Bay of Islands is made up of 144 islands, most of which are pristine and undeveloped. Crystal clear waters and lush flora make this area a paradise for lovers of the great outdoors. Choose your pleasure — hiking, swimming, kayaking, sailing, snorkelling and swimming with dolphins. Although it’s one of the major attractions in New Zealand, the area has fewer tourists than other places with similarly spectacular natural beauty around the world.
It’s not just naturally stunning — Bay of Islands is the site of the first permanent British settlement in New Zealand. It’s where the Treaty of Waitangi, the agreement between local Maori and the British who founded New Zealand, was first signed. Local town, Russell, was the first capital of New Zealand.
Once the capital of New Zealand, Russell is now a sleepy seaside village accessible by a short ferry ride. Don’t let its small size fool you; there’s plenty to explore. The town has a lovely swimming beach, as well as Long Beach, the only surf beach within a two-hour drive.
Russell is sure to be a hit with history buffs. Christ Church is New Zealand’s oldest church. You can see damage from muskets and cannonballs on the church’s facade, caused during a battle in 1845. Then there’s Pompallier House, the Catholic mission’s old printing press and the mission’s last remaining building in the western Pacific. Over the decades, more than 40,000 books were printed in Maori here.
Across the bay in Waitangi, don’t miss the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the most significant historic site in New Zealand. It was on this headland that the first 43 Maori chiefs signed an agreement with the British Crown in 1840. For a full understanding of the importance of the Treaty, pop over to the Museum of Waitangi, which comprehensively explains the role of the Treaty in the history of New Zealand.
The name says it all: Bay of Islands is chockers with islands. The easiest way to explore the bay and the many islets is on a cruise. There are many options, from sailing through the famous Hole in the Rock, to swimming with dolphins.
Of the many islands, Aroha Island is not to be missed. The island is a sanctuary for the North Island brown kiwi, among other native birds. It’s a pleasant place to explore during the day, but the real highlight is the after-dark walk to spot kiwis in the wild.
Further afield, you can take a day trip to Cape Reinga, the very top of New Zealand. You’ll drive 144 kilometres along the beach (a registered highway), passing through the Puketi Kauri Forest of ancient and majestic trees, before ending up at the Cape Reinga lighthouse.
See the beautiful Bay of Islands on a 16-night Highlights of New Zealand tour from $4544pp twins share. Book by January 31, 2017 and save up to $250 per couple off the regular price. Visit RACQ Travel or contact one of our friendly travel consultants on 1300 096 166.