Go North, Traveler: The Bay of Islands, New Zealand


On the way back to Paihia, the dive boat clipped something underwater and the engine failed. The dive instructor had to radio for help and we waited for another boat to pick us up. One of the other tourists aboard was French, and jokingly suggested that he might be able to arrange for a French submarine to pick us up…

The Bay of Islands is known for its marine life: marlins, whales, penguins, dolphins and other fish. I opted for a cruise that offered a swim with the dolphins. Sure enough, a half hour into our cruise, we came across a group of dolphins swimming around some fishing boats. But since they were near fishing boats, we couldn’t approach them. Another half-hour passed and we found another group of dolphins, but they had babies with them, so we couldn’t go swimming with them, either. Instead, we got to lie down over the bow of the boat and watch as the dolphins swam under us.

Cape Reinga makes another great day-trip from Paihia. I took a tour up to the cape, and along the way we drove over the so-called “90 Mile Beach” (which is actually only 64 miles or 103 km long). This long stretch of beach is considered a “highway” and all the tour buses drive along it, as well as other vehicles. It’s common for drivers unfamiliar with the beach to get stuck in the sand or to be caught unawares by the incoming tide. It made for some interesting viewing!

Near the beach are enormous sand dunes that are a popular spot for sand boarding. Our tour bus provided boogie boards, and we climbed up a punishing steep dune. Then we lay down on the boards, pushed off and zoomed down at a frightening pace.

After lunch, we reached dramatic Cape Reinga, “the place of leaping” in Maori mythology. Here, the spirits of the dead are believed to leap off the land and climb down the roots of an ancient tree to descend into the underworld. This is also the site of a lighthouse and provides spectacular ocean views.

New Zealand is great for boating.
The Bay of Islands is New Zealand’s premier cruising ground, offering a different island to explore every day.

The Bay of Islands is within close distance of Waipoua Forest, which contains Tane Mahuta (meaning “Lord of the Forest”) ― the biggest living Kauri tree in New Zealand. This giant is 167 feet (51 m) high, has a circumference of 45 feet (13.8 m), is estimated to be about 2,000 years old and was worshipped as a god by the local Maoris. The Kauri trees are remnants of the ancient subtropical rainforest and were once prized for their beautiful, strong wood. Over 99 percent of them were chopped down. There are several projects underway to replenish their numbers.

The nearby town of Kawakawa boasts the first building in the Southern Hemisphere designed by Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000). It’s not the grand structure you’d expect. It’s a public toilet! Still, it’s one of the most interesting public toilets you’ll ever see, sporting the same unusual curves and colors that Hundertwasser is renowned for.

There are many other activities that can be undertaken from the Bay of Islands. Beautiful walks, waterfalls and scenic cruises are all possibilities. So, if you arrive in Auckland, make sure to go north before you head down south!

If You Go

Bay of Islands


Bay of Islands Travel Guide


New Zealand’s Information Network


New Zealand Tourism Board


Tourism New Zealand