Ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide
This is the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide with all you need to know about this magnificant area in northern New Zealand. From how to get there, weather conditions and costs to what activities to do and what highlights to see. The Bay of Islands is by far one of the most beautiful spots I have seen in the whole country and it should be on everyone’s list of places to check out in New Zealand.
When I did a 6 week trip through New Zealand, the Bay of Islands was one of the first real highlights. I was absolutely fascinated by it, because it has so many great things to do and spots to see. I wrote this ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide, so that you can just pick and choose what attractions are the most appealing to you.
Ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide – General information
The Bay of Islands is quite a large area in the North District of the northern Island of New Zealand. It’s about 3h away from New Zealand’s biggest city, which is called Auckland. The Bay of Islands is famous for many different things like fishing, sailing and watersports in general. It only lies about 210km away from Cape Reinga, which is the most northern point of the country and the spot where two oceans clash – the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific. In total the whole area contains 144 islands, peninsulas as well as islets. The biggest towns around are Kerikeri and Paihia, which are both very recommendable to check out.
The Bay of Islands has been discovered about 700 years ago by a native Maori tribe, which came from Hawaiki. It also got found by the famous sailor Captain Cook, who named the whole region in 1769. The Bay of Islands was New Zealand’s first place that has been inhabited by Europeans.
Over the years it became a big tourist attraction and one of New Zealand’s best places to visit.
How to get there
How to get to this special area of New Zealand has to be a topic of the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide since I want to show you the different options:
- Car Rental
- Bus Tour
- Sailing Boat
I have traveled to the Bay of Islands with Kiwi Experience, which is a tour bus company that drives through the whole country and also works together with countless of companies, which offer various activities. In my opinion that’s a good way to get there. But obviously you can also go with the other options. I have seen travellers using the motorbike to make their way through the whole country, just like I did in Vietnam.
Taking a rented car is also a good thing to do. Same with the campervan, because you save money on accommodation. The only thing I would not recommend is to go by sailing boat, because it will take to long to get there, even if you start from Auckland.
Most people start from Auckland anyway. You just follow the Highway 1 all the way up north all the time. You can’t miss Paihia, which is where most people stay at the Bay of Islands.
Google Maps Route: here
How to get around
This also needs to be a part of the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide, because I want to give you the best option on how to get around in the area. In this case you need to differentiate between where you acually are. If you stay in Pahia Village, then you can just walk. If you want to explore the remarkable surrounding area, then I would suggest you to take a bicycle or public busses. Visiting the numerous islands, peninsulas and islets can only be done by taking a ferry, sailing boat or speed boat.
Generally the whole region of the Bay of Islands is not to big, so that every transport from A to B won’t take you that long. Just make sure to take the right vehicle 😉
Weather conditions are a very important part of the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide. Most people like to visit the Bay of Islands during summer, because at that time the area shows its whole beauty. Unlike many places I have been to in Southeast Asia, the Bay of Islands has all 4 seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.
During Spring (September to November) the weather at the Bay of Islands is pretty pleasent. This time of the year is also called “magical months”, because countless of flowers start to bloom in all kind of colours. Very pretty!
The average temperature is about 19°C, whereas the lowest temperature can be about 9°C. So pack accordingly.
Read here to see my Ultimate Packing List 🙂
Summer is the best time to go to the Bay of Islands. Especially Paihia is looking absolutely georgous during that period of the year. It’s just perfect for tourists and backpackers. The sun shines all day long and a pleasent wind makes the whole atmosphere very comfortable. Just bring your sunscreen 😉
The temperature in that time (December to February) averages at around 25°C.
Please recognize that this is also the busiest time of the year. If that’s not for you, then go during another season.
In this time of the year you won’t find that many travellers, but therefore locals will have the best time enjoying the landscape with all its different colours. Paihia and the whole Bay of Island look absolutely great. They definitely pour on a special charm. The temperature is way cooler and it varies from 11°C to 21°C. Autumn goes on from March to May.
Winter time in the Bay of Islands means chilly weather. It rains more often, even though it’s still a joke compared to other places like my hometown Hamburg in Germany. The average temperature per month is about 15,6°C. Winter goes on from June till August and it’s a very good time to see some dolphins or to go on a cruise.
Food also needs to be a part of the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide, because there is some stuff you should definitely try out. One of them is the local wine. The Bay of Islands and the areas around it are home of some prestigious wineries, which distribute their premium products all over the world.
Besides that Paihia has some very good restaurants, which are quite known for their delicious seafood offers. I recommend you to take some time to just enjoy a good meal by the waterfront, sit back and relax for some time while watching the sunset over the terrific bay.
Accommodation is an important point of the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide. You have different options on where to sleep. It really depends on your budget (read below). Backpacker hostels are a bit cheaper, compared to normal hotels. But there are also some luxerious resorts you can go to. It’s really up to you.
To give you an example for any of them:
Generally I prefer to go to a hostel, because it simply does the job, but if you stay longer or if you are on a more comfortable vacation, then I definitely recommend you to stay at a more luxerious place.
This might be one of the most important things of the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide for many people. Just for you to know, don’t be a penny pincher when you are in New Zealand. It’s gonna be quite expensive anyway. Of course taking care of your budget is important, but still make sure to treat yourself good 😉
Here are a couple examples for the costs:
- Hostel: 25$+ per person (8 bed dorm)
- Hotel: 50$+ per person
- Food: 10$+ per person (very low)
- Beer: 8$
- Restaurant: 15$+ per meal
- Transportation: 1$ + booking fee (Auckland to Paihia)
- Tours: Variable – (For example: Dolphin Tour 115$)
Tips need to be in every guide, which is why I also put some in this Bay of Islands Travel Guide for you:
- Avoid summer time if you want to save money, because summer time means high season
- Cook your own food to save money
- Try Couchsurfing – fun & money saving
- Get to know the locals in bars, restaurants or at the beach. They are unbelievably friendly 🙂
- Stay with a local
Ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide – Highlights
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
This is probably on any list you can find on the internet about Paihia, which is why it has to be in the Bay of Islands Travel Guide. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are located about 2km from Paihia and the sight is a perfect spot to look over the whole bay. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a special attraction that features many different things like the world’s largest war canon.
It is a very important place for the Maori, historically and spiritually. Back in the days it was the spot where the Treaty between the Maori and the British Crown was signed. It still shows a deep bond between the two cultures. When visiting this sight, lots of guides help you and answer any question you might have.
Additonally you have the chance to see a unique Maori singing/ dancing performance, which occures daily.
A dolphin cruise is a MUST DO from the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide. Small modern cruises depart daily from the port in Paihia and bring tourists to various places within the bay. You will absolutely be amazed by what you see. Promised!
Not just the unique rock formations, peninsulas and islets are worth the visit but also the whole scenery itself. It has a charme, which is hard to describe. It will make you fall in love with the area pretty quick. Brash green hills all around and very clear ocean water of high cleanliness. Perfect for a swim with the majestic local dolphin groups!
The whole tour takes about 4 hours, whereby the dolphin swim takes about 15-30 minutes, depending on how long you can stay in the water. Seeing these animals from a close up is just phenominal. Such a beautiful and lovely creature!
Hole in the Rock
The Hole in the Rock is a pretty famous attraction and needs to part of the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide. You probably have heard of it before. Somewhere in the Bay of Islands (Piercy Island) there is a big rock with a huge hole in its middle. Doesn’t sound that interesting?
The fascinating part about it is that it’s some kind of holy site for the local Maori. Every time they went to battle, they paddled through the hole to get blessed by god.
Besides that the journey to the Rock in the Hole is already pretty scenic, including an extraordinary landscape and a really vivid marine life.
This one needs to be on the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide, because it’s the only significant waterfall in the area in my opinion. Near Kerikeri you can find this wonderful piece of nature. It’s about a 4km walk from the city to get to there. The waterfall is not to high, but it gets massive power from the waters of the Kerikeri River. At the bottom end you can enjoy a refreshing swim in the natural fresh water pool.
If you can, go for the longer walk, even though there also is a shorter drive-walk combination. In my opinion the walk is way better, because you follow the river all the way through the raw forests, while birds casually sing their best songs for you all the time. The whole atmosphere is very relaxing peaceful.
If you arrive at the Rainbow Falls during sunrise you might have the chance to see where it got its name from. A combination out of sunlight and water particles create a charming rainbow, which is perfect for a shot for your Instagram 😉
A helicopter flight is something pretty costly from the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide, but it’s definitely worth it. If you are willing to pay about 250$, then go for this once in a lifetime attraction. The Bay of Islands looks even prettier from above. You get a way better overview and understanding for the beauty of this marvellous piece of land. This is absolutely something for adventurous travellers. If you have a problem with hight, then the next one might be the better option for you 😉
Hiking is one of the simple activities from the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide, but it is a very good one. Walking along lost paths of this scenic bay makes you feel like you are a character from the Lord of the Rings movie. At least that’s how I felt 😉
Besides that, the views are absolutely amazing. You’ll see one big limestone cliff after another and you’ll have a good overview over the whole coastline. There are many different kind of hikes to do. See here, which ones are most popular.
Scuba diving must be mentioned in the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide, because the Bay of Islands actually is one of the best diving areas in New Zealand. This destination is perfect for scuba diving lovers for many reasons. Besides the fact, that you can dive at old shipwrecks and beautiful coral reefs in all kind of colours, you can also see various species of fish like Lord Howe Coralfish, Gold Ribbon Groupers and one of the world’s largest stingray species. Most of the fish stay at the shipwrecks since it’s the ideal place for them to be at.
Sometimes you can even see some octopuses while exploring the Canterbury shipwreck. One of the good things for divers is the moderate temperature as well as the good visibility. You also have the chance to do your PADI licence at Paihia, if you like. There are a couple good dive shops.
Kajaking is the last point from the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide. It’s highly recommendable. Especially if make your way through the bay, you will probably be amazed. You don’t need to rush, just take your time and enjoy the beauty that surrounds you. Sometimes a dolphin family passes by and says hello while you paddle your way through the crystal clear ocean waters.
Most of the time you go in groups of 6-10 with locals or other travellers from all over the world. If you bring your snorkeling gear, then you also have the opportunity to check out the majestic underwater enviroment near the islands and islets. It is stunning!
Ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide – What I have learned
Guys, visiting the Bay of Islands taught me something quite valuable again. You know I always don’t only want to give you some valuable information, but also show what you can learn from the journeys. I wanted to write this Bay of Islands Travel Guide, because it was the first rural place in New Zealand that I have visited and I was absolutely fascinated by it. I realized very quickly that New Zealand is something special. It just has a vibe, which is hard to explain. Everything you see and everywhere you go to you feel like some famous artist has painted the whole scenery for you. And the Bay of Islands is a great example for that.
I learned from this that there really are
some places in this world, that are just better than others
I guess, you know that people tend to say “Every country has his good and negative sides” or “Every country is beautiful in a certain way”. This might be true. But only to a certain point in my opinion.
Some places, like New Zealand for example, are just more beautiful. You can’t deny that fact, if you have been there. Many things are better, even if you compare them to the world’s leading industrial nations.
My personal ranking
I have a couple factors in my mind, that are important to me when I think of how livable a country is or how I would score it on my own scale. These factors are:
- Working opportunities/ Payment
- Political/ Social views & standards
- People’s vibes
- Technical standards
In general there are a lot of details to consider, but eventually it all comes down to the overall standard, paired with the weather, nature and the way the people are.
I can promise you: New Zealand sets the bar pretty high!
And if you do the things from the ultimate Bay of Islands Travel Guide (or most of them), you will quickly understand why I say so… 😉
Want to know more about New Zealand? Read here
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