There's plenty to discover in the Bay of Islands' main resort town.
Where is Paihia?
Picturesque Paihia is a popular holiday spot, thanks to its three sheltered, sandy beaches and stunning views across the Bay. Known as the jewel of the Bay of Islands, Paihia is about three hours’ drive north of Auckland. Its location makes it a great base for any Bay of Islands or Northland holiday. Our world-famous cruises and coach tours all depart from Paihia.
Paihia’s European history began when Captain James Cook sailed into the Bay in 1769. The exact origin of the name isn’t known for sure. However, 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 only knew a few words of the Māori language. One word he did know was pai, meaning good. So when he first saw his new home, 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 (tribe) 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.
Did you know? The first mention of cricket being played in New Zealand was in Paihia, in December 1832.
After the mission closed in 1850, Paihia shrank to a small settlement. Whaling and kauri timber were the main industries.
From the 1930s onwards, though, Paihia’s reputation as a holiday destination began to grow. During World War II, American forces built a road between Kawakawa and Paihia, making it easier to reach. The Treaty House at nearby Waitangi had also become a popular attraction. In the early 1960s a hotel opened in the area, and beach houses, motor camps and motels sprang up.
What to do in Paihia
Today Paihia is a base for deep-sea fishing, boating 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. There are farmers’ markets on weekends and when cruise ships come to town.
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 in the maritime building with the red roof, right on Paihia’s waterfront.
There are all kinds of other activities in Paihia, including paintball, an adventure world and mini golf. See our family itinerary ideas for more information.
Staff tip: Look out for stingrays and eagle rays swimming along the waterfront at lunchtime and around 4-5pm – they come to feed on fish frames from the charter boats! – Barry, Ops manager
Where to stay in Paihia
Paihia has accommodation to suit every kind of traveller or group, from resort hotels and motels to apartments, B&Bs and backpacking hostels.