Backpacking in the Bay of Islands

backpacker bay of islands NZ

Backpacking in the Bay of Islands is best during the Summer months!

The Bay of Islands turquoise waters have long been a drawcard for those travelling to New Zealand. Sailing trips, game fishing, watersports and island-hopping are among many of the ways to enjoy this colourful region.

The Bay of Islands is also steeped in history too. The first Europeans settled here with Russell being the first capital of New Zealand in the 19th century. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed here between the British and the Maori, forging the guidelines for the New Zealand that exists today.


Russell, formerly known as Kororāreka, maintains an important place in New Zealand’s history, being the first sea port, first European settlement and New Zealand’s first capital. The streets of Russell retain their original layout and names from 1843, and many of its historic buildings can still be visited today. It’s a lovely place to stop for a bite to eat on your way to Flagstaff Hill. The 30min loop walk takes you from Watering Bay to the flagstaff atop the hill. There remains is the remnants of the 5th flagstaff, after the others flying the British flag were cut down by Maori.

Paihia and the islands

Activities abound in Paihia and the surrounding islands. Swim with dolphins, go kayaking, swimming, fishing, or take a walk and a picnic to one of many secluded beaches. Walk or drive to the spectacular Haruru Falls.

King’s Road is a popular choice for backpackers with the street full of hostels. Choose from a range of big NZ hostels and independent kiwi options.

Paihia’s wharf is your starting point for the ferry or a speedboat out to some of the many stunning islands for snorkelling, walking or relaxing on the beaches. A cruise out to the Hole in the Rock or scuba dive the Greenpeace shipwreck, The Rainbow Warrior, now a man-made reef.

There are short walks in the area. The Opua Forest Paihia Lookout Track offers stunning views of Russell and Waitangi. The 1 hour return track is easily accessed just a couple of minutes from the town. Also easily accessible is the Harrison Scenic Reserve Walk, the town’s bush walk.


The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are an absolute must-do. Rich in history and stories of the momentous events which shaped New Zealand. No trip of the Bay of Islands would be complete without the historical context that Waitangi offers. You will find the town 60km north of Paihia.

If you are looking for some culturally significant sights in Waitangi, head to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Here you will find the Treaty House, which was built for the first British resident. The beautiful marae (Maori meeting house) Runanga is also here as well as a 35m long waka taua (war canoe), and the naval flagpole marking the spot where the treaty was signed.


Kerikeri has a rich and vibrant history. The Stone Store is New Zealand’s oldest building, Rewa’s Village will take you back before European settlement and a visit to the Kerikeri Mission Station offers a glimpse of early colonial life.

Warm sunny weather provides excellent fruit growing conditions. As such, Kerikeri is a popular region to find WWOOfing work for those looking to stay on in the region.

From Paihia, travel north. Sandboard on tall, sloping dunes. Stand where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet, and drive the length of 90 Mile Beach. Bus tour companies pick up from Kerikeri or rent a car to give yourself more flexibility. Stroll the Kerikeri River Track and follow the river to the 27m high Rainbow Falls.

There are many activities on offer for all budgets and tastes. The Bay of Islands’ towns cater for all travellers and offer many options in terms of tours and accommodation. Setup camp in one town and venture out from there or town-hop. Wherever you choose to start and end your time in the Bay of Islands, rest assured it will be in one of the most beautiful regions this country has to offer.