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20 things to do in Paihia – A comprehensive guide to the jewel of the Bay of Islands

Quiet and relaxed, yet absolutely beautiful, Northland is the perfect place for a Kiwi holiday. With so many incredible things to do in Paihia, we recommend basing yourself in this stunning seaside town – it’s just the ticket for vacation perfection. Known as the Jewel of the Bay of Islands, you know you’re in for a treat.

From golden sandy beaches with impressive marine life to pristine forests and natural wonders, culture and history to fantastic food and wine, Paihia has a bounty to offer. You’ll be spoilt for choice in beautiful Northland.

Just four hours’ drive from Auckland, Paihia, Northland is a great spot for a sunny vacation. Known as the ‘Winterless North’, due to its subtropical weather, there is a wide variety of exciting things to do in Paihia. With consistent weather, there really isn’t a bad time to visit!

Though Paihia is just a few hours’ drive from the City of Sails, it feels like it’s light-years away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Paihia serves as a major tourist hub in Northland and as a gateway to other attractions in the region. This beautiful seaside town provides excellent access to the 144 islands and beautiful beaches in the region. It’s no surprise, then, that this part of Northland is known as the Bay of Islands.

Whether you are keen to explore local landscapes and wildlife or you’re looking for hardcore adventure activities, Paihia has plenty for you to do. Perhaps you just want to sit and relax with a glass of wine and blend into local life? They’ve got you covered there too!

From mile-long beaches and forests to places of historic Māori significance, from boutique shops to waterfront restaurants, this little town has heaps of wondrous activities that are sure to please.

Some businesses are experiencing staffing challenges post-COVID. If you want to guarantee a space at a restaurant or attraction, we suggest pre-booking.

A couple riding bicycles while crossing a bridge.
Photo: Camilla Rutherford.

Welcome to Paihia Township!

Getting to Paihia

If you’re in Auckland traveling to Paihia, we recommend driving yourself north (as this will allow you to stop along the way), but there are also excellent daily bus services available.

Alternatively, it is possible to fly into Kerikeri (with connections available right across the country). Once you land, you’ll want to hop into a rental car, leaving you free to explore.

Start Your Adventure at Paihia Beach

The Bay of Islands are full of charming beaches – with a range of different features to explore. But while staying in Paihia you should make a little time to enjoy the small stretch of beach at the heart of Paihia town.

The main beach in Paihia is where you’ll go to enjoy a range of water sports. This is also where you will find most tour providers.

If you decide to stay in Paihia (instead of heading out on a tour to the other islands), be sure to put your togs on and spend a relaxing day at the beach. Why not order fish and chips at one of the shops by the beach to make it even more Kiwi?

From this spot, you’ll also find a number of walking trails that lead to fantastic reserves and parks.

28 Marsden Road, Paihia 0200

If you’d prefer somewhere a little more secluded (but don’t want to jump on a boat), hop in the car and head for Te Tī Bay. This lovely bay is a 3-minute drive from Paihia and is a great place to picnic, kayak and camp.

Shopping in Paihia

Paihia hosts a range of boutique shops that carry a range of arts and crafts, gifts, and goodies to buy.

From wood crafts, ceramics, and handmade soaps to hats, clothing, and bags, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to grab a souvenir of your time in the BOI.

We particularly like The Cabbage Tree. There you’ll find bowls made out of kauri wood, handblown glasses, traditional bone carvings and local art. They also have an outlet in Russell that you may like to visit. Both are award-winning stores.

Places to Eat in Paihia

No vacation is complete without good food and fortunately, Paihia has a number of fantastic options.

We particularly like the following eateries:

  • Terra Restaurant – This fantastic restaurant takes advantage of local, high-quality produce. The chefs there continually update their menu, making use of seasonal, subtropical ingredients. For something truly special, check them out.
  • Zane Grey’s Restaurant and Bar – Situated right at the heart of Paihia, Zane Grey’s Restaurant and Bay offers two distinctly different dining experiences, with a view overlooking the beautiful Bay of Islands. They serve a great range of food and drinks with a selection of the best wines. We especially recommend The Aquarium for special occasions.
  • The Tipsy Oyster – Mixing flavours from the Middle East, South-East Asia, India and beyond, the Tipsy Oyster is a real crowd-pleaser! Be sure to swing by when you’re in Paihia.
  • Charlotte’s Kitchen – Another restaurant right on the water’s edge, Charlotte’s Kitchen is modern and fresh. They have an amazing menu, serving up both sharing plates and smaller individual plates, along with delicious pizza and cocktails. Yum!
  • El Cafe – Looking for a casual, tasty meal? Head to El Cafe for quality Mexican-inspired meals (and fantastic coffee too).
  • Just Fish and Chips – Whilst by the ocean, you have to get yourself a quality serving of fish and chips, and Just Fish and Chips is just the place! The waterfront restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor dining. They use only the freshest caught fish and their hand-cut chips are cooked to the perfect state of crispiness. We also recommend trying their smoked fish pie, mussel fritters and seafood chowder.
  • Third Wheel Coffee Co. – Tucked away in a little lane, Third Wheel Coffee Co. is worth hunting down. They serve incredible homemade cabinet food and some of the best coffee in town.

The Best Things to Do in Paihia

Now that you’ve acquainted yourself with Paihia township it’s time to get out exploring. These are the best things to do in Paihia – get ready to have a ball in the Bay of Islands!

These are our favourite things to do in the BOI…

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Adventures on the Ocean

1. Join a Scenic Cruise and Explore the Bay of Islands

A bay secluded by numerous islands provides just the right protection for all types of water-based fun and adventure.

Spectacular views and stunning scenery make for ideal day cruising on the sparkling blue waters of the Bay of Islands.

From the wharf, there are various options to book a cruise. You’ll find a cruise length and cost to suit your requirements, along with a range of different included activities and dining options.

A boat cruising its way through the clear and turquoise waters while close to a grassy shore.
Hop onboard the Cream Trip Cruise.

2. Check Out the Hole in the Rock

The Hole in the Rock is yet another island situated at the end of the Cape Brett Peninsula. It is well known and is visually unique due to its 16-metre high wind-carved hole – it’s even large enough to pilot a boat through!

As the Māori legend goes, brave warriors used to paddle their canoes, letting them pass under the Hole in the Rock before departing to the battle. Water dripping from the cave roof was believed to be a good omen.

If the weather permits, your skipper will take your boat through the opening in the rock. If a droplet lands on you, consider yourself lucky.

We suggest you keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, whales and seabirds throughout your tour.

60 Marsden Road, Paihia 0200

3. Visit Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka Island, the largest in the Bay of Islands, is a preserved recreation reserve and location of historic importance. Naturally beautiful, there is so much to do on this island paradise – it’s definitely worth a visit!

Urupukapuka provides an excellent spot for water sports and fishing. There are also several walking tracks to explore the island on foot. These walking tracks take visitors to historic pā sites, epic viewpoints and countless sublime beaches.

This island is also a bird sanctuary, home to several species of native birds like tūī, silvereye, whiteheads, fantails, pukeko, tomtits, North Island robins, and more! You’re most likely to spot these beautiful creatures during your time on the track.

Camping is yet another activity that can be found on this island. There are camping sites in Cable Bay and Urupukapuka Bay, however, they are zero-waste so you’ll need to take all rubbish back to the mainland with you.

Reaching this island is pretty easy. Water taxis and ferries are frequent from the Paihia Wharf and many day trips swing by.

A couple walking up a grassy hill with a lake and a white yacht is seen behind them.
Photo by Alistair Guthrie.

4. Spot Whales & Dolphins from Paihia

New Zealand’s waters are well known as a migratory route for whales – these waters are home to a variety of different whale and dolphin species. In fact, it is not totally uncommon to spot a whale breaching the water or dolphins playing whilst travelling on a boat in New Zealand – you just need to know where to look.

Board a dolphin and whale-watching cruise from Paihia to get close to these incredible animals. There really is nothing like seeing whales and dolphins in their natural habitat.

All the cruises operate under the New Zealand guidelines and halt their propellers to avoid causing trauma to our precious marine mammals.

In addition, most of these trips include a visit to the Hole in The Rock, making a tour extra-good value for money.

5. Head out on an Adventure Cruise in the Bay of Islands

An overnight trip in the Bay of Islands is serious bucket list stuff!

We recommend joining The Rock – this is a completely customised boat that provides blissful hospitality for an overnight adventure in the Bay of Islands. It is suitable for all ages and consists of 22 hours of fun.

Whilst on board you’ll have plenty of opportunities and can choose to be as active or relaxed as you like. Grab a drink, play a game of pool, try your hand at target shooting, go fishing and so much more.

Later on, you can choose to go night kayaking where you’ll be amazed by the bioluminescence in the sea or, if you wish to relax, you can lie back on the deck for a star-gazing session. There’s even an option for a night swim in the sea if you wish to.

Included also on your trip is an island stop (or two), complete with beach cricket, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking, snorkelling and a spot of sunbathing. Plus all of your meals and a comfy bed for the night too!

With such an incredible itinerary and the beauty of the BOI, it is truly an experience you won’t want to miss.

A boat approaches near the spectacular rock structures of Bay of Islands.

6. Join a Sail Ship Excursion

Another way to enjoy the best of the BOI is to jump aboard the “R. Tucker Thompson”, a replica vintage schooner, to explore the Bay of Islands on a half-day trip.

A journey aboard this traditionally built replica of a 100-year-old Northland schooner is one of the most exciting ways to spend your time in this spectacular part of New Zealand. On this trip, you’ll get to hoist the sails, climb the rigging, and a chance to get your hand on the helm – or simply relax, if you’d prefer.

When the ship is anchored in the bay you’ll get to swim in the marine park around the islands. Fresh scones, refreshing tea, and a barbecue lunch are also served on board.

Maritime Building, 69 Marsden Road, Paihia 0200

7. Ride the Xtreme Jet

If speed is more your thing, we recommend hopping onto the Xtreme Jet for some serious fun!

With massive twists and turns, you’ll want to hold on tight as you reach speeds of up to 80km/h. Be sure to keep your eyes open though as you zip past stunning scenery.

Jet boats were first designed in New Zealand so it would be practically unthinkable to spend time in Aotearoa without riding in one!

The Wharf, 69 Marsden Road, Paihia 0200

A speed boat dashes its way while tourists enjoy the ride.

8. Scuba Dive or Snorkel in the Bay of Islands

Known as one of the best places to dive in New Zealand, the Bay of Islands are home to two memorable wreck dives.

The HMNZS Canterbury is found in fairly deep water which provides a new learning opportunity for many divers, whilst the famous Rainbow Warrior carries an intriguing history. Both of these dives are worth checking out.

In addition to wreck diving, the region has a range of awesome scenic dive sites and snorkelling spots.

Jump onboard to explore the best of the Bay of Islands from beneath the ocean’s surface.

We’ve been out with Paihia Dive and can’t speak highly enough of them!

A scuba diver underwater.

Get Active in Paihia

9. Hike the Cape Brett Peninsula

Cape Brett is situated just northeast of the historic settlement of Russell.

Though this hike is somewhat challenging due to its hilly nature, it really is beautiful and a highly recommended thing to do in Paihia.

The track begins at Oke Bay, in Rawhiti; it takes you through peaceful native forest and majestic cliffs before ending near the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula.

From Deep Water Cove onwards, the track gets more challenging and becomes quite exposed with steep drop-offs to the sea below. In total, the trail covers 15km.

The area is rich in early Māori history, and the remains of ancient pā sites (fortified villages) are visible at various locations. This makes it a stunning and culturally significant tramp day tramp.

10. Kayak Haruru Falls

The Bay of Islands are home to several picturesque waterfalls and streams. Among these, Haruru is renowned for its unusual horseshoe shape. It is situated right where the Waitangi River flows at its strongest, towards a beautiful lagoon that ebbs its way into the Bay of Islands.

Haruru is very close to Paihia – it’s only 5km from town. If you’d prefer to walk there, you’ll find a walking track from the treaty grounds passing through native forest and mangroves. This trail takes about 90 minutes to walk.

Joining a kayaking tour is an exciting way to explore the wonders of Haruru. All kayak tours start from Waitangi Beach and gradually paddle up through the lagoons in the middle of the forest, covered with mangroves, before taking you right beneath the Haruru Waterfalls. There you’ll feel the impressive power of the Waitangi River. This kayaking trip is perfect for everyone in the family.

80 Haruru Falls Road, Waitangi 0204

Tourists with their kayaks approach the waters of Haruru Falls.
Photo by Adventure HQ.

11. Go Cycling in Opua

The towering kauri trees of the native rainforest are what makes Opua so popular among nature lovers. This little haven is located close to Paihia – a short drive is all you need to reach it.

Once there, ride along the Opua-Kawakawa trail. This goes through a vintage railway corridor with stunning marine views out over the mangroves, estuary and rivers.

Sharing the trail with the vintage rail track makes the trip really unique and exciting.

The trail ends at Kawakawa which is also a beautiful town with charming little cafes and shops where you can chill. Whilst there, we also recommend checking out Kawakawa’s are gallery and museum.

Two persons riding a bicycle near the rain tracks and pass in front of a garage with a sign, "Taumarere".
Photo by Camilla Rutherford.

12. Ride the Waves on Horseback

A horseback ride in Wairoa Bay is one of the most unique experiences you’ll find in the region.

Not far from Paihia (in fact, just 5 kilometres from town), your 2-hour ride departs from Waitangi Endowment Forest and takes you on a scenic tour through the forest. There, you’ll learn about the ecosystem of the native forest and its wildlife along with local history and culture from experienced guides.

Once you reach Wairoa Bay, you’ll unsaddle your stead and ride into the waters of the bay. It truly is an extraordinary experience to swim a horse bareback.

Of course, all of the horses provided are well-trained and behaved, making these rides suitable for riders of all levels – even those brand-new to the world of horsemanship.

Enjoy a Dose of History and Culture

13. Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds

As the most significant historic site in New Zealand, visiting the Waitangi Treaty Grounds will take you on a journey back in time. There you’ll learn about the Māori culture and how two groups of people came together in peace – giving birth to a new nation Aotearoa – as we know it today.

Situated at just 3kms from Paihia, Waitangi is where in 1840 a treaty was signed between the British crown and more than 500 Māori chiefs, thus beginning the modern history of New Zealand.

Spending a day in Waitangi is a great way to discover everything that is associated with the events that sculpted New Zealand as a country. It is an opportunity to join an informative guided tour through two museums, a carving studio, meeting house and more. You’ll also get to see the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe (waka) in addition to a live cultural performance.

Aside from the area’s significant historic value, it is also a beautiful place to visit with stunning gardens and views. It even has a mountain bike park and a cafe.

Tau Henare Drive, Waitangi 0293

Did you know? Buying a Waitangi experience pass (valid for 2 days) is the best option to explore Waitangi. This pass offers full access to the site which includes admission to the museums, all the heritage buildings, a 50-minute guided tour, a 30-minute live cultural performance, along with access to the carving studio and native forest.

Two women walks beside a native boat that is parked under a covered porch.
Photo: Camilla Rutherford.

14. Hop on a Vineyard Tour

The Bay of Islands is the birthplace of wine-making in New Zealand, with Rev. Samuel Marden planting the first vines in the country. Later Sir James Busby ended up producing the first New Zealand sparkling wine – even before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Today, the vineyards around Paihia produce some of the most renowned varieties of wines in the world. The perfect sub-Mediterranean weather, soil, and variation in micro-climates of the countryside around the Bay of Islands provides the right conditions to cultivate new varieties of grapes.

On a wine tour, you’ll visit the best local boutique and award-winning winemakers. What’s more, most vineyards are family-run businesses and practice sustainable growing methods.

There are quite a few tour operators who organize wine-tasting trips from Paihia. Each one varies from small bus tours to customised individual tours in private luxury cars. There’s something to meet all your requirements.

Couples spending their time outside a restaurant with wine and a beautiful view of the surroundings.
Photo: Alistair Guthrie.

Do Something Different

15. Take on the Ultimate Challenge – Skydive in Paihia

Long stretches of golden sandy beaches, lush rainforests and the clear turquoise water of the region – where better to skydive?

Combine the ultimate buzz with some of the best views in the country when you skydive in the Bay of Islands. Plus, for the adrenaline junkies amongst us – you’ll have the opportunity to jump from 20,000ft – the highest jump zone in New Zealand! That’s higher than Mount Kilimanjaro!

This is an adventure you don’t want to miss whilst in Paihia!

182 Wiroa Road, Kerikeri 0475

Fun Day Trips from Paihia

16. Pay a Visit to Russell

Russell is a gorgeous seaside town with a significant place in the history of Aotearoa. Not only was it New Zealand’s first seaport and the first European settlement but it’s also right next to the country’s first capital city.

The town’s streets retain the same layout that they had in 1843, whilst many of the town’s historic buildings can still be visited.

Whilst there, we recommend visiting the Duke of Marlborough. This was the first licensed hotel, bar and restaurant in the whole country, and with its beautiful waterfront location, it’s still a treat even today.

Also worth checking out, Pompallier Mission (which was built in 1842) was a print shop where Church texts were translated from Latin to te reo Māori, then printed and bound ready for distribution.

Should you choose to stay overnight in Russell, there are opportunities in Russell to find our native kiwi bird… you won’t see them during the day though as they’re nocturnal.

Getting to Russell from Paihia is easy – simply jump onboard the ferry connecting the two towns.

17. Enjoy the Ngawha Hot Springs

The healing properties of New Zealand’s geothermal waters are famed and highly regarded.

Calm your tired muscles and relax at the Ngawha Hot Springs (pronounced nga-fa).

There, you will find 16 different publicly accessible geothermal pools – each with their own unique characteristics and healing properties. They have a range of minerals, colours and temperatures – all of which are completely natural.

In addition, the complex has another 8 private pools that are available to book.

303 Ngawha Springs Road, Ngawha, Kaikohe 0473

18. Visit Cape Reinga and Go Sandboarding at Te Paki Stream

Whilst visiting Northland, a trip to the very top of the country is a must-do.

Guided coach tours to Cape Reinga depart from Paihia at 07.00 am every day, taking you on an adventurous trip into the history and culture of the region as you travel through the historic 90-mile beach (where your bus will actually drive on the beach!)

Once you reach the sand dunes of Te Paki stream, you can grab a board and slide down the giant sand dunes. It’s serious fun!

Finally, at Cape Reinga, you’ll get to experience the mighty wind from the Pacific gushing over your face and inhale the salty air where the two water bodies (the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean) collide with each other. Enjoy a walk around the lighthouse before you begin your return journey.

We highly recommend these tours as the perfect blend of fun, culture and natural beauty.

Did you know? According to Māori legend, the northernmost tip of the Cape is believed to be where the spirits of the dead would slip into the ocean to return to their ancestral homeland.

19. Marvel at the Kawiti Glowworm Caves

Glow worm caves are a treasure in New Zealand – they can be found in many parts of the country.

Visiting glow worm caves can be pretty magical. The bioluminescence glow from these tiny wonders of nature sticking onto the roof of the caves is like taking a trip through the galaxy!

The Kawiti Caves are one of the best-kept secrets in the Bay of Islands – they just so happen to be the perfect spot to experience this amazing natural wonder while in Paihia.

These caves are just 20 kms from town so it doesn’t take long to get there. Once at the caves (which are 200 metres long), you can expect a tour to last up to one hour. During this time, you’ll get to witness glow worms spread all across the ceiling of the cave. In addition, your tour guide will explain the life cycle of the titiwai (glow worms) and the rock formations in the cave.

49 Waiomio Road, Waiomio 0243

20. Drive to Kerikeri and Explore This Gorgeous Town

An easy 20-kilometre drive north from Paihia will bring you to the bustling little town of Kerikeri. This town has its own share of historic significance (like the Kerikeri Mission Station and Kororipo Pā) making it yet another place to learn more about New Zealand’s history.

Head along to one of the many boutique wineries, cafes, orchards, boutique shops, historic buildings, beaches and waterfalls – there is so much to see and do in Kerikeri!

Choose to stay overnight or travel there for the day only – either is a fantastic option.

A family walks in front of a white house with a small flower garden and ducks walking on the grass.
Kemp House in Kerikeri. Photo by Russell Street.

With so much to do in Paihia and the region a part of the winterless north, what are you waiting for?

Your next New Zealand adventure is calling.

Post by Sandeep Jayakumaran.

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