Crystal-clear water, gently swaying palm trees, islands dotted with picturesque beaches and marine life spotted playing just offshore. If you’re conjuring thoughts of Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu or Niue, think a little closer to home; the Bay of Islands is in New Zealand’s ‘winterless north’ and is a tropical getaway in every sense of the word. With Paihia only a short 3.5-hour drive from Auckland, it’s a much easier journey than catching an international flight.
But exploring Paihia and the Bay of Islands offers so much more than that ‘Fiji feeling’ – think rich and colourful history, iconic cuisine making the most of local bounty, and experiences like scenic flights and boat cruises.
Experiences Like No Other
Visitors notice the climate and the scenery right away, but it’s the people, the history and the marine life that create some of the Bay of Islands’ most unforgettable memories. Here, the history is palpable. Russell, New Zealand’s first capital was famous for being a bawdy and lawless port in the early 1800’s, and is home to a relic of that era – the famous Duke of Marlborough. Across the bay in Paihia lies the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – one of Aotearoa’s most important sites, this is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed; one of New Zealand’s founding documents. Today, visitors are able to enjoy two award-winning museums, stunning grounds and views and an engaging cultural show. For those itching to get out on the water, consider a boat cruise to the Hole in the Rock with Fullers Great Sights or Explore. A Bay of Islands treasure, the Hole in the Rock is located at the end of Cape Brett Peninsula and is as it sounds – a huge rocky cavern that hangs in the centre of a rocky island. For those looking to explore more of the 144 islands in the Bay, an Overnight Cruise with The Rock is just the ticket.
An easy 25-minute drive inland is Kerikeri’s Stone Store and Kemp House. New Zealand’s oldest buildings the former was originally a Missionary Society warehouse and the latter a beautiful family home. Both are located by a picturesque river and surrounded by heritage gardens.
A Birds Eye View of the Bay
Seeing Paihia and the Bay of Islands by air is truly unique, and it is from this vantage that you really begin to appreciate the sheer scale and beauty of this part of New Zealand. For a truly special scenic experience – great for special occasions or celebrations – you could land on the top of the Hole in the Rock or combine a flight with a wine tour with Salt Air. If you’re lucky enough to be staying at Eagles Nest, there are exclusive helicopter experiences on offer including catered rock fishing and a scenic flight that combines a round of golf.
Those after something more thrilling should consider a skydive with Skydive Bay of Islands. The pure adrenaline of free-falling towards azure water, islands, and golden beaches is a truly unforgettable holiday memory.
Fresh, Delightful Dining
Cuisine from the Bay of Islands is notorious for being incredibly fresh and inspired by the ocean’s bounty combined with locally-sourced produce. For a special meal or celebration, head to the famous Duke of Marlborough on Russel’s waterfront. You can’t go past anything from the ocean, but Oysters from Waikare Inlet (just across the bay, near Opua) are as plump and buttery as they come. The Grilled Ruakaka Kingfish – served with chickpeas, brussel sprouts and tomato – is a customer favourite. Charlotte’s Kitchen, located on the wharf at Paihia and with killer views of the surrounding harbour, is named after the ‘fabulously naughty’ Charlotte Badger who was thought to be the first white women settler in New Zealand. You can’t go wrong with the Northland Market Fish (often Snapper, Tarakihi or Hapuku) or the Slow Roasted Pork Knuckle, which is famous among the locals. Wash it down with one of Charlotte’s speciality cocktails. Mutiny at Sea or Pirate Queen are particularly fun!
Kiddos Welcome: Family-friendly Restaurants
With its myriad experiences and ease of access, the Bay of Islands is an awesome family getaway, with great family dining options to boot. If you’re in Russell and the kids are keen to continue sandcastle building while the food is being cooked, Butterfish or the Duke of Marlborough are great options. Both have waterfront seating that looks over Russell’s main beach. Hone’s Garden is a relaxed beer garden with plenty of outdoor space – great for kiddos that need to stretch their legs while Mum & Dad relax. Make sure you check beforehand if they are open; hours can be seasonal. Back across the water in Paihia, Charlotte’s Kitchen has a great kids menu and they’ll be entertained by the comings and goings of the harbour. Zane Grey’s Restaurant and Bar offers kids colouring in alongside the views. Green’s has a menu to suit everyone – including takeaways.
A Slew of Accommodation Options
Looking for a relaxed campsite only five minutes from stunning beaches and restaurants, a la Russell Top 10 Campground? Or does the Rahimoana Luxury Villa, complete with four bedrooms and huge views at Eagle’s Nest appeal more? Because the Bay of Islands has been such a treasured holiday spot for so many years, there are plenty of accommodation options to suit all types of travellers; from mid-range BnB’s to waterfront motels.
The Duke of Marlborough is located right on the beach in Russell Town, and its beautifully decorated rooms are steeped in rich Bay of Islands history. Or, for an overnight stay you won’t forget in a hurry, The Rock Overnight Adventure Cruise – with both family and double cabins – is a unique option.
Paihia and the Bay of Islands is one of New Zealand’s most colourful and unique places to visit, no matter your preferences or budget. From its Fiji-like landscapes to its fascinating past and unique places to visit and things to do, the Bay – as the locals call it – promises a truly special holiday getaway.