The Bay of Islands is one of New Zealand’s most culturally significant regions.

With its significant Maori cultural artefacts, pristine beaches, myriad natural wonders and great fishing spots, you won't want to miss this naturally beautiful getaway in New Zealand's North Island. Along with experiencing the stunning scenery of the Bay of Islands, from forests of ancient kauri trees and clear blue lakes to mystical waterfalls and caves filled with glow worms, you can visit the Waitangi Treaty grounds where the Treaty of Waitangi between Māori and the British Crown was signed in 1840. Outdoor adventures include canoeing, kayaking and cruising through the Hole in the Rock, a natural rock formation created by wind and waves. For a more relaxing cruise, take a day trip to Poor Knights Islands where you can snorkel, swim, kayak or just sit back and relax on deck, watching the ‘fish cam’ to see what’s going on beneath the boat.

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Bay of Islands Highlights

Hole in the Rock cruise

Keep an eye out for dolphins and other marine life on the way to Cape Brett and the famous Hole in the Rock on a scenic cruise like no other. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself holding your breath as your captain lines up the ship and it slips through the narrow gap so you’re surrounding by soaring rock walls. You’ll also have time for a stop at Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island where you can go for a walk up to the top of a hill for great views across the entire Bay of Islands region.

Kawiti glow worm caves

Visit the Kawiti Glow Worm Caves to explore a hidden world of unusual rock formations and thousands of luminous creatures. Discovered in the 17th century by the chieftainess of the Maori tribe Ngati Hine, the caves are still run by her direct descendants today. Take a guided tour through the 200m cave system and marvel at the hundreds of glow worms that call this cave home. Look closely and you’ll be able to see the bodies of the glow worms and their stunning blue/green tail lights.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Maori first came to New Zealand via Polynesia around 1,000 years ago and their social, cultural and spiritual traditions continue to shape New Zealand’s national identity. Gain a deeper understanding of the Maori legacy by visiting the Waitangi Historic Reserve. On this site, the British Crown recognized Maori ownership of their lands in 1840 and gave the Maori rights as British subjects. Explore the museum, watch a cultural performance, and see a traditional waka taua (Maori war canoe).

Rainbow Falls

Take in the beauty of the mystical Rainbow Falls on the Kerikeri River. Not only is this waterfall stunning to look at, it’s also easy to reach via a 400m boardwalk. There are three viewing platforms at the top of Rainbow Falls. You can also take in the falls from the bottom where the water falls into the pool. If you don’t mind getting wet, it’s also possible to walk behind the waterfall. Listen out for the tui bird as you’re strolling around the falls as they can often be heard calling to each other here.

Haruru Falls

One of the many highlights of the Bay of Islands is visiting Haruru Falls. The word ‘Haruru’ means ‘big noise’ and that is what you will hear as you approach this wide, five-metre high waterfall. You’re paddling peacefully down the Waitangi River and then all of a sudden you’re getting a very loud and all-consuming cold shower. It can take a bit of manoeuvring to get under the spray, so make sure you get the how-to from your tour guide. This is a great activity to share with friends.

Bay of Islands scenic cruise

Off the shores of the Tutukaka coast you’ll find the Poor Knights Islands, a rugged series of islets with a history stretching back 11 million years. On a full-day Bay of Islands scenic cruise, you’ll have the chance to snorkel, swim, kayak, explore ancient caves and learn about the geological and natural history of the islands. It’s not uncommon to spot marine life from the boat, including dolphins and whales. If you’d prefer to put your feet up today, the boat is kitted out with plenty of seating and viewing areas.

Bay of Islands Tour Reviews

Bay of Islands FAQs

The closest airport to the Bay of Islands is at Kerikeri which is 23 km from the Bay of Islands' major town of Paihia. Flights take 40 minutes from Auckland. Driving to the Bay of Islands from Auckland takes three hours non-stop. There are also regular InterCity bus services which take slightly longer as they pick up and drop off passengers along the way. 

The best way to get around the Bay of Islands is either by car or joining a tour. While it is possible to explore the area using public transport, this can limit your options as it depends on the bus timetable. There are also car and passenger ferry services between towns such as Paihai and Russell. 

Any time is a good time to visit the beautiful Bay of Islands. This scenic area can get delightfully warm in summer so don't be surprised if you find yourself walking around in shorts and a t-shirt. The weather can get crisp in winter but temperatures seldom drop below seven degrees Celcius. Autumn brings the colours of leaves changing from green to red and gold and spring is perfect for strolling and sailing. 

Clothes you can layer work best if you're travelling around the Bay of Islands as it can be very warm in the middle of the day, even in winter. Add a jumper or jacket, wet weather gear, sunscreen, a hat and a beanie. Remember to pack a fleece if you're heading out on the water as it can get chilly on the boat, even in summer. Comfortable shoes are also a must for exploring this scenic area.  

The Bay of Islands is a laid back destination so people tend to dress casually. Smart casual is considered 'dressy' at most restaurants.  

The is good WiFi coverage throughout most of the Bay of Islands aside from a few rural areas and out on the water where the signal can be weak. 

The is good mobile coverage throughout most of the Bay of Islands aside from a few rural areas and out on the water where the signal can be weak. 

Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. However, we’re always happy to talk to travellers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.

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