The Bay of Islands is one of the earliest regions of settlement in New Zealand. Approximately three hours relaxed drive north of Auckland, is an essential part of any visitor’s itinerary.
From Auckland the drive north takes travellers over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, through the North Shore suburbs and on to the north’s major urban centre, Whangarei. The Bay of islands is a further 60km scenic journey northwest of Whangarei and is well worth the drive.
The Bay of Islands has four main settlements - Kerikeri to the north, Kawakawa to the south, Paihia and Russell on the eastern side of the bay.
Only a short ferry ride from Paihia, Russell was settled by Maori well before Europeans arrived in the late 1700s. Originally known as Kororareka, Russell was a provisioning port for south seas whalers whose bawdy approach to life led to the town being labelled the “hell-hole of the Pacific”. The scene of some noble and historic Maori resistance to the increasing European dominance in the 1840s, Russell is now a serene, picturesque settlement offering cottage industries, marvellous views and an enjoyable waterfront.
On the western side of the bay and easily accessible by road is the main settlement of Paihia. The first European settlement in Paihia was in 1823 when missionaries established the first church in New Zealand. The Reverend Henry Williams and his brother William ensured peaceful relations with the local Maori, composed the first Maori dictionary and translated the New Testament into Maori.
Paihia has three accessible sandy beaches and a vibrant waterfront that is the starting point for a number of enjoyable cruises around the bay ranging from the exhilarating cruise to the famous Hole in the Rock to more sedate cruises among the bay’s 144 islands.
Popular with tourists and holiday makers for over 100 years, Paihia has a wide range of accommodation and restaurants and is a short walk from historic Waitangi. The founding document of New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 and established a pathway for the future of the country. The Treaty is still an important and essential part of the fabric of New Zealand society.
The signing is commemorated with celebrations at Waitangi on the 6th of February every year. A visit to the Waitangi Information Centre and the Treaty House will provide a background to the founding of the nation and the commencement of post-European settlement.
Kerikeri approximately 20 kilometres north of Paihia, is an expanding settlement that features a number of fascinating historic sites. The first grapes planted in New Zealand were established there in 1819 and horticulture thrives in the favourable sub-tropical climate. A range of art galleries and cafés make Kerikeri an enjoyable and relaxed destination.
An intriguing part of New Zealand, the Bay of Islands offers an extensive mix of history, beaches, cruising, deep-sea fishing, fine food, arts and crafts and friendly welcoming people.