The seaside town of Paihia is the perfect base for exploring in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands region. If you’re riding on the Twin Coast Adventure, we recommend spending the nights immediately before and after your ride in Paihia so you’re not rushed getting to and from the airport. But to be honest, globetrotters, if you can spare another couple of days, you’ll find a treasure trove of things to do and see in this idyllic part of the North Island.
As far as transport goes, Paihia has a couple of options for those who aren’t hiring a car. Shuttles to and from the airport (or other nearby locations) and regional tours can be arranged via Paihia Cabs & Shuttles. There are also two bus companies operating multiple daily services between Paihia, Kerikeri, other parts of the Bay of Islands and greater New Zealand – find out more here. Passenger ferries between the towns of Paihia and Russell, Opua and Okiato, and Urapukapuka Island offer another great perspective on the region.
So – now that you know how to get around in the Bay of Islands, let’s dive right in to the best attractions, experiences, cuisine and accommodation!
Sights and activities
Beautiful beaches, pristine islands, waterfalls, forests, history… the Bay of Islands is as dreamy as its name suggests, and you’re spoiled for choice with bushland, forests, farmland, coastal towns and beaches. It’s also a place of enormous historical significance, its shores holding the stories of early Maori and European settlement.
Captain James Cook stopped in the Bay of Islands on his round-the-world journey in 1769. Anchoring at Roberton Island, he made contact with the local Maori people and immediately started trading with them. It was here that the Treaty of Waitangi, the linchpin of race relations in New Zealand, was drawn up and signed in 1840. A visit to Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a MUST – there is no better introduction to New Zealand’s history and culture than a day spent exploring the museum, landmarks, beach, boardwalk, meeting house and carving studio at Waitangi. Be sure to check if there are any events on during your visit, as well – the Treaty Grounds frequently hosts cultural performances, celebrations, feasts, concerts, and Waitangi Day Festival (February 6th), which commemorates the signing of the Treaty.
From the Treaty Grounds, it’s a beautiful 90-minute walk or a short drive to Haruru Falls, a series of horseshoe-shaped waterfalls on the Waitangi River. This was a ‘sea road’ for inland Maori tribes, with a small settlement on the banks, and the site of the European settlers’ first river port. The walking trail from the Treaty Grounds to the Falls leads you across mature mangrove forests and beautiful boardwalks, and the Falls themselves are the perfect spot to kayak, swim or enjoy a picnic.
Paihia is surrounded by fantastic walking trails to suit all ages and fitness levels, from town-to-town coastal trails to hikes through nature reserves. Here is a fantastic list to help you decide which of the many walks you’ll love the most. The Paihia Community Website also has a lot of useful walking info. Our favourites are the Coastal Walkway, which takes you all the way from Paihia to Russell, and the gorgeous walking trails in Puketi Forest, where you’ll glimpse New Zealand’s kauri forests as they looked before European settlement.
Getting out on the water is highly rewarding in this part of New Zealand, which boasts the nation’s warmest waters! Spotting dolphins swimming around your boat is a thrill like no other, and you can’t miss a trip to Piercy Island, more commonly known as Hole in the Rock. As the name suggests, the island’s claim to fame is the 60-foot hole that has been carved into the cliff at sea level over untold centuries by the forces of nature. Motu Kōkako, as it’s named in Maori, is hugely important to the local tribes, whose history, legends and traditions are all deeply connected to the island. It is also a significant conservation area, hosting 99 plant species and many animal species, all of which are native (a very rare thing in a country filled with introduced species!). A huge number of on-the-water experiences are available from Paihia, whether you’re into fishing, sightseeing, kayaking, animal encounters, jet skiing or just sitting back with a glass of bubbly. Newzealand.com has a great list of options to get you started.
Places to eat
The Bay of Islands Farmers Market is THE place to find local farmers and artisans, fresher-than-fresh produce, live music, delicious bites to eat and – ahem – edible souvenirs (cheese, honey, wine – oh my!). It’s held at Paihia’s village green on Thursdays from 1-4:30pm, and in Kerikeri’s post office car park on Sundays from 8:30-12 noon.
As far as restaurants go, in Paihia, Alfresco’s Restaurant and Charlotte’s Kitchen (below) are great options. Further afield, Whare Waka Cafe at the Treaty Grounds does great coffee and food, cooking up traditional Maori hāngi dinners four nights a week from October to April. If you find yourself in Russell, the fish and chipper is well-loved by the locals, and the Duke of Marlborough does pub meals, fine dining and everything in between. And for something really classy, head to The Pear Tree at historic Kerikeri Mission Station.
Ake Ake Vineyard, Omata Estate and Marsden Estate all offer the perfect pairing: fine wines and sumptuous food. For beer lovers, you can’t go past a pint and a bite to eat at Thirty30 Craft Beer Bar in Paihia. Phat House Brewing Co is worth a visit, too.
Oh, and do NOT miss Makana Confections, a chocolate factory set up like a cellar door where you can sample and buy some of the best chocolate you will EVER taste, and watch the confectioners at work. The factory is located in Kerikeri and open daily from 8:30-5. We recommend the macadamia toffee crumble!
Places to stay
The key to getting good accommodation in the Bay of Islands is to book early! As soon as you know your dates, get online and reserve a room. You’ll thank yourself later, and if you need to cancel for any reason, your travel insurance should have you covered.
Kingsgate Hotel Autolodge, Breakwater Motel and Copthorne Hotel & Resort are well-reviewed options within walking distance of the town, offering rooms and studios to suit a variety of budgets. Airbnb also has some great listings in Paihia.
So there’s our two cents on the very best of Paihia and the Bay of Islands. We hope your time in this beautiful region is immersive, exciting and memorable. And if you have any tips to add, please share them with us in the comments!
Image credits: Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Backpacker Guide New Zealand, Paihia Top 10 Holiday Park, Charlotte’s Kitchen, Chris McLennan and Base Backpackers Paihia.