The Bay of Islands is known throughout the world for its jaw-dropping sandy beaches and outdoor adventures. Tourists flock here to dive in pristine waters, fish for their dinner, or just relax in the sun with a book on a near-empty beach.
And Paihia is the epicenter of it all.
Visitors like to base themselves from this bustling town as many of the local tourist activities start from here. If water-based and outdoor pursuits aren’t your thing you can still enjoy a funky café culture, learn heaps about New Zealand history and explore plenty of boutique shopping instead.
You’ll find a range of accommodation in and around Paihia, catering to frugal budgets to high-end luxury hunters.
Plus it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to charming historic towns Russell, Opua and Kerikeri.
Paihia is the perfect place to get amongst it in the Bay Of Islands – whether you’re a single backpacker or part of a large family group.
Fun on the water in Paihia
No trip to the Bay of Islands would be complete without some time spent in or on the water. With 144 islands each surrounded by clear, blue ocean, the Bay of Islands really is the place to get your feet wet!
Here are some ideas…
Golden beaches in Paihia Harbour
Build sandcastles in the sand, or kayak over a sparkling blue ocean. Here are our top local picks:
Paihia Town Beach
Conveniently located near to the shops, cafes and most accommodation, Paihia’s main beach is the easy spot for swimming and picnics.
Te Tii Bay
This stellar beach is at the north end of Paihia. Ringed with native pohutukawa trees, Te Tii is really sheltered and safe for kiddies, and there’s even a children’s playground here.
Local secret, Sullivan’s Beach, is a great sheltered swimming beach. But there’s no road access. To get there, go to the southern end of Paihia Town beach, walk around the rocks. It’s best to go at low tide.
If you’re happy to travel a bit further, here’s a guide to the best beaches in the wider Bay of Islands.
Iconic Paihia Wharf
The wharf is the centre of the action, and is where most cruises and trips leave from.
There’s also a fabulous restaurant with unbeatable views right at the end. Have an after-dinner stroll and chat to locals, fishing off the edge at dusk.
Charlotte’s does live music and is the perfect spot for a drink after a busy day adventuring.
Try the thrills and spills of Jetskiing.
With an abundance of beaches and a great climate all year round, Paihia is the perfect playground for it.
Take a leisurely cruise and view the spectacular scenery from the water. There are many boat tours that leave daily from Paihia Wharf.
There’s nothing like experiencing the beauty of the bay from aboard the sparkling blue waters. The famous ‘Hole in the Rock’ day trip is simply not to be missed.
Swim with dolphins
If you’re after a once in a lifetime experience, try swimming with the Bay of Islands Bottle Nosed Dolphin.
Watching these majestic creatures frolicking in the boat’s wake is a treat too, so there’s plenty of fun to be had if you’d prefer to keep your feet dry.
We recommend reading our full guide to dolphin encounters.
Diving & Snorkelling
You won’t be left wanting with the abundance of marine wildlife on show, just a few metres down from our world-class dive sites.
There are plenty of great fishing options in Paihia.
From chartering a boat to finding a quiet spot to fish off the coast, you’ll be sure to find the perfect spot to catch Snapper and other kiwi favourites.
Get a waterside view of the breathtaking scenery around the Bay of Islands in a kayak. Glide under seaside pohutukawas or put your arms to the test and tackle the waves. Whatever level of challenge you’re after, there are a zillion wonderful spots to explore in a kayak around the Bay.
With options for single or double kayaks you can take the whole family. Choose a guided tour or simply hire a kayak and explore all the Bay has to offer.
Have a read of our comprehensive guide to kayaking in the area, including top spots and where to hire them.
Fun on the land in Paihia
When you’re ready to dry off, come ashore and take advantage of the many things to do on land.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
The historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a must-see of any trip to Paihia. Here you can experience the rich history of the birthplace of New Zealand.
There’s plenty to enjoy exploring the huge 1000-acre grounds, visiting the impressive Te Whare Runanga, the carved Māori meeting house, and the historic Treaty House. And don’t miss the impressive Ngātokimatawhaorua (ceremonial war canoe pictured below) on display.
The site has stunning views to sea and was gifted to the people of New Zealand by former the trust of former Governor General Lord Bledisloe and his wife Lady Bledisloe.
Visit the Museum of Waitangi Te Kōngahu and explore Treaty House. One of New Zealand’s oldest and most visited historic homes, Treaty House was built for the first British resident, James Busby, and his family.
Other places to visit at Waitangi include the Flagstaff, Visitor Centre, Gift shop, and Café.
Eating and drinking in Paihia
Set in stunning surrounds, dining options in Paihia range from fish n’ chips to award-winning nouveau cuisine, as well as offering a variety of local beverages for you to sample.
Bars and Restaurants
Relish great quality seafood and local delicacies at one of Paihia’s restaurants and discover a perfect way to relax after a fun day.
There are plenty of cafes just waiting to be sampled in Paihia. Find gluten free, vegan and organic options. Or go on a treasure hunt for the best coffee in Northland.
Find out more about where to eat.
Paihia has no winery’s, but have a read of our local wineries guide for options including small family run vineyards, luxury boutique accommodation, and sustainable growers.
Best of all, every wine from the Bay is made in small batches of limited editions. You’ll be sampling something unique every time.
With an abundance of fresh produce and stall holders coming from all other Northland, the Farmers Markets are not to be missed.
Markets are all weather, so come and enjoy rain or shine. They even have an annual ‘giant pumpkin growing competition’.
There are also markets nearby in Kerikeri.
Paihia Farmers Markets – Thursdays are market days in Pahia. Farmers markets are held 1 – 4:30pm in the Village Green.
Kerikeri Farmers Markets – On Sundays, pop over to the Farmers Market in Kerikeri. Sunday morning from 8.30am to 12pm in the Post Office car park on Hobson Ave.
What to do in Paihia if it’s raining
Here are our top two activities that will keep you comfy undercover:
Paihia is home to a range of locally made crafts, boutique shops and fresh produce. It’s a great place to pick up some kiwi designer garments or stock up on souvenirs.
If you need something practical for outdoor adventures, Paihia is the place to grab the holiday essentials too. And everything is within walking distance.
Massage and Spa
Go on – spoil yourself!
After all that activity, treat yourself to a relaxing massage or spa treatment, such as a facial.
Paihia is the perfect place to pamper yourself. Check out our guide to local beauty spas.
History of Paihia
In 1890, Paihia was once a town of five houses and a church. Now it’s the heart of the Bay of Islands – the gateway to all the Bay has to offer.
Close to town is the historic settlement of Waitangi, where you can visit the Treaty House and ‘Te Whare Runanga’, the carved Māori meeting house erected to commemorate the centenary of the first signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
On 6 February 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed here between the Maori and Europeans, which marked the beginning of New Zealand as a nation. It’s a short drive or a 45-minute walk from the centre of town and there’s so much to see and do here. It really is a must see.
From Paihia, board the ferry to Russell. The first colonial capital, Russell was known in its whaling days as ‘the hellhole of the Pacific.’ Now it’s a charming historical town, with a waterfront promenade home to New Zealand’s oldest pub The Duke of Marlborough and plenty of golden sand beaches.
Find out more about Russell.
A short 20-minute drive North from Paihia is Kerikeri, known for its wineries, abundant produce and boutique shopping. Kerikeri is also home to stunning beaches and you can visit some of New Zealand’s oldest buildings here – The Stone Store, and Mission House.
Find out more about Kerikeri.
Boasting mild winters and long balmy summers, Northland is often called the ‘winterless North’.
Ringed with beautiful white sandy beaches, and plenty of water activities, Paihia is the perfect summer spot. February is usually the most settled, warmest month to visit.
But Paihia has a lot to offer in the shoulder seasons, too. Take a scenic flight or go kayaking in Spring. The Haruru falls are specular in Spring and Winter, especially July the region’s rainiest month.
Or wrap up in Winter and beat the crowds with a walk on Paihia’s golden-sand beach. Add in a trip to the local farmer’s market and a spa at La Naturale and you have a cosy winter weekend sorted!
Getting to Paihia
It’s a picturesquethree-hourr drive from Auckland to Paihia (60 kilometres past Whangarei). The journey takes in stunning scenery along the way – beautiful beaches, native bush and breath taking views.
If you prefer simply to sit back and enjoy the scenery, book a coach and be here in about five hours.
If you want to get straight into your visit, you can fly from Auckland to Kerikeri in less than an hour. Then it’s a 20-minute drive from Kerikeri to Paihia.
Kerikeri Airport is located 8 km southwest of town at 218 Wiroa Rd. There’s a shuttle service into the centre of Kerikeri. You can book a shuttle direct from the airport to Paihia, Opua and Kawakawa.
Getting around Paihia
A small town centre, it’s easy to walk to most activities and shops so it’s not necessary to have a car. Of course having a one is a bonus as it offers the flexibility to go exploring further afield, in your own time.
You could also consider a bike or scooter.