Golden beaches, whale and dolphin watching, shipwreck diving expeditions: if you like the sound of any of these, you’ll love the Bay of Islands, at the far reaches of New Zealand’s North Island. And we’ve found the best places to stay.
This subtropical region is a hub of indigenous Maori culture and home to the country’s most important historic sight, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Basically, if you’re coming to New Zealand, you’ve got to come here.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
The exterior is Instagrammable enough: long, white double-decker verandas, lined with dining tables, facing a blue-water coastline in historic Russell. But this grand former grog shop, dating to 1827, is even more impressive once you step through the doors. Old-world bones – roaring fires, wood panelling, oil-paint portraits – are balanced with modern touches, such as Anglepoise-style lamps and orange velvet armchairs. Dinner on that veranda, starring tempura-battered Waikare Inlet oysters, is a must.
The 144 verdant isles that give the Bay of Islands its name are on your doorstep when staying at Kingsgate Hotel – you’re moments from Paihia’s ferry port, fishing charters and wildlife cruises. But even without leaving the room you can enjoy the region’s magnificent views, thanks to sun-drenched balconies that open to sparkling waters studded with green. There’s a pool on site (also sea-facing) and a restaurant serving fish and chips or local lamb rump.
The name is fitting, perched on a private ridgeline, with sweeping views to the Bay of Islands, the perspective is nothing if not bird’s eye. But this set of five slick villas, straight out of a James Bond film, has got more going for it than its brilliant situation. The floor-to-ceiling sliding doors mean you can slip straight from bed into the infinity pool; and an army of staff, including personal trainer, chef and spa therapist, are at your beck and call.
Whether your Bay of Islands bag is sea kayaking or cruising to Cape Brett’s arch-like Hole in the Rock, Paihia makes a top-notch base for exploring. And this hotel has a resorty feel, thanks to rambling sub-tropical gardens, filled with exotic native species and a tranquil pool, circled by loungers and cool umbrellas. Rooms are bright and homely – ideal for holidaying families who like space to spread out.
New Zealand’s bounty of locally landed fish, affordable wines and of course, lamb, makes it dreamy for self-caterers. This collection of apartments comes with kitchens kitted out to make the most of all of it, including al fresco barbecue areas and sea-facing terraces so you can dine while watching waves crash in. Large families will love it – some apartments come with three bedrooms – but it’s also cosy enough for indie couples, with many units sleeping just two.
Attentive hosts Danny and Sue bring real warmth to this Paihia B&B, and an eye for detail that extends from the healthy breakfasts to the garden picnic benches, facing out to glittering Bay of Islands waters. Rooms are classic and comfortable, with walk-in showers, kettles and plenty of windows to make them bright. Don’t forget to pick your hosts’ brains on the best local places to eat and drink – they love to help.
Striking the balance between convenience and serenity, Baywaterviews B&B is just a three-minute drive from the restaurants and boat trips of Paihia, but set among laid-back, sleepy landscapes. The views from the three rooms really are something from a postcard, with an expanse of water intersected by outcroppings of green. Two of the rooms have hot tubs, where you can take in the scene with bubbly in hand, and all have terraces on which to enjoy a cracking breakfast bursting with fresh fruit.
Coffee tables propped up by giant red hand sculptures, regal four-posters topped in Shakespearean tumbles of fabric, white-tiled bathrooms with Mondrian-esque colour splashes – eclectic is an understatement for Donkey Bay Inn. This luxurious four-bedroom inn feels as much art gallery as hotel, and the mishmash of modernist furniture, statement lighting and bold prints really works. If you can tear your eyes off the interiors, there’s a spectacular sight to behold: pinky sunrises over a vast sprawl of marine waters.
Allegra House feels more like a good friend’s place than it does a B&B. A cosy shared lounge, with cushy sofas, framed portraits and rows of novels is a natural place to take in the Bay of Islands, unravelling below through floor-to-ceiling windows. The surrounding bush of rimu and kauri trees hums with the call of fantails, a melodic morning wake-up call when you sleep with your sliding doors open, which you really should if you want to get fully immersed in New Zealand.
Pampering takes precedence at this Paihia resort. Sure, you’re well-placed to explore, joining a scenic flight or playing golf at lauded Kauri Cliffs. But the unique selling point is the on-site indulgence: the spa, which serves up everything from rain shower massages to rejuvenating facials, the crescent-shaped pool, romantically lit at night, and the Glasshouse Restaurant, serving house-smoked salmon or roasted beetroot and goat’s cheese tart.
For more plush hotels in New Zealand, check out our pick of the best hotels in Paihia for every traveller, bookable on Culture Trip.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.