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Top 8 Things To Do In The Bay Of Islands Cruise Port + Port Guide


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Ainsley Countryman



Welcome to the Bay of Islands, a picturesque paradise located in the northern part of New Zealand’s North Island. With its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and a plethora of activities to indulge in, the Bay of Islands has become a top-rated destination for travelers. Whether you’re arriving on a cruise ship or exploring the region independently, this port guide will help you make the most of your time in this enchanting part of New Zealand.


The Bay of Islands is renowned for its idyllic beaches, crystal-clear waters, and lush landscapes. It is made up of 144 islands, each with its own unique charm and attractions. From pristine sandy shores to rugged coastlines, the Bay of Islands offers a diverse range of experiences for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.


In addition to its natural wonders, the Bay of Islands is steeped in history. This region holds significant cultural importance, as it was the site of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, which established New Zealand as a nation. Today, visitors can explore the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where they can gain insights into the country’s history and Maori culture through interactive exhibits and guided tours.


One of the highlights of visiting the Bay of Islands is the opportunity to embark on a Hole in the Rock Cruise. This thrilling adventure takes you on a journey through the picturesque islands, providing the chance to spot dolphins, seals, and even whales in their natural habitat. The cruise culminates with a visit to the iconic Hole in the Rock formation, a natural wonder that will leave you in awe.


As you venture further into the Bay of Islands, you’ll discover charming towns and villages that are worth exploring. From the historic town of Russell, once known as the “Hellhole of the Pacific,” to the vibrant town of Paihia with its bustling waterfront, there is no shortage of attractions and activities to keep you entertained.


Whether you prefer relaxing on the beach, engaging in water sports, immersing yourself in cultural experiences, or simply enjoying the breathtaking scenery, the Bay of Islands has something for everyone. With this port guide in hand, you can now embark on an unforgettable journey through this captivating region of New Zealand.



Paihia, known as the “Gateway to the Bay of Islands,” is a charming coastal town that serves as a popular base for exploring the region. With its beautiful beaches, scenic waterfront, and a wide range of activities, Paihia offers something for everyone.


One of the must-do experiences in Paihia is taking a leisurely stroll along the stunning Paihia Beach. With its golden sands, clear blue waters, and picturesque views, this beach is perfect for sunbathing, swimming, or simply enjoying a peaceful walk. Water sports enthusiasts can also indulge in kayaking, paddleboarding, or even opt for a thrilling jet ski ride.


Paihia is also home to the highly regarded Waitangi Golf Club, where golf enthusiasts can enjoy a round of golf while taking in the breathtaking coastal scenery. The golf course offers challenging holes set against the backdrop of the Bay of Islands, providing a unique and unforgettable golfing experience.


For those seeking a cultural experience, a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a must. This historic site is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, and visitors can explore the beautifully landscaped grounds, visit the museum, and even witness a traditional Maori cultural performance. The experience offers valuable insights into the rich Maori heritage and the history of New Zealand.


Adventure enthusiasts can embark on a thrilling dolphin-watching cruise from Paihia. These cruises take you out into the Bay of Islands, where you can witness these magnificent marine creatures in their natural habitat. If you’re lucky, you may even have the chance to swim with dolphins, creating a truly memorable encounter.


Paihia also offers a variety of dining options, ranging from casual cafes to fine dining restaurants. Sample the local cuisine and indulge in fresh seafood, including succulent green-lipped mussels and delectable fish and chips. Additionally, explore the vibrant waterfront shopping area, where you’ll find unique boutiques, art galleries, and souvenir shops.


Whether you’re looking for relaxation, adventure, or cultural experiences, Paihia offers it all. With its captivating beauty and an array of activities, this coastal town is sure to leave visitors with lifelong memories of their time in the Bay of Islands.



Situated across the bay from Paihia, the charming town of Russell offers a glimpse into New Zealand’s fascinating history. Once known as the “Hellhole of the Pacific” due to its rowdy reputation during the early European settlement, Russell has transformed into a peaceful and picturesque destination that exudes old-world charm.


One of the main attractions in Russell is the historic Russell Museum. Housed in a charming 19th-century missionary building, the museum showcases artifacts and exhibits that chronicle the town’s intriguing past. Visitors can learn about the early Maori settlements, European colonization, and the significant role Russell played during the whaling era.


Take a stroll along the waterfront and admire the beautifully restored Victorian buildings that line the streets. Explore the popular Duke of Marlborough Hotel, which holds the distinction of being New Zealand’s oldest licensed hotel, and enjoy a meal or refreshing drink at its waterfront restaurant. The Duke’s charming ambiance and stunning views make it a favorite spot among visitors and locals alike.


Adventure seekers can embark on a bushwalk to Flagstaff Hill, where they can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding islands and the bay. The hill holds historical significance as the site where the flagstaff, a symbol of British authority, was repeatedly cut down during the early conflicts between the Maori people and the British settlers. The walk provides both natural beauty and a glimpse into the area’s turbulent past.


For a relaxing beach experience, head to the tranquil Long Beach. With its pristine white sands and clear turquoise waters, this secluded beach offers a tranquil escape from the crowds. Enjoy a picnic, go for a swim, or simply soak up the sun while taking in the picturesque surroundings.


Russell is also a great base for exploring the nearby islands. Hop on a ferry or book a boat charter to visit Urupukapuka Island, the largest island in the Bay of Islands. Here, you can explore walking trails, snorkel in crystal-clear waters, or simply relax on the secluded beaches.


From its rich history to its stunning natural landscapes, Russell offers a captivating blend of experiences. Immerse yourself in the town’s fascinating stories, soak up the charm of its historic buildings, and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding bay and islands. A visit to Russell is sure to leave a lasting impression on any traveler exploring the Bay of Islands.


Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds holds immense historical importance as the site where the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document of New Zealand, was signed in 1840. Located just a short drive from Paihia, this cultural and historical landmark offers visitors a unique opportunity to learn about the country’s early history and the relationship between the indigenous Maori people and the British Crown.


Begin your visit with a guided tour of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, led by knowledgeable guides who provide insights into the events that took place here. Learn about the signing of the treaty and its impact on the nation’s history and culture. Explore the beautifully manicured gardens, adorned with native flora, and enjoy panoramic views of the Bay of Islands from strategic vantage points.


The Treaty House, a restored colonial-era building, is a highlight of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Step inside to gain a deeper understanding of the historic events that unfolded within its walls. Marvel at the original artifacts and furniture, and discover the stories of the influential individuals who played a role in the formation of modern-day New Zealand.


Don’t miss the opportunity to witness a traditional Maori cultural performance during your visit. The energetic and captivating performances showcase Maori songs, dances, and customs. Participate in the haka, a traditional Maori war dance, and gain a deeper appreciation for Maori culture and traditions.


Another highlight of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is the Whare Waka, a beautifully carved Maori ceremonial waka (canoe). Step inside and marvel at the intricate carvings that depict Maori legends and stories. Gain insights into the Maori seafaring traditions and the important role that waka played in their culture.


As you explore the grounds, make sure to visit the Te Kongahu Museum of Waitangi. This modern museum showcases interactive exhibits that delve into the history of the treaty, the Maori way of life, and the challenges faced by the early settlers and indigenous people. The museum provides a comprehensive overview of the significant events and relationships that shaped New Zealand’s past.


The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is not just a historical site, but also a place of reflection and reconciliation. It serves as a reminder of the nation’s commitment to honoring the treaty and preserving the unique cultural heritage of the Maori people. A visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is an opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation for the diverse and complex history of New Zealand.


Hole in the Rock Cruise

Embarking on a Hole in the Rock Cruise is an absolute must-do when visiting the Bay of Islands. This thrilling adventure takes you on a journey through the stunning coastal landscapes, showcasing the natural beauty of the region and providing the opportunity to spot incredible marine wildlife along the way.


The highlight of the cruise is undoubtedly the iconic Hole in the Rock formation, located on Motukokako Island. As you approach the island, your skilled captain will maneuver the boat through the narrow gap in the rock, allowing you to get up close to this remarkable natural wonder. Witnessing the sunlight streaming through the hole, creating a mesmerizing play of light and shadow, is a truly awe-inspiring experience.


As you cruise through the Bay of Islands, keep your eyes peeled for the abundant marine life that call these waters home. Dolphins are a common sight, and if you’re lucky, you may even see them riding the wake created by the boat or showing off with acrobatic leaps. Seals can often be spotted lounging on the rocks, and if you’re visiting during the right season, you may even catch a glimpse of majestic whales passing through.


The knowledgeable onboard crew will provide interesting commentary about the history, geography, and wildlife of the area, enhancing your understanding and appreciation of the Bay of Islands. They will also share fascinating stories and legends associated with the islands, bringing the landscape to life with their captivating tales.


Depending on the duration of your cruise, you may also have the opportunity to visit scenic highlights such as Roberton Island and Urupukapuka Island. These islands offer pristine beaches, walking trails, and spectacular viewpoints where you can soak up the serenity and beauty of the Bay of Islands.


Another exciting aspect of the Hole in the Rock Cruise is the chance to indulge in water activities. Many tours offer options for snorkeling, kayaking, or even taking a dip in the clear waters of secluded bays. Immerse yourself in the natural environment, discover the vibrant marine life, and explore hidden coves and caves along the coast.


Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, adventure seeker, or simply looking for a memorable experience, the Hole in the Rock Cruise is sure to leave you in awe of the Bay of Islands’ breathtaking beauty. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the stunning vistas, playful wildlife, and the unforgettable moment when you sail through the famous hole in the rock.


Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach

A trip to the Bay of Islands wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the northernmost tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. Located about a three-hour drive from Paihia, this rugged and remote destination offers a unique and mesmerizing experience that reveals the raw beauty of the Northland region.


Cape Reinga holds immense cultural significance to the Maori people as it is believed to be the place where the spirits of the deceased depart from this world to return to their ancestral homeland. Witness the meeting of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean, a powerful and symbolic sight that captivates visitors.


As you walk towards the Cape Reinga Lighthouse, take in the panoramic views of the dramatic coastline and the crashing waves below. The lighthouse itself offers a glimpse into the maritime history of the region and provides a perfect vantage point to marvel at the rugged beauty that surrounds it.


Another highlight of a trip to Cape Reinga is the opportunity to drive along the famous Ninety Mile Beach. Despite its name, Ninety Mile Beach is actually around 55 miles long and offers a stunningly beautiful stretch of coastline. Feel the wind in your hair as you drive along this expansive beach, which is also a designated public highway. Keep an eye out for the massive sand dunes that border the beach, providing ample opportunities for sandboarding and adrenaline-fueled fun.


If you prefer a more leisurely experience, take a guided tour or a scenic flight over the area. Marvel at the massive sand dunes, crystal-clear waters, and the remote and untouched beauty of the region. Learn about the Maori legends and stories that are intertwined with this spectacular landscape.


While visiting Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach, don’t forget to explore the Te Paki Sand Dunes, located just a short distance away. These towering dunes are a popular spot for sandboarding and provide an exhilarating and unforgettable experience. Grab a board, climb to the top, and slide down the sandy slopes, creating lasting memories and laughs with friends and family.


The journey to Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach is as remarkable as the destination itself. The pristine landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and unique experiences make it a must-visit attraction for anyone exploring the Bay of Islands. Immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty of this remote and magical place, and create lifelong memories along the way.



Nestled along the banks of the Kerikeri River, the town of Kerikeri is a delightful destination that offers a perfect blend of natural beauty, historical sites, and culinary delights. Known as one of the oldest European settlements in New Zealand, Kerikeri is rich in history and culture, making it a must-visit location in the Bay of Islands.


One of the main attractions in Kerikeri is the Kerikeri Mission Station, also known as the Stone Store and Kemp House. The Stone Store is the oldest stone building in New Zealand, dating back to 1832. Step inside and explore the store’s unique collection of local products, arts, and crafts. Next door, you’ll find Kemp House, which is the oldest European building in New Zealand, offering a fascinating glimpse into early colonial life.


A visit to Kerikeri is incomplete without exploring the stunning natural landscapes that surround the town. Take a stroll along the Kerikeri River Basin Walkway, a picturesque trail that winds its way through native bush, past historic sites, and alongside the river. Enjoy the tranquility and observe the diverse birdlife that calls this area home.


Art lovers will delight in exploring the vibrant art scene in Kerikeri. The town is home to numerous art galleries, showcasing the works of local and national artists. From contemporary paintings to intricate Maori carvings, you’ll find a diverse range of artistic expressions that reflect the beauty and cultural heritage of the region.


For those with a taste for fine food and wine, Kerikeri won’t disappoint. The town boasts a number of award-winning wineries and orchards. Take a tour and experience the flavors of locally produced wines, olive oils, and delicious fruits. Additionally, Kerikeri’s thriving food scene offers a variety of eateries, from farm-to-table cafes to gourmet restaurants. Indulge in fresh seafood, organic produce, and delectable treats, satisfying your palate with flavors unique to the region.


Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Rainbow Falls, one of the region’s most famous natural attractions. A short drive from Kerikeri, this scenic waterfall cascades down a rock face into a picturesque swimming hole. Take a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear waters or simply admire the beauty of the falls from the surrounding viewing platforms.


Whether you’re interested in history, nature, art, or gastronomy, Kerikeri offers a wealth of experiences. Immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage, explore the natural landscapes, indulge in culinary delights, and discover the artistic expressions that make this town a captivating destination in the Bay of Islands.


Haruru Falls

Just a short drive from Paihia, you’ll find the mesmerizing Haruru Falls, a natural wonder that should not be missed during your visit to the Bay of Islands. Meaning “big noise” in Maori, Haruru Falls is an aptly named waterfall that will captivate you with its beauty and power.


Haruru Falls is located at the head of the Waitangi River and is formed by a unique horseshoe-shaped cascade. As the water rushes over the rocks, it creates a thunderous roar, providing an awe-inspiring sensory experience. The falls are surrounded by lush native bush, creating a picturesque backdrop that adds to the magical atmosphere.


There are several ways to experience Haruru Falls. Take a leisurely walk along the Waitangi River to reach a viewing platform that offers a panoramic view of the falls. The peacefulness of the surroundings and the sheer power of the waterfall create a beautiful contrast that will leave you in awe.


If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a kayak or book a guided kayak tour to get up close to the falls. Paddle along the calm waters of the river, taking in the lush greenery and wildlife along the way. As you approach Haruru Falls, feel the mist on your face and listen to the rushing water as you navigate near the base of the cascades. It’s an exhilarating experience that provides a unique perspective of the falls.


For those who prefer a more leisurely visit, consider taking a relaxing boat cruise to Haruru Falls. Enjoy the tranquility of the river as you cruise towards the falls, marveling at the scenery and the wildlife that inhabit the area. Many cruises offer informative commentary about the history and significance of Haruru Falls, enriching your understanding of this natural marvel.


Surrounding Haruru Falls is the beautiful Puketi Forest, a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Explore the walking trails that wind through the ancient forest, meandering past towering kauri trees and an array of native flora and fauna. Keep an eye out for native birdlife, including the rare North Island kōkako, tūī, and kereru.


Whether you choose to admire Haruru Falls from a viewing platform, paddle up close in a kayak, or cruise along the Waitangi River, a visit to this natural wonder is a must. Immerse yourself in the tranquility and beauty of Haruru Falls, and create lasting memories of your time in the Bay of Islands.


Opua Forest Lookout

If you’re seeking breathtaking views and a chance to immerse yourself in nature, a visit to the Opua Forest Lookout is a must during your time in the Bay of Islands. Offering panoramic vistas of the surrounding forests and coastlines, this lookout provides a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.


Located in Opua Forest, the lookout offers a glimpse into the untouched beauty of the region. To reach the lookout, embark on a short and scenic hike through native bush. As you ascend, the anticipation builds, and upon reaching the top, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views that stretch for miles.


From the lookout, you can take in the lush green canopy of the forest, with glimpses of the sparkling waters of the Bay of Islands in the distance. The combination of the forest, the ocean, and the vast expanse of sky creates a truly awe-inspiring sight that is sure to leave you feeling inspired and rejuvenated.


The Opua Forest is also known for its abundant birdlife, making it a popular spot for birdwatching enthusiasts. Bring your binoculars and keep an eye out for native species such as tui, kereru, and fantails. The sounds of birdsong and the sense of peace and tranquility that pervades the forest only add to the magical experience at the lookout.


The Opua Forest Lookout is not just a visual feast; it’s also a place to connect with nature and engage your senses. Take a moment to breathe in the fresh forest air, listen to the rustling leaves, and feel the gentle breeze on your skin. It’s a perfect spot for mindfulness and reflection.


Before or after your visit to the lookout, consider exploring the walking trails that wind their way through the Opua Forest. These well-maintained tracks offer opportunities to discover the diverse plant life and unique ecosystems of the region. Marvel at the towering trees, ferns, and mosses, and embrace the serenity of the forest.


The Opua Forest Lookout is a hidden gem that showcases the natural beauty of the Bay of Islands. Whether you’re a nature lover, avid photographer, or simply seeking a peaceful escape, this lookout will exceed your expectations. Immerse yourself in the tranquility and awe-inspiring views, and allow the Opua Forest Lookout to leave a lasting impression on your Bay of Islands adventure.



The Bay of Islands is a truly remarkable destination that offers a diverse range of experiences for travelers. From the stunning beaches and crystal-clear waters to the rich cultural heritage and thrilling adventures, this region of New Zealand has something to suit every interest and preference.


Whether you choose to explore the historic towns of Paihia and Russell, immerse yourself in the cultural significance of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, embark on a thrilling Hole in the Rock Cruise, venture to Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach, discover the charm of Kerikeri, witness the power of Haruru Falls, or soak in the breathtaking views from the Opua Forest Lookout, each destination offers its own unique beauty and attractions.


The Bay of Islands provides a perfect balance of relaxation, adventure, and cultural immersion. Whether you’re seeking a romantic getaway, a family vacation, or a solo adventure, this captivating region will not disappoint. From exploring the rich history and cultural heritage to experiencing the stunning natural landscapes and indulging in delicious cuisine, the Bay of Islands offers a truly unforgettable experience.


So, as you plan your visit to the Bay of Islands, make sure to prioritize these top attractions and experiences, allowing yourself the opportunity to fully immerse in the beauty and wonder of this remarkable destination. With its breathtaking scenery, cultural significance, and endless opportunities for adventure, the Bay of Islands is a place that will leave an indelible mark on your heart and create memories that will last a lifetime.