The Bay of Islands is a jewel in the North Island’s crown, a region studded with historical and natural treasures. We spend a weekend curating our pick of the gems
Naomi Larkin puts the spotlight on the beautiful Bay of Islands.
Tucking into perfectly cooked fish and chips on the black-pebbled Russell beach, two Dutch tourists sit watching the orange sun sink slowly into the ocean. “This is paradise,” one of them sighs. The comment reminds us that, as Kiwis, we often take the beauty of our country for granted. In the Bay of Islands, however, it’s hard to ignore that paradise really is right here on our doorstep.
And when you’re in such a breathtaking natural setting, you don’t want to be wasting time scrolling down your phone screen to find the best places to visit, eat and sleep. Which is why we’ve highlighted our top picks for you – so you can focus on enjoying the eyewateringly lovely surrounds and soaking up the stories of this history-rich region.
Within Russell there are a number of historic spots worth making time for. Pompallier House on the foreshore was built to house the Catholic mission’s printing press in 1842. It’s a beautiful building with a charming garden and a shop selling not just predictable curios but also a good selection of books and games for children.
Give those legs a workout and head up Maiki or Flagstaff Hill, where Hōne Heke three times cut down the flagpole flying the British flag. The 360 degree views from the top will make you glad you braved the climb. At Russell Museum, you’ll find a host of fascinating artefacts including a large-scale model of Captain Cook’s ship the Endeavour. Stop in at Christ Church, too, the country’s oldest church, where you can play ‘spot-the-musket-ball-hole’; the building was hit by stray ammo during the Battle of Kororāreka in 1845 and still bears the scars.
When you’re weary of visiting the past, take a stroll through the present with one of the many bush and bay walks. Or head to Long Beach, the perfect family-friendly swimming spot. Take a picnic and savour the views out to Roberton Island.
Take the short ferry ride between Russell and Paihia for a day trip or whip across the water to change up your dinner spot. Or head up to The Old Packhouse Markets in Kerikeri to stock up on fresh produce and pick up a caramel-filled doughnut and a coffee while you browse stalls like Rongoa Magic’s Māori medicinal balms; Hihi Olive Estate; or woven products from Nuku Craft. Open Saturday 8am-1.30pm and Sunday 9am-1.30pm. Then meander across the road to the Makana Boutique Chocolate Factory and sample their hand-made chocolate and truffles.
The iconic Duke of Marlborough occupies a prime spot on Russell’s waterfront