It is a common misconception that all of New Zealand is a tropical paradise. Located only 4,000km from Antartica, the majority of New Zealand’s waters are actually freezing cold! But not to worry, because luckily the Bay of Islands, which is located at the top of the North Island, boasts warm waters that will make you feel like you’re in the tropics.
When Captain Cook discovered this tropical haven, he counted 144 islands in what is now New Zealand’s most picturesque bay. And while it is highly unlikely that you will have enough time to island hop between all 144 of them, here are 6 ways to maximise your time in paradise.
1. Go find the dolphins
This may be a little biased as dolphins are my spirit animal, but a trip to the Bay of Islands is not complete without getting up close and personal to some of the most spectacular animals of the ocean. Chances are you won’t have to go very far before seeing either a pod of bottlenose dolphins or the common dolphin. It’s also not uncommon to see orcas and blue penguins out in the bay, so be on the lookout for anything!
And while it may take every bone in your body to resist jumping in and swimming with these majestic creatures (as was the case with me) when you finally find them, it’s important to remember that the NZ Department of Conservation has placed strict rules for encounters with these animals. Swimming with a mom and baby dolphin duo isn’t allowed as it can disrupt their feeding routine (a newborn needs to feed every three minutes!) and swimming with an Orca is a $50,000 fine.
But it is still a life changing experience to see these animals up close and personal from your boat/kayak/paddleboard/jet-ski!
2. Kayak to a waterfall
Travel through the inlet the connects the Waitangi River to the Bay of Islands via a one-of-a-kind kayaking experience! An hour and a half of paddling upstream will lead to the Haruru Falls. Depending on the weather, the power of the falls changes drastically. So for the adventure seekers wanting a challenge, kayaking this trek following a rain storm will ensure you get your heart rates up!
You can paddle right up underneath the fall and get absolutely soaked. And the experience is addicting as you will most likely want to keep repeating this for hours on end (or until your arms are so tired you can’t paddle anymore!). But that’s okay, because the return trip is with the current and you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful bush scenery on the way back to the bay.
3. Take a trip to Russell
Not only was Russell the first capital of New Zealand, but it boasts the best beach in the area! And after soaking up the sun on the golden sand, cool off at the country’s oldest hotel the Duke of Marlborough. Access to Russell is inexpensive and easy, with routes either via a water taxi or ferry.
4. Visit the historic grounds of Waitangi
The most influential document of New Zealand was signed in Waitangi. This document is what allowed the British Crown to have sole governance over New Zealand and gave the Maori natives the same rights as the British. Exploring the treaty grounds will not only give you more insight as to why the treaty has so much controversy attached to it, but will also give you one of the most spectacular views of the region.
5. Explore the Hokianga region
This region is connected by the Hokianga Harbour and the Tasman Sea. Known for it’s unique landscape, rural lifestyle and home to the oldest trees in the county, Hokianga is well worth the day trip.
6. Enjoy the pier in Paihia
Paihia is one of the most beloved spots in the Bay of Islands. Full of cafe’s, beaches and the best pier in the region, Paihia is a personal fave in this region. After a long day of exploring the countless islands, the pier offers the perfect spot to cozy up and enjoy a coffee. But the best time of day to experience the Paihia pier is in the early hours of the morning as the sun sets sparkle to the sea.