Equally beautiful and historically significant, the bay is peppered with 144 vastly untouched islands that are renowned for their inviting clear waters, subtropical climate and diverse marine life.
The Bay of Islands is one of New Zealand’s most popular travel spots, drawing locals and international visitors alike. The lure of the sea is impossible to ignore here, with virtually endless opportunities to explore the archipelago. Paddle through its turquoise inlets in a sea kayak, try your hand at deep-sea fishing, discover the underwater world on a diving excursion, embark on a sailing venture or head into the maritime playground to swim with dolphins and spot blue penguins, marlin and whales.
On land, take to the walking trails that weave through dappled verdant forests and past secluded beaches on Urupukapuka Island, or try to wrap your arms around the mighty trunk of the native kauri tree. For those who want to do very little at all, take your pick from some of the country’s best beaches that are fringed with New Zealand’s iconic, red-flowered pohutukawa trees.
Dotted around the islands are a cluster of seaside settlements, each with their own quintessential kiwi charm. From the peaceful Opua to the social hub of Paihia and the historic charm of Russell, they all offer a taste of classic New Zealand beach culture with low-key cafes, chatty locals and shop fronts that are reminiscent of the 50s. You’re sure to see the creative side of the community with local artworks on display in eateries throughout the region.
But the Bay of Islands is not just a coastal getaway, it has also played a significant role in the history of New Zealand, marking the spot where the Treaty of Waitangi was drawn up and signed in 1840. This agreement between the local Maori tribes and Europeans is still the cornerstone of race relations in the country today.
A visit to this archipelago serves up a rare concoction of exploration, restoration, culture and history, and without the crowds that typically flood a subtropical destination, it’s all the more alluring.
When to go
The Bay of Islands can be experienced year-round but to experience the best of the beaches and marine life, visit in the summer (December-February). The warmest months are usually February and March.