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The Bay of Islands: a backyard paradise

The beautiful Robertson Island in the Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands: a backyard paradise

That Pacific islands getaway is closer than you think. Few Kiwis realise it, but you can visit 140 of them with a 50-minute flight from Auckland.

The Bay of Islands: a backyard paradise

Jump off the plane at Kerikeri and you’re only a short drive from deserted, golden-sand bays, scarlet pohutukawa and mighty kauri, and swimming, kayaking or cruising alongside dolphins.

Blue seas and bluer skies: the Bay of Islands has the second bluest sky in the world. Adding to its natural attractions and charming towns, the bay is the undisputed birthplace of our nation.

 

Bay of 144 islands

Known to the Māori as Ipipiri, the Bay of Islands shimmers with large and small, rocky and sandy islands, each a place of stunning beauty, each an opportunity for land- or water-based adventures – or just relaxing.

The original and most famous way to cruise the bay is the Cream Trip, named for Albert Ernest Fuller’s 1927 voyages to the islands to deliver mail and supplies and pick up dairy products. The day cruise follows the same route, taking in Cape Brett lighthouse, the ‘Hole in the Rock’ at Motukokako and other sights.

Many operators offer cruises by launch, yacht or jetboat, most leaving from Paihia or Russell. Once you’re around Tapeka Point – just north of Russell – you’ll enter a maritime playground of penguins, dolphins, marlin, whales, gannets and much more.

Visitors enjoying the view of Kororipo Heritage Park in Kerikeri, photo credit: Northland Inc

Nine Pin is home to dive-bombing gannets; Moturoa houses WWII gun emplacements against Japanese invasion; Black Rock cooks to 60C in summer when thousands of seabirds lay their eggs. The surrounding waters, sea cliffs and caves are a diver’s paradise.

Marsden Cross, high above Rangihoua Bay, marks where Samuel Marsden gave the country’s first Christian sermon on Christmas Day 1814. Motuarohia/Roberton Island welcomed some of the first visitors to Aotearoa – Māori navigators and Pakeha explorers including Captain Cook.

The stunning Rainbow Falls in the heart of Kerikeri, photo credit: David Kirkland

Only 40 minutes’ ferry ride from Paihia or Russell, Urupukapuka is the bay’s largest island. Visit its golden sands or walk its forest and coastal tracks, and you might feel you don’t want to leave.

You don’t have to: DOC has three popular campsites on Urupukapuka – Cable Bay, Sunset Bay and Urupukapuka Bay. The ferry dock and restaurant are located at the the idyllic Otehei Bay. With its calm waters sheltered from the ocean, this is the perfect spot to splash in the sea or hire a kayak and paddle to places that can only be accessed from the water.

 

Romantic towns: Kerikeri, Russell, Paihia

Towns (no cities here) have unique personalities. Kerikeri, for life’s indulgent moments: boutique wineries, shopping, galleries, streetside cafes and restaurants, and weekend farmers’ markets. Orchard stalls offer seasonal fruit and artists open their studios.

Don’t miss two of our oldest buildings, the 1821 Mission Station, also known as Kemp House, and the nearby 1832 Stone Store.

A couple relaxes at Omata Estate Vineyard in Russell, photo credit: David Kirkland

Romantic Russell combines history with a lively seaside setting of cafes, restaurants and galleries. The country’s first European settlement and first capital was nicknamed ‘the hellhole of the Pacific’ from the rowdy sailors, whalers and traders who partied here in the 1840s; it’s quieter these days.

Historic sites include Pompallier House, an award-winning working museum of long-gone crafts; Christ Church, showing gunshot holes from the New Zealand Wars; and probably the best-known, the Duke of Marlborough.

This hotel began life in 1827 as Johnny Johnston’s Grog Shop and holds the country’s first liquor licence. In summer “the Duke” serves over 1000 meals a day and there’s no better place for a drink and its fresh, local seafood, cured meats and cheeses platter than its beachfront deck.

Sharing seafood with a local in Paihia, photo credit: Northland Inc

You can drive to Russell, but it’s more fun to take the five-minute car ferry from Opua or 15-minute boat ride from Paihia.

With its wide range of accommodation, cafes and restaurants, activities and pohutukawa-framed, safe beaches, Paihia is an excellent base for exploring the bay. On the wharf you’ll find Charlotte’s Kitchen with dress-circle views of the bay and delicious cuisine, a runaway crowd-favourite.

 

Waitangi: birthplace of a nation

Just down the road is the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Aotearoa New Zealand’s most important historic site and an absolute must-do.

Flax weaving at Waitangi Treaty Grounds, photo credit: Northland Inc

Its authentic and inspiring cultural experiences encompass cultural performances in the beautifully carved meeting-house, the award-winning Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi museum and newly opened Te Rau Aroha, visitor centre, lush native forest and gardens, carving studio, traditional waka and hāngi, all overlooking the stunning bay.

From the Treaty Grounds, a two-hour walk leads along the bush-clad Waitangi River to the Haruru Falls, including a boardwalk through a mature mangrove forest.

 

Getting there

Air New Zealand offers non-stop flights to Kerikeri from Auckland, with connecting flights from Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown and most other regional centres. With all Kerikeri airfares you can choose seat, seat+bag, flexitime or flexidate fare types. The scheduled flight time for Auckland to Kerikeri flights is 50 minutes.

Getting around

You’ll need a vehicle to experience the best of the Northland region. Book your car rental before you go with Air New Zealand or choose from the options when you land at Kerikeri Airport. For more on Northland, visit northlandnz.com/visit

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