Paihia’s European history began when Captain James Cook sailed into the Bay in 1769. The origins of the name Paihia are uncertain but one popular local theory credits it to Reverend Henry Williams, one of the first missionaries to settle in New Zealand. When Williams first arrived in the Bay of Islands he knew only a little of the Māori language; one word he did know was ‘pai’ meaning 'good'. On arrival in the Bay, he said to his Māori guide ‘Pai here’. And it certainly is.
Williams and his wife settled in Paihia in 1823 and built the first church in New Zealand. He gained the respect of the local iwi after a tohunga (priest) called Tohitapu placed a makutu or death curse on him with no effect.
By 1829, Paihia was a large bustling, industrious town – quite the opposite of Kororareka (Russell) across the bay. Locals called Paihia ‘heaven’ and Kororareka ‘hell’. In 1835 New Zealand’s first printing press was set up at Paihia, which was used to print the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Williams was given one night to translate the Treaty documents into te reo (the Māori language) – something he achieved, but with mixed results.
After the mission closed in 1850, Paihia shrank to a small settlement, with whaling and kauri timber its main industries. From the 1930s onwards, though, Paihia’s reputation as a holiday destination began to grow. The Treaty House at nearby Waitangi had become an attraction, and new roads (including the road from Kawakawa to Paihia, built by American forces during World War II) made the town easier to reach. In the early 1960s a hotel opened in the area, and beach houses, motor camps and motels sprang up.
Today Paihia is a base for dolphin-watching cruises, boating, deep-sea fishing, and for visiting sites of historical interest throughout the Bay of Islands. Meet the friendly locals, relax in the many cafés and restaurants or enjoy some retail therapy.
Go kayaking, swimming, fishing or explore one of the many walking tracks in the area. Take the ferry to Russell across the Bay, or go on one of our many cruises and tours of the Bay of Islands and Northland region. You’ll find us located in the maritime building with the red roof on Paihia’s waterfront.
A great range of other activities including paintball, an adventure world and mini golf are also on offer in Paihia. See our family activity ideas for more information.