insights from the ultimate cruising team

The Beautiful Bay of Islands

The Beautiful Bay of Islands

Sailing into New Zealand’s beautiful Bay of Islands is a breathtaking sight. Rolling, green hills dipping to the gentle waters dotted with islands, small townships teeming with history and plenty of activities to keep you occupied.

During the summer months, the Bay of Islands will see around 70 scheduled ship calls into Paihia, a delightful, waterfront town which is the hub for many local tours and activities. So what is there to see and do, and how do you make the most of your time in the Bay of Islands? Here are our recommendations:

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Waitangi is one of the most historically significant sites in New Zealand history. Without going into a full history lesson, this is where the Treaty was signed outlining the sovereignty of Aotearoa (New Zealand) with Britain. You can visit the Treaty House and the carved meeting house, see a waka (war canoe) up close, speak to local carvers and learn the history. Be sure to allow time to wander through the museum which will give you a good understanding of New Zealand history and the controversy surrounding the Treaty.

Get out on the harbour

The Bay of Islands is a boatie’s mecca. There are some 144 islands in the Bay of Islands Maritime Reserve. Some of these are rocky outcrops whereas others are home to large farms. New Zealander’s love their boating and from Paihia you have a range of options including the famous Hole in the Rock cruise, The Cream Trip full day cruise, dolphin watching, game fishing or sail on the R. Tucker Thompson tall ship.

Russell (Kororareka)

Take the ferry across to Russell and see where, in 1844, Hone Heke cut the flagpole down 3 times in protest against the British rule triggering war between Maori and British troops. You can also see New Zealand’s oldest church which still has the musket holes from these battles. The Duke of Marlborough is a good spot to enjoy a drink. It’s located right on the waterfront, which is significant in itself. This is the area that was once littered with grogshops and brothels back in the 1830’s. It was rough, rowdy and often violent, earning Kororareka the name of “Hellhole of the Pacific.” It’s definitely not a hellhole these days and instead makes for a delightful day out.

Urupukapuka Island

A favourite with the locals, Urupukapuka Island is a great spot for relaxing on the beach, soaking up the sun, going for a hike, kayaking and swimming. This is what summer in New Zealand is all about!


Located approximately 30 minutes drive from Paihia, Kerikeri is home to New Zealand’s oldest house and oldest store, the famous Stone Store. It’s also home to the beautiful Rainbow Falls and some beautiful bush walks. The town isn’t big but you’ll be able to find a good café for lunch and do a spot of shopping.

Cape Reinga

The northernmost tip of New Zealand, this is where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. En route you’ll likely visit Puketi Forest and see Tane Mahuta (“King of the Forest”) the ancient Kauri tree. Keep in mind that this is a long day – you’ll leave early in the morning and arrive back early evening. If it’s not part of a cruise excursion, we would only recommend doing this if you are overnighting or pre/post cruise.


Parasailing, kayaking, swimming, cycling – it’s all available in Paihia or nearby. The Information Centre in the heart of Paihia will point you in the right direction.


If you don’t want to take a tour, simply relaxing and wandering around Paihia makes for a good day. You can visit the markets on the village greens with wares from local artists, enjoy a meal or drink at one of the many cafes and restaurants along the waterfront, relax on the beach, swim, wander the shops and more.


Known as the “winterless north” the Bay of Islands enjoys mild winters with a sub-tropical climate. That’s why you’ll see beautiful gardens with an array of flora that isn’t found in the rest of the country. The summers can get very hot with a high UV index (higher than elsewhere in the world) so be sure to be extra vigilant on the sunscreen and hats while you’re out exploring this paradise! Oh, and be sure to check out the night sky. The night sky in the Bay of Islands is usually super clear perfect for star gazing!

To find out about cruises calling into the Bay of Islands, click here to request a call from one of our Ultimate Cruising experts.