Northland: Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands

Leaving our jet lagged Auckland experience behind us, we decided it was time to gear up and get to the real stuff: swimming with wild dolphins!

With thousands of tourists and kiwis going every year on a downright pilgrimage to the magnificent Bay of Islands to sneak a peek of wales, dolphins, sharks and other cool animals frolicking in the waters of the Bay, we thought this was the place not to miss out on while touring New Zealand… and also because the Bay of Islands figures in the top things to do in every single travel guide I stumbled upon!

Bay of Islands
Bay of Islands

The distance between Auckland and Paihia is about 230 km if you drive over State Highway 1 (SH1). I can already hear you shout with exultation “Yeayyy, only a 2-hour drive”. But no, down your enthusiasm a bit, please.
In real life, it takes about 3.30-4 hours to get there… The signification of “Highway” differs from country to country together with its speed limits! You will soon find out that it is easy to underestimate your driving time in NZ.

Paihia (on the map)

Eating, drinking and sleeping

Waterfront Restaurant & Bar

The Waterfront Restaurant & Bar is ideally settled in Paihia’s centre overlooking the beautiful Bay. It’s the perfect location for a lazy lunch or for savouring a few glasses of wine in the sun.
Unfortunately, their conception of fresh seafood differs from ours. Everything, from calamari to their beer battered oysters, is deep-fried! Bye, bye light meal!
Also, for personal reasons I really do not recommend those oysters…

Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack

It’s the place you can go to with a ravenous hunger. Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack is the self-proclaimed “Home of NZ’s best ribs”… OK, then!
They also have the Big Rib Challenger Contest where you have to eat loads of ribs within 30 minutes, and by loads I mean LOADS! If you win you get a 5$ discount on your next meal and a free T-shirt.
I shall say no more!

Jimmy Jack's Rib Shack
Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack
Amazing Thai

Paihia’s good food news is this Amazing Thai restaurant with an amaaaazing choice of dishes in the evenings. Here, you are truly spoiled for choices. Gone are the deep-fried seafood dishes and the fatty ribs… the food God eventually heard our prayers!
Just go on and grab a bite.

As you probably noticed, my food experience in Paihia was not one of the best, but I’m sure you’ll find a place that will suit your taste!

Breakwater Motel

Breakwater Motel has nice apartment-style rooms, especially those having a little garden terrace and a sea view.

Sea view at Breakwater Motel, Paihia

Ken and Lynn, the owners are a lovely and helpful couple. They will advise you in any kind of situation… even if you have to call the hospital for an emergency.
I think, here it’s appropriate to make a small digression and mention, that if you call an ambulance in NZ you should be armed with patience! The receptionist on the phone will badger you with the most inappropriate questions… even if you are on the brink of death because of a beer battered oyster poisoning! Just sayin’.

In and around Paihia


Fuller’s Great sights

Fuller’s Great Sights is an award winning tourism operator and is already celebrating its 125 years in the Bay. They operate year round cruises and tours and will make you discover the grandiose sceneries the Bay unravels. If you’re as fascinated as I am by dolphins and want to have a swim with them, then I suggest that you get a reservation for their Dolphin Eco Experience. On this cruise, you’ll try to locate them (yep, finding a pod of wild dolphins can sometimes be time-consuming or mission impossible), follow them up close and get some precious information and interesting facts about those friendly faced sea mammals. On top of it all, you’ll perhaps count yourself among the lucky bastards who can happily splash along with flipper & co. But keep on moving, the water can be arctic!

Wild Dolphins
Watching wild dolphins with Fuller’s Dolphin Eco Experience

Another advantage of the Dolphin Eco Experience is that the boats for this tour are smaller, so you’ll have a more intimate excursion and the deck is quite low for an ideal observing experience.
Though, if you are on the deck when the cue for the swimming is given and you have to hurry inside the boat to get your stuff … remember to duck! Ramming your head into the iron bar of the door is definitely a very painful experience!

And last but not least, with the Dolphin Eco Experience you will be contributing with a portion of the fare’s price to the Department of Conservation. Other sustainable initiatives of Fuller’s Great Sights are listed here!

Kawiti Glow Worm Caves (on the map)

If you have a tight travel schedule, like us, running out of time to visit the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, and those insects with the glowing butt still tingle your curiosity, here’s an alternative for you: the Kawiti Caves. They are way smaller, less commercial and are owned by the Kawiti family.

Kawiti Caves
Kawiti Glow Worm Caves

If you are lucky your guide will be the lovely and charming “Pie” who will brighten your day and put a smile on your face … Awesome!

Ake Ake Vineyard (on the map)

Wines in NZ are delicious, that’s a fact! So visiting a vineyard is a must (and since they are literally everywhere, you’ll eventually can’t get around it).

Ake Ake Vineyard
Ake Ake Vineyard trail

Ake Ake Vineyard is a still young and a bit smaller vineyard with a restaurant and a boutique for tastings. The owner is very friendly, knows loads about French wines as well and loves to talk about Europe. Here’s a hint: Try the Chambourcin… Cheers!

Ake Ake Vineyard boutique
Ake Ake Vineyard, the boutique

There are so many things to do in the Bay of Islands… I’m sure you’ll find your match!
What to do in the Bay of Islands?

Visiting to Auckland? Here’s some guidance for your trip!


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