Bay of Islands. Island

Bay of Islands


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Bay of Islands

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Coromandel to Fletcher's Bay (34 of 37) - Bay of Islands
Coromandel to Fletcher's Bay (34 of 37) - Bay of Islands. Photo by Graeme Churchard
Often hailed as New Zealand's number one holiday destination, the beaches, sparkling sub-tropical waters and fascinating history of the Bay of Islands won't disappoint. 144 islands dot the crystal clear waters between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula (Wikipedia Article). This micro-region is famous for its sunshine and water activities.


The bay itself is a drowned valley system and natural harbor, home to 144 islands and numerous peninsulas and inlets. the largest three inlets are Waikare Inlet in the south, and Kerikeri and Te Puna (Mangonui) inlets in the north-west. The Purerua Peninsula, north of Te Puna Inlet, separates the north-western part of the bay from the Pacific Ocean, and Cape Brett Peninsula extends 10km into the ocean at the eastern end of the bay.

The biggest town is Kerikeri, followed by Paihia. The small historical town of Russell is located at the end of a short peninsula that extends into the bay from the southeast.

	Island, Bay of Islands, New Zealand - Bay of Islands
Motuarohia Island, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Photo by Emma Gawen


The Bay of Islands is located in the Northland region of the country, a region known as the birthplace of New Zealand.

About 700 years ago the Mataatua, one of the large Maori migration canoes which journeyed to New Zealand from Hawaiki, was sailed to the Bay of Islands from the Bay of Plenty by Puhi of the Ngapuhi (Wikipedia Article) iwi (tribe). Maori settled and multiplied throughout the bay and on several of its many islands, establishing various tribes such as the Ngati Miru at Kerikeri.

The first European to visit the area was Captain Cook, who named the region in 1769. The Bay of Islands was the first area in New Zealand to be settled by Europeans. Whalers arrived towards the end of the 18th century, while the first missionaries settled in 1814. The town of Russell, formerly known as Kororareka, was the first permanent European colonial settlement in the country, and dates from the early 19th century.

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed between Maori chiefs and the British Crown at Waitangi on 6 February 1840. The Treaty established a British Governor of New Zealand, recognized Maori ownership of their lands and other properties and gave Maori the rights of British subjects. The English and Maori versions of the Treaty differed significantly, so there is no consensus as to exactly what was agreed. British believed the Treaty gave Britain sovereignty over New Zealand, and gave the Governor the right to govern the country. Maori believed they ceded to the Crown a right of governance in return for protection, without giving up their authority to manage their own affairs.

Until the 1970s, the Treaty was generally regarded as having served its purpose in 1840, and was generally ignored by the courts and parliament alike. From the late 1960s, however, Maori began drawing attention to breaches of the Treaty, and in 1975 the Waitangi Tribunal was established to research breaches of the Treaty and suggest means of redress. This process continues today, and the Treaty remains the founding document of race relations of modern New Zealand society.

Visiting Waitangi

Visiting the grounds at Waitangi is an experience saturated in historical significance. The grounds are where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. The grounds are also home to the Treaty House, built in
1832 as the four-room home of British resident James Busby. It's now preserved as a memorial and museum containing displays, including a copy of the treaty.

The imposing whare runanga (meeting house) sits across the lawn from the Treaty House. The building is stunningly carved with traditional designs, representing the major Maori tribes. Near the cove is the 35m waka taua (war canoe), completed in 1940 along with the whare runanga to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty.

The grounds are located on Tau Henare Drive near Paihia. Entrance is 25 NZD for adults (or 15 NZD for New Zealand citizens), and children are free. Guided tours are an extra 10 NZD. There is also a 30-minute cultural performance at 11am and 1pm, demonstrating traditional Maori song and dance, including the famous haka (war dance). Opening hours are 9am-5pm March to December, and until 7pm in January and February.

Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka Island is the largest of all in the Bay, with a long history, both Maori and European. Visitors to the island will discover wonderful beaches, historic and archaeological walks, snorkeling, kayak hire, a restaurant, bar and more. Explore the island's stunning beaches by foot or by kayak and be rewarded by quiet, deserted beaches and crystal clear waters, or visit ancient Maori Pa sites. Take a gentle 10 minute climb to enjoy 360 degree views of the many islands scattered throughout the Bay. Or sit back and enjoy the view and hospitality in Otehei Bay, by the beautiful beach. Urupukapuka Island has been under protection as a recreational reserve since 1970 and is the only island in the Bay that is open and accessible to the public.

Stone Store and Mission House

On Kerikeri Road you can find the Stone Store, New Zealand's oldest stone building, constructed in 1836. Nearby, Mission House is the country's oldest building, and you can tour the House for 10 NZD. Opening hours are 10am-4pm.

Up the hill from the buildings is a signposted historical walk, leading to the site of Kororipo Pa. Huge war parties led by Hika once departed from here, terrorizing much of the North Island and slaughtering thousands during the Musket Wars. The walk emerges near the picturesque wooden St James Anglican Church.

St Paul's Church

In Paihia/Waitangi, the colorful St Paul's church stands on the site of New Zealand's first church. The previous structure was a simple raupo (bulrush) hut built in 1823. The construction standing today dates from 1925, and is built from Kawakawa stone. The church beautifully encapsulates New Zealand wildlife, with native birds in the stain glass above the altar. The kotare (kingfisher) represents Jesus (the king plus 'fisher of men'), while the tui (parson bird) and kereru (wood pigeon) portray the personalities of the Williams brothers (one scholarly, one forceful), who set up the mission station here.


The Bay of Islands area is a playground for divers, with turquoise waters home to shipwrecks and fascinating marine life. Jacques Cousteau himself rated the region as one of the top-ten dive sites in the world! There are multiple dive companies operating here, try Dive North or Paihia Dive for trusted and popular operators. Diving tours range from around 150 NZD to 280 NZD.

Getting Around the Bay

A choice of tour operators in the region offer excellent trips by sea or air to spectacular Cape Brett and the 'Hole in the Rock' on Piercy Island (Wikipedia Article). A passenger ferry service runs between Paihia and Russell, while a vehicle ferry provides a link between Opua and Russell. On land, enjoy beautiful river and seaside walking tracks or encounter the mighty Kauri Tree in pristine subtropical rainforest.


As one of New Zealand's premier tourist destination, you will not be short of options for accommodation in the Bay of Islands. If you have the budget to splash out, check out the 4-star Duke of Marlborough on The Strand in Russell. Boasting New Zealand's oldest pub license, the Duke prides itself on 'serving rascals and reprobates since 1827'. The upstairs accommodation varies from small, bright rooms in a 1930s extension, to spacious doubles facing the water.

Also in the 'treat' range is The Sanctuary @ Bay of Islands in Opua. The hotel is boutique style, with 4 individually decorated guestrooms with all the amenities you need.

For mid-range accommodation, Bay of Islands has numerous motels. Check out Admiral's View Lodge in near the ocean in Paihia; Kerikeri Court Motel in Kerikeri. For a Bed & Breakfast option, try Tarlton's Lodge for outdoor spas and excellent breakfast, or Baywaterviews in Haruru Falls. For budget options, try Peppertree Lodge in Paihia for a social hostel, or Relax a Lodge on the outskirts of Kerikeri for a cosy rural stay.


For the best coffee in town, you must try El Cafe on Kings Road in Paihia. True to its name, the food is Latin-inspired with delicious burritos, tacos and empanadas. El Cafe is open daily 8am to 5am. For more Kiwi-inspired fare, try the Gables on The Strand in Russell. Situated in an 1847 building on the waterfront, the building sits on whale vertebrae foundations. The Gables is famous for their incredible local produce, including oysters, cheese and citrus. The Gables is open for lunch 12pm-3pm Friday to Monday, and for dinner from 6pm Thursday to Monday.

For the best seafood around, check out 35 Degrees South on Marsden Road in Paihia. Built over the water, the views with your seafood can't be beat! Try the local oysters and fish, and small tapas-style plates. Near the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the Whare Waka cafe is perfect for coffee and lunch during the day. A beautiful location beside a pond frequented by ducks, surrounded by bush and overlooking the Treaty Grounds. For a true cultural food experience, try the hangi dinner, where food is cooked in the traditional Maori way of slow-cooking in the ground over hot coals. The hangi is available on Wednesday and Saturday evenings from December to March.

Getting there

By car, the Bay of Islands is about 3 hours north of Auckland on State Highway 1, which runs into State Highway 11 at Kawakawa. Follow the signs to the Bay of Islands and Twin Coast Discovery Highway. Car rental companies are plentiful, and available at Auckland International Airport or at various locations around the city.

By bus, a number of options are available to get you to the Bay of Islands. Greatsights, Intercity, Northliner and Naked Bus all offer regular services from Auckland. Auckland is the nearest international airport, and from there it is a short 35 minute flight to Kerikeri.

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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Apr 08, 2017


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