Things to do in Bay of Islands

Things to do in  Bay of Islands

Water you waiting for?

A sparkling blue bay dotted with more than 140 islands in New Zealand’s subtropical Far North, the Bay of Islands is a traveler hotspot. From dolphin-watching cruises to dramatic waterfalls to lazy days spent on golden beaches, there are plenty of fun, outdoorsy things to do in the Bay of Islands. But, it’s more than just its good looks: The Bay of Islands was where some of New Zealand’s most significant early cross-cultural encounters occurred. Get a dose of New Zealand history and culture alongside your fun in the sun.

Top 12 attractions in Bay of Islands

Cape Reinga

Marked by a squat lighthouse and a gnarled 800-year-old pohutukawa tree, Cape Reinga is the northernmost point of New Zealand that’s open to the public, and the site where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea come together. The area is popular for its coastal views, which you can enjoy from a series of windswept nature walks.More


As the site of a significant event in the country’s history, the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the northern village of Waitangi is an unassuming cornerstone of modern New Zealand society. Visitors can learn about Aotearoa’s social and political past while exploring the Treaty Grounds and surrounding forest and beaches.More


Located at the mouth of the Kerikeri River and overlooking the peaceful Kerikeri Inlet, Kerikeri is the largest town in Northland and one of its most historic spots. Kerikeri was once the site of one of New Zealand’s oldest missionary stations and is now a tranquil subtropical getaway surrounded by waterfalls and dense kauri forest.More

Haruru Falls

While Haruru Falls may be small, at around 16.5 feet (5 meters) high, but they’re wide, spanning the width of the Waitangi River as it flows inland. One of several striking waterfalls in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, Haruru is a great spot to cool off during the hot Northland summers with some swimming or kayaking.More

Whangarei Falls

Although other parts of New Zealand boast taller or faster-flowing waterfalls, none is as conveniently located—and few are as photogenic—as spectacular Otuihau Whangarei Falls. This 85-foot (26-meter) cascade surrounded by birdsong and native bush is just minutes from Whangarei’s city center, making for a perfect pit stop or half-day hike.More

Stone Store

The Kerikeri Stone Store is the oldest stone building in New Zealand and part of Kerikeri’s historic Mission Station. Built in 1832, the Stone Store has been a trading post, a library, a barracks, and more. Today you can explore the store and hear the stories of the chiefs, settlers, and missionaries who passed through the station.More
Bay of Islands Cruise Port (Waitangi Wharf)

Bay of Islands Cruise Port (Waitangi Wharf)

The Bay of Islands Cruise Port (Waitangi Wharf) offers access to important historical sites such as Russell, New Zealand’s first capital, and the house where the Treaty of Waitangi—an agreement between the British crown and Maori chiefs—was signed. It also serves as a jumping-off point for more than 140 islands, the waters of which are home to whales and dolphins.More

Puketi Forest (Puketi Kauri Forest)

Sprawling across 51,000 acres (20,640 hectares) west of Kerikeri, Puketi Forest (Puketi Kauri Forest) is one of New Zealand’s remaining kauri rain forests. Get close to these giant native trees on the forest’s elevated boardwalks, or try one of the forest’s longer walks and discover some of the more than 360 indigenous plant species that call Puketi home.More

Kauri Museum

Discover the history of New Zealand’s native kauri trees and so much more at Matakohe’s Kauri Museum. With interactive exhibits, life-like dioramas, and well-preserved heritage buildings, the Kauri Museum tells the stories of New Zealand’s colonial settlers and the mighty trees they felled to make ships, homes, and just about everything else.More
Te Paki

Te Paki

Te Paki is a natural area at the northernmost point of the Aupori Peninsula, which itself is the northernmost point of New Zealand’s Northland peninsula. It’s a diverse area of wetlands, scrublands, cliffs and headlands, forests, beaches, and some very big sand dunes. Travelers come to hike, surf, sandboard, camp, fish, and to visit the beaches.More
Cape Brett and Hole in the Rock

Cape Brett and Hole in the Rock

Overlooking the Bay of Islands and the Pacific Ocean, Cape Brett is a remote and remarkable part of New Zealand’s coastline. Trek 10 scenic miles (16 kilometers) to the tip of the peninsula, or take a day cruise or speedboat to the cape’s famous Hole in the Rock, a natural rock tunnel that comfortably fits the boats that sail there and back.More
Pompallier Mission and Printery (Pompallier House)

Pompallier Mission and Printery (Pompallier House)

Built in 1842, the Pompallier Mission and Printery (Pompallier House) in Russell represents a critical time in New Zealand history: when the British and French vied for dominance. The mission was the heart of Catholic outreach, and the printery produced many thousands of books in Te Reo Maori, prompting literacy and conversion.More

Top activities in Bay of Islands

Kawiti Glow Worm Cave Tour & Opua Forest Walk
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Waitangi Treaty Grounds Admission

Waitangi Treaty Grounds Admission

Bay of Islands Wine Tour with Lunch
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The Rock Adventure Overnight Cruise
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All about Bay of Islands

When to visit

While travelers can enjoy the cultural attractions of the Bay of Islands year-round, the area is popular for its beautiful beaches and outdoor attractions. Summers (December-February) are hot in this northern part of New Zealand, so conditions are best for enjoying the outdoors between late spring and early autumn. The Bay of Islands is a popular destination so book in advance if you plan to visit around Christmas, New Year, or the school summer holidays.

Getting around

The short ferries between Paihia and Russell (passengers) and Opua and Okiato (vehicles) are popular and convenient ways of traveling between these towns, and they avoid a long and roundabout overland journey. Getting between the islands in the Bay of Islands requires a private boat or tour/charter. Travelers need their own car to get around other parts of the Bay of Islands.

Traveler tips

The Bay of Islands is one of the birthplaces of modern New Zealand, as Waitangi is where New Zealand’s foundational document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed. Learn more about this history at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a short drive from Paihia. While usually a peaceful place, the Treaty Grounds become a hub of activity (and sometimes protest) for the annual Waitangi Day celebrations on February 6.


People Also Ask

Why is the Bay of Islands famous?

The Bay of Islands is famous for its beautiful beaches and islands, coastal scenery, and as being one of the most historically significant places in New Zealand. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a must-visit cultural attraction. Dolphin-watching, sailing, boat tours to the Hole in the Rock, and coastal walks are also popular.

How long is the drive from Auckland to Bay of Islands?

Paihia, in the Bay of Islands, is around 142 miles (229 kilometers) from Auckland. A non-stop drive takes about three hours, without delays, but many travelers prefer to stop en route at Waipu, Whangarei, and/or Kawakawa.

How many days do you need in Bay of Islands?

To see the main sights of the Bay of Islands, two or three days is enough. If you want to hike the Cape Brett Track, sail between the islands, sleep on a boat, or spend time camping on the islands, budget another couple of days.

What can tourists do at the Bay of Islands?

Tourists enjoy outdoor and cultural attractions in the Bay of Islands. Learn about New Zealand history at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and in Russell; hike along coastal walkways; go dolphin watching or take a Hole in the Rock cruise; taste wine around Kerikeri; and island-hop on an overnight yacht.

What can you do in Bay of Islands for free?

You don’t have to spend money to enjoy the Bay of Islands. Visit the free beaches on the mainland, enjoy coastal day walks (overnighting on the Cape Brett Track carries a small fee), and wander the charming town of Russell, taking in the views.

Is Bay of Islands worth visiting?

Yes. The Bay of Islands is definitely worth visiting, especially if you enjoy beaches, coastal scenery, and learning about New Zealand history and culture.

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