Visit the Bay of Islands in New Zealand
Taking a roadtrip is always fun but, spending 5 fabulous days to explore the Bay of Islands in New Zealand made for an amazing adventure.
There is so much to see in the Northlands of New Zealand so be sure to allow enough time to explore it all. Roadtrips for us are about having the flexibility to head off on mysterious little side adventures whenever we notice something interesting.
Along the way we stumbled on 90 Mile Beach, wandered into the Waipu Caves and came across the Gum Diggers Park. These were all unplanned stops but were a fascinating addition to our Bay of Islands adventure in New Zealand.
Get the most out of your holiday in New Zealand
Our latest trip to New Zealand was a short 2 weeks. As it wasn’t our first trip to New Zealand we decided to split our holiday into 2 parts to make sure we were able to explore places we hadn’t been before.
We drove north visiting a number of beachside towns north of Auckland and based ourselves in Piahia in the Bay of Islands. We explored Russell, the Hole in the Rock and drove up to the lighthouse at Cape Reinga. Our plans were to do lots of walking, explore the beaches and the rainforests and take in some of the Mauri cultural highlights. The perfect holiday!
The second part of our adventure started at Hamilton visiting friends. We visited the Ruakuki Caves at Waitomo before heading over to Napier in Hawkes Bay region. Stopping off at Taupo was a fun overnight stay but the highlight for me was our visit to Hobbiton. Read more here.
We know now that 5 days in the Bay of Islands is not long enough to see everything there is to see. We’ll be back and we’ll definitely stay longer.
Why you must explore the Bay of Islands in New Zealand
We flew into Auckland so our travels began from the third most liveable city in the world. Auckland is a beautiful city with a sunny climate and a passion for outstanding food, wine and shopping. Make sure you visit the Auckland Viaduct while you’re in town. Great restaurants, great entertainment and a great place to hangout.
Waiheke is an island haven of beautiful vineyards, olive groves and beaches, and just a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland.
We planned our visit to Waiheke Island around catching up with friends and lunching at Mudbrick Winery, one of the most popular wineries on the island. A great choice!
Heading north, the city of Whangarei is a thriving city by the sea with a vibrant arts community. We’ll explore this area more on our next visit as there was much to see that we couldn’t fit into our itinerary.
We loved the AH Reed Kauri Park which is the remnants of the original kauri forest. There are tons of walking tracks and a tree-top boardwalk amongst 500 year old kauri trees and silver ferns. It’s certainly a ‘must see’ when touring Whangarei.
From time to time we encountered these beautiful Fantail birds, but they darted around so quickly they were difficult to photograph. I will have to return if only for a clear photograph!
The spectacular Whangarei Falls are a 26m high waterfall surrounded by dense rainforest, native New Zealand bush and beautiful walkways. These falls have the reputation of being one of the most photographed waterfalls in New Zealand.
The Waipu Caves are completely undeveloped, unguided and absolutely free. The cave system is considered regionally important for geomorphology because it includes the largest cave passage in the Northland.
The cave is in three sections with the third chamber being the best for viewing the ‘galaxy’ of glow-worms. This area also features limestone, rocks and boulders that have weathered into beautiful, surreal shapes. These rocks provide habitats for plants that grow on calcerous soils. We were not equipped for caving so didn’t explore very far into the caverns.
As we walked towards the caves a group of young people were learning to abseil down the cliff face.
The Gumdiggers Park
The Gumdiggers Park is a Kauri Gum digging site over 100 years old. The Maori, European & Dalmatian people formed this now forgotten gum digging culture. During it’s prime, it was one of the biggest industrial booms in New Zealand’s history.
Buried Kauri Forests between 40,000 to 150,000 year old have been discovered by the gum diggers and the park has become a tourist destination and information source for this age old industry. A self-guided tour features information and an audio visual presentations are provided.
Explore the Bay of Islands in New Zealand
With over 144 islands, the Bay of Islands in New Zealand is a favourite destination for holidaymakers and yachties around the world.
Secluded bays and sandy beaches of the mainland and many of the islands are popular with locals and visitors alike. Warm waters, lush vegetation and incredible scenery are what draws people to this beautiful bay.
Dolphins and seals are regularly spotted nearby as well as whales and penguins.
The Bay of Islands are known as excellent fishing with snapper and scallops found locally. The area was made famous for its game fishing by American author Zane Grey who caught his first marlin in these waters.
We chose to stay in Paihia as it was central for all the activities we wanted to see and do and were blessed with great weather during our stay. It was often a little cloudy but we were lucky that we only had a few sprinkles and no heavy rain during the week. Surprisingly, it was warm too which was not what we had expected as we packed all our warm gear.
Paihia is an excellent base from which to explore the Bay of Islands. Located right on the bay, Paihia is central to everything. Paihia has an extensive choice of accommodation and a good selection of outstanding restaurants and cafes.
Historic buildings and a seaside setting full of cafes, restaurants and art galleries gives Russell a truly old world quality. We took the Russell ferry over for the morning and wandered around the sleepy little town.
Russell is one of New Zealands oldest European settlements and was once a major whaling and trading centre. Long ago, the town was infamous as the ‘Hell Hole of the Pacific’ because of the drunken lawlessness.
The museum is full of interesting first settlement paraphernalia and has a great deal of information about the Endeavour (including a replica) and other early seafaring history.
The Haruru Falls are a beautiful little spot to visit on the Waitangi River. These unusual, horseshoe-shaped falls are a short drive from Paihia or take the short walking track between the falls and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
The Hole in the Rock
The Hole in the Rock is on Piercy Island, at Cape Brett. If you do nothing else while in the Bay of Islands, make sure you include a cruise out to the Hole in the Rock.
It’s a beautiful day cruise through the bay of islands passing a number of beautiful island stops along the way.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
One of the most important historical sites of New Zealand. A tour of Waitangi Treaty Grounds takes you though one of New Zealand’s most important historic sites. It tells of early days of the settlement and the negotiations between Mauri chiefs and English and provides great insight into the history of New Zealand.
90 Mile Beach
Noted for spectacular sunsets and one of the best left hand surf breaks in the world, Ninety Mile Beach is a never-ending paradise. Point of difference though: It is actually 88 miles long.
The beach is officially a highway, but is only suitable for 4WD vehicles. It is safe to drive only at specific times of the tides.
Cape Reinga is the northern tip of New Zealand and where the two oceans collide. At the Cape, the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean in a spectacular swirl of currents.
According to Maori folklore, the spirits of deceased Maori leap into the ocean to return to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki.
How to get around
TIP: Avoid coming back into Auckland between 4 – 6 pm as inner city traffic is quite intense.
We hired a car for the road-trip. The roads in New Zealand are in good condition but twist and turn as they go through the hilly farmland to the north and we noted a lot of trucks on the road.
It’s worth noting that there is a current highway project taking place which hopefully, will alleviate much of the traffic problem in the future.
Where to stay in the Bay of Islands
We stayed at the Kingsgate Hotel in central Paihia. The Kingsgate Hotel was right on the beachfront and a short walk to nearby restaurants and cafes in the town centre.
Inspired to take a road trip to the Bay of Islands in New Zealand?
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great road trip!
Where else did we go on our New Zealand adventure?
- How to road trip through central New Zealand in 5 fun-filled days
- 5 Fantastic Wineries in New Zealand for Wine Lovers
- Have you visited the Hobbiton Movie Set yet?
- Photo Essay: Take a road trip through New Zealand
Whilst we had a few ‘must see’ places we generally had no pre-set timeline. We stopped off at the spots that looked interesting, drove down roads that looked like they might go somewhere and explored everywhere possible.