8 Best Things to Do in the Bay of Islands Cruise Port + Port Guide

Welcome to the Bay of Islands cruise port, New Zealand!

The Bay of Islands is a large bay and a natural harbour located on the northeast coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Known for its gorgeous undeveloped beaches, big-game fishing and a strong Maori heritage, this beautiful bay encompasses 144 islands and a multitude of islets and peninsulas.

The major cities in this area are Kerikeri, Paihia, and Russell, located approximately a 3-hour drive north of Auckland (around 250 km/155 miles).

Its spectacular location and stunning natural attractions make the Bay of Islands popular for cruisers and tourists from all around the world. The Bay of Islands is a frequent stop in New Zealand cruise itineraries, and in this article, I share with you insider information on:

  • The Bay of Islands cruise port (Bay of Islands cruise terminal, getting around the area)
  • Top 8 things to do in the Bay of Islands & Bay of Islands shore excursions

Read about the ports in New Zealand: Milford Sound, Dunedin, Picton, AkaroaTauranga, Auckland, Napier, Wellington

Bay of Islands Cruise Port

Bay of Islands is a tender port, which means that cruise ships cannot dock. All cruise vessels anchor in the bay just off the coast of Russell town, and tender ashore using the tender boats.

The majority of large cruise ships tender close to the town of Paihia and the tender drop-off point is at Waitangi Wharf, from where the cruise passengers can catch free shuttle buses to Paihia Wharf from where they can explore the downtown on foot (downtown is only a few minutes away from Paihia Wharf).

At Paihia Wharf, you’ll find a tourist information center, a cruise center, facilities and numerous tour operators offering ferry rides to Russell and a wide range of tours and shore excursions for cruise passengers (Hole in the Rock is one of the most requested tours).

Bay of Islands cruise center
Bay of Islands cruise center. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

Getting Around Bay of Islands Port

  • Shuttle buses to Paihia are extremely limited (check the departure times and availability in your cruise planner) and you’ll probably need to walk. It is a pleasant 25-30-minute walk from the Waitangi Wharf to Paihia downtown along a beautiful scenic beach. It’s flat and suitable for people with walking difficulties.
  • Taxis are very limited and expensive (only per request).
  • From Paihia Wharf, you can take a short ferry ride to the town of Russell. The ferry will drop you off in the middle of a beautiful waterfront promenade from where you can explore the downtown on foot.
  • Based on the cruise ship’s arrangement, you may be tendering to Russell Town (make sure you check out the cruise planner).
  • Where the tender dock, there is one shop that accepts US dollars and credit cards (they sell T-shirts, souvenirs, light snacks, soft drinks). The rest of the shops are located in the Paihia downtown and most of them accept only NZ currency and credit cards.
  • The currency is the New Zealand dollar (NZD) and the exchange rate is 1 US dollar to 1.44 NZD. See the currency converter 
  • There is free wi-fi only in the public library in Paihia downtown and in a few restaurants.
  • English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign Language are the official languages of New Zealand.
  • The nearest airport is the Bay of Islands-Wiroa-Kerikeri regional airport, located a 20-minute drive from Paihia (23 km/14.3 miles) and a 5-minute drive from Kerikeri (5.3 km/3.3 miles).
  • Explore Bay of Islands tours and activities

Top 8 Things to Do in Bay of Islands Cruise Port

1. Paihia Town

Also called the Jewel of the Bay of Islands, Paihia town is a beautiful, charming town, located within a 25-minute walk from where the large ships tender (Waitangi Wharf). It is the main tourist town in the Bay of Islands, situated close to the historic towns of Russell, Kerikeri and Opua.

Paihia is a small town easily explored on foot, well known for excellent seafood restaurants, craft markets, numerous boutiques, shops, cafes and events taking place at different times of the year (such as the Wine and Cheese Festival). It has a beautiful public beach – Paihia Town Beach, a great spot for swimming or simply relaxing in one of the nearby cafes.

The town offers a variety of activities including swimming with the bottle-nosed dolphins, kayaking, fishing, swimming, hiking, snorkeling/diving or picnicking on secluded beaches.

For history buffs, you can head over to Waitangi Treaty Grounds, an important historic landmark where the first accord between the British Crown and Maori people was signed. This historic place is located only 5 minutes walking distance from Waitangi Wharf where the tender boats normally drop you off.

Check out Paihia tours and activities

Paihia, Bay of Islands
The view of the Bay from Paihia. You can see the ship anchored in the distance.

2. Hole in the Rock (Motukokako Island)

Motukokako Island is considered one of New Zealand’s most impressive natural wonders with multiple formations carved out of towering stone that include beautiful views of the nearby Cape Brett Lighthouse. Located on Motukokako island (aka Piercy Island), at the northern tip of Cape Brett peninsula, The Hole in the Rock is one of the most popular attractions in New Zealand and one of the natural treasures known worldwide.

The Hole in the Rock is a massive 60-foot (18-meter) hole in the rock, shaped by the wind and waves throughout centuries. This incredible passage through the bay offers breathtaking views of the nearby Cape Brett peninsula and its scenic lighthouse.

Hole in the Rock - Motukokako island
Hole in the Rock – Motukokako island. Source: Pixabay.com

A lot of tour operators offer cruises to the Motukokako Island/The Hole in the Rock and this is highly recommended if you want to admire the stunning beauty of the Bay of Islands from the water. The boat trip normally takes around 1 hour each way.

The boat trips normally pass by Urupukapuka Island, the largest island in the Bay depicted in Zane Grey’s book “Tales of the Angler’s Eldorado”. You will admire the enchanting Waewaetorea Island and the stunning Roberton Island, and hear stories of historic Maori sites, Captain Cook and his crew, and the native flora and fauna of the Bay of Islands. Another spectacular way to admire the Bay of Islands and The Hole in the Rock is by helicopter.

It is possible to access spectacular cliffs, cave entrances and rock faces only by smaller boats, so if you want to capture incredible views, a boat trip is the best way to do so! There are also many whales in the Bay of Islands and maybe you’ll be lucky to see penguins, too. Make sure you bring your camera!

Keep in mind that the availability of independent transportation/boats/catamarans is very limited, so the safest way to book a boat trip would be through the cruise line.

Check out Hole in the Rock tours and activities

3. Hokianga Harbour

Located in the Northland Region, approximately 75 km/47 miles west of Paihia and the Bay of Islands, the area surrounding Hokianga Habour is the oldest and second European settlement in New Zealand.

Known as “the nest of the northern tribes” (Te Kohanga o Te Tai Tokerau in the Maori language), this region is known as the birthplace of the nation and the majority of the population here are descendants of Maori and early Europeans who settled in the New Zealand centuries ago.

The symbol of Hokianga is the giant Kauri tree, the oldest tree in the world that has stood here for thousands of years. 75% of all Kauri trees are located in Hokianga and some of them are over 3000 years old!

Traveling time from the dock takes about 1h 30 minutes to 1h 45 minutes, depending on traffic. If you love history, culture and natural beauty, this is the perfect place to visit.

4. Russell Town

Known as Kororareka in the early 19th century, Russell town holds an important place in the country’s history as it was the first permanent European settlement and seaport in New Zealand. Nowadays, visitors can admire original buildings from the 19th century and explore the city’s picturesque streets, museums, art galleries, and a beautiful seaside filled with cafes, bars and restaurants.

You can have a coffee at The Duke of Marlborough Hotel – New Zealand’s first licensed hotel, bar and restaurant, located on The Strand (waterfront promenade) or visit the Christ Church, the oldest surviving Anglican church in New Zealand.

To get there, you can take a ferry from Paihia Wharf to Russell Town, or otherwise, you can check the availability through your cruise ship.

Check out Russell Town tours and activities 

5. Kawiti Glowworm Caves

New Zealand is one of the few places in the world where you can witness a true wonder of nature – mystical glowworms sparkling in the darkness of majestic underground caves!

There are several of these caves all across New Zealand (the most spectacular caves are Waitomo Glowworm Caves near Auckland) and near the Bay of Islands, you can visit Kawiti Caves located in the heart of the Waiomio Valley.

Also known as Waiomio Glowworm Caves, this impressive cave system features a network of 656-foot-long caves that are home to thousands of luminous glowworms, stalactites, stalagmites and impressive rock formations.

Check out Kawiti Caves tours and activities

Kawiti Caves entrance
Kawiti Caves. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

6. Culture of New Zealand: Waitangi

Located close to the town of Paihia, Waitangi is a historically important site best known for being the location where the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand (1835) and the Treaty of Waitangi (1840) were signed.

Make sure you don’t miss Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the place where the accord between the British Crown and more than 500 Maori chiefs was signed, by which New Zealand became a British colony. You can visit a fully carved Maori meeting house, one of the largest Maori war canoes in New Zealand, and two museums Te Kongahu and Te Rau Aroha where you can learn about Maori culture, personalities who shaped the history of the country and traditional Maori events.

You will see live performances and tribal dances, feel the energy and immerse in New Zealand’s history in an authentic way that you’ll remember for a lifetime! But it’s not all about history! You can take a boat trip along the Waitangi River, paddle a canoe, or go cycling in Waitangi Mountain.

Explore Waitangi tours and activities

7. Haruru Falls

Located a 5-minute drive from Paihia town, on the Waitangi River, Haruru Falls is a popular tourist destination known for canoeing and kayaking activities. Haruru Falls is one of several beautiful waterfalls in the Bay of Islands and if you opt for a more relaxed option, you can simply go there for a picnic and a peaceful day in nature.

The waterfall is not very big and you can get the best views by kayaking. Waterproof shoes are recommended. Bring a rain/windproof jacket.

Check out Haruru Falls tours and activities

Hururu Falls Kayaking, New Zealand
Haruru Falls kayaking. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

8. Kaikohe Town

Known as the “hub of the north”, Kaikohe is a small town located in the Far North District of New Zealand, 35 km/22 miles (a 30-minute drive) west of Paihia. One of the main Kaikohe attractions is the pioneer village, where you can admire restored historic buildings such as New Zealand’s oldest courthouse, a cottage dating from 1875, a jail, a school, blacksmith’s shop.

The Kaikohe area is also known for volcanic eruptions that have occurred in this area over the last 10 million years. Here, you will find the northernmost geothermal sites, two hot pools at Ngawha Springs, Ginns Ngawha Spa and Waiariki Pools (read more about geothermal sites at Rotorua in my article on Tauranga cruise port).

For the most spectacular views, you should explore the area by bike (there is a 15 km long cycle trail from the south of Kaikohe to Ōkaihau town).

Kaikohe cycle trail, New Zealand
Cycling is one of the most popular activities in Kaikohe. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

You May Also Like:

What to Pack for a Cruise – Top 55 Cruise Essentials

Mediterranean Cruise Port Guides

Caribbean Cruise Port Guides

Baltic & Scandinavia Cruise Ports

Western Europe Cruise Port Guides

Cruises to USA and Canada

This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see my disclaimer here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Ultimate Guide to Mediterranean Cruise Ports
Select a payment method
To download the e-book after you complete the purchase via PayPal, click on "Return to Merchant" button to download the e-book.
Ultimate Guide to Mediterranean Cruise Ports
Plan your Cruise Itinerary in Less than an Hour and Maximize Your Port Experience!
Ultimate Guide to Mediterranean Cruise Ports
Plan your Cruise Itinerary in Less than an Hour and Maximize Your Port Experience!
Scroll to Top