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Delve into the hidden history of the Bay of Islands and discover the brithplace of our nation. With gems such as Paihia, Waitangi, Russell and everything else in between you're bound to not only expand your knowledge about New Zealand, but your horizons as well.
This is an area steeped in equal parts of history, culture, natural beauty and adventure. Make your next holiday one to remember by heading to this versatile destination – and start out in the quaint, yet bustling hub of the Bay of Islands, Paihia.
Many visitors to the Bay of Islands choose Paihia as their base because there’s just so much here to see and do. Whether you’re travelling as a couple or a family, everyone’s bound to be entertained and inspired along the way. While you’re here, make sure you head outdoors and get to know this small town.
It’s a hive of activity over the summer months, but a calmer atmosphere permeates Paihia from autumn to spring – so taking your time and getting to know the area and the locals can top your to-do list.
Although Paihia can, at times, seem like a sleepy little town, there’s always something on tap for the adventurous. To get your blood really pumping, try something completely out of the ordinary, like skydiving. While this might sound a little bit out-there, there’s really no better way to take in the dazzling views of the Bay of Islands. What a story to tell, and what a memory to take home with you!
Paihia is also a perfect place to try out your sea legs: you can join a fishing charter, go kayaking or hop on board a boat for a day trip such as the cream-trip day cruise – history buffs will love this one. The most extensive historical cruise offered in the Bay of Islands, the tour follows the route of the original 1927 'Cream Trip'. It’s island hopping at its finest and most relaxing, and something not to miss.
While Paihia is famed for being a summer playground, Russell usually takes a quieter, more backseat position when it comes to being discovered by tourists. Just a short ferry ride from Paihia wharf or a scenic drive around by land, Romantic Russell (as it is called today) started off as a provisioning port for whalers.
Lawless, bawdy and nicknamed Hellhole of the Pacific, Russell’s colourful past is seemingly at odds with the serenity of the township today. While in Russell immerse yourself in the beauty of the architecture and the depth of the history by stopping into Pompallier.
Built in 1841-42, this building served many purposes in its day, being all at once a printery, tannery and storehouse for the French Marist mission. Stop in and learn past methods of tanning, printing and bookbinding.
After checking out some of the past, step back into the present and take in a walk to Long Beach. An hour’s stroll from the ferry landing, the journey to this stunning beach is as rewarding as the destination.
With all sorts of fauna and flora along the walkway (the bird life here is remarkable), you’ll enjoy nature at its finest. Be sure to bring along a picnic lunch and cool down in the tide or sit in the grass beneath a tall tree. Whatever you decide to do in Russell, add Long Beach to your to-do list.
Get to know the birthplace of our nation and head back in time with each step you take while exploring Waitangi. Maori and European history in New Zealand runs deep here – and the strength of the treaty signed here still holds today. It was in Waitangi on 6 February 1840 that the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed between Maori and the British Crown. The treaty established British control over New Zealand, or governance (kawanatanga), depending on whether you’re reading the English or Maori version. And though neglected for many years, the treaty has played an increasingly important role in recent times.
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are part of the 506ha Waitangi National Trust Estate. A must-see is the Treaty House, which was built in 1832 for the first British Resident, James Busby. Across the lawn is the magnificently detailed whare runanga, a beautiful meeting house with intricate carvings, which was completed in 1940 to mark the centenary of the treaty.
The 35m waka taua (war canoe) Ngatokimatawhaorua was also built for the centenary and a photographic exhibit details how it was fashioned from gigantic kauri logs. The naval flagpole in the grounds marks the spot where the Crown and Maori chiefs signed the treaty. Entry to the treaty grounds is free for New Zealand residents.
Explore one of New Zealand’s oldest landmark homes with a resident historian on a 60-minute tour.
This special twilight show traces the history of the people of Aotearoa New Zealand. The drama brings the past to life for both Maori and European.
Gather under the stars or in the carved Maori meeting house for a dramatic live musical performance that evokes the past and explores the future of our nation.
Only 4km west of Paihia, the Haruru Falls cascade in a rare horseshoe shape. Here you can see nature’s power as the water from the Haruru Falls flows down into the Waitangi River. These falls are an excellent place for a picnic if you want to spend a lazy day in a beautiful spot.
The Waitangi Haruru Mangrove Walk links the Treaty Grounds with the falls, a 90-minute walk each way that takes in a boardwalk over mangroves. Alternatively, you can drive to the falls.
Read other great articles in our new Interactive Travel Magazine "Use Your Feet".