Explore the Bay of Islands. © NorthlandNZ

Bay of Islands: history, scenery and marine life


‘Ka pai’ is Māori for damn good/mighty fine/pretty cool.

The truncated ‘pai’ covers all manner of ‘I’m happy’ vibes and options. The key town in the Bay of Islands is Paihia, perhaps named because, well, it’s pai here? Cos it is, it so is.

Isn’t this one of the wonders of the world now? Just about qualifies, surely. There’s so much on offer, the Bay of Islands tagline should be ‘too much fun'!

‘Rich in history’ is the sort of phrase that can have you heading for the hills, or at least the next bus outta town, but hold up there, cowboy. This area is the foundation stone of our fine nation.

You need to see the flagstaff at Russell. (What a game that was. Up it went, Hone Heke chopped it down under cloak of darkness. Up it went, he chopped it... you get the picture). Russell, known once as the more arduous to articulate Kororāreka, was at one stage better known as the capital of the country (preceded by Ōkiato, a wee spot just up the road).

But it’s far too pretty a place for all that bureaucracy, though it still houses a historical printing press, which shows the dedication of the folk who wanted to share ‘the good word.’

Buildings-wise, the whole region ranges from old churches – the one at Russell is about as old as it gets in this country – through to new bars and cafés and restaurants. But enough sitting around: snorkel/fish/scuba dive... or go out on a boat and see the Hole in the Rock, an amazing natural attraction at the entrance to the bay.

Get out on that beautiful water any way you can, actually, and you’ll likely see dolphins, occasionally orca, never a moa. And sure, you can stay at luxury lodges, but you can backpack to the max and everything in between. This is tourist central, and so it should be: it’s awesome. Allow days and days.

As the throngs of happy customers and the hordes of super-friendly locals will tell you – and like we said – it’s all pai here.

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