Exploring New Zealand’s Bay of Islands

by Lexa Pennington /
Lexa Pennington's picture
Apr 24, 2013 / 0 comments

Located just 3 hours from Auckland and at the top of North Island, New Zealands’ Bay of Islands is a very popular – and beautiful – location. Author Zane Grey popularized the big game fishing there in the 1930s, and tourism has never looked back. Bay of Islands is the most popular destination in New Zealand – and for good reason! It’s incredibly beautiful – and there is plenty to do on its 144+ islands and bays.

The Bay of Islands is a natural harbor with several cities that ring it. From north to south, the main cities are Kerikeri, Waitangi, Paihia, Opua, and Russell.


Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Photo courtesy flickr creative commons: flickr.com/photos/savannahgrandfather/5558557202/


But first, a little history. The area was discovered by Puhi, who traveled in the Mataatua (a large canoe used for migration), and founded the local Maori tribe, Ngapuhi Iwi. The first European to explore the area was none other than Captain Cook, followed by whalers. Waitangi is known as the birthplace of New Zealand – in 1840, Maori and Europeans signed the Treaty of Waitangi.


Things to see and do in the Bay of Islands

Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – the most important historic site in New Zealand! You can take a guided tour, as well as view traditional Maori cultural performances in the Whare Runanga (meeting house). You’ll see one of the world’s largest carved war canoes, and learn about the intercultural underpinnings of the country.


Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Photo of Waitangi Treaty Grounds courtesy flickr creative commons: flickr.com/photos/michaeljohnbutton/6605851323/


Another historic site is Pompallier, the only surviving building left from the original French Catholic Mission in the area. It was built to print books in the Maori language! On site, there is a working mission factory, where visitors can learn about (and use!) the tools of the 1840s printing business (tanning and leather, typesetting, printing, and binding – a book lover’s dream!). You’ll also see a beautiful garden – and mummified rats!


Want to move around a bit? You can participate in a variety of outdoor activities: sailing (including on a tall ship!), big game fishing, diving, snorkeling, surfing, windsurfing, parasailing, swimming with dolphins, kayaking, golf, visiting the Aroha Ecological Centre to see kiwis, seeing Rainbow Falls, and more. There are cruises – including the Hole in the Rock, dolphin cruises, and the Cream Trip – which delivers mail to residents! Of course, the main draw is the plethora of beaches.


Front and middle deck of the tall sailing ship R. Tucker Thompson, Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand

Front and middle deck of the tall sailing ship R. Tucker Thompson, Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand. Photo courtesy flickr creative commons: flickr.com/photos/tomas_sobek/7412825752/


Thirsty? Visit Bishopswood Estate – where you can find not one, but two wineries – and a chocolate factory (count me in!). Other wineries include Cottle Hill and Marsden Estate. Hungry? Stop in at the Food at Wharepuke, which won Northland Café of the Year. You’ll also find myriad cafes, restaurants, art galleries, and bookstores and shops in the Bay of Islands.


How to explore the Bay of Islands

There’s so much to see and do – HOW does one accomplish this without breaking the bank, or going crazy with logistics? You can find tailormade itineraries and travel logistics plans by exploring fly drive holidays in New Zealand with Trailfinders.


Robertson Island, Bay of Islands, NZ

Robertson Island, Bay of Islands, NZ. Photo courtesy flickr creative commons: flickr.com/photos/atlai/6301919698/


When to go to the Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is a sub-tropical environment, and is usually mild in the winter, hot in the summer. For this reason, it’s often called the “winterless north.”  Temperatures are a few degrees warmer than Auckland.