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Bay of Islands, New Zealand | © portengaround/Flickr
Bay of Islands, New Zealand | © portengaround/Flickr

20 Must-Visit Attractions in New Zealand's Bay of Islands

Picture of Thalita Alves
Updated: 9 September 2017

A diverse, subtropical micro-region just a three-hour drive north of Auckland, the Bay of Islands always impresses its visitors with a remarkable showcase of historic sites, beautiful bays, and stunning forestry. If you’re making your way around New Zealand’s North Island, the area is a definite must-visit, and these 20 attractions are guaranteed to prove it.


Waitangi is an incredibly important site in New Zealand’s history. It is where the controversial Treaty of Waitangi was signed, and the key site for the country’s national holiday commemorations.

Te Whare Runanga, Waitangi | © Sheila Thomson/Flickr


The town of Paihia is one of the best base points for exploring the Bay of Islands. Visitors are enchanted by the lovely beaches right on its doorstep, and many of the region’s finest attractions are just within a short driving distance too.


Like Waitangi, Russell is another historically significant township. New Zealand’s first sea port was established there, as was the first permanent European settlement.

Yacht off Russell, New Zealand | © Ronnie Macdonald/Flickr


Also known as ‘Old Russell’, Okiato is a historic holiday spot just 7 kilometres (4.3 miles) from present-day Russell. It was New Zealand’s first capital city for a brief time before government was moved to Auckland (and later Wellington).

Castell Bach, Okiato, New Zealand | © ItravelNZ/Flickr


A town that’s known for its colourful history, Kerikeri is a must-visit for those wanting a real-life snapshot of New Zealand’s heritage.

St James Anglican Church, Kerikeri | © Bernard Spragg/Flickr


Opua, near Paihia, is best renowned for being the first port for yachts arriving in New Zealand after crossing the Pacific Ocean.

HMNZS Canterbury in Opua, New Zealand | © Phillip Capper/Flickr


Rawhiti is a small beachside town just 27 kilometres (16.8 miles) outside of Russell. It is considered a local summer haven because of its spectacular scenery as well as a number of water-based activities like fishing and sailing.

Elliot Bay, Rawhiti, New Zealand | © Alex Schwab/Flickr

Haruru Falls

Just around the corner from Paihia you’ll find the stunning Haruru Falls – a horseshoe-shaped cascade that lives up to its Maori name (which, in case you’re wondering, means ‘big noise’).

Rainbow Falls

This spectacular waterfall on the Kerikeiri River is surrounded by native bush and hiking paths. The Rainbow Falls tumble into a popular swimming hole and are also a bit of a hot-spot for local kayakers.

Rainbow Falls, Kerikeri | © russellstreet/Flickr

Pompallier House

Pompallier House is a well-preserved 19th-century building in Russell that was once the main headquarters of the French Catholic Mission to New Zealand. It is named after Jean Baptiste Pompallier, the first apostolic vicar to visit the country.

Pompallier House, Russell, New Zealand | © D.Taylor in Idaho/Flickr

Russell Museum

A visit to Russell Museum is a definite must for those wanting to truly delve into the town’s rich heritage.

Greenstone Display at the Russell Museum | © brewbooks/Flickr

Kerikeri Mission Station

Established in 1819, the Kerikeri Mission Station was one of the first places in the country to have the Maori community invite visitors to live among them. It is also where you’ll find New Zealand’s oldest stone building (the Stone Store) and oldest standing European structure (Mission House).

Stone Store and Mission House, Kerikeri | © russellstreet/Flickr

The Hole in the Rock

The Hole in the Rock is exactly what its name implies. This compelling passage can be seen on a dolphin-spotting cruise near Piercy Island, right outside Cape Brett.

Hole in the Rock, Bay of Islands | © denisbin/Flickr

Cape Brett

Aside from the Hole in the Rock, Cape Brett is famous for its picturesque lighthouse and challenging walking terrains.

Cape Brett Lighthouse, Bay of Islands, New Zealand | © Bruce Tuten/Flickr

Flagstaff Hill

Also known as Maiki Hill, Russell’s Flagstaff Hill is an important landmark for the wider Bay of Islands region, as it symbolises Maori defiance to colonial British rule.

Flagstaff Hill, Bay of Islands, New Zealand | © ItravelNZ/Flickr

Purerua Peninsula

Purerua Peninsula, on the northwest end of the Bay of Islands, is surrounded by beautiful beaches and bays. If you want to explore its unspoiled nature, a hike across the Taronui Track is one of the best ways to do it.

A Yacht Race in front of the Purerua Peninsula on the Bay of Islands | © portengaround/Flickr

Urupukapuka Island

The Bay of Islands region is filled with wonderful islands. Urupukapuka is one of the most popular, and is known for its fascinating culture, history and incredibly photogenic landscapes.

Urupukapuka Island | © Ignas Kukenys/Flickr

Rangihoua Bay

Ragihoua Bay lies at the southern tip of the Purerua Peninsula. In 2014, a Heritage Park was established on its shores to mark the bicentenary of the arrival of New Zealand’s first missionary settlers.

Hohi Mission Settlement, Rangihoua Bay | © Dirk Pons/Flickr

Matauri Bay

The Matauri Bay is a lovely coastal settlement 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) north of Kerikeri. Its beaches are particularly revered by surfers and divers who visit the Bay of Islands region.

Matauri Bay, New Zealand | © brewbooks/Flickr

Waewaetorea Island

White sands, sheltered beaches, clear blue waters, wildlife, and a fascinating archaeological past – it’s fair to say that Waewaetorea Island has everything nature lovers could ask for. With breathtaking views and plenty of natural wonders on show, this island and recreational reserve is the perfect day drip destination.

Waewaetorea Island | © portengaround/Flickr