Flights to the Bay of Islands: New Zealand's aquatic playground

Experience the Bay of Islands

You'll soon figure out why the Bay of Islands is so named. A gross of islands (that's 144) lie like an emerald necklace across the Bay’s clear blue waters. Sandy beaches, sunshine and water sports abound here, where dolphins are outnumbered only by surfers. Carved into the northeast coast, the Bay is considered 'the birthplace of New Zealand'. Maori and Europeans first lived together here – not always in harmony given the volatile mix of whalers, missionaries and escaped convicts. The locals are more laid-back these days.

Go slow

Change pace after your flight to the Bay of Islands. Charter a yacht, kayak through mangroves or swim with dolphins. If you’re confused by all the cruises on offer try Fullers' Cream Trip. This has run since 1927, delivering milk, mail and supplies to the island residents. Or stay on dry land, with a hike to Cape Brett, guardian of the Bay. Book the former lighthouse keeper’s house here for a romantic overnight vigil.

Adrenaline rush

Skydive or parasail for a thrilling bird’s-eye Bay view. Or board the racing maxi-yacht Lion New Zealand. Leave the pink gins on shore; you’ll be too busy helping the crew set the sails and sweating on the grinder. Reeling in that record marlin will also get your adrenaline pumping. Big-game fishing has been big business here since the 1920s when American novelist Zane Grey wrote about finding his ‘fishing Eldorado’.

Get cultured

Discover Maori culture on your Bay of Islands holiday. New Zealand’s founding document was signed by Maori chiefs and the British Crown in 1840 at Waitangi Treaty Grounds. They’re still debating its validity today. Learn more at an evening historical play held inside the beautifully carved Meeting House. Swinging poi dances and velvety Maori harmonies tell of the tensions that followed the meeting of two very different cultures.

Fast facts

Where? The Bay of Islands sits in the 'Far North', four hours' drive from Auckland. The three main townships are Paihia, Kerikeri and Russell

Population: The main centres are small; Kerikeri has the biggest population with 5,000 residents. In summer holidaymakers more than quadruple the population.

Key dates: The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi is commemorated each year on Waitangi Day, February 6th.

Did you know? The large carved waka (canoe) in the Waitangi Treaty House grounds is one of the largest known Maori ceremonial canoes. It takes 76 paddlers to keep it moving.

Bay of Islands Hotels

Avoiding the paparazzi? No problem, your private helicopter will squirrel you to your secret hideaway. Golfers are in heaven at Kauri Cliffs, with views to-die-for at almost every hole. At Waitangi, Copthorne’s lagoon-style pool begs a refreshing dip.

Bay of Islands Restaurants

No surprises – seafood is the big deal here. You don't have to cast your line far to find good old-fashioned Kiwi fish and chips, juicy local Orongo Bay oysters or even 'crab ravioli on crayfish bisque'. Delicious.

Shopping in the Bay of Islands

Just imagine the most innovative art; glass, wood, ceramic and, well you get the picture (yes, paintings too). Wrap yourself up in possum designs, or pick up boutique chocolate (try to resist scoffing it before you get home).

Bay of Islands Nightlife

Brawling whalers no longer mar the waterfront veranda of New Zealand’s oldest pub. But fishy tales endure at the world’s second oldest game-fishing club. The fish are more than just stories when you down a pint beside 35° South's giant aquarium.

Bay of Islands Attractions

Follow the footsteps of legendary Maori chiefs at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Get pious in Russell; home of New Zealand’s oldest church and a former French Catholic mission. Tours of the Wharepuke Subtropical Garden are blooming marvellous.

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