Locals always know the best spots, so here are our tips on the top 10 things to do for families visiting the Bay of Islands and Northland. See activity ideas for couples.
Grab a tent or a campervan and set off into the Far North to get away from it all. Spend the day swimming and exploring the coastline before setting up for the night. Wake up to birdsong and the morning sunlight streaming through your tent, with the beach right outside. There are DOC-operated and private campgrounds located around the Far North. Make sure you read the regulations for visitors. Read the DOC website or camping.org.nz for more information.
Situated on Northland’s west coast, the Waipoua Forest is home to some of the most impressive kauri trees in New Zealand. Well maintained walking tracks make it easy to view the trees up close. As soon as the forest swallows you up you’ll be awestruck – but save your gasps for the mighty Tāne Mahuta (Lord of the Forest), the largest known kauri tree in the world at 51 metres high and with a girth of 13 metres. Standing beneath this gigantic tree, estimated to be 2,000 years old, is a magical experience. Learn more about Waipoua Forest tours
You simply can’t visit Northland without taking a cruise around the sheltered waters of the Bay of Islands. There are numerous options available, including half day and full day cruises, departing from Paihia and Russell daily. Dolphin viewing and swimming is restricted by DOC to licensed cruise operators, so take advantage of the local experts, who have years of experience seeking out and interacting with these amazing creatures.
(Note: These springs are currently closed for renovation.) Located just east of Kaikohe, the Ngawha hot springs are a popular spot for locals as the best hot pools Northland has to offer. Temperatures range from milder pools for the whole family to hotter ones for adults only. Don’t expect a five-star spa – this is the real thing, with basic facilities. Just climb in and soak your way to bliss. Some say the minerals at Ngawha Springs have healing properties, and you’ll definitely notice the authentic mineral smell afterwards (don’t worry, it showers off). Find out more
Just a short ferry ride across from Paihia, the once notorious ‘Hellhole of the Pacific’ is now a charming little township. Explore on foot or join the guided one-hour Russell Mini Tour for an entertaining overview. Wander around historic sites like Christ’s Church, Pompallier House and the Russell Museum, or get active and walk up Flagstaff Hill or over to Long Beach. When you’re all explored out, settle down for a bite to eat and drink at one of the many seafront cafes.
You can’t visit Northland and not go all the way to the top! Make the journey to Cape Reinga, driving along Ninety Mile Beach and sandboarding at Te Paki Stream en route. Although it’s a registered highway, most vehicle insurance policies won’t cover you on Ninety Mile Beach, so it’s best left to the professionals. Don't forget to stop and sample the famous fish and chips at Mangonui. Tours depart daily from Paihia and Kerikeri.
Nothing beats the thrill of catching your first fish, and the Bay of Islands offers a great opportunity to catch seafood big and small. You’ll often find local kids fishing from the wharf at Russell and rods can be hired from the local convenience store. If big game is more your style then join a local charter operator and head out in search of tuna, marlin, sharks or kingfish. At the end of the day, take the kids to Shippey’s by the Waitangi Bridge, where they can eat fish and chips inside a real live ship – and if you did get lucky, they’ll cook your catch for you.
Here in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between Māori and the British Crown. Explore the original Treaty House, see Te Whare Runanga, a carved Māori meeting house representing all the iwi (tribes) in Aotearoa. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds offer a truly unique insight into New Zealand's early history. Guided tours and cultural performances take place throughout the day. Visiting Waitangi Treaty Grounds is free for New Zealanders, while a charge applies for overseas visitors.
Just outside Paihia, Action World has everything you need for a fun and active day out! Kids and adults alike can soar through the air on the flying trapeze, and have a go on the high wire, jousting pole, climbing wall, trampolines and extreme slides. Award-winning air bags mean every heart-pumping activity is safe and secure.
Explore the Bay of Islands by foot and you never know what you’ll discover – a deserted beach, rare native birds or stunning views. There are well-maintained walking tracks around the Bay suitable for all ages and skill levels. Find out more about Bay of Islands walks