Paihia is a beautiful, little town nestled right in the heart of the Bay of Islands. With its extensive accommodation options, delicious restaurants and numerous other amenities, it is the perfect place to set up base to explore the wider Bay of Islands region.
The Paihia township itself has loads of great activities. Some of the best things to do in Paihia include visiting the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and taking a boat ride throughout the harbour.
We love exploring the Bay of Islands, whether it’s ticking off the main sightseeing attractions of seeking out hidden gems. This guide to Paihia & the wider region will tell you everything you need to do to have an unforgettable time in the Bay of Islands.
Things to Do in Paihia
Whether you’re a nature-loving explorer or you prefer thrilling adventure activities, the Bay of Islands has you covered.
With crowd favourite attractions typically involving a boat ride or two, getting out on the water is an absolute must in Paihia. Stunning islands are dotted around the harbour, as well as a wide variety of wildlife. There’s always something new to find or experience in the Bay of Islands.
1. Explore Urupukapuka Island
Getting out and exploring the islands is certainly amongst the best things to do in the Bay of Islands. To be fair, it’s kind of the entire reason people visit in the first place! Urupukapuka Island is the most popular island in the harbour – and for good reason.
To get to Urupukapuka you need to take a boat. Your best bet is to book a tour or visit the Explore ticketing offices in Paihia. The ferry only takes about 40-minutes and is painfully priced at $50 for the return trip. Alternatively, if you’re not too worried about the price, book this tour online with Explore and you’ll get the opportunity to see a few more places.
As you step off the boat onto the jetty, you’ll quickly forget about the $50 price tag as the island is stunning. Many visitors opt to relax on the beach, either at the cafe (which, quite frankly, serves the worst coffee) or on the sand. However, the island is covered with walks and we recommend exploring it by foot. Some incredible views can be found just by taking a short hike.
2. Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Arguably New Zealand’s most important historic site, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are where the country’s founding document, the first accord between Maori and European settlers, was signed in 1840.
The significance of Te Tiriti O Waitangi, and the Treaty of Waitangi, is due to its role in defining Maori rights and land ownership in New Zealand. Visiting the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is an important activity for tourists and New Zealanders.
The grounds themselves are within an immaculately maintained park with incredible views. There is a museum here that provides insight into the treaty and what it means, as well as educational exhibits around Maori culture and New Zealand’s history.
3. Go Sightseeing in Russell
Making your way to Russell is a must-do. This rustic, little town is a very important part of New Zealand’s history. It was New Zealand’s first seaport, first European settlement and first capital. The town to this day retains its original layout and many of the historic buildings still exist and are open to visitors.
On top of all this, Russell is a stunning, sea-side town packed full with amazing cafes, restaurants, bars and attractions. This makes the town conveniently located as a base to explore the region, although we prefer Paihia for this.
4. Cruise to the Hole in the Rock
The Hole in the Rock, or Piercy Island, is a famous spot in the Bay of Islands’ harbour. To get here you will need a boat so your best bet is probably to book a scenic cruise.
Most cruises to Hole in the Rock include a few other stopovers as well as some opportunities to see the local wildlife, including dolphins. This day cruise by Explore has all that plus a 1.5-hour stopover in Urupukapuka Island.
Hole in the Rock itself is a really stunning rock formation that has developed due to geological processes over many years. Tours typically take you up close to the hole, sometimes going through it.
There isn’t anything else to do here, so although it’s a cool place to visit, you’ll likely want it to be a part of a larger trip.
5. Eat a Pizza at Hone’s Garden
There are plenty of delicious restaurants in Paihia and Russell, but our favourite was Hone’s Garden. Set within what feels like a jungle, this unassuming-from-the-street bar and restaurant is serving up some of the best woodfired pizzas in New Zealand.
The pizzas are mouthwateringly good with nice, crispy bases and high quality ingredients, especially for the reasonable price of $20-25. Hone’s Garden is the perfect place to relax and spend an evening with a few drinks and shared pizzas.
6. Go on a Scenic Flight
There’s no better way to view the Bay of Islands than from the sky. The views of the islands piercing the turquoise waters of the harbour are breathtaking.
There are a number of scenic flight providers operating out of Paihia. It is our preference to head up in a helicopter due to the views you get out of the front window. This tour operated by Salt Air and is a great option that takes you out to see the Hole in the Rock.
7. Take the Local Water Taxi
The local water taxi is a cool example of how transport can adapt to suit the geographic location of residents. Driving from Paihia to Russell doesn’t make a lot of sense geographically, instead the most effective way to get between the two islands is via the local water taxi.
We reckon this is a fun experience and an awesome way to get out on the water for cheap and see the harbour. It’s also the best way to see Russell if you are staying in Paihia. If you are heading to Urupukapuka Island, then consider jumping off the return ferry in Russell then taking the water taxi back to Paihia.
8. Eat Your Way Through the Paihia Restaurants
The restaurants in Paihia are one of the main reasons we recommend staying here instead of Russell or other nearby towns. Not only are there good food options, but you also have the opportunity to eat at restaurants with views over the harbour.
Charlotte’s Kitchen is a popular institution located at the end of the jetty out on the water. Terra is a delicious upscale eatery. Further back you also have a variety of fish ‘n chip shops, chinese restaurants and pizza shops.
9. Kayak and Photograph Haruru Falls
Checking out Haruru Falls is one of the best free things to do in Paihia. This wide and powerful waterfall is where the Waitangi river flows into a lagoon. The spot can be easily driven to with a short, 5-minute walk through a park.
Haruru Falls are popular with scenic photographers, and although we feel the essence of the Bay of Islands is out on the ocean, this waterfall certainly is impressive.
Another great option is to rent a kayak or join a kayak tour and head out into the river yourself (from downstream, obviously) and check out the falls from the water.
10. Check Out the Views From the Golf Course
The Waitangi Golf Course is a popular place to visit for avid golfers. However, as it turns out the views from the golf course grounds are incredible! And it’s also free to drive up through the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and stop off on the Golf Course’s grounds to check out the view and snap some pics.
11. Visit Cape Reinga & Ninety Mile Beach
The northernmost tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga, is a magical place with breathtaking scenery. It is a theme park for landscape photographers and is really worth visiting if you’ve made it this far north already.
There isn’t a lot around Cape Reinga by way of towns so our preference is to make the drive up as a day trip while staying in Paihia. Likewise, if you’re making this trip up you may as well check out some of the sites along the way, in particular Ninety Mile Beach and the gigantic sand dunes.
12. Ride the Twin Coast Cycleway
Pou Herenga Tai, or the Twin Coast Cycleway, is a scenically beautiful coast-to-coast journey from the famously beautiful Bay of Islands to Hokianga Harbour.
Tackling this great ride will take 1-2 days as you traverse 84km of on and off-road cycleway. Overall, the track is rated as easy with a generally flat gradient which makes it suitable for most riders.
13. Join a Scenic Paihia Cruise Through the Harbour
After viewing it from the air, the next best way to explore the Bay of Islands is from the water. If you have your own boat, then that’s one way to get out there, but for most of us our best option is to book a cruise.
We recommend booking either the Hole in the Rock Cruise or this Island-Hopper Cruise with Explore. Both get you out on the sparkling, blue waters of the Bay of Islands, allow you to explore the gorgeous islands and see the incredible wildlife.
14. Explore the Paihia Shops
Paihia is a small town, but it does have a few nice-to-have amenities. You’re not going to find any high street shops or multi-story shopping malls in Paihia. Instead, take the opportunity to go for a wander around the township.
Explore the lovely eateries, bars and cafes. Take a gander in Paihia Bookshop and check out Flying Fish Design Store and The Cabbage Tree for souvenirs to take back home.
15. Eat Fish ‘n Chips on Paihia Beach
It doesn’t get much more kiwi than this, but eating fish ‘n chips on the beach at sunset is quite literally the best thing you can do anywhere. No one can debate that.
Paihia Beach is a lovely spot and is located right across the road from all the eateries in town. We ate at Ocean’s 68 Takeaways and the fish was fresh and the chips crispy – what more can you ask for?
16. Walk the Paihia School Road Track
The Paihia School Road Track is a pleasant walk that meanders through a lovely forest to the Opua Forest Lookout. The walk is quite easy and only takes about an hour.
At the lookout you get to be rewarded with a view so stunning you’ll feel like you didn’t walk far enough to earn it.
17. Swim With Dolphins
Paihia is one of the most popular places to swim with dolphins in New Zealand. In the Bay of Islands you are most likely to come across either the Bottlenose or the Common dolphin. The Bottlenose Dolphins are the playful ones that you’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for.
Going on a dolphin cruise and taking the opportunity to swim in the water near these mammals is a memorable activity.
18. Camp at Urupukapuka Campsite
Two of our favourite activities in Paihia are visiting Urupukapuka Island and camping, so why not do them both together? The Bay of Islands contains numerous stunning campgrounds, many nestled within beautiful harbours. The Urupukapuka campsite is one such campground, located on a gorgeous beach on Urupukapuka Island.
The campsite is run by DOC so don’t expect luxury, but you can rest assured that there are functional toilets, showers and untreated tap water. Also, bear in mind that this is an extremely popular campsite so you’ll want to book early.
19. Visit Kerikeri
Kerikeri, the largest town in Northland and the homeground of the infamous Hongi Hika, is a town known for its colourful history, easy-going lifestyle and many attractions.
A visit to the Stone Store and Kemp House, which were built by European missionaries with the support of the local iwi in the early 1800s, is a must-do. Nature-lovers can also make their way to the beautiful Rainbow falls.
20. Climb Through Glow Worm Caves
On the dive back to Auckland, consider stopping off at the Waipu Caves near Whangarei. These glow worm caves can be a bit wet and muddy, but they’re a fun way to explore some caves and see the glowworms – not to mention it’s free.
The Kawiti Glow Worm Caves are a lot closer to Paihia and are a major attraction operated by an experienced team, however access is by guided tour.
21. Hop on a Vineyard Tour
New Zealand is renowned for some of the best wines in the world with numerous wineries dotted across the country. Within the Bay of Islands, top wineries include Paroa Bay Winery and Omata Winery.
A little further out from Paihia, some popular choices are Ake Ake Vineyard and Marsden Estate Winery.
Best option is to delegate a sober driver, but if that’s too hard you can book a guided winery tour.
We selected Paihia as the best place to set up base in the Bay of Islands in large part due to the wide range of amazing accommodation in Paihia. It doesn’t matter what your budget is, Paihia will have a hostel, holiday home or hotel for you.
Haka Lodge Paihia is our favourite place to stay in Paihia. The accommodation here is affordable for couples looking for a private room, or solo travellers looking for dorms. The best part about Haka Lodge is the view from the common area. Despite being a backpackers, the location and view are 5-star.
Sea Spray Suites is our top mid-range pick thanks to its super convenient and stunning beachfront location within walking distance to Paihia. The rooms are nice and modern as well.
How to Get to Paihia
Getting to Paihia involves a 3-hour drive north from Auckland. You will most likely want to make this trip by car with numerous options for rentals in Auckland.
We recommend most travellers to tackle this as a road tip and to consider checking out some of the sights and attractions along the drive from Auckland to Paihia or vice versa.
Best Time to Visit Paihia
The best time to visit Paihia is during Summer, which is when the weather is nice and warm. This is the perfect time to explore the Bay of Islands, getting out on the water and enjoying the outdoors.
This is also the busiest time of the year to visit Paihia, so it’s worth bearing this in mind and booking in advance. Weekdays will also be a great way to avoid the crowds of Aucklanders that flock to the Bay of Islands.
Are the Bay of Islands and Paihia Worth Visiting?
Paihia and the Bay of Islands are one of New Zealand’s best, natural treasures. The North Island has few scenic locations that can rival the South Island, and the Bay of Islands are one of them.