Wish you were sunning it up in the Greek Islands or sailing around the coast of Croatia right now? Don’t worry, us too. But while us Aussies and Kiwis dream of exploring the glamorous coastal life Europe has on offer, there are stunning sights to see much closer to home. And thanks to the Trans-Tasman Bubble, we can actually travel to them. If you’re looking for sun-drenched beaches and water so blue it’s hard to believe, you can’t look past the Bay of Islands in New Zealand.
This picturesque region, which sits at the top of the North Island, is a must-visit for travellers this year. So, let’s get down to it: why is the Bay of Islands just so darn irresistible?
The Bay of Islands is a sub-tropical region, about a three-hour drive from Auckland, with 144 islands along the coast between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula. The islands are known for lush greenery and top-rated beaches for swimming and sailing – not to mention, it’s one of the most interesting places to learn about Māori myths and legends.
There are a few quirky and fun towns to stay in, with the lively village of Paihia being the ultimate choice on Contiki trips to the Bay of Islands.
Love the beach? Love the great outdoors? Love a bit of organised fun? Then this adventurous haven is for you. Here are some of the top activities and things to do if you’re planning a visit in the NZ travel bubble…
1. Sail around the stunning islands
What better way to explore the pristine natural beauty of the Bay of Islands than with your very own sailing trip. By setting sail for the day, you can head to some of the region’s best beaches including Matai Bay, Elliot Bay, Matauri Bay and the truly spectacular Urupukapuka Island with the famous Otehai Bay. On Contiki trips, you can opt to take an unforgettable excursion on a Carino Day Sailing tour.
2. Uncover local culture
The Bay of Islands is home to one of New Zealand’s most significant historic sights, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This is where the treaty was signed in 1840 leading to the formation of ‘New Zealand’. Explore the museums, native forest and gardens, art gallery, carving studio and more to immerse yourself in the powerful Māori culture. When you travel to the Bay of Islands with Contiki, your tour and admission to the Treaty Museum are included experiences.
3. Try an exhilarating Parasailing trip
See the sights from great heights, with a parasailing trip from Paihia. Whether you’re keen to go solo, or get the whole group involved, you can enjoy a few hours out on the water with the Flying Kiwi Parasail group. You’ll enjoy a 10-minute parasail, taking in the incredible views from 1300ft, before returning to the boat as your friends and other travellers take their turns. While you’re out on the water, keep your eyes peeled for orcas, dolphins and other marine wildlife that regularly frequent the bays.
4. Walk through the ancient forest of Parry Kauri Park
Take a breathtaking stroll through the Parry Kauri Park near the Bay of Islands, admiring ancient Kauri trees, which reach impressive heights of up to 50m and have existed for more than 1000 years. Wandering through the towering trees on the park trails, you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled into a fairy-tale.
5. Take a jet boat to the iconic Hole in the Rock
Experience the perfect mix of serenity and adrenaline as you take an Ocean Adventure Jet Boat ride through the islands. You’ll enjoy the spray of water as you speed through the waves, but take the time to spot local wildlife in some quieter moments.
Cruise by the Cape Brett Peninsula, see the Cathedral Cave and the Hole in the Rock – a unique rock formation that will have you thinking you’ve travelled to the iconic island of Capri.
6. Enjoy a day trip to Cape Reinga
Head to the top of the North Island (almost) with a day trip to the scenic Cape Reinga, where oceans collide as the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. Admire the epic views from the Cape Reinga lighthouse and check out the gnarled pohutukawa tree, believed to be over 800 years old, at the top of the Cape. The tree holds important significance to the local Māori people, who believe spirits leap from this tree into the ocean to return to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki. On the day tour from the Bay of Islands, you’ll also see the 90-mile beach, Puketi Kauri Forest and Te Paki Sand Dunes.
7. Indulge yourself with good food + drinks
There are plenty of cool spots to enjoy a delicious meal in the Bay of Islands, but if you’re feeling up for another oceanic voyage, take the ferry over to the island of Russell. Here, the foodie scene is next level. Head to the Omata Estate Vineyard, Hone’s Garden or the waterfront Duke of Marlborough for a drink from New Zealand’s oldest licensed hotel.