The Bay of Islands is one of the most popular destinations in all of New Zealand. Mile after mile of beach and rocky coastline surround this bay dotted with 144 islands. Countless activities in the Bay of Islands are geared towards backpackers, from affordable cruises and fishing trips to sea kayaking, and excursions that allow you to swim with dolphins. I loved my time here. It’s one of the few great beach destinations in the country and a relaxing interlude before all the adventure stuff of the country.
Hostel prices – Dorms room cost between 27-35 NZD, while private rooms start around 70 NZD for a double. All the hostels in Paihia (the main town) are located on one main street. Most hostels include free WiFi and most have kitchen. For those traveling with a tent, there are a few campgrounds in the area with basic facilities. Expect to pay 16-18 NZD for a basic plot (you’ll pay extra for electricity).
Budget hotel prices – Many prices are seasonal, ranging from 70-160 NZD per double room depending on when you go. Airbnb is a bit limited in the area, with only a few shared accommodations available. Expect to pay around 45 NZD per night for a shared room and 120 NZD per night for an entire home or apartment.
Cost of food – Meals at most restaurants will cost around 30 NZD, while a meal at one of the nicer restaurants will cost you around 45-60 NZD, including wine. If you choose to cook your food, plan to spend about 60-80 NZD per week. There are also some cheap pizza and fish and chip shops around town that will cost around 9 NZD, while fast food (think McDonald’s) will cost you closer to 11 NZD. Expect to pay around 8 NZD for a beer at the bar.
Transportation costs – Ferries operate between Paihia and Russell. The 15-minute trip costs 12 NZD for a round-trip ticket. To get to the Bay of Islands, buses run frequently from Auckland with fares as little as 1 NZD if you book early. If you don’t, fares are typically around 30 NZD for a one-way ticket. Flights from Auckland to Kerikeri are also available, though you’ll spend between 150-300 NZD for a one-way ticket.
Suggested daily budget – $70-90 NZD / $50-62 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, limiting your adventure activities, and using local transportation.)
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Money Saving Tips
- Get cheap bus fare – New Zealand’s two main coach operators have cheap fares for travelers who are organized enough to book ahead. InterCity also has the advantage of no booking fee (Naked Bus charges 1 NZD), but once the bargain 1 NZD fares have been sold Naked Bus still works out to be cheaper.
- Cook your food – The Bay of Islands is an upscale beach area with many expensive homes and restaurants. Eating out will really hurt your budget more so than in other places of New Zealand.
- Avoid the high season – Prices will be higher during the summer months, so avoid peak tourist season if you can!
- Stay with a local – While there are not many Couchsurfing hosts available in the area there are still some. Try staying with a local to cut down on your accommodation costs. You’ll also get some valuable insight into the area from a local — and that is priceless!
Top Things to See and Do on the Bay of Islands
- Lounge on the beach – The Bay of Islands is a perfect destination for spending time on the beach. There are beautiful beaches through the bay, and many of them are very secluded too. During the summer months, you’ll be hard pressed to find space as the beaches fill up quickly. (They aren’t that long).
- Go horseback riding – If you’ve ever wanted to horseback ride along the sand while listening to the roar of the waves, here’s your chance. Horseback riding is a popular activity here and many go out during sunset.
- Go sailing – Sailing is another popular activity here. There are many sailboats in the area. Expect to spend up to 110 NZD for a day trip.
- Take a hike – With such beautiful scenery and perfect weather, you will find a top selection of guided walks, hiking and tramping options to absorb some of the country’s spectacular environment.
- See some dolphins – Explore the bay and swim with dolphins, which seems to be the biggest draw here. These tours are about 100 NZD to start, but dolphin swimming costs extra.
- Go scuba diving – The area has some of the best scuba diving in the country. Beautiful coral gardens, blue waters, and tons of healthy reefs and fish life fill the area. For an open water dive, including all equipment, expect to pay around 300 NZD. You can take a PADI course here too.
- Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – The Waitangi Grounds give a unique and fascinating insight into New Zealand’s historic past. New Zealand’s most significant document, The Treaty of Waitangi, was first signed here in 1840 between Maori chiefs and the British and became the basis for life in New Zealand as it is known today. Admission is 40 NZD for (foreign) adults, while anyone under 18 enters for free as long as they are with an adult.
- Get fishing – This area is known for some great marlin, kingfish, and target snappers. Charter excursions run out of Paihia and Russell and start at around 100 NZD for a half-day excursion.
- Make a day trip to Cape Reinga – Day trips out of Paihia to Cape Reinga and 90 Mile Beach cost around 150 NZD (with discounts available for kids). They take you to the northernmost point of New Zealand (the Cape), to Puketi Kauri Forest, which is filled with ancient, massive trees, and then sandboarding at Te Paki quicksand stream. As an alternative, rent a vehicle and turn this into your own private tour.
- Visit Rainbow Falls – From Kerikeri, you can walk to Rainbow Falls which is about a 5km hike. Normally you can see a rainbow forming at the pool at the base of the falls.
- Tour Pompallier House – Pompallier House in Russell is a 19th-century French Catholic Mission House which now serves as a museum. Entrance costs 10 NZD (with discounts available) and exhibits show aspects of the printing press, tannery, and factory that were at some time or another operated by the mission.
- Interact with Parrots – The Parrot Place, located in Kerikeri, is a shop and bird zoo. The aviaries here contain over 300 species of birds. You can even hold and feed some of them. At 10 NZD, the price is a bit steep, but this would be a great activity if you’re traveling with children. Adult admission is 10 NZD, and children enter for only 5 NZD.
- Check out the Russell Museum – While it’s not worth making a special trip to Russell just to see this small museum, if you happen to be staying in Russell, you should consider popping in here. This museum contains Maori artifacts, artwork, a whaling boat, and photographs of the area, among other things. There’s enough here to keep you busy for a good hour. Admission is 10 NZD.