Bay of Islands walks and hikes
Thanks to its beautiful surroundings and pristine natural scenery, the Bay of Islands is a great place for walking and hiking. There are Bay of Islands walks for all fitness levels, from easy strolls and longer walking trails to multi-day hikes. Below you’ll find 10 of our favourite walks in the Bay of Islands, with options starting from Paihia and Russell, island walks and further afield.
Hiking in the Bay of Islands
Whether you’re planning a short walk or a longer hike, make sure you are prepared for your Bay of Islands walk.
- Wear sturdy, comfortable walking or hiking shoes
- Take plenty of water and food with you
- Wear a hat and bring plenty of sunscreen
- Pack a windproof and waterproof jacket
- Follow all DOC instructions and signs you see on the trail
- If you’re visiting any of our beautiful islands, help us keep them pest free
1. Opua Forest Paihia Lookout
This short walk is very close and convenient to central Paihia. Stroll along a well-maintained track through wetlands before climbing up through regenerated native forest to a lookout point high over Paihia’s township. Keep an eye out for native birdlife as you travel!
The lookout is a great place to get your bearings in the Bay of Islands. It has stunning views from Opua out towards Waitangi and Paihia, over to Russell and out across the Bay. This walk is a good option for visitors with limited time who want to experience one of the best views of the Bay of Islands.
If you have more time and can handle advanced hiking tracks, you can continue along this track to the Oromahoe Traverse.
START POINT: School Road, Paihia, 700m from Paihia township
TIME: 1 hour return
Find out more
2. Coastal Walkway: Paihia to Opua, Okiato to Russell
The Full Circle Coastal Walkway encompasses walking sections from Paihia to Opua and Okiato to Russell on the other side of the Bay, joined by ferry services. You’ll traverse a range of landscapes, from beachfront and boardwalks through mangrove swamps, through to dense bush and hilly terrain with harbour views. Along the way you’ll see historic points of interest like the site of New Zealand’s first capital and a manganese mine, as well as vineyards, oyster farms and native birdlife.
Starting from Paihia and heading for Opua, you’ll pass by Sullivans Beach and Te Haumi, as well as several smaller beaches and a boardwalk through mangroves. On the other side, from Okiato to Russell, you’ll find a mixture of flat stretches and steps up through native bush. Overlooking Orongo Bay you’ll see the historic manganese mine. The walkway also passes by oyster farms and vineyards – perfect for a break and to sample some local goodies.
You’ll need a reasonable level of fitness for some sections of this hike. You can choose to do the full circle in a day (travelling in either direction), or choose sections depending on the time you have available and your fitness levels. The walk is broken down into sections, with a description of the terrain and the time and skill level required. You can pick up information sheets and a map at the local information offices.
Paihia to Opua: 2 hours. Includes moderate climbs.
Opua to Okiato via vehicle ferry
Okiato to Russell: Four stages totalling approximately 3.5 hours. Steep in places.
Russell to Paihia via passenger ferry
START POINT: Paihia, Russell or any point in between
LENGTH: Approximately 14km total
TIME: 5.5 to 6 hours total
3. Flagstaff Hill Loop
Take a walk up Flagstaff Hill and enjoy the views from the highest point in Russell. This is a great option if you’ve come into Russell via passenger ferry.
At low tide, you can start this hike by walking to the northern end of Russell’s Kororareka Bay and around the rocks to Watering Bay, where a marked track begins through regenerated native forest. The track comes out onto Titore Way, where 300 metres along on the right there is another track up to the summit of Flagstaff Hill.
The high tide alternative is to walk along The Strand and through Kent Street to Wellington Street. About 300 metres up the road is the entrance to the bush walk which connects with the low tide option, or you may choose to continue up to the end of the street where there is a shorter bush track up to the summit (Te Maiki).
Native New Zealand kiwi and weka birds live in this area, as well as other birdlife.
Visit the famous flagstaff, chopped down four times by local Māori (including the chieftain Hone Heke) in opposition to British rule. Drink in the 360-degree views of the Bay of Islands and stroll over to the centennial sundial on the other side of the carpark for another perspective, before rejoining the path back into Russell via Wellington Street.
Flagstaff Hill is also one of the stops on the Russell Mini Tour.
START POINT: The Strand, Russell
LENGTH: 2.5km loop
TIME: 30 minutes
4. Long Beach
Long Beach (Oneroa) is a beautiful swimming beach with golden sand and views out to the islands, and is within easy walking distance of the town. The quickest route from Russell to Oneroa is the Long Beach Walkway.
Starting at the northern end of The Strand, walk through Kent Street and follow Long Beach Road to the camping ground. Follow the paved walking track you’ll see to the left.
Stroll through a valley filled with native bush and climb over the hill, passing the Russell cemetery before following the road downhill. You’ll soon arrive at the northern end of Oneroa for a relaxing swim.
The Russell Mini Tour also visits Long Beach.
START POINT: Long Beach Road, Russell
LENGTH: Approximately 1.5km
TIME: Approximately 20 minutes one-way
5. Haruru Falls
This walk starts at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and takes you up to the attractive horseshoe-shaped Haruru Falls. The walkway skirts the Waitangi Golf Course then follows the Waitangi River through native bush. Much of the walk runs along a boardwalk through a mature mangrove forest.
‘Haruru’ in te reo Māori means ‘roar’ or ‘rumble’. Listen for the thunder of water on rocks as you near the end of the walkway. Enjoy the peaceful view as water cascades down the falls and into the basin below – once the site of New Zealand’s first river port.
The road from Haruru Falls to Waitangi and Paihia has no footpath and is not suitable for pedestrians. We recommend returning along the same route, or organising other transport.
START POINT: Waitangi Treaty Grounds
TIME: 2.5 hours one way
6. Kerikeri River Track and Rainbow Falls
Starting at the historic Stone Store and Mission House in the Kerikeri Basin, this walking track follows the banks of the Kerikeri River up to the Wharepuke and Rainbow Falls. Listen out for the sound of native birds like tui or fantails as you walk through native bush.
There are viewing platforms at the top of the falls where you can photograph the beautiful scene before you – or bring your swimsuit and take a dip in the swimming hole below.
There’s also a shorter walk option, starting from the carpark and picnic area at the end of Rainbow Falls Road. This option is about 400m long and is wheelchair accessible.
START POINT: Kerikeri Basin Recreation Reserve, off Landing Road, Kerikeri
LENGTH: 3.5km one way
TIME: Approximately 1.5 hours one way
Photo by NorthlandNZ.com
7. Marsden Cross Track
This is an easy walk to see a key piece of Bay of Islands history. The track leads across farmland to Oihi Bay and Marsden Cross. This carved stone cross marks the place where the first Christian church service in New Zealand happened. On 23 December 1814, Reverend Samuel Marsden arrived in the Kerikeri Inlet in by ship, and two days later celebrated Christmas here.
Māori lived in this area for centuries before the missionaries arrived, and in the early years at least, the newcomers lived peacefully with the people of the land. In 2014 the area officially became Rangihoua Heritage Park.
START POINT: 36km from Kerikeri. Travel along Purerua Rd and Rangihoua Rd, Turn onto Oihi Rd and travel 2.8km to the start of the track.
LENGTH: 1.1km one way
TIME: 40 min one way
8. Whangamumu Harbour Walk
Visit the breathtaking Whangamumu harbour and tread the path of the early 20th century whalers. The track will take you through wetlands and coastal forest, over a ridge to a pristine sandy beach. At one end you’ll find the remains of one of the last surviving shore-based whaling stations in New Zealand.
Take a picnic and your swimsuit and enjoy exploring this beautiful and remote area. A track continues from the whaling station around the coast, joining up with the Cape Brett track.
START POINT: Signposted from Rawhiti-Ngaiotonga Rd, 28km from Russell
LENGTH: 4.2km one way
TIME: 1 hour one way
9. Urupukapuka Island
Take an archaeological walk around beautiful Urupukapuka Island and discover evidence of a thriving Māori community that once lived here. Pass through wetlands, home to endangered native birds like the brown teal and dotterel, see the remains of fortified Māori villages, and enjoy native forest and stunning views around the Bay of Islands. This walk is divided into two 2.5 hour sections – you can find a map and information on the DOC website.
Our Hole in the Rock cruise is the perfect way of getting to Urupukapuka Island. Cruise the Bay and see the famous Hole in the Rock, then land on Urupukapuka and spend the day exploring. We'll pick you up at end of the day and bring you back to Russell or Paihia. There are also some campsites on the island, and a cafe at Otehei Bay.
START POINT: Otehei Bay, Urupukapuka Island
LENGTH: 7.3 km
TIME: 5-6 hours
10. Cape Brett Walkway
We’ve saved the biggest and best Bay of Islands hiking trail til last! You’ll need a high level of fitness for this two-day walk, but you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the Bay of Islands. The trail leads along the Cape Brett Peninsula all the way to its tip, marked by the historic Cape Brett Lighthouse. Along the way you’ll pass by beautiful beaches and bays, including Deep Water Cove, where the wreck of the HMZNZS Canterbury lies deep below the surface.
The track travels along the ridge of the cape, through Māori-owned and conservation land. Enjoy views of the Bay of Islands, native forest and keep an eye out for marine life far below you including dolphins and seals. There are many bluffs and steep cliffs that require extreme caution on your way to the lighthouse.
Be prepared to stay the night in the DOC hut – you’ll need to book it in advance via their website. You can access the start of the track by land or sea. By land the track begins from Oke Bay, Rawhiti, 26km from Russell. You can also book a water taxi from Russell or Paihia.
There is a track fee for the portion of the track that runs over private land. You can pay track and hut fees at the Paihia i-SITE (just opposite our booking office).
START POINT: Oke Bay, Rawhiti, 26km from Russell
TIME: 8 hours one way