Paihia is a pretty town that is the tourist capital of the Bay of Islands, with a highly-developed infrastructure catering to backpackers. Paihia’s hostels have a consistently high quality with several truly outstanding choices, and the nightlife here is the most high-spirited in the Bay of Islands.
There’s a seemingly infinite number of water-based activities available from Paihia. Cruises are big here, and the choices range from high-speed crafts to small yachts. Many cruises sail out to Motukokako Island, famous for the “Hole in the Rock”, which most of the bigger and faster boats sail through. Boats that make it out this far also sail past the picturesque Cape Brett lighthouse.
Sea kayaking is another popular option in Paihia, with guided tours available; more casually, many hostels offer free use of kayaks. For a more hands-on experience than cruising, there are several sailing tours available; and there are the ever-popular swimming with dolphins trips.
For land-based activities, some good walks are available in the area, including through the Opua Forest and in the bush around Waitangi.
And when you’ve had your fill of exploring land and sea and learning about New Zealand history, the backpackers’ area around Kings and Marsden Roads becomes a nightly playground of drinking and dancing until the wee hours.