Travel Guide for Bay of Islands, New Zealand - New Zealand Purple Guide
The Bay of Islands are a popular tourist destination, because its sheltered waters make it an excellent place to see marine life and because its sandy beaches, calm water make it perfect for beach activities. Our itinerary shows you the best things to see in the Bay of Islands and lots of photos enable you to decide what you want to see.
Paihia – Bay of Islands and the Birthplace of New Zealand
Paihia is a seaside town located on the mainland in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. It is known as the Jewel of the Bay Islands and tourists often use it as a base for exploring New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. Paihia has golden beaches, beautiful coastal walking trails and waterfalls. It is also the place where the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was signed, ending a century of conflict between indigenous Māori tribes and British settlers, giving birth to the New Zealand that we know today.
If you have a little time today, walk to the beach and enjoy the quite beauty of this place. If you don’t have time, don’t worry, there will be plenty of beaches in the coming days. There are three main beaches in Paihia:
The northernmost beach goes from the Waitangi One Way Bridge to the Paihia Beach Resort & Spa
The central beach from the Breakwater Motel to the nearby Bayview Motel
The southernmost beach from the Ala Moana Motel to the public toilets where Seaview Road starts to parallel the beach
The northernmost and southernmost beaches are good for walking while the central beach has lots of pebbles and seashells. On the northern end of the central beach, where the road goes up a hill, is a beautiful mural.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are the location where, on February 6, 1840, the Māori and British signed the document that created the New Zealand that we know today. Admission is expensive, NZD60 per adult (non-New Zealander) at the time of writing, but we think it is worth it. At the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, you can visit the historical Treaty House, two excellent museums, the flagstaff which stands where the treaty was signed, a ceremonial waka (giant Māori canoe) and you can wander the grounds and the beach which has great views of the Bay of Islands. There are free guided tours at Waitangi Treaty Grounds which provide lots of historical context and conveniently end at the building where the, also free, Cultural Performance is held right after the tour. The tours start at the visitor center and are definitely worth it. The starting times throughout the day vary by month, so check the website. The first tour is typically at 11am and the duration is 1h. We absolutely loved the 30min long Cultural Performance. Make sure not to miss it. You will need to take your shoes off when you enter the House of Gathering where the performance is held. Photography is allowed during the performance, but video recordings are not.
Bay Islands Boat Tour
The main reason why people come to Paihia is the Bay of Islands. Some people choose to stay on the islands for multiple days and others do boat tours from Paihia. There are some good full day boat tours that cover a lot of territory in the Bay of Islands including an arch, but we won’t have time for that. There is one boat tour that we highly recommend as it provides a good overview of the Bay of Islands and also gets you into the water. And, if you like, you can even snorkel – which is of course my main motivation! The tour is operated by Sea Shuttle Bay of Islands and starts at 3:30pm (at the time of writing) and takes 3h. The first destination is Roberton Island / Motuarohia Island. You will pass by Cooks Cove and learn why it carries this name. Then you land near where the Roberton Island Track starts. You can either enjoy the beach or hike the Roberton Island Track up to the lookout. The trail is steep in several areas, and you cannot do it barefoot or in flip flops. Depending on your level of fitness, it should take you about 10-20 minutes to get all the way to the top. The view from up there is absolutely stunning and I cannot recommend this trail enough. You can enjoy the island for a few minutes before the boat departs for your final destination, which is most likely either Urupukapuka Island or Waewaetorea Island. Here you can sunbathe, snorkel, paddleboard and explore the island. There is no extra charge for snorkeling equipment or using the paddle boards. Snorkeling is best by the rocks on the western side of the beach.
Roberton Island / Motuarohia Island
Urupukapuka Island or Waewaetorea Island
Haruru Falls are not very tall, but still a quite impressive waterfall. In Māori, Haruru means big noise, which is fitting as the waterfall makes quite some noise. The falls are a short 100 ft (30 m) walk from the parking lot.
Kawakawa is known for the Hundertwasser Toilets and the oldest vintage railway of the North Island. In 1999, upon request of the local businessmen's association, Austria-born visual artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser redesigned the existing public restroom in Kawkawa with the help from Peter Yates and Māori artists. Access to the colorful restrooms that seem to defy any sign of order is free. The restrooms were awarded the "Premier Creative Places Award 2000" at the Local Government New Zealand Annual Conference at Christchurch a few months after Hundertwasser’s death.
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