15 Best Things to do in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand
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The Bay of Islands is one of the most breathtaking places to visit in New Zealand. The large bay is filled with amazing scenery, an abundance of wildlife, and breathtaking beaches. To me, the Bay of Islands should be on everyone’s New Zealand bucket list.
But what truly makes it such an awesome place to visit is the huge amount of awesome things to do in the Bay of Islands. On the surface, it appears as though the Bay of Islands is just about beaches and cruises, but if you dig a little deeper, you can enjoy more unique experiences!
Here are all the best things to do in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.
15 Things to do in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand
1. Dolphin cruise
One of the best and most popular things to do in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand is going on a dolphin-watching cruise. The entire bay is a sanctuary for dolphins and you can find pods of dolphins in the hundreds. Of course, you do have to be lucky to see the larger pods of the dolphins but it’s very common to see them in smaller groups.
Most Dolphin cruises (including this tour here) leave from both Paihia and Russel but start in Paihia picking up people in Russel along the way. The tour above is a great option and the one that I did in the Bay of Islands. This cruise also visits the Hole in Rock that I mention below.
2. Visit Urupukapuka Island
Urupukapuka Island is the largest island in the Bay of Islands and it is also a pest-free island. Visiting the island gives visitors a chance to see rare birds including the North Island Robin, hike the Urupukapuka Island walk, visit historical Maori sites, and enjoy the many beautiful beaches.
There are plenty of great snorkeling and dive spots around the island and you can opt to stay the night at one of the three DOC run campsites on the island.
To get to the island you can take the ferry from the I-Site in Paihia or Russel. The ferry costs $50 NZD for adults and $30 NZD for children and takes 40 minutes.
Honestly, a day trip to Urupukapuka Island is a great way to spend the better part of a day in the Bay of Islands.
3. Enjoy the Hole in Rock cruise
The Hole in Rock boat cruise is a classic Bay of Islands cruise that involves a 3-hour long cruise through the bay to the Hole in Rock.
The Hole in Rock is actually an island called Motukokako Island that has a huge hole through the middle of it. On the cruise you’ll get to take a drive through the hole on your boat (providing the weather isn’t really bad.)
These cruises are a great way to see the bay and you can also see dolphins on this cruise if you’re very lucky. With that said, the dolphin-watching cruise I mentioned above is the better option if it’s not fully booked – which happens a lot in summer if you don’t book in advance.
You can read more on our blog about our experience on the Hole in Rock cruise!
4. Go skydiving
Around New Zealand, there are tons of places you can skydive but few offer the stunning ocean views of the Bay of Islands. From the air, you’ll get a nice, but nerve-racking, scenic flight above the bay before taking the plunge on your tandem skydive.
Another thing to mention is that Skydive Bay of Islands is New Zealand’s highest skydive with one jump at 20,000 feet! That means you’ll get over 85 seconds of freefall before landing safely on a stunning beach!
Unfortunately, I never did the skydive here as they only do tandems and I have a solo skydiving license and prefer to do it on my own. But I love skydiving and know that this is one of the best things to do in the Bay of Islands.
Skydive Bay of Islands picks up from most locations around the bay so no matter where you’re staying you can get your adrenaline fix. You can book your skydive here at 9,000 feet. This is the cheapest option but I highly recommend booking direct and going for the 20,000-foot jump!
5. Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
The Northland region and the Bay of Islands are an important place for the Maori people. So, a trip to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to experience and learn all about the Maori culture and their history in the area is a must.
At the treaty grounds you can join a few different experiences including Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi, dinner experience with traditional hangi, cultural performances, Maori carving studio, and lots lots more!
Getting there: The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are located only a short 2-kilometer walk or drive from Paihia in the Bay of Islands.
6. Island cruise
One cruise option through the Bay of Islands that doesn’t get enough attention is the island cruises. These cruises don’t just have you enjoying the bay from the water but also from secluded beaches and stunning hiking trails.
In all honesty, this is a great option and super fun but also good for those who maybe get a little seasick or don’t like being confined to a boat for long periods of time. On the cruise, you’ll visit 2 islands where you’ll have the chance to take a short hike to a stunning viewpoint, go kayaking, snorkeling or stand up paddle boarding, and just enjoy the beautiful beaches without the crowds.
This specific tour is one of the top-rated and best value that lasts for over 5 hours!
7. Check out some glow worms
Seeing glow worms in New Zealand is definitely a must-do and in the Bay of Islands, you can visit the Kawiti Glow Worm Caves and join a 45 to 60-minute tour of the cave system to see lots of glow worms. Tours at the caves cost $40 NZD for adults and $20 NZD for children but you’ll have to get yourself out to the caves.
Alternatively, you can also join a tour from the Bay of Islands Yacht Club in town and get a visit to the caves with a guide and well as a 30 minute guided walk in the Opua Kauri Forest (where you can walk among the 1000-year-old Kauri Trees.) This is a very cool experience that you can read more about below.
If visiting the paid glow worms isn’t in your budget then check out our guide to the best free glow worms caves, Waipu Caves, in the area!
8. The Rock Adventure Overnight Cruise
I know, another cruise, really? Well, this one is completely different to the rest and is actually so much fun! The Rock Adventure Overnight Cruise is the ultimate overnight trip filled with amazing views, great vibes, and lots of fun activities.
On the cruise you can go kayaking under the stars, fish for your dinner, target shooting, island exploring and more. This cruise isn’t aimed only at young people either and the entire family can join for an awesome 22 hours of new experiences in the Bay of Islands.
The Rock Adventure Cruise departs daily at 5 pm and returns the following day at 3 pm. These cruises include all your food, accommodation, transport (cruise) and activities for around $350 NZD. Of course, alcohol is not included but they have a licensed bar on board!
9. Visit Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach
If the Bay of Islands was as far north as you had planned to go then you’re likely missing the highlight of Northland and that’s Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach.
Cape Reinga is a truly stunning area that sits at the most northern point of New Zealand. Ninety Mile Beach is a very long and beautiful beach that’s not actually 90 miles long (it’s 55 miles) but it’s pretty hard to tell when you’re there!
Of course, I recommend actually spending a few nights up there but if you can’t then joining a day trip from the Bay of Islands is a great option. On this tour, you’ll go sandboarding on the sand dunes on the Ninety Mile Beach, drive along the beach, explore Cape Reinga Lighthouse, visit 45,000-year-old Kauri-carved staircase at Kauri Unearthed, and enjoy a beautiful buffet lunch for only $155 NZD (less than $100 USD).
Overall, it’s a great tour option if you aren’t planning on visiting the area independently. Please note, I have not done this tour as I visited Cape Reinga on my own.
10. Go on a scenic flight
Views of the Bay of Islands only get better with elevation so if you aren’t game to go skydiving then a scenic flight will literally take your breath away. There are a few options but your main decision will be either helicopter or plane.
Of course, a plane is the cheaper option but my recommendation is to do what I did and take a helicopter. We all fly on planes but an experience in a helicopter is one I’ll never forget!
For a great helicopter ride, I recommend this tour that lasts for 20 minutes and takes you out to the Hole in Rock. Or, if you’ve already seen the rock, this 30-minute tour along the coast is perfect. For those wanting an airplane flight, this tour includes 2 scenic flights to and from Cape Reinga with a 2.5 hour guided tour.
11. Visit the stunning Rainbow Falls
For those after a very short hike to a stunning waterfall, you can’t skip Rainbow Falls. Located only a 25-minute drive from Paihia, the walk from the car park to the falls is only 400 meters one way. This short hike is accessible by wheelchair and once there you can visit a few deferent viewpoints form both the bottom of the falls and top.
If it’s warm enough it’s safe to swim here and you’ll often find people cooling off in the middle of the day. A visit the Rainbow falls is a great free activity in the Bay of Islands that everyone will love!
12. Walk the Opua Forest Lookout Track
For those not doing a scenic flight or skydive, there is one other way to get a great view of the Bay of Islands and that’s via the Opua Forrest Track. This short 15 minute trail (one way) leads through the thick Opua Forrest to a small viewing deck.
From here you can enjoy views of the bay as well as enjoy some time surrounded by a stunning forest filled with old trees. The view is good but not spectacular.
There are two ways to hike the trail with the shorter version starting from Oromahoe Road, Opua. From this road, the track is well signposted with a car park on this road on the right-hand side coming from Opua.
The longer way starts in Paihia at the start of School Road. From here it takes just over an hour to complete the walk up and back down.
13. Flagstaff Hill in Russell
For those staying in Russel, there’s also a great viewpoint trail for you to enjoy right from town. The Flagstaff Hill in Russell is, in my opinion, a much better view than the Opua Forrest Lookout but doesn’t pass through the same beautiful forest. However, it is even more appealing to people because you can also drive up if you don’t want to walk the 2.5 kilometers loop.
If you do want to hike the trail then check out the DOC website for the trail start location which changes depending on the tide. This is a good viewpoint and also a historical place where the Union Jack was first flown in New Zealand in 1840.
14. Drive, Kayak, or Walk to Haruru Falls
Haruru Falls is another waterfall located in the Bay of Islands area. To be honest, it’s not the most beautiful waterfall and does not compare to Rainbow Falls mentioned above. But it’s not just about the falls and getting there is exciting because you can either drive, walk, or join a kayaking tour.
The kayaking tour is what makes Haruru Falls worth a visit and a really fun day out. The tour has you paddling right up to the falls before enjoying a swim if you want. The 9-kilometer walking track that starts in Waitangi is also popular however I haven’t completed it.
Alternatively, you can just drive up to the falls from Paihia by heading to Haruru Falls Road.
15. Hike the Cape Brett Walkway
If you came to the Bay of Islands for a real adventure then nothing beats the Cape Brett Walkway. This 2-day 1-night hike to the most beautiful and unique DOC run hut in New Zealand is truly spectacular.
The trail isn’t easy though and involves a 16.2-kilometer walk each way that takes around 7 hours to complete. However, the walk is stunning and the hut? Well, you’re paying peanuts ($15 NZD) for such a stunning location.
There is lots to know about this hike so be sure to read up on the official DOC website about the track. The hut does need to be booked in advance here but usually has space even in the summer months. There is also a trail maintenance fee of $40 NZD for adults and $20 NZD for children.
This is easily the best hike in the region yet it remains unknown and off the beaten path!
Where to Stay in the Bay of Islands
There are two main towns perfect for exploring the Bay of Islands. They are Paihia and Russell. Both towns offer lots of accommodation options and sit on the shores of the bay.
With that said, Paihia is the more convenient option and more tours are offered from there. The downside to Paihia is that it is much busier and in summer, is filled with tourists. Russell, on the other hand, remains far less crowded.
Here are the best places to stay in both Paihia and Russell!
Seabeds Backpackers – This is easily my top choice in Paihia. Despite what the name suggests, it’s not a youth hostel but more of a cheap place for families and couples to stay. They offer dorm beds but also beautiful privates and they’re located right on the beach! Honestly, check this place out – but book in advance as it’s always sold out!
Austria Motel – If being close to town is important then you can’t beat the Austria Motel. This place is super affordable and offers studio and 2 bedroom apartments. This is a very welcoming place to stay with great facilities.
Chalet Romantica – As you may have guessed Chalet Romantica is for couples visiting the Bay of Islands. This small boutique hotel is one of the best rated in town and comes with all the nice luxuries without a ridiculous price. The views from the property are amazing and it includes breakfast with every room.
Motel Russell – If you’re after a budget option in Russell this is your best option. For just over $100 NZD a night you can get yourself a studio in this modest motel. The reviews are quite good but its nothing fancy.
The Duke Of Marlborough – As the name suggests this is a rather nicer option in Russell however surprisingly the price doesn’t reflect that. It’s located right in town and on the water and the rooms are vibrant and decorated to the colors of the sea. Also, the reviews are very good!
Before you go…
Thanks so much for reading our guide to all the best things to do in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. I really hope this guide has helped you plan your trip to this stunning region. If you have any questions please leave them below.
If you’re in need of travel insurance for your upcoming trip then check out our recommended provider World Nomads. We personally recommend them to all our friends and family (we get free travel insurance through another provider but if it wasn’t free we wouldn’t use them!)
Also if you liked this article then be sure to jump over to our official New Zealand page for more great travel guides or check out these related articles below!
July 12, 2020