One of the great things about New Zealand is how much you can do that’s free – and that goes double for Paihia in the Bay of Islands, where natural beauty and wide-open spaces abound. We caught up with some locals to ask about their favourite free and cheap activities, then collected their tips into this handy list. It’s a great resource for anyone who wants to save money as they travel around the Bay of Islands – or for those who simply want to reserve cash for splashing out on big-ticket experiences.

11 free activities in Paihia

  1. Visit Haruru Falls
  2. Catch the amazing view from the golf course
  3. Become an eco-volunteer
  4. Tackle an ocean swimming circuit
  5. Swim with stingrays
  6. Ride the Twin Coast Cycleway
  7. Catch your dinner like a local
  8. Walk from Paihia to Opua
  9. Take the kids to Oneroa Bay
  10. Experience historic St Paul’s Church
  11. Laze at the beach!

1. Walk to Haruru Falls and swim in the river

One of the easiest and most popular free experiences in Paihia is the walk to the pretty Haruru Falls. While certainly not the world’s highest waterfall – they stand a mere 5 metres – they make up for their short stature with their width, spanning the river in an elegant horseshoe.

The drive from Paihia to see the falls is an easy 10-15 minutes, then from the car park to the falls it’s a two minute walk, so this is accessible to everyone. The pool at the bottom of the falls also makes for a pleasant swimming spot on a hot day – though in late summer the falls and pool can run almost dry. They’re generally most spectacular after rain.

Fun fact: like so many roadside laybys in New Zealand, the car park here has its own population of semi-wild chickens, which will happily share your sandwiches.


2. Take in the views from the golf course

A regular visitor to the Bay of Islands, Boris Sokratov recommends one of the simplest pleasures – taking in the view from near the golf course at Waitangi. “I always drive up there to gaze out to sea. The food at the club last time I was there is pretty good and inexpensive too.”

Fun fact: like so many roadside laybys in New Zealand, the car park here has its own population of semi-wild chickens, which will happily share your sandwiches.



3. Save rare wildlife with Project Island Song

Want to give something back as part of your visit to the Bay of Islands? A great way to contribute is volunteering with Project Island Song – a conservation group dedicated to bringing the sound of New Zealand’s rare native birds back to the islands and forests around Paihia.

There are loads of ways volunteers can help, from the tough, physically demanding work of weeding on the islands, to becoming a roving ambassador who educates visitors on the importance of biosecurity. Check out Project Birdsong’s volunteer roster to register your interest.


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4. Test your fitness on an ocean swimming circuit

Did you know that ocean swimming is a big deal in Paihia? It may be a niche sport elsewhere, but in the Bay of Islands both competitive and just-for-fun swimming in the big blue is a serious business. Training meet-ups happen weekly so if you’re keen to have a go – and talk to some experienced competitive ocean swimmers – head to the section of the beach opposite Al Frescos bar and restaurant. There you’ll find a 900 metre triangular swimming course marked out in yellow buoys. There’s also a course map on the back of the shed at Bay Beach Hire.


5. Swim with stingrays at Wairoa Bay

This tip comes courtesy of Paihia local Elizabeth Glover who runs a horse trekking business. One of her favourite places to take riders on hot summer days is Wairoa Bay where they swim the horses to help them cool off – but it’s not just the horses who enjoy the shallows.

“It’s a lovely swim and snorkel spot,” says Liz.  “And it’s great at low tide because you can just put your feet down and reach the bottom. You’ll often encounter stingrays cruising around and it’s a good fishing spot too.”

There are also nice little grassy areas for picnics, and the fact that it’s not as busy as the main Paihia beach makes it a perfect little secret getaway. Did we mention that it’s free?


6. Ride the Twin Coast Cycleway

Another great free option for visitors is riding the Twin Coast Cycleway, part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail network. Crossing the country from West to East over an 87km track the Twin Coast route offers a smorgasbord of easy options.


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One of the best and easiest sections close to Paihia is the 11km trip from Opua to Kawakawa, which takes most riders 1-1.5 hours.

Start near the pretty Opua Marina, travel alongside the Bay of Islands vintage steam railway, and catch lunch in popular Kawakawa, famous for – wait for it – it’s unusual public toilets. Yep, the Hundertwasser Toilets – designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich

Hundertwasser – must be the most Instagrammed loos in the Southern Hemisphere, and frankly have to be seen to be believed.

Having stopped to refresh (and relieve) yourself in Kawakawa you can either turn back for home base in Paihia, or push on for a multi-day experience that takes in Maori culture, beautiful scenery and the stunning Hokianga Harbour.


7. Catch your dinner off Te Haumi bridge

Nothing says Kiwi like freshly caught fish for dinner. But don’t you need a boat and expensive gear to enjoy the pastime? No way! Make like a local and head to Te Haumi bridge where you can catch a feed with a simple handline or rod dropped into the estuary below. Kahawai and trevally are two beautiful eating fish that you can target here, along with the sought-after snapper in the summer evenings. Just be careful of the traffic as this is an active road bridge – and ask a local about bag limits and minimum sizes for any fish that you catch.


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8. Walk from Paihia to Opua

As Jake from The Mousetrap Backpackers in Paihia puts it: “Well, walking is free!” – and there are some stunning walks in and around the town that you can enjoy without spending  a cent.

Top of Jake’s list is the trip up to the lookout via School Road Track. This is an easy 1.5km return trip that passes through regenerating native forest before serving up an incredible view over Waitangi and across the expanse of the Bay of Islands.

And there’s no need to stop there. More intrepid walkers can carry on, linking up with the Oromahoe Traverse for an extra 2.5 hours walking (one way) to reach Opua.

From there, says Jake, you can head back to Paihia along the beach – making for a 5 hour hike all up. “Or else from Opua it’s only $1 without a car to catch the ferry to Okiato. Then you can walk on to Russell – doing it that way takes about 5 hours too.”


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9. Take the kids to Oneroa Bay

Another local spot is Oneroa Bay, also known as Long Beach, on the eastern side of Russell. It’s one of the best swimming spots for families with kids thanks to its gentle slope and calm water. And its pleasantly sheltered in a northerly or westerly wind.


10. Experience the history and serenity of St Paul’s church

Built from solid local bluestone, brick and slate this impressive church is looks out over the beach, guarded by two gnarled pohutukawa trees.

A church has occupied this site since the early days of European settlement in New Zealand, and the graveyard dates to 1826. You can walk around the rear to soak up the quiet and sense of history and there are services every Sunday.


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11. Relax on the beach and swim in the sea

Now this really ought to go without saying, but we’ll take a moment to say it anyway: Paihia and the Bay of Islands are simply brimming with stunning beaches and clean water. And unlike beaches in many parts of the world you won’t find pay-to-use recliners or crowds of hawkers flogging tat.

So for a beautiful day out that won’t cost anything just throw down your towel, jump in for a swim, and bask on the sand as you enjoy that quintessentially free Kiwi experience, a day at the beach.

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