The Bay of Islands is the major tourist region in the Northland, and one of the most popular destinations in all of New Zealand. Its appeal is instantly obvious to any visitor with mile after mile of beach and rock coastline surrounding a bay dotted with 144 islands – a dazzling, sparkling world of blue and green.
There are a number of towns in the Bay of Islands, each with a very distinct character. Paihia is the main tourist centre, a place of late-night fun, excellent hostels, and heaps of activities. Russell is its refined and historic neighbour, which is just a short ferry ride away. Kerikeri is a large town with fruit-picking work and a café culture. Waitangi is New Zealand’s most important historic site; it’s where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, which effectively handed New Zealand over to British rule.
The Bay of Islands is a popular getaway for New Zealanders, who come here for big-game fishing and to sail among the various coves and islands. But countless activities in the Bay of Islands are geared towards backpackers, from affordable cruises and fishing trips to sea kayaking and excursions where you can swim with dolphins. The Bay of Islands is one of the easiest and yet most rewarding places to travel in New Zealand.
Coming and going and local transport
Paihia is the main centre in the Bay of Islands and consequently handles most coach services that arrive and depart from the Maritime Building on Marsden Road.
Much of the transport around the region radiates from Paihia with frequent buses and ferries to other towns in the Bay of Islands. In addition to the backpacker buses, InterCity operates coaches to other areas in Northland and also to Auckland. InterCity coaches depart from the Maritime Building on Paihia’s waterfront.
There are also several places in Paihia where you can rent a car to explore the region.
Ferries operate between Paihia and Russell; the 15-minute trip costs $12.50 return and departs every half hour. If you have your own car you can take it on the car ferry, which runs between Opua (6km from Paihia) and Okiato near Russell. The car ferry runs every 10 minutes and costs $13 one way for a car and driver, plus $1 each way for each additional passenger. With a couple of passengers, this can be cheaper than the direct passenger ferry between Russell and Paihia.
The region’s airport is in Kerikeri and has daily flights from Auckland.