Things to do in Bay of Islands

Itineraries for Your Trip to Bay of Islands

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1 Day in the Bay of Islands for First Timers

Curated by Nicole ZimmermanNicole R. Zimmerman, born in São Paulo, Brazil and raised (mostly) in Northern California, is a queer Bay Area–based travel journalist, copywriter, and essayist. Nicole has written for Viator/Tripadvisor, Hipcamp, TripSavvy, Grove Collaborative, Insider, and the Los Angeles Times. Her work appears in anthologies such as The Best Women’s Travel Writing and in numerous literary journals including Creative Nonfiction and The Rumpus.

At the northernmost end of New Zealand lies one of the country's top destinations: the picturesque Bay of Islands. There are about 150 islands in the bay, some uninhabited and barely explored. Whether experienced by land, sea, or sky, the bay offers something for everyone. Here are a few ways to spend a day in this subtropical wonderland.


Start by getting the lay of the land—from above. Take a scenic helicopter flight over the Bay of Islands to Cape Brett, and land on top of the Hole in the Rock, where you can go hiking with a Maori guide and learn about the island’s cultural and ecological significance. Or view the Northland coast on a scenic flight to Cape Reinga, then visit the Cape Reinga Lighthouse, stroll along Tapotupotu Bay, and sink your toes in the sand at Ninety Mile Beach. Alternatively, get your thrills on a tandem skydive over the bay and enjoy unobstructed views.


Day visitors have multiple options for getting onto the water: Set sail on a century-old schooner, or cruise through the Hole in the Rock while exploring the bay’s many golden shorelines. Some cruises include water activities like kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling, and even swimming near the wild dolphins that frequent these waters. If you’d rather explore on land, opt for a tour on a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, and head to a winery for lunch before visiting waterfalls, rainforests, and the local farm country.


There are lots of great places to eat and excellent wines to taste in the Bay of Islands. In the evening, you can head for the waterfront seafood restaurants in Russell or Paihia, and enjoy a meal while watching sailboats anchor at sunset. Another excellent option is to book an evening at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for a traditional hangi dinner followed by a Maori cultural show featuring music and dancing. Arrive before closing hours for a pre-dinner tour of this historic site, and see a war canoe and interactive exhibits on the interactions between New Zealand’s indigenous peoples and the first British settlers.

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