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Travel Guide

Bay of Islands things to do and see

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In this Article

Best bits, your only guide to a great holiday

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Year round

Bay of Islands, New Zealand @Discover the world
Bay of Islands @Discover the world

WEATHER

Paihia Weather Forecast and Observations

Unearth history exploring the Bay of Islands. The area, between Cape Brett and Purerua Peninsula witnessed the beginnings of modern Aotearoa, New Zealand. Holiday towns include Opua, Paihia, Russell, Kerikeri and Mangonui at the northern tip. The legal and cultural heart of the country is centred around Waitangi and its swath of grass dipping into the Bay of Islands inlets. The Bay of Islands is where migration stories are told. Waitangi has a world class visitor experience introducing everyone to the narrative that is uniquely New Zealand. Paihia is an ideal location for visitors wishing to experience a Waitangi immersive experience where the Treaty of Waitangi and the relationship between the Crown (government) and traditional owners is explained.

PAIHIA

Paihia highlights

  • Waitangi Government House
  • Hub to visit the Bay of Islands

Pahia is an excellent stopping point to visit Waitangi, explore the Bay of Islands. Heritage Russell is a convenient passenger ferry trip away with the wharf adjacent to the Visitor Centre. Marine attractions include sea kayak tours or cruising to the ‘hole in the rock’ at the tip of Cape Brett. As an experienced visitor destination Paiha has dining options from the classic fish n chips to cafes perched by the sea.

Pahia, New Zealand @greg_nunes
Pahia @greg_nunes
Waitangi Museum, Te Rau Aroha, New Zealand @Waitangi
Waitangi Museum, Te Rau Aroha @Waitangi

WAITANGI

WHAT TO DO AT WAITANGI:

  • Te Rau Aroha Museum narrating the story of Maori battalions and their contribution to the defence of Aotearoa New Zealand. The main exhibition, Price of Citizenship Te Utu o Te Kiriraraunga uses contemporary interactive multimedia messaging to engage the audience.
  • Cultural performances in the Te Whare Rūnanga and local guides explain the significance of Waitangi as one of the sites for the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The treaty was signed between the British Crown and 500 Maori chiefs. The treaty established the foundations for the British colony.
  • Waitangi grounds include a carving studio open to the public for viewing, a traditional Maori waka (canoe) and walks
  • Waitangi, one of New Zealand’s most significant historic sites, is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 between the British Crown and more than 500 Maori chiefs. The treaty agreed the terms by which New Zealand would become a British colony.
  • View a full sized replica of the Treaty and learn about Maori culture and the events leading up to the Treaty. The museum Te Kongahu conducts regular guided tours.

There are shared walking / cycling routes between Waitangi treaty grounds to Haruru Falls. The 6km flat easy walk embraces the bay where the European and Maori world’s interacted.

Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand @TheConversation
Treaty of Waitangi @TheConversation
Ferry to Russell, New Zealand
Ferry to Russell

Opua Ferry terminal / Russell Ferry Terminal

In peak season there is a considerable queue of cars. As the ferry does not take forward bookings an early start is recommended in the busy summer months.

TIP

Paihia township has a strict parking regime and motorhome drivers are advised not to take the motorhome into town as motorhome parking is prohibited in Paihia town precinct.

RUSSELL

Russell  five highlights:

  • Bullet holes in the local church from the 1845 Battle of Kororāreka
  • Placid beautiful foreshore, once the hellhole of the Pacific
  • Heritage sites from Pompallier House & Duke of Marlborough hotel
  • Picturesque bays and inlets

Russell is easily explored on foot.

TIP

Parking is a premium and it is recommended that visitors catch the ferry at Paihia (wharf entrance is directly opposite the Duke of Marlborough Hotel).

Russell, New Zealand
Russell

TIP

In the peak summer season it could be difficult to park a motorhome in Russell as there is no dedicated car park rather roadside parking whereby the long length of a motorhome makes parking problematic. Leave your transport at your STAY unless absolutely necessary to have wheels. Motorhome drivers will have issues parking as Russell is equally stringent on traffic parking as Paihia.

Duke Hotel Marlborough, New Zealand @Amy Franks
Duke Hotel Marlborough @Amy Franks

RUSSELL – DUKE OF MARLBOUGH HOTEL

Duke of Marlborough hotel nestled in the heart of Russell, situated on the beach front with grandstand views of the main street, the bustle and activity of a tourist town. Bay of Islands Hotels NZ | The Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell, as the hotel states the premises have been Refreshing Rascals and Reprobates since 1827.  For history lovers this is a special treat to be accommodated in a hotel that has experienced New Zealand history. A highlight is afternoon tea, forward bookings are strongly encouraged to avoid disappointment.

There are a number of seats on the waterfront and people watching is part and parcel of the Russell experience. Perhaps you would like to take a half day Russell based cruise of the islands and bays of Northland. Simply walk to the end of the wharf to book a cruise.

TIP

Do not book in advance as you might decide having a coffee and relaxing on the garden seats dotting the foreshore is a great way to pass an afternoon. There is always another cruise departing later

@theduke
@theduke
Russell, New Zealand @TravelAwaits
Russell @TravelAwaits

RUSSELL – SHOPS

Russell has an urban vibe with its mainstreet of cafes, restaurants and accommodation providers.  The picturesque main street fronts the beach and the nineteenth century building facades easily transport you back to the early days of European whalers, and opportunists who frequented the area creating the reputation as the ‘black hole of the Pacific’.  The sailing ships would have been riding at anchor in the safe harbour.

RUSSELL – POMPALLIER MISSION & PRINTERY

Pompallier Mission and Printery | Northland | Places to Visit | Places  Built in 1842, Heritage fans rejoice, Russell has heritage and history in spades. Pompallier Mission originally housed a printery where Church texts were translated from Latin to te reo Māori, then printed and bound. It is just one of several buildings, including a chapel and various outhouses, which once stood in this crowded enclave. Today the Printery stands as New Zealand’s oldest industrial building, as well as the oldest of rammed-earth construction, distinctly French in style and making use of local materials including sand, rock and timber. Pompallier Mission has a restaurant attached.

Pompallier House, Russell, New Zealand @TripAdvisor
Pompallier House, Russell @TripAdvisor

Open Wednesday – Sunday then daily from 6 July, 10am – 4pm. Guided tours at 11am and 2pm. French Coffee House. 10am – 3.30pm.

Admission fees apply for guided tours including printery and garden.  Garden-only, accompanied school-age children are free. Access to the printery is by guided tour only to help preserve the building. Please understand that surcharges may apply at times of special events.

Russell Museum, New Zealand @Vrbo
Russell Museum @Vrbo

RUSSELL MUSEUM

The Russell Museum is not particularly innovative, rather it is the usual collection of exhibits with, at times dated, commentary.  There is a scaled down version of Captain Cook’s Endeavour on display. There is an admission fee. It is open every day. There is a collection of displayed photographs that could interest fans of heritage black and white images of a bygone era.

WALKING TRACK ORONGA BAY TO RUSSELL

Full Circle Day Walk

Perhaps a brisk walk is in order. Markers provide information along the way and some seating is provided. There are a number of start and end points on the Russell section of this walkway, so you can do as much or little as you choose. The full circle day walk of the Bay of Islands follows coastal tracks with outstanding views and two ferry rides. The initial part of this walk circles Orongo Bay and then takes you through sub tropical rainforest. For details check Bay of Islands Walkways (stage four). Stage 4 – Orongo Bay to Russell – 1h 45mins (5 km).

Getting to Orongo Bay – Russell

Russell is approximately 5 – 10 minutes drive from Oronga Bay: 5.2 km or 1 hour walking.

Flagstaff Hill, New Zealand @Expedia
Flagstaff Hill @Expedia

RUSSELL – FLAGSTAFF HILL

Another brisk walk, Flagstaff Hill is the candidate for a brisk climb and views of Russell. For photo opportunities Christ Church, two streets from the foreshore is set in nineteenth century styled gardens. If you pop into the church look for musket ball holes left in Christ Church (Russell) from the 1845 Battle of Kororāreka.  Russell has a number of tour boats offering half day excursions around the islands and coast of Northland.

KERIKERI

For visitors focused on art and cultural trails, Kerikeri is a great place to explore the district. Kerikeri highlights, what to see and best things to do offers a tempting array of activities from heritage trails or artists to discover in Northland Art Galleries, Workshops and Exhibitions worth a visit. There are walks where the subtropical climate makes it a treat regardless of the season.

Kerikeri highlights

  • Combination of heritage stories as wrapped around Korokipo Precinct
  • Award winning Wharepuke Sculpture Garden & internationally renown print maker, Mark Graver
  • Local artists and crafty souls who call the place home
Kerikeri stone store building interior. It is the oldest stone building in New Zealand
Kerikeri stone store
Mangonui world famous in New Zealand fish n chips
Mangonui world famous in New Zealand fish n chips

Mangonui

  • An iconic fish n chip shop where legends have been made.
  • An extraordinary museum dedicated to the story of whaling
  • Beaches, walks & heritage locations with sweeping views from a historic pa (fortified village) archeological sites.

The Bay of Islands tour operators offer day excursions by sea or air to the hole in the rock on Piercy Island. Visitors will observe local wildlife, penguins, dolphins, whales and wheeling gannets and soak up the peaceful views of  picturesque inlets and harbours. A passenger ferry service runs between Paihia and Russell, while a vehicle ferry provides a link between Opua and Russell.

RAWHITI HIGHLIGHTS

  • Quiet shallow beaches and estuaries where baches and locals welcome the occasional visitor
  • Cape Brett tramping track

Rawhiti is a quiet haven fluttering the Flag of Independence from its Marae flagpole. Rāwhiti or Te Rāwhiti is a small beachfront town about 27km from Russell in the Bay of Islands of New Zealand. Most of the land in the area is owned by Māori. There are two marae — Kaingahoa and Te Rāwhiti.  There are powered camp sites, bathroom and cooking facilities for Kaingahoa marae located in Rawhiti.

Rawhiti, Kaingahoa Bay, New Zealand @Mapio.net
Rawhiti, Kaingahoa Bay @Mapio.net

The marae offers a camping ground for visitors, The camp site is functional and well maintained. Pets are welcome however they must be on a lease at all times.  For trampers a great spot for preparations for the Cape Brett.There are no shops or petrol stations in the vicinity.  The nearest services are in Russell.

GETTING THERE

The nearest domestic airport is Kerikeri with connections to Auckland and Christchurch. There is a daily intercity bus Bus Auckland to Paihia & Bay of Islands | Free Wifi departing from Auckland with stops at Paihia, Kerikeri and Mangonui

There is no rail link.

Driving between Auckland and Bay of Islands is approx 4 hours, 245km

GETTING AROUND

The area is poorly serviced by public transport. Visitors will need to rely on private vehicles, bikes, or tour operators. There are regular regional shuttle services in the summer between Kerikeri and Paihia

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