Top 8 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, the best shore excursions and port highlights

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

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Bay of Islands Cruise Port

Bay of Islands is tendering 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.

See the Bay of Islands cruise port on Google maps

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.

However, keep in mind that the shuttle buses to Paihia are extremely limited (check the departure times and availability in your cruise planner) and that 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 Russell town. 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).

Useful tips:

  • 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 in New Zealand is the New Zealand dollar (NZD) and the exchange rate is 1 US dollar to 1.44 NZD. See the currency converter 
  • Internet/wi-fi: There is free wi-fi only in the public library in Paihia downtown and in a few restaurants.
  • Language in New Zealand: English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign Language are the official languages of New Zealand.
  • The Emergency telephone number in New Zealand is 111.
  • 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).

Suggested article: What to Pack for a Cruise – Top 50 Cruise Essentials 

Hotels in the Bay of Islands

Check out the best hotels in Paihia, Russell and Kerikeri on Booking.com, Agoda, Expedia, Tripadvisor, Hotels.com

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Top 8 Things to Do in Bay of Islands Cruise Port

Before I share with you the best things to do in the Bay of Islands port, I invite you to sign up below and get my exclusive, insider Shore Excursion Guide for Free!

1. Paihia Town

Also called the Jewel of the Bay of Islands, Paihia town is a beautiful, charming town, located within 25 minutes walking distance from where the large ships tender (Waitangi Wharf).

Paihia is the main tourist town in the Bay of Islands, situated close to the historic towns of Russell, Kerikeri and Opua.

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

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 picnic 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 on Viator and Tripadvisor

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 meters) 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, the stunning Roberton Island, and hear stories of historic Maori sites, Captain Cook and his crew, and 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.

Useful tips:

  • The weather in the Bay of Islands is very changeable, so make sure you bring appropriate clothing (rain/waterproof resistant jacket, closed-toe shoes).
  • There are many whales in the Bay of Islands and maybe you’ll be lucky to see penguins, too. Make sure you bring your camera!
  • 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!
  • 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.

Suggested articles:

What to Pack for a Cruise – Top 50 Cruise Essentials 

25 Top Shore Excursion Packing List Items

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!

Useful tips:

  • If you love history, culture and natural beauty, this is the perfect place to visit.
  • Comfortable clothing suggested.
  • Bring local currency/credit card.
  • Traveling time from the dock: 1h30 min to 1h45 min depending on traffic.

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 take 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.

Useful tips:

  • You can take a ferry from Paihia Wharf to Russell town, or otherwise, you can check the availability through your cruise ship.
  • Ferries to Russell cost approximately NZD $7 one way and NZD $12 return.
  • Closed-toe shoes are recommended as you will visit most of the town’s landmarks on foot.
  • Bring local currency/credit card.

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.

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

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.

Kawiti Caves are located only 21 km/13 miles (a 20-minute drive) from Paihia town, and the admission fee is NZD $40 for adults and NZD $20 for children 5-15 years old. A family pass is available.

Read more information on https://kawiticaves.co.nz/

Useful tips:

  • The use of cameras inside the caves is not allowed.
  • It may be slippery inside the caves, so closed-toe shoes are mandatory.
  • The visit involves long time standing and steps to be handled.

Check out Kawiti Caves tours and activities

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, 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.

Useful tips:

  • Closed-toe shoes or waterproof shoes are recommended.
  • Bring a wind/rain jacket as the weather is unpredictable.

Explore Waitangi tours and activities

7. Haruru Falls

Located a 5-minute drive from Paihia town, on 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.

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

Useful tips:

  • The waterfall is not very big and you can get the best views by kayaking.
  • In case you choose to kayak, a life vest and safety briefing are provided.
  • Waterproof shoes are recommended.
  • Bring a rain/windproof jacket.

Suggested article: What to Pack for a Cruise – Top 50 Cruise Essentials 

Check out Haruru Falls tours and activities

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.

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

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)

Useful tips:

  • 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).
  • Closed-toe shoes are recommended and it’s mandatory to wear a helmet during the entire ride.

Explore the things to do in Kaikohe

 Wrapping Up

If your cruise to New Zealand includes a stop at the breathtaking Bay of Islands, you should definitely plan your day ahead to get the most of it! Make sure you keep an eye on the ship’s scheduled time in port and make sure you make arrangements ahead of time as the availability in this port of call might be limited.

If you want to read more on New Zealand ports of call, check out my articles on Milford Sound, Dunedin, Picton, AkaroaTauranga, Auckland, Napier, Wellington


Top 8 Things to Do in the Bay of Islands Cruise Port
  1. Paihia Town
  2. The Hole in the Rock (Motukokako island)
  3. Hokianga Harbour
  4. Russell Town
  5. Kawiti Glowworm Caves
  6. Culture of New Zealand: Waitangi
  7. Haruru Falls
  8. Kaikohe Town
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