Often when we think of the Bay of Islands, water adventures and chilling out on an isolated beach come to mind. All very appealing of course, but why not consider adding to your holiday memories by embracing a relaxing walk in Paradise too?
With help from locals, the Department of Conservation and travel blogs, we’ve gathered a list of the top walks in and around the Bay, for all fitness levels.
We’ve covered a bunch of options – easy short day walks, then some longer ones; overnight tramps for the more adventurous and some extra special Kauri forest walks a tad out of the region (but well worth the trip). We’ve even thrown in a waterfall or two!
We hope this post inspires you to explore. We guarantee nature will serve up a pleasant surprise!
Things to do to protect our environment
As they say, leave only footprints and take only photographs. If you’re heading off the beaten track please consider a thing or two when it comes to conservation. Please take you rubbish back out with you. Check your gear for pests (like rodents, insects), and making sure footwear is clean from soil and seeds.
For all our walks we want to Stop kauri disease and protect kauri
- Scrub all soil off shoes and gear.
- Use cleaning stations if they are at the start of your track.
- Always stay on the track.
Bay of Islands day walks (less than 2 hours)
If you’re not up for a huge hike and just want some fresh air or a new perspective, take one of these easy walks.
HARRISON RESERVE WALK
Length: 1.4 km
Time: 30 Minutes one way
Starting point: Broadview Road, Opua
Key features: Native bush, birdlife.
This walk travels through some of the best native forest in the Bay of Islands. Magnificent Kohekohe and Puriri provide the canopy to a pleasant, shady walk.
It takes you from Broadview Road, Opua down a pretty valley to join the Paihia to Opua
LOCAL KAURI WALK
Length: 0.24 km
Time: 6 Minutes
This is a short interesting forest walk off Oromahoe road to view a magnificent Kauri tree.
Paihia to Opua Walkway
Length: 5.5 km
Time: 2.5 hrs
A relatively gentle coastal walk that is well-trodden and very pretty.
The full walk is just under 6 km, taking you from the centre of Paihia along the main beach, round the coastline (can be tricky at high tide! Check the tides, but you can take the footpath along the main road) and then, once you cross the river at the far end of Te Haumi flats, on your left you will find access to a winding path around the headland, that after approx 10 minutes will take you through Paihia Top 10 Holiday Park.
At this stage continue to the end of the road where a board walk going through the mangrove estuaries will take you onto a bush track that continues through to Opua. Paihia Top 10 Holiday Park is approximately half way through the walk between Paihia and Opua.
This walkway can be completed on its own in parts or as part of The Full Circle Day Walk which is a day walk – PAIHIA – OPUA – OKIATO – RUSSELL
School Road Lookout
1 hour return (1.5km)
Starting point: School Road, Paihia, 700m from Paihia township.
Key features: Birdlife, wetlands, native bush, views.
If you’re based in Paihia this walk is a short, convenient must-do! Stroll along a well-maintained track through wetlands before climbing up through the regenerated native forest to a lookout point high over Paihia’s township.
Keep an eye out for native birdlife as you stroll. Views reach from Opua out towards Waitangi and Paihia township, over the water to Russell. Beautiful
Paihia to Waitangi Walk
30 minutes one way
Starting point: Paihia or Waitangi
Key features: Beaches, rocky headlands, views, birdlife, history.
An ideal time to do this popular coastal walk is early in the morning – not in the middle of a hot day, as it’s exposed to the sun.
From the Visitor Centre, facing the sea, turn left and simply follow the waterfront. You can follow the road above the headland or walk along Te Ti Beach if the tide is low.
At the northern end of the beach to the left, you’ll pass iconic Te Ti Marae. It was here that Maori chiefs sat and pondered overnight, considering whether to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, NZ’s founding document. The rest is history, for the next day is when it was signed it at Waitangi, on 6 February 1840.
Flagstaff Hill Loop, Russell
30 minute loop (2.5km total)
Starting point: The Strand, Russell
Key features: History, bush, birdlife. And views, views, views!
We recommend all able visitors to Russell take a walk up to Flagstaff Hill, the highest point in Russell. The 360-degree views over the Bay are just outstanding. See the iconic flagstaff up the top, chopped down four times by local Māori (including the famous chief Hone Heke) in opposition to British rule.
If it’s low tide, you can start this hike by walking to Kororareka Bay, around the rocks to Watering Bay, where a marked track starts. You’ll then head through some beautiful native forest and out onto Titore Way. On the right after 300 metres, there’s another track up to the summit. It’s all signposted.
If it’s high tide, walk along The Strand in Russell and through Kent Street, and then Wellington Street. About 300 metres up the road is the entrance to the bush walk that connects with the low tide option above. Or a shorter option is to continue up to the end of the street where there’s a bush track up to the summit.
Long Beach (‘Oneroa’), Russell
40 minutes return. 20 minutes each-way. (1.5km)
Starting point: Long Beach Road, Russell
Key features: Swim in clear blue water, views, bush.
Long Beach (Oneroa) is an awesome swimming beach with white sand and views out to the islands, and is the favourite for locals.
The quickest route from Russell ferry to Oneroa is to take the ‘Long Beach Walkway’. Starting at The Strand, go down Kent Street and follow Long Beach Road to the camping ground. Follow the paved walking track you’ll spot to the left.
You’ll walk through native bush and climb over a fairly easy hill (passing the local cemetery which is an interesting, historic stopover), then down to the hill to the coast.
You can also drive there!
Check out our beach guide for more info.
Marsden Cross Track (Rangihoua Heritage Park)
– 36km from Kerikeri
1 hour 20 return drive(40 min each way driving). 1.1km one way walking.
Starting point: Head along Purerua Rd and then Rangihoua Rd. Turn onto Oihi Rd and drive 2.8km to the car park.
Key features: History, beaches, views.
Rangihoua Heritage Park was officially opened in December 2014, on the bicentenary of the first missionary settlers’ arrival in New Zealand. Māori lived in this area for centuries before the missionaries arrived.
In December 1814, Reverend Samuel Marsden arrived in the Kerikeri Inlet in by ship, and two days later celebrated Christmas here. There is an area near the coast with a large carved stone cross, marking the place where the first Christian church service in New Zealand was held. This is a great short walk to see some key Bay Of Islands and New Zealand history. Walk across farmland with a beautiful vista across the coast.
Taronui Walking Track – 30 minutes north of Kerikeri
1 hour 20 mins (40 mins each way), 3.7kms one way
45 – 60 min walk one way
No Dog access
Starting point: Purerua Rd, off Kapiro Rd
Key features: Farmland, bush, birdlife, beaches.
This walk on the Purerua Peninsula, is only 30 minutes drive north of the Bay and takes you to the quaint Taronui Bay.
The only way to get to this beach is on foot so it’s quite the hidden gem. Just follow the signs.
Walking the track will take you through a mixed landscape of pasture and wooded areas to the beautiful white sands of Taronui Bay.
Rainbow Falls track, Kerikeri
Starting from the Rainbow Falls car park and picnic area at the end of Rainbow Falls Road. This option is only around 400m long and is even wheelchair accessible.
There is also a longer walk to the Falls – see information below.
Longer Bay of Islands walks and hikes (2 or more hours return)
If you have a day up your sleeve and some decent walking shoes, consider a longer walk.
Waitangi to Haruru Falls
5 hours – 2.5 hours each way (6kms total)
Starting point: Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Key features: Bush, river, mangroves, birdlife, waterfall
This walk starts at the historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds and takes you up to the stunning horseshoe-shaped Haruru Falls.
The waterfall – Haruru means “big noise”. Maori legend says that a taniwha lives in the lagoon below the spectacular falls. Taniwha are supernatural creatures in Māori culture, similar to serpents and dragons in other cultures.
You can walk from Paihia to the start of this track in Waitangi, and that will take about 30 minutes.
Paihia to Russell – via Opua and Okiato
Duration – 6 Hours
Distance – 17 kms
You can walk from Russell or Paihia, doing the full loop
Stunning mangrove boardwalks. Bush where the terrain. Many points, beaches, and bays.
You need to catch the car ferry at Okiato.
Kerikeri River Track and Rainbow Falls
3 hours (1.5 hours each way), 3.5km one way
Starting point: 246 Kerikeri Road (parking on Landing Road), Kerikeri Basin
Key features: Waterfall, bush, birdlife, history.
This beautiful track starts at the historic Kerikeri Mission Station and follows the banks of the Kerikeri River up to the Rainbow Falls waterfall.
You can hear the sounds of native birds like tui and fantails as you walk through bush and beside the river.
There’s also a shorter walk option, starting from the Rainbow Falls car park and picnic area at the end of Rainbow Falls Road. This option is only around 400m long and is even wheelchair accessible.
Island walks: Access by boat or kayak
There are over 144 islands in the Bay of Islands. There are some islands that are filled with bush, birdsong, and great walking tracks!
You can get to these islands by boat – private boat, or take a ferry or water taxi to the islands. If you’re kayaking to an island from the ‘mainland’ please make sure you are experienced and that you double-check distances and conditions. The weather can change dramatically when out on the open sea. Your best option may be via a local guided kayaking tour – here are some options for tours and kayak hire.
Like all NZ beaches – leave only your footprints, taking all rubbish with you if bins are not provided.
Dogs are not permitted on the islands. If you camp on the islands you need to stay in a designated DOC campsite. A good place to start when planning your adventure is the Department of Conservation ‘DOC’ website.
Here are a few island walk options that are popular, accessible, and of course, jaw-dropping in terms of scenery.
Have a good look at our listings to find out how to island hop by boat.
Urupukapuka Island Walk
5 hours round trip (7.3kms). You need to have a good level of fitness. Though there are many short walks you can do from the ferry to beaches and lookouts.
Starting point: You can access from many of the Bays on the Island – although ferry starts from Otehei Bay.
Key features: History, beaches, bush, birdlife, wetlands.
This beautiful island is of significant historic and cultural importance. Very little is known or recorded about pre-European life on Urupukapuka. Our best record of the past is provided by numerous archaeological sites visible on the present-day landscape.
There are a number of walks across the Island but this is one of the most popular to do. It’s an awesome way to learn about the area as there are some interesting archaeological spots along the way. A large Māori community once lived here, and you can even see the remains of fortified Māori villages.
The hike is designed in a clockwise direction and runs near most of the larger beaches. So if you’re on the walk on a sunny day you can dip in and dip out at the various bays.
The island offers visitors a great place to escape and enjoy fun water sports (you can hire equipment near the ferry drop off).
There are some campsites on the island (book on the DOC website), and a cafe at Otehei Bay where the ferry lands.
There are several companies that can bring you out to the islands. And the Explore Group runs a ferry service to Otehei Bay.
Motuarohia (Roberton) ‘Island Track’ Summit
350 metres one way, 15 minutes one way.
30 minutes return
Starting point: Access by boat, ferry or kayak.
Key features: Views, beaches, lagoons, bush, birdlife.
The island closest to Paihia is Motuarohia, famous for its two glorious lagoons and view from the top point.
If you’re OK with walking uphill (350 metres up) we’d suggest heading to the summit. Once there you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the Bay of Islands. Bring your camera!
The lagoon has nice snorkelling.
Deep Water Cove to Cape Brett
This is not exactly an island walk but you do have to get to Deep Water Cove. Then it’s a walk along the peninsula to Cape Brett Lighthouse.
Hard Return trip 12km
A good level of fitness is required.
You catch a water taxi from either Russell or Paihia. Walkers begin with a climb from the once established fishing village known as Deep Water Cove, up through forest under restoration and intense pest control – responsible for the regrowth of plant species, presence of Fantail, Wood Pigeon, Pied Tit and Tui. Search for native orchids along the track edges, pass over an extensive pā with terracing and kumara pits concealed under the canopy.
A difficult but totally rewarding walk… enjoy outstanding views of the outer Bay of Islands, north to the Cavalli Islands and south to Whangaruru and beyond to the Poor Knights Islands, while taking in the peace and tranquillity that only isolation can provide.
Arriving at the iconic lighthouse above Motukokako or Piercy Island, the home of the Hole in the Rock, and further down the hill is a DOC hut.
Cape Brett the Guiding light: The light at the end of Cape Brett/Rakaumangamanga has guided and protected visitors to New Zealand for hundreds of years. The light reflecting off the crystalline rocks once helped guide the earliest waka to a safe landfall in this new homeland. For the last 100 years the Cape Brett lighthouse has lit and protected the coast for all seafarers.
Starting our day with a boat ride through the Bay of islands to Maunganui Bay (Deep Water Cove).
You’ll pass by beautiful beaches, along the ridge of the cape, through Māori-owned land and also DOC land. En route you’ll enjoy incredible views, native forest and birdlife, and many walkers spot dolphins, whales and seals.
You’ll need to book ahead to stay the DOC hut overnight. You can do this in advance via their website.
Important: There is a track fee for a portion of the walk that runs over someone’s private land. You can pay track and hut fees at the Paihia i-SITE (just opposite our booking office).
Overni Bay Of Island hike
The hike we’ve featured here is the hero of Bay of Islands walking trails.
Cape Brett Walkway
2 days (8 hours each way). 16.3km total.
Starting point: Oke Bay, Rawhiti, (26km from Russell). You can get a water taxi to Rawhiti or drive by road.
Key features: This stunning hike has a bit of everything!
You’ll need to be fit to manage two days, plus the terrain can be a challenge in parts (there are some bluffs and steep cliffs).
The track runs along the ridge through Maori-owned land before reaching conservation land at Deep Water Cove – Manawahuna for the last 6 km of the track.
You can take a side-track (1 hr return) down to Deep Water Cove, where you can enjoy a refreshing swim and snorkel.
From the forested ridges, you can take in spectacular coastal scenery. Towards the Cape, walking alongside the dramatic cliff-face, you can see abundant fish and bird life below – often dolphins and seals will come close to shore.
From Deep Water Cove onwards, the track gets more challenging and becomes quite exposed with steep drop-offs to the sea below.
Although it is not that far to the lighthouse, it will take you about 2-3 hours, and can be quite tiring. The effort is rewarded with outstanding views of the outer Bay of Islands, north to the Cavalli Islands and south to Whangaruru and beyond to the Poor Knights Islands.
Along the track, you will come across an electric fence crossing the width of the peninsula. This was constructed in 1995 to reduce the impact of possums on the coastal bush. Ensure the gate is closed.
You’ll need to book ahead to stay the DOC hut overnight. You can do this in advance via their website.
A significant portion of the track, between Rawhiti and Deep Water Cove, crosses private land. All trampers must pay a fee that is used to maintain this section of the track.
Pay your fees online (select a Walkway Permit).
Fees can also be paid in person at the i-Site Visitor Centre in Paihia.
There is no charge for the section of track that is on public land between Deep Water Cove and Cape Brett.
Kauri Forest walks in Northland
Waipoua Forest – Northland’s West Coast. 2-hours from Paihia
The Waipoua Forest is a 2-hour drive from Paihia. But it’s a beautiful drive across and you’ll be rewarded by your efforts. The tallest NZ tree, standing at an epic 150 feet high, is the treasured Tane Mahuta (‘Lord of the Forest’), a Kauri tree.
In the shadow of these giant trees lives our national icon, the kiwi. To hear their call you will need to venture into the forest at night, Footprints Waipoua offer guided night walks into this ancient spiritual wonderland. We’d recommend this as a great family experience.
The Puketi and Omahuta Kauri Rainforests
The Puketi Kauri Rainforest is a 35 minute drive from Paihia, 20 minutes from Kerikeri, and a 10 minute drive from the Bay of Islands airport in Kerikeri. Along with its neighbour the Omahuta Forest, it forms one of the largest tracts of native forest in Northland.
Kauri are treasured giants. Standing underneath such ancient, magnificent stature will leave you breathless.
Most tracks around these forests are all-weather tracks, and can cater for the less able or time poor with a 10-minute Kauri Boardwalk, right through to a hardy two-day hike.
And DOC has a great list of all of the walks available in the forests here.
Here are some things to remember:
- Always double check weather conditions before you leave.
- Wear comfortable walking / hiking shoes. If you haven’t worn them in, take plasters just in case! There’s nothing worse than a blister and a long walk home.
- Take plenty of water and food. Walking can be thirsty work, even if the terrain is flat.
- Wear a hat and bring heaps of sunscreen. The NZ sun is extremely strong (burn time can be as fast as ten minutes in summer months). Keep applying sunscreen during the day especially during summer as you sweat or swim.
- Pack a windproof and waterproof jacket. Even if it’s sunny, the weather could change.
- Never smoke or light fires, especially in the bush or dry scrub areas.
- Follow all instructions and signage that you see on a trail.
- If you’re visiting any of our precious islands or forests, help us keep them pest free by bringing clean shoes and checking for stow away creatures in back packs. There are plenty of protected flora and fauna up here.
- Charge your mobile phone. There will not always be coverage but it’s just in case of an emergency. Then we’d suggest turning it on silent, to enjoy the serenity.
- If you’re parking, make sure your vehicle is locked and valuables out of sight.
- Take your rubbish with you.
Most importantly – take a deep breath in and enjoy the sweet scent of nature!