One fine bay: Why you should visit the Bay of Islands

Brook Sabin/Stuff
From an ancient lava valley, to a fairytale treehouse, here are Northand's best hidden

Made up of 144 islands, many of them uninhabited, the Bay of Islands is known for its white sandy beaches, rolling surf, sailing and big-game fishing – New Zealand at its most idyllic. Its native forest walks, cycle trails and dolphin and whale-watching opportunities are legendary. But it’s also the cradle of much of our nation’s history and is a honeypot for other tourist attractions like great food and wine, and high sunshine hours. But don’t just limit your visit to the summer months; its plethora of attractions make it the perfect destination all year round.

READ MORE:
* Waitangi: The 'birthplace' of the nation is far from a boring history lesson
* History, spirituality and kapa haka pull crowds to Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Old Packhouse Market in Kerikeri.
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The Old Packhouse Market in Kerikeri.

VISIT

The Bay of Islands offers so much to see and do that it’s as great for family holidays as weekend getaways. Aside from water activities, seek out historic places like Russell’s Pompallier House, built in 1842 to house the Catholic mission’s printing press, and Maiki or Flagstaff Hill, where Hōne Heke cut down the flagpole flying the British flag. The Old Packhouse Market in Kerikeri is worth a visit, selling local produce, natural skincare, woven baskets, vintage clothing and more.

Book a waterfront room at The Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell.
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Book a waterfront room at The Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell.

STAY

Located on the Russell waterfront with sweeping views across the water to Paihia and Waitangi, The Duke of Marlborough Hotel is one of those places that after you’ve checked in, you won’t want to leave. Built in 1827 (it was the country’s first place to get a liquor licence) this historic building has had a series of renovations and now offers luxe rooms, a wedding venue, bar and sea-facing restaurant.

The latter is one of the most fabulous spots to watch the sun go down, champagne in hand, and is also home to consistently good food and an expansive wine list, so it’s popular with both locals and visitors – you will need to book ahead.

We suggest splurging on a waterfront room so you enjoy all of this from the privacy of your own balcony.

Russell is a tiny township and The Duke of Marlborough Hotel is the hub, meaning all the local delights are just a stroll away.

The Scenic Hotel Bay of Islands in Paihia.
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The Scenic Hotel Bay of Islands in Paihia.

It’s a short ferry ride across the water to Paihia’s resort-style Scenic Hotel Bay of Islands. With 114 rooms, set in a large tropical garden with an outdoor swimming pool, it’s also just a three-minute walk to the beach – making it an equally excellent choice to rest your head.

The hotel has business and conference facilities but its sprawling layout means that if romance is your aim there is enough space not to be bothered by bigger groups.

Te Rau Aroha is an interactive museum at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands.
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Te Rau Aroha is an interactive museum at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands.

EXPERIENCE

Opened just last year, Te Rau Aroha is an extraordinary museum. The Price of Citizenship/Te Utu o Te Kiriraraunga is the theme of the museum’s main exhibition and the overriding message is the brave contribution and the sacrifices that Māori made – not just the soldiers but also their whānau back home – throughout decades of war, much of it in the hope of an equitable future. Prepare to be moved by what you see and experience.

Divided into three galleries it traverses the New Zealand and Boer wars and focuses on the Pioneer Battalion of World War I and the 28 (Māori) Battalion of World War II. A gallery is dedicated to the 28 (Māori) Battalion’s A Company, most of whom came from Northland. The third gallery “acts as a contemplative Whare Maumahara (house of memories) for visitors, descendents and whānau”.

Te Rau Aroha's third gallery ''acts as a contemplative Whare Maumahara (house of memories)'' at Waitangi.
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Te Rau Aroha's third gallery ''acts as a contemplative Whare Maumahara (house of memories)'' at Waitangi.

Te Rau Aroha is on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds so it’s smart to get an Experience Pass which also covers Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi, a cultural performance and guided tours of the grounds that take in panoramic views of the Bay of Islands.

If you're looking for something a bit different, the Rogue Pony experience is for you. This is definitely not your standard sightseeing tour, showcasing the finest locations in the Bay of Islands from some unique and quirky viewpoints.

The Russell Scenic private wine tour is a must for anyone wanting to enjoy the award-winning drops of Paroa Bay vineyard and Omata Estate winery and discover more about the wine industry in New Zealand.

With a selection of private tours and top-down rides available, no two experiences are ever the same.

Sage restaurant has jaw-dropping views out to Paroa Bay.
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Sage restaurant has jaw-dropping views out to Paroa Bay.

EAT

Sage

Part of the Paroa Bay Winery (which also offers accommodation) this is a restaurant with majestic views – across the countryside to Paroa Bay and Roberton Island – and top-notch cuisine. The menu is creative, with an emphasis on fresh produce and inspired wine matches.

Marsden Estate

Superb food paired with award-winning wines made on-site make this one of the busiest eating spots in the region. Lunch on the terrace under the grapevines is truly memorable.