga Harbour with Pete, one of our Ngapuhi friends. Pete is the harbour master and skipper of the Hokianga Express. We explore the beach where Kupe “the great navigator” became the first person to set foot on Aotearoa. Take a walk along this deserted beach or for the adventure seeker try sandboarding down the dunes to cool off in the harbour.
  • Visit the Maori-owned Kawiti Glowworm Caves. Kawiti was a famous Maori chief of the area, his descendants guide us through this ancient limestone cave.

Tours You'll Love

Kaka 17 Day Tour

The best of both islands, all the spots we loved to visit as kids. From Rotorua and Tongariro National Park in the North and Abel Tasman, Milford Sound and Mt Cook in the South. All the comforts of home and unforgettable experiences every day.

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