24 June 2020

Best of the Bay of Islands: 48-hour Paihia Travel Guide

Three hours north of Auckland in the Northland region, the sub-tropical Bay of Islands is a spectacular destination to visit year-round. It's known for the history of first European settlement in New Zealand and its stunning natural beauty.

The Bay of Islands consists of more than 140 islands, offering pristine beaches, a plethora of marine life, waterfalls, forests, amazing dive sites and more. There are many incredible must-do activities on offer, making it a fantastic choice for a weekend getaway or longer.

About Paihia

Known as the Jewel of the Bay of Islands, the main hub of Paihia is the perfect base to explore from. The scenic coastal town offers golden beaches, quaint and affordable accommodation options, seaside restaurants and cafes, all doused with an old school Kiwi charm.

Paihia Wharf is the starting point for many adventures out on the water. There is an Information Centre offering plenty of options to explore the islands out in the bay and other fun activities in the region. Join a boat tour to the famous Hole in the Rock, sign up for a full day trip to Cape Reinga, relax on a sailing excursion, catch a ferry to Russell - New Zealand's first capital, or even join a dolphin-watching cruise.

How to get there:

If you have your own vehicle, driving from Auckland CBD to Paihia will take just over three hours. For reliable and affordable public transport, catch New Zealand's best bus service, InterCity, which takes just over four hours from Auckland and has a small rest stop included.

The nearest airport is the small Bay of Islands Airport in Kerikeri which is a twenty-minute drive from Paihia. They offer daily services to and from Auckland and connecting flights throughout New Zealand.


Whether you're visiting for a weekend getaway or part of a longer road trip adventure, here are some of the top unmissable activities to do in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.

Hole in the Rock Dolphin Cruise

To experience the best of the bay, getting out on the water and doing a boat tour is a fantastic way to do it. I highly recommend joining Fullers Great Sights Hole in the Rock Dolphin Cruise which is four hours of pure magic.

The half-day Bay of Islands cruise boards in both Paihia and Russell. The catamaran Dolphin Seeker has options to sit inside or out to take in the stunning views as you cruise out through the islands, and journey right to the end of the Cape Brett Peninsula, to the famous Hole in the Rock on Motukokako Island.

If conditions are calm, your skipper will guide the boat right through the narrow hole which is an incredible experience.

Throughout the tour, the captain will be on the lookout for local dolphins and marine life that love to come out and play. In the winter months, you might even spot a whale! There is informative commentary all throughout the tour and the local crew are very friendly.

Cape Reinga Day Trip

You haven't truly experienced all of New Zealand until you've been right to the very top! If you're driving, it takes almost three hours from Paihia to Cape Reinga, so make it a full day trip with a few stops along the way.

If you aren't driving or would prefer a guided tour, I highly recommend the Great Sights Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach Day Tour. It's a massive 12-hour day trip jam-packed with the very best highlights of Northland. (If you are driving I suggest following their tour route as follows).

After an early start, the first stop of the day is the Puketi Forest, 45 minutes from Paihia. Take a walk through the forest loop track and get up close to ancient and majestic giant Kauri trees. (Even the Queen of England has walked through here!).

After a morning tea break, the bus heads straight to the tippy top of NZ, with informative commentary of local history and stories by your fantastic driver-guide. There is plenty of time to spend at Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of the North Island. It has stunning panoramic views, an iconic lighthouse and a super cool point where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean come crashing together. Have your own lunch already pre-packed, have a picnic there and soak up the views.

Then, it's time for a dose of adrenalin by driving along Te Paki stream to reach enormous golden sand dunes. Grab a boogie board, head to the top and have a whole lot of fun sandboarding, if you dare!

Next up, your bus drives on to the world-famous Ninety Mile Beach. It’s a pretty unique experience driving on the sand right next to the crashing waves!

To finish up the incredible day, tuck into some of the best Kiwi fish and chips in the country at Mangonui Fish Shop, before arriving back in the Bay of Islands in the early evening. It's a big day but definitely one of the best.

Visit The Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Paihia holds an important role in the country’s history. It was here, after a century of conflict between Maori tribes and Western settlers, that peace was finally made and the groundbreaking Treaty of Waitangi was signed and New Zealand became a nation.

A day pass to the Waitangi Treaty grounds includes entry to the Museum of Waitangi, colonial house, guided tours, bush walks, the Waka House and a cultural show at the carved meeting house.

Chase Waterfalls

There are a number of spectacular waterfalls throughout the area, the two closest to Paihia being Haruru Falls (6-minutes drive away), and Rainbow Falls (28-minutes drive away). The latter as pictured below is a stunning 27-metre waterfall and definitely worth the extra drive to see it.

Visit Russell, New Zealand's first capital

Only ten-minutes by ferry from Paihia, Russell, known as Kororareka in the early 19th century, was the first permanent European settlement and seaport in New Zealand.

Photo: Russell Visitor Information Centre

Strolling around charming Russell is like walking back in time. The town’s original street plan and names from 1843 are still intact and feature some of New Zealand’s oldest and most significant historic buildings, many of which can still be visited. New Zealand's first licensed hotel, bar and restaurant, The Duke of Marlborough is located on the waterfront in the historic village.

Skydive From 16,000 ft

If you’re itching to do something crazy like a skydive in New Zealand, then the Bay of Islands is an awesome place to do it. When the weather is good, you get the best drop zone in the country right on the beach! There are three heart-thumping heights to choose from with skydive Bay of Islands and great photo packages if you want to capture the action.

Watersports, Beach & More

The waters of the Bay of Islands are teeming with life from marine mammals to all sorts of fish. While some cruise and sailing companies offer snorkelling trips, there are also various scuba diving operators in the area taking divers to reefs, wrecks and underwater caves.

There are fishing charters, great hiking and mountain biking trails in the area, parasailing, guided horse riding treks and more. There's something fun for every adventurous soul. And of course, there's the lovely beach for those just after a peaceful and relaxing getaway.

Where To Stay

There is a variety of accommodation options to choose from depending on your budget including modern seaside hotels, cheap and cheerful motels, budget backpackers and campgrounds.

The top three traveller ranked options on Trip Advisor are Breakwater Motel, Outrigger Motel and Cook's Lookout Motel.

When I visited last year, I stayed at Paihia Ocean Club (formerly Base Pipi Patch) which is a good option for travellers on a budget. They offer hostel-style dorm rooms as well as comfortable private ensuite rooms. They're in a great location (a two-minute walk to the beach) and have good facilities including an onsite bar.


With basic travel information and many of the top things to do now in mind, here is a rough guide of how to spend 48-hours in Paihia and experience the best of the Bay of Islands. This is an example that you can change to suit your liking, based on arriving in Paihia around midday.

Day One:

12 PM: Arrive in Paihia. Grab lunch at a seaside restaurant or if you've brought your own have a picnic on the beach.

1 PM: Head to the Information Centre at Paihia Wharf to book any tours if you haven't already. Spend the afternoon in Waitangi and learn about our cultural history. Check out a nearby waterfall (Haruru or Rainbow Falls, or both!). Alternatively, catch a ferry to Russell to visit the first capital of New Zealand.

4 PM: Check into your accommodation and relax.

5-6 PM: Head out for a sunset beach stroll (later time if during summer).

7 PM: Have dinner and relax for the evening.

Day Two:

8 AM - 8 PM: Do a Cape Reinga full day trip, as laid out above. It includes the Kauri Forest walk, Cape Reinga Lighthouse, sand surfing, driving on 90-Mile Beach and having fish and chips for dinner in Mangonui.

Day Three:

9 AM: Head out on the water and join a morning half-day Hole in the Rock Dolphin cruise.

If you only have 48-hours then I'm afraid your time is up! But if you still have the afternoon or longer to spare, choose another activity of interest, such as skydiving, horse riding, mountain biking etc.

Pin it! :)

The Bay of Islands is a beautiful part of New Zealand. Enjoy the magic, the peace, the natural beauty, and the local charm.

If you have any other recommendations for top things to do, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

Happy Travels,

No comments

Post a Comment

Blogger Template Created by pipdig