Getting to the Bay of Islands
Wondering how to get to the Bay of Islands? Here's a range of options to suit every traveller.
Bay of Islands by Car
Driving from Auckland to Paihia is a 3-hour trip (non-stop) on a busy New Zealand state highway. It’s a good idea to allow extra time for rest breaks, a meal or a wander around one of the towns along the way.
Travelling to the Bay of Islands by car gives you the flexibility to stop at some of the interesting towns and attractions. We think you'll enjoy taking your time and spending a couple of days exploring Northland and the Bay of Islands.
Here are two options for driving from Auckland to the Bay of Islands: a scenic route, with some suggestions for stops and activities along the way, and the faster, more direct option that includes a toll road.
Auckland to the Bay of Islands (the scenic route)
Auckland to Orewa - travel time 30 minutes
Head north on the northern motorway from Auckland and exit at Orewa, a seaside town on the edge of a long, white sand surf beach. Take a stroll through the shops and cafes, explore one of the northern bush trails, or take a quick dip in the ocean.
If you’re travelling with kids, Orewa’s seaside playground is a great spot for a quick run around to burn some energy.
Orewa to Warkworth - travel time 30 minutes
Continuing north from Orewa towards Paihia, you’ll pass a small settlement called Puhoi, a historic rural town renowned for producing cheese. Stop for a bite to eat and grab some delicious locally-made cheese to go! If you’re visiting the famous Puhoi Valley Cheese Factory, the road is unsealed for approximately 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) of the journey.
As you continue on towards Warkworth, enjoy lush native forest and scenic farmland.
Warkworth to Whangarei -travel time 1 hour 25 minutes
Warkworth is a lovely town situated on the banks of the Mahurangi River and is central to many surrounding attractions on the Matakana Coast. From Warkworth you can explore surf beaches, vineyards, art galleries, golf courses and regional parks. Stopping for a coffee from a local cafe and a short walk along the riverbank is a good excuse to take a break from driving.
Whangarei to Paihia - travel time 1 hour
Whangarei is New Zealand's northernmost city. Sitting at the edge of the Whangarei Harbour, it offers lots to see and do and we suggest you stop here for a look around. You’ll find many stylish cafes and restaurants, museums, art galleries and shops at the Town Basin as well as an interesting art trail and loop walkway. If you’re stopping here Whangarei Falls is a great spot with a short walk through native forest and park to stretch the legs.
Between Whangarei and Paihia, stop at the Kawiti Glowworm Caves and use the famous Hundertwasser public toilets in Kawakawa for a good laugh.
After Whangarei, the road to the Bay of Islands becomes twisty and hilly. Make sure you stick to the recommended speed when turning corners, and keep to the left-hand slow lane if you need to let other cars pass.
Auckland to the Bay of Islands (direct route)
If you’re driving to the Bay of Islands and you’d prefer to take the fastest route, stay on the northern motorway (instead of exiting at Orewa). By doing this you’ll save up to 25 minutes of travel time and avoid long traffic queues during the busy months.
You’ll bypass Orewa and use the Northern Gateway Toll Road through the Johnstones Hill Tunnel. As it’s a toll road, you’ll be charged to take this route. Your car’s registration number is electronically recorded so you’re able to pay online in advance, or within five working days of travelling on the toll road. Visit NZTA for more information about the Northern Gateway Toll Road.
Driving to Russell
Many people don't realise that the lovely town of Russell, across the Bay from Paihia, can be accessed by road! Russell is on a peninsula, so you can drive there. The quickest route is to catch the car ferry at Opua across to Okiato. If you're planning to drive to Russell, be aware that some GPS navigators don’t recognise the Opua car ferry as the direct route to Russell, and will suggest the much longer coastal road instead.
If you’re planning to get to the Bay of Islands by plane or helicopter, the closest airport is at Kerikeri, 23 km northwest of Paihia. Flights are a quick 40 minute journey from Auckland, making your journey to the stunning Bay of Islands quick and hassle-free.
For more information about flying to the Bay of Islands, visit Air New Zealand.