Spectacular coastal views, pristine beaches and crystal clear waters – one of the highlights of our North Island road trip was our visit to the Bay of Islands. Located about 3 hours north of Auckland, the Bay of Islands consists of over 140 neighbouring islands.
The best way to experience this part of New Zealand is by getting on board one of the cruises from Paihia or Russell (two of the main towns in the Bay of Islands) which travel out along the various islands. These tours also take you as far out as the Cape Brett Peninsula and the famous Hole in the Rock at Motukokako Island.
The Bay of Islands
Jon and I booked the Hole in the Rock Cruise with Island Stopover Tour with Fullers GreatSights. We loved the idea that we can spend some time to explore one of the islands, Urupukapuka Island along with seeing the other Bay of Islands Highlights such as Hole in the Rock.
Here are the details of our tour of the Bay of Islands tour:
Hole in the Rock
Located on Piercy Island / Motukōkako Island, the Hole in the Rock is a fascinating rock formation created over centuries by wind and waves. The best part of the visit to Hole in the Rock was when the skipper took the boat through it. It seemed like such a narrow opening but we made it through! We also had a closer look at the rocks as the boat went through. We were lucky we had just the right conditions to do the crossing.
Cape Brett Peninsula and Cape Brett Lighthouse
After a stop at Hole in the Rock, we saw the lighthouse located at Cape Brett Peninsula. The setting of this lighthouse is truly spectacular – it reminds me a bit of the Nugget Point Lighthouse in The Catlins. The Cape Brett Walkway, a 32km walking track, is located here. Just imagine the breathtaking views from those hills!
Otehei Bay: Island Stopover at Urupukapuka Island
Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka Island is definitely one of the highlights of the Bay of Islands. We had an hour at this island stopover, plenty of time to relax on the beach and head up to the viewpoint which overlooked some of the other islands. I will never forget the glorious views of various islands from that viewpoint – that just sums up the Bay of Islands for me.
On the way back, we decided to stop at Russell to have a closer look at this quaint little town. Charming Victorian-style villas line the main beach side street — it’s such a dreamy coastal town. There are lots of cool shops if you’re after a nice treat (we had a gelato) after the cruise or if you’re up for it, there’s a short hike up to Flagstaff Hill, which has awesome views of town and the nearby islands.
Paihia is the gateway to the Bay of Islands. This charming little town is a great little spot with cool cafes, beachfront bars and a long beachfront, with stunning view of the islands. It’s well catered to tourists with its various shopping and food options but it doesn’t completely lose all its “small town” charm. The long Paihia beach also offers stunning views of the Bay of Islands.
Details of the Bay of Islands Tour
- The Bay of Islands Hole in the Rock Cruise with Island Stopover takes around 4 hours.
- You can board the boat for the cruise from either Paihia Wharf or Russell Wharf.
- Tours depart at 9:00am and 1:30am from Paihia, 9:40am and 1:40pm from Russell.
- They provide a complimentary transfer ferry ticket between these Paihia and Russell.
- Snacks and drinks are available on board.
- Check out Fuller GreatSights‘s website for more information.
Some Travel Tips for the Bay of Islands Tour
- Don’t rush your time in Paihia. It’s a nice little town with lots of interesting cafes, boutique shops and restaurants. There are also some nice short walks close to town.
- We highly recommend to stop at Russell to explore this historic little town after the cruise then take the ferry back to Paihia. You don’t need to spend that long in Russell to explore the sights.
- Bring a warm jacket, as it gets quite windy on board.
- If you plan to wear a hat, make sure that it won’t fly away. It’s quite windy once you are on the boat. I had a straw hat with me and I ended up leaving it in the bag.
- Put some sunscreen on and maybe wear some sunglasses. The top deck of the boat is a great spot for sightseeing during the cruise, especially during the crossing for the hole in the rock so make sure you are well protected from the sun’s UV rays.
- Wear comfortable shoes. You may need to move around the boat while taking photos so make sure you can keep your balance easily with what you are wearing. The skipper does stop the boat for most of the highlights so you can move to the top or bottom deck easily.
- Wear a swimsuit / bring it with you. There is opportunity to swim in Otehei Bay
- The cruise is a bit bumpy towards the hole in the rock. Take some precautions if you get seasick or suffer from motion sickness.
- Dolphin sighting is not the highlight of this tour – it’s all about the scenery. There is a possibility to spot dolphins but it’s not a guarantee. There are dolphin tours available if you absolutely want to see a dolphin.
Disclaimer: We were hosted by Fullers Great Sights for the Hole in the Rock Cruise with Island Stopover Tour. All thoughts and opinions in this post are our own.
Do you have plans to visit New Zealand? Is the Bay of Islands in your New Zealand Itinerary? Let us know.