Top 5 things to do in Bay of Islands, New Zealand

You are probably aware of our love for New Zealand. So to help you fall in love with the Land of Long White Cloud, we asked an (almost) local person to share favorite spots. Alex fell in love in the country and eventually moved there, so now she’ll be recommending us things to visit in the northern part of the North Island or more specifically the Bay of Islands. So she shares her favorite things to do in the Bay of Islands.

The Bay of Islands is situated almost at the top of the North Island of New Zealand. Because of its location, Northland and the Bay of Islands are often referred to as the “winterless north”.

Thanks to the pleasant climate, Northland is a year-round destination. There are lots of things to do up there. Here are my Top 5 you can’t miss in the Bay of Islands.

Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa

It doesn’t happen very often that toilets are a tourist attraction in themselves. The ones in  Kawakawa definitely are. Designed by the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser who retired in this quiet town, the toilets have the signature look all his buildings do while using materials he found around the Bay of Islands. You’ve never had an artsier toilet stop.

Kawakawa Hundertwasser Toilets, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Swimming with dolphins

This is my personal highlight in the Bay of Islands! It’s not just your usual dolphin watching tour you can do around all of New Zealand. Up here, you can actually get into the water yourself and swim with them. Or at least try and keep up, they are very fast!

Your knowledgeable guides know where to find the wild animals in the Bay and once you’ve reached them, it’s all go. There are a few rules, though, as this is not a zoo and the animals are wild. Never try and touch/pet a dolphin. And you won’t be allowed to swim with them if there’s a mother with a calf in the group.

Other than that, hop in the water and just enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime, magical experience!


Haruru Falls walk

The Haruru Falls are popular waterfalls and easy to reach by car, as there’s a car park pretty much next to it. However, the best way to see them is by walking there. There is a car park past the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi. This is where the walk starts. It’s about 5km return and totally worth it. You walk above and along the shoreline and for a while even though the mangroves on a wooden walkway. The piece through the mangroves is definitely the most beautiful part and I advise you try and be there during high tide.

If you don’t feel like walking both ways, I suggest you hire a kayak with one of the local rental places and paddle one way and walk the other.

Haruru Fall Walk, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Waitangi Treaty grounds

Back in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi has been signed between the Crown and the Maori people. The grounds of this historic event are still almost untouched and can be visited. A guide will show you around and tell you the story of what lead up to the treaty, why there were big disagreements after the document was signed that led to wars between the Maori and the British.

You’ll also see a 30 minutes Maori cultural show, where you’re explained how the Maori culture used to be lived and still is nowadays.

Near the exit, there’s a little museum to walk through, see some stories of people involved in the treaty and artifacts.

Waitangi Treaty Ground maori show, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Explore Russell

Most people stay in Paihia overnight because it’s bigger and easier to reach from the highway. Due to the bigger competition, it’s also a bit cheaper. However, don’t miss to at least go to Russel for an afternoon and explore a bit. It was the first proper town apart from the Maori settlements and used to be called “hell hole of the Pacific”, due to the mayhem going on there. It’s hard to see the shabby past of the town now, as it’s almost the opposite now. Pretty colonial houses all around Russell and along the waterfront make it a romantic place to be. Especially during sunset, sitting in one of the many restaurants on the beach, sipping some New Zealand wine or brew.

To get to Russell from Paihia, it’s easiest to take the passenger ferry, leaving from the main pier. Tickets can be bought at the i-Site (tourist information office).

Russell waterfront, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

How to get to the Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is about 3 hours away from Auckland if you don’t stop for coffee along the way or for other attractions, like the stunning (and free) Waipu glow worm cave. Just stay on highway 1 until you arrive in Kawakawa. There, follow the signs to Paihia via Opua.

If you don’t have your own car, InterCity drives to Paihia from Auckland and back down several times per day.

Top 5 things to do in Bay of Islands, New Zealand
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Alex from Discover Aotearoa – New Zealand from N to Z has inherited the travel gene from her parents. Her passion has always been traveling, it’s no surprise she’s worked in tourism for all of her professional life.

After moving to New Zealand, Alex and her partner Chris explore as much as possible of her new home and share their discoveries on and off the beaten track with the world.

If you are planning a trip to New Zealand, don’t miss their comprehensive travel planner.

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