New Zealand is world famous for its towering forests and natural beauty. If you’d love to wander around ancient forests, there is no better place than the Bay of Islands. Home to some of New Zealand’s best preserved Kauri forests, the Bay of Islands has a number of picturesque forest walks all within an easy travelling distance of each other.
What is Kauri?
Kauri trees are New Zealand’s living history. These giants of the forest live for thousands of years, making them some of the world’s oldest trees as well as the largest in New Zealand.
As a species, kauri trees have existed for around 20 million years. Mature kauri trees can be 2 metres thick, over 50 metres tall, and have a circumference of 13 metres all the way around the outside.
There is no such thing as a ‘typical kauri forest.’ Lone kauri can grow by themselves, or they can be the main part of the forest canopy. If you’re walking through any nature walk in the Bay of Islands or Northland, there’s a good chance there’s a kauri tree nearby.
Early European Settlers
Through the 1800s, kauri trees were prized by European settlers because kauri timber is strong and ideal for ship building. Kauri sap or gum was also used to make paint, varnish, or was carved into ornaments.
Because of the extensive logging, kauri trees were almost extinct by 1900. Today they are a protected species and we are focussed on helping kauri trees to recover and thrive again.
Kauri dieback disease
Today, the main threat to kauri trees isn’t logging, but a disease. It’s a microscopic fungus called Phytophthora agathidicida, although ‘kauri dieback’ is much easier to day.
This fungus lives in the soil and infects the roots of kauri trees. By damaging the tissues that carry nutrients and water into the tree, kauri dieback essentially starves these trees to death.
To date there is no known cure for kauri dieback disease and for a tree to get infected is a death sentence.
How can we prevent kauri dieback disease?
Because the fungus that causes kauri dieback disease lives in dirt, it can be moved around in dirt. In particular, the dirt on your shoes, on your dog’s feet or the wheels of your bike or car.
Before heading on one of these forest walks, please think of the kauri trees and scrub the soles of your shoes before setting out. If you’re biking along a trail please clean the tyres. Once you have removed all of the dirt from the bike tyres and the soles of your shoes, spray them with disinfectant.
If you’re taking your dog for a walk, washing their paws before and afterwards helps limit the spread of the disease. Your favourite pet store probably sells paw cleaning kits to help you scrub them down. Never spray your dog’s paws or skin with disinfectant.
Please stay on the path. It may be tempting to wander off the track to get up close to these living giants, but staying on the marked walking path helps limit the spread of this disease.
Before going on a forest walk, check the Department of Conservation website first. Sometimes trails are closed if they feel an area is particularly at risk of kauri dieback, so it pays to check the path is open before setting out.
Many forest walks will feature hygiene stations at the beginning and end of the track for cleaning your shoes. Please use these cleaning stations and follow instructions on any signs to help us protect our native kauri.
Best time for walking in the Bay of Islands
Walking in winter
Even if it’s sunny, the weather in the Bay of Islands can be very unpredictable and change at a moment’s notice. Pack wet weather gear, a waterproof jacket and very sturdy walking shoes. For some of the longer walks, make sure you have a drink bottle or two, plus some energy boosting snacks.
Before starting the walk, ask yourself how long it will take you. In Autumn and Winter, the sun sets just after 5pm in the Bay of Islands, and there are no lights along forest tracks. Unless you are on a guided tour. you don’t want to be walking the track after dark. Even still, you may want to pack a torch just in case.
Walking in summer
In summer, walks through the forests can provide welcome shade and shelter from the heat. On most walks, you will likely come across parts that are exposed to the sun. Even if you spend most of the time walking in the share, you should still pack a sunhat and sunblock.
What to take on your walk?
Most of the walks mentioned here are appropriate for families, and people with low to moderate levels of fitness. Even if your walk is only meant to last an hour, if you’re out hiking around the Bay of Islands it pays to be prepared. Here’s what you’ll need.
- Walking boots
You will need sturdy, comfortable walking or hiking shoes. Even the best walking tracks can be muddy and slippery in places, especially after it’s been raining. Be prepared for weather conditions to change at a moment’s notice.
- Hat and sunscreen
An absolute must in summer. Make sure you have a hat and sunscreen, as well as a light waterproof jacket. Even tracks in the heart of a forest can be exposed in parts and weather in the Bay of Islands can change incredibly fast.
- Food & water
Food and water are essentials on any hike. After all, there are no convenience shops in the middle of a forest so bring something to keep your energy up. Please remember to pick up your rubbish and take everything out of the forest that came in with you.
Make sure you have your camera. Most of us use our phones as a camera, so make sure it’s fully charged before leaving. Whichever forest you decide to visit, there are so many photo opportunities you will want to stop and appreciate.
Even though phone coverage may be patchy in places, in case the weather changes dramatically or if there is an emergency you will want to make sure you have your phone handy. To preserve the beauty of the walk, you might want to set your phone to ‘Do not disturb’ mode.
- Stay on the path
Finally, follow all Department of Conservation signs you see along the trail. All forests in the Bay of Islands are filled with precious natural habitats. It’s vital we stick to the walking tracks to look after the plants and wildlife that call the Bay of Islands home.
Walking in Waipoua Forest
Possibly the most popular forest walk in all of New Zealand. Waipoua Forest is home to some of New Zealand’s largest trees, including our largest, the great Tane Mahuta.
Getting to Waipoua Forest
If you’re holidaying in the traditional Bay of Island hot spots like Kerikeri, Russell, or Paihia, you will want to set aside a day to visit Waipoua.
The Explore Footprints Waipoua experience is about a 90 minute drive from Paihia via State Highway 1. You can make your own way to Hokianga and the Waipoua Forest if you have your own transport. If not, the Discover Hokianga’s Beauty with Fullers Greatsights tour leaves from the Paihia Wharf every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Bookings are recommended.
Self-guided walks in Waipoua Forest
If you prefer to do your own thing and enjoy the quiet around you, you may prefer a self guided walk within Waipoua forest. These tracks start from the Tane Mahuta carpark.
Tane Mahuta Walk
Hard to believe that a 5 minute walk from the car park can lead you to the largest and oldest tree in New Zealand.
At just 166 metres, this is one of the shortest walks, but has an incredible view.
Follow the path to a viewing platform where you can admire this ancient and mighty giant. Please stay behind the fence at all times.
Te Matua Ngahere Walk
An easy option for people with kids, or low fitness abilities. This track is 730 metres and one way should take around 20 minutes.
The car park is open from 8:30pm until 5:30pm every day, and the track will lead you to a viewing platform where you can see ‘Te Matua Ngahere’ (Father of the Forest)- the second largest living kauri tree in New Zealand.
It is very important that you keep to the walking track at all times. Kauri trees have very sensitive surface roots, and foot traffic around the trees endangers their life span.
Guided walks in Waipoua Forest
To make the most of your time in Waipoua, we recommend a guided tour by Footprints Waipoua Forest.
You will hear and understand more about the history of the region, plus a guided tour will allow you to get closer to Tane Mahuta.
All of their tours are gentle walks suitable for people with limited fitness abilities, but they may be unsuitable for children because of their timing.
This four hour tour allows you to watch the forest transition from day to night, so you can explore the forest by starlight. Meeting both Te Matua Ngāhere & Tane Mahuta, your guides will share stories, spine-tingling songs and legends, making this a truly unforgettable experience.
Bookings are essential. Tours leave from the visitor centre at 5pm in winter and 6pm in summer.
Much more suitable for younger children, this 3 and a half hour tour will take you on much the same route as the Twilight Encounter, but during the day.
Bookings are essential. Tours leave from the visitor centre at 1pm daily.
If you’re short on time but still want an unforgettable experience, contact Footprints Waipoua to organise a short guided tour and personal introduction to Tane Mahuta. You’ll take away much more from this, and get much closer than what you can on the self-guided walk.
Tours are 40 minutes and must be booked in advance.
Puketi & Omahuta Forest Walks
Puketi and Omahuta Forests form one of the largest areas of native bush in Northland and the Bay of Islands. There are so many walks to choose from. Whether you’ve only got half an hour or you want to immerse yourself for a day or two, Puketi and Omahuta Forests will have a walking track for you.
Getting to Puketi & Omahuta Forests
Puketi and Omahuta Forests cover a large area, and you could spend some time driving around them. To drive from Kerikeri to the start of the Puketi Forest Kauri Walk will take you a little more than half an hour. Drive along Waipapa Rd, Pungaere Rd and Waiare Rd heading North and you’ll soon see signposts for the carpark and the beginning of the walk.
To reach the start of the Omahuta Forest walks, head South down Waiare Rd from the Puketi Forest Walk car park before turning right onto Puketi Road and again onto State Highway 1.
The forest is signposted a few kilometres south of Mangamuka Bridge, near the settlement of Mangamuka on State Highway 1. Turn into Omahuta Road then onto Omahuta Forest Road.
Guided walks through Puketi Forest
If you want to stay close by and really explore New Zealand’s most diverse sub-tropical rainforest then Adventure Puketi has a number of options for you.
In addition to guided walks, they can also offer accommodation, food, as well as mountain bike hire
Adventure Puketi walks are recommended for those with a light to medium fitness level.
Puketi Night Walk
See the forest come to life as day becomes night. Listen to the birdsong as the fantails and tui fall asleep and morepork and kiwi rise for the night. As bats fly overhead, your guide will take you on a three hour walk through the dark secrets of Puketi Forest. Bookings are essential.
Puketi Half-Day Eco Walk
This is your chance to understand the forest around you. Learn to recognise and identify New Zealand’s native flora and fauna on this three hour walk.
Depending on the time of day your guide will provide morning or afternoon tea as you explore what is happening in this beautiful forest and what we can all do to protect it. Bookings are essential.
Puketi Full Day Eco Walk
On this intimate, guided 6 hour hike, you will see why this forest is one of New Zealand’s most diverse.
As you venture into the heart of Puketi, you will meet Te Tangi O Te Tui, the fourth largest kauri tree in New Zealand. Morning tea and lunch are provided for you. Bookings are essential.
Self-guided walks through Puketi Forest
Leaving from the Puketi Forest car park, this boardwalk winds through a mature kauri forest and swamp. There are plenty of panels to help you understand the ecosystem around you.
The path is level, suitable for families and strollers, and should only take 15 minutes one way.
This longer loop-trail is suitable for children and considered an easy walking track. Allow an hour or so to make it all the way around to where you started.
On this amazing walk you will see a mature kauri grove and if you’re walking in the evening you could potentially be treated to a display from glow-worms.
Self-guided walks through Omahuta Forest
As this name sadly suggests, on this 10 minute walk you will see the stump of one of the largest kauri trees ever felled. The track is 140 metres one-way and is family friendly or suitable for those with a low level of fitness.
This incredible walk, found in the heart of Waitangi, will take you past towering kauri trees and mangroves so you can get a sample of the best of what the Bay of Islands has to offer. The track that takes you through Waitangi Forest is called the Haruru Falls track.
What can you see in Waitangi Forest?
This forest and this track is unique in terms of what you can see. Starting from the Waitangi end of the Haruru Falls track places you immediately in native forest. Towering kauri trees, rimu and totara above, with leafy and fronds below. It’s similar to most of the forests you can visit in the Bay of Islands.
After walking for 30 minutes, the landscape changes dramatically and you find yourself in a very different kind of forest. Mangroves are one of the few native plants that thrive in saltwater marshes, which usually makes them inaccessible for a casual stroll. The Haruru Falls walking track takes you on a raised platform through the mangrove forest, so you can see the ‘breathing roots’ above the water at high tide, or crabs scuttling through the mud when the water is out.
It’s rare for one, relatively short walk to take you through two very different types of forest.
Getting to Waitangi Forest
Because this is a ‘there and back track’ you can start at either end before making the return journey.
Starting in Waitangi
From Paihia, follow signs for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds along Te Karuwha Parade and Tau Henare Drive. Go past the entrance to Te Kongahu Museum of Waitangi and take the next left. You’ll find the carpark and start of the Haruru Falls Track.
Starting in Haruru
Coming from Kerikeri, start from the Haruru Falls end and finish at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Take Puketona Road State Highway 11 and turn onto Haruru Falls Road. Once you cross the bridge turn right, and you’ll find a carpark and the beautiful Haruru Falls.
How long is the Haruru Falls walk?
This track is reasonably flat, but at 6km it’s recommended for people of a medium fitness ability. Allow half a day if you park at one end and plan on walking a return journey. If you’re concerned about time or your fitness, walk one way and arrange to be picked up at the other end.
This track is reasonably family friendly. There are marked places and benches where you can stop for a rest and all year round there are plenty of birds and animals to see along the walk. Make sure you bring some bread for the friendly chickens who live in the Haruru Falls carpark.
Opua Kauri Walk
Getting to Opua
Just a 20 minute drive from Paihia and you can be deep in a kauri forest. Take State Highway 11 south towards Opua before turning right onto Oromahoe Road. Keep following the road until you see the signposts for the Opua Kauri Walk.
How long is the Opua Kauri Walk?
This is considered an easy walking track and one for the whole family. The there-and-back track is 370 metres one-way, so the whole hike should only take you half an hour.
Enjoying your day and don’t want the walk to end so soon? If you want to walk for a further two and a half hours, return to Oromahoe Road, turn right towards State Highway 11 for 800 metres and take the Oromahoe Traverse. Following this track will eventually lead you to School Road in Paihia.
This walk is graded Intermediate by the Department of Conservation so is recommended for those with a moderate to high level of fitness.
Other walks around the Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands are home to some amazing, ancient forests. We’re fortunate that many are so accessible for families and people of all fitness abilities with clearly marked walking tracks.
To protect our native wildlife when visiting forests, it’s vital that you stay on the walking track. Staying on the path prevents the spread of diseases like kauri dieback, as well as protecting smaller plants and seedlings from being trampled accidentally.