Top 20 things to do in the Bay of Islands

Urupukapuka Island. Image: Northland NZ

Hole in the Rock cruise. Image: Fuller GreatSights

Waitangi Treaty Grounds meeting house. Image: David Kirkland

Image: The Rock Adventure Cruise

R. Tucker Thompson

Top 20 things to do in the Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is a subtropical paradise with myriad ways to enjoy the sparkling blue waters. It’s also home to charming towns, natural wonders, a spot of adventure, and some seriously significant pieces of New Zealand history.

Cruise through the Hole in the Rock for a spectacular photo op

An iconic geological feature of the area, you’ll certainly recognise this hole from local postcards, and you’d be missing out not to get up close to it on either a relaxed cruise or thrilling jet boat ride. Fullers GreatSights cruises out of Paihia or Russell also offer the opportunity to go wildlife spotting while out on the water.

Treat yo’ self at Makana Confections

Visit this boutique chocolate factory where you can watch the confectioners making glorious small-batch chocolates by hand. Taste samples and take a treat or five home from the shop. Don’t go past the Champagne Truffles for a touch of luxury, and take a few Chocolate Dipped Macadamia Shortbreads home for treat emergencies.

Visit the birthplace of Aotearoa New Zealand at Waitangi Treaty Grounds

One of the most significant historical sites in the country, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a must-visit when you’re in the Bay of Islands. A Day Pass gets you access to a guided tour, a cultural performance in the stunning carved meeting house, entry to Te Kangahu Museum of Waitangi, carving demonstrations in the Māori Carving Studio, and plenty of time to explore the grounds yourself, with extensive gardens, bush tracks and wonderful views.

Spend the night on the water

Meet new people, try new things and experience the best of Bay of Islands adventure on The Rock Adventure Cruise, the bay’s only overnight cruise. You’ll get to try your hand at target shooting, go fishing at dusk and eat your catch fresh off the barbie, marvel at the glowing phosphorescence on a night kayaking trip, and explore fascinating and beautiful spots all around the islands.

Go dolphin spotting

The Bay of Islands is bursting with abundant wildlife, and heading out on the crystal blue waters to cruise alongside playful dolphins is sure to leave a smile on your face. You might also spot penguins, gannets, and even an orca or a whale on your journey, so keep an eye out! On a full day cruise with CArino Wildlife Cruises you’ll also get the chance to explore and snorkel around remote islands and enjoy a picnic lunch.

Explore the coast on horseback

A horse trek is a unique and natural way to explore the landscape and get incredible views across the bay. Horse Trek’n has a range of treks with experienced guides who teach you about local culture and wildlife as you go. In summer, the Ride the Waves trek gives you the chance to take your horse for a swim!

Dive the Rainbow Warrior, the ship sunk by French spies

After Greenpeace’s flagship the Rainbow Warrior was bombed and sunk in 1985, the wreck was refloated and scuttled in Matauri Bay, where it is now an artificial reef and world-renowned dive site. Several operators in the Bay of Islands run dive expeditions to the wreck, where you’ll get to see the literal rainbow of anemones now covering the Rainbow Warrior, as well as the huge variety of marine life that have made this their home.

Marvel at forest giants at Puketi Forest

The Puketi Nature Trail is an easy walk through an ancient kauri rainforest that is also wheelchair accessible. Treat your ears to some beautiful native birdsong while admiring the magnificent kauri grove. To go deeper into the forest, try a guided Puketi Forest tour and learn about the efforts of conservationists to protect this precious eco system.

Tee off in style at the Waitangi Golf Club

Enjoy fantastic views over the Bay of Islands and to Russell, bush and forest views inland, and river and estuary views over Waitangi on this 18-hole course that caters to golfers looking for a relaxing round or a bit of a challenge.

See living stars at Kawiti Caves

Step into a fairy tale in the awe-inspiring limestone formations of these historic caves. Thousands of tiny glow-worms light up the roof and walls, with tours still run by descendants of Māori chief Kawiti. Entertaining commentary and rich local knowledge from your guides make this an intimate and informative glow-worm experience.

Sail tall on the Bay of Islands

A journey on tall sailing ship the R. Tucker Thompson is a rare opportunity to learn the ropes of a working heritage vessel, from setting the sails to climbing the rigging. Choose from a day trip, 2.5-hour Sundowner trip, or an immersive 3-day experience, all of which are great ways to experience the beauty of the bay and make friends with your fellow sailors.

Cycle the Pou Herenga Tai - Twin Coast Cycle Trail

The spectacular scenery and rich history on this route from the Bay of Islands to Hokianga Harbour is a rewarding and relaxing ride, traversing tranquil coast, native forest, suspension bridges and rolling farmland.

Get the chopper’s-eye view of the Bay’s scenery

Take in the jaw-dropping scenery and get some seriously enviable photo ops on a Bay of Islands scenic flight with Salt Air. Departing from Paihia, these helicopter rides take you over the turquoise waters and white beaches to the famous Hole in The Rock, the Cape Brett lighthouse and the peninsula coastline, with an option to extend further along the eastern coast and over Waitangi.

Don’t spare the rod with a chartered fishing trip

The bay is an excellent fishing destination, especially for snapper. Book yourself a fishing charter with one of the many top-notch operators in the area, or head out and explore the local spots under your own steam – there are heaps of shops around Russell and Paihia that hire out equipment if you need it.

Float among the clouds on a parasailing flight

A fun and unique way to experience the Bay of Islands is gliding above it all on a brightly coloured parachute. Flying Kiwi offers single, tandem or triple parasailing flights, and you can choose to get dipped in the water or hang upside down if you want!

Surf’s up

Whether you’re an experienced surfer or want to stand up on a board for the first time, the Bay of Islands with its long coastline of pristine beaches is an excellent place to do it. NZ Surf Academy can teach you the skills you need to hang ten in these beautiful surrounds, and if you’re on the hunt for some of the best spots, try Tokerau Beach, Taupō Bay, Wainui Bay and Takou Bay.

Kick it old-skool at Pompallier Mission

In the historic town of Russell, the first capital of New Zealand, you’ll find Pompallier Mission and Printery, where church texts were translated from Latin into Māori in the 1840s. It is New Zealand’s oldest industrial building, and a guided heritage tour gives insight into the 19th Century printing and bookbinding techniques, as well as the building’s unique French-style architectural features.

Ride the Bay of Islands vintage railway

Take a chug back in time on the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway, the only working railway in New Zealand to run right through the middle of a town. It was the first railway to be opened in the North Island and has been running for over 150 years. Enjoy a ride on this historic steam engine through the scenic countryside and over the longest curved bridge in the Southern Hemisphere.

Explore Urupukapuka Island

The largest island in the Bay of Islands, Urupukapuka Island boasts fabulous beaches and walking tracks ranging from one to five hours, including the Urupukapuka Island Archeological Walk. The Island Conservation Centre is a great place to learn about the island’s history and the conservation efforts being undertaken here.

Discover nature’s wonders at Hokianga Harbour

Located in beautiful and lush native bush, the Wairere boulders are a unique geological phenomenon that can be found nowhere else on earth. The basalt boulders were formed by the gentle erosion of rain, which becomes mildly acidic when it falls through kauri trees. Explore the network of walking trails, kayak through the rivers out to the Hokianga Harbour, or visit the Highland cows.

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