Think of a superlative and the chances are you can apply it to the beautiful Bay of Islands area, North Island, New Zealand. Visitors flock to this area for many reasons – to explore the rich Maori culture found here; to stuff themselves silly with the excellent, super fresh seafood offered everywhere; to hop leisurely from one ridiculously beautiful uninhabited island to the next or just to swim in the warm, calm waters while marvelling at the every shade of blue the eyes can take in.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg (although you won’t find any of those here). Writing a list of 100 Top Things to Do would be tricky so paring it down to a Top 10 is an almost impossible task but here goes, in no particular order:
Spend Time Messing About on the Water – no matter what time of year it is, there is no doubt that the majority of the main attractions of this area are ocean led – the things you can do on it, in it and under it.
Whatever watery adventure whets your appetite there is at least one operator offering it. Fancy a bit of big game fishing? No problem. Want to sail in a 100 year old tall ship/schooner replica? Done. Have an inclination to paddle a traditional Maori waka (canoe) sitting alongside your Ngapuhi guides kitted out in traditional costumes and chanting as they go? Go for it!
Snorkelling, scuba diving, guided kayak tours, nature watch tours, boat trips (from the short, cheap and cheerful to several day long VIP cruises) and plenty more are all there for the taking.
Swim with wild dolphins – okay, I know that this is technically an ocean bound activity as listed in point 1 but I flatly refuse to let this oh-so special experience be listed alongside anything else.
Here, you get to swim with one of the many Bay of Islands’ resident bottle nose groups – for many people the most easily recognised dolphin species. Each trip consists of heading out in a boat and locating a group that wants to play. This is typically the young male adolescents – not so different from their human counterparts then!
Wander around Russell – Russell is small, pretty and enchanting all year round and is well worth a going-nowhere-in particular meander. Stop off at Christ church – built in 1835 it lays claim to being New Zealand’s oldest church and is complete with visible bullet holes – a memento of the town’s sacking in 1845. Alternatively you could pop into the small but well-presented Russell Museum or just sit in one of the many cafés and eateries and let the day drift by.
(See also Pompallier House)
Soak in Ngawha hot pools – no slick tourist glamour here – this is for those who want to part with very few dollars, don’t mind rustic (and of course that ‘rich’ smell which goes hand in hand with thermal pools). These natural hot pools, found a few kilometres from Kaikohe, may be rustic but they are also charming – a choice of mud-bottomed, wooden sided pools ranging from warm to ‘I’m almost cooked’ temperatures for the intrepid only.
Take a Guided Tour Round Pompallier House, Russell – in a land where 100 years is old then Pompallier House, built in 1842, is considered ancient. Originally constructed to house the printing press of the Roman Catholic missionaries, it was turned into a private home in the 1870s before being turned right back again and lovingly restored to its original state.
Jump out of an Aeroplane, Paihia – strapped to a tandem skydive instructor of course who is in charge of remembering the parachute. Skydive opportunities abound in New Zealand but getting to see this beautiful area from high above as you float peacefully to earth (after 45 seconds at 200 km per hour) is an unforgettable experience.
Visit the kiwis at Aroha Island Ecological Centre – head across the mangrove surrounded causeway and prepare to enter a tranquil secluded island hideaway inhabited by the North Island brown kiwi and other native birds such as the tui, with its fascinating (and sometimes highly comical) range of peeps, whirrs, toots and whistles. There is a visitor centre, the chance to take guided walks (including night walks to spot the shy kiwis) and kayaks to rent.
Gorge Yourself – the Bay of Islands area, particularly around Paihia and Russell, offer gourmands and gourmets alike so many options that your holiday will run out long before your choice of eateries has. Seafood is a speciality (not surprising given the Bay of Islands ocean-side position coupled with the super-rich waters which teem with fish, crustacean and shellfish). You haven’t lived until you have sampled New Zealand crayfish.
If you fancy something a little more structured then opt for one of the half day or full day food and/or wine tours on offer.
Listen to the Roar of Haruru Falls Waterfall – New Zealand has more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at. Some are dramatic and scary, some fall from head spinning heights, some you can walk behind but all of them are beautiful and Haruru Falls is no exception. This has one thing not all the other waterfalls have though and that is the chance to get up close and personal, not a fence or barrier in sight. Best visited after a good downpour when the water volume racing down the horse-shoe shaped falls will deafen you.
Soak up the History at Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Paihia – if you don’t know the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi to the New Zealand nation then you might want to do a bit of homework first. The grounds are beautiful with stunning views, the Treaty House is well worth an explore and there is the opportunity to see Maori cultural performances in the whare (carved meeting house). Personally, I could spend hours just gazing at the massive waka (canoe) – one of the world’s biggest.
I did it! I managed just 10 but now I’m thinking ‘ooh but what about……..’ and ‘oh, I can’t leave that out………’. Enough! Luckily we are all different and different things will appeal. One thing is for certain you won’t be short of choice and one of the best ways to find out exactly what is on offer is to pop into a local i-Site where you can peruse at your leisure and book any of the tours which take your fancy.
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