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The Bay of Islands


A few hours north of Auckland is the Bay of Islands. It’s a small area where people go to holiday, sail, swim, see dolphins, and relax. The main tourist town is Paihia, though a lot of people go to nearby Russßell too. If you’ve ever been to the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard, Byron Bay, or any seaside town that relies solely on tourism, then you’ll have a good idea as to what this area is like.

There’s not much going on in this area, so it’s a great place to go visit and relax. It can be very touristy, but the range of sea activities and the sense of peacefulness more than make up for it. You can spend your days lying on the beach, swimming, horseback riding, sailing, hiking, or taking a boat out to explore the bay and swim with dolphins, which seems to be the biggest draw here.

I did the Awesome NZ dolphin tour. The guides were friendly and informative, but we didn’t see a lot of dolphins, and the ones we did see were moving too fast to get any good pictures of them (like all my dolphin and whale tours). We spent a few hours trying to find bottlenose dolphins to no avail, and I tried to find something to kill my boredom. We took a break on this beautiful island where you could swim and relax, but the water here, while a beautiful turquoise green, was too cold for me. I’m spoiled by tropical water, and 20-Celsius water turns me into an icicle.

Because of the lack of dolphins, there was no swimming with them. It didn’t bother me, but my friends were really keen to do it. The only thing I can’t figure out (and all the companies here seem to pull this move) is why it costs extra to swim with dolphins. These tours are about 90 NZD to start with, but dolphin swimming costs 30 NZD extra. Why? We’re all on the boat anyways, so there’s no extra work involved. Are the dolphins taking a cut? Doubt it. What if I just happen to fall in the water? Do I get charged 30 NZD too? I find no good reason to charge people to get on the boat and then extra just to go in the water with the dolphins. All the companies here pull this trick, and I think it’s just a way to get more money from tourists.

That being said, the tour itself was cool, the staff knew their facts, and if dolphins are your thing, you’ll want to spend the money to go out and see them. Or if dolphins aren’t your thing, you can also sail, kayak, or take tours of the bay. Whatever you do, you have to get out into the bay. It’s where all the action is, even if the water is cold!

There’s not much else to say about the Bay of Islands. It’s one of those places you come to for a few days to relax. I couldn’t stay here for more than four or five days, though a lot of backpackers seem to spend weeks here. I think that has a lot to do with the available jobs here and the fact that the beer is pretty cheap. What little nightlife the town has revolves around two backpacker bars and one local bar. A lot of the locals come down to the backpacker bars because, as one said to me last night, “There’s no one anywhere else and the beer is cheaper.” And while backpacker bars can be an interesting and fun time, I would hate to know that they were my only option at night. After two nights, I’m already sick of them.

The restaurants in town are pretty good, though. I recommend two. For good sandwiches (get the breakfast panini!), head to the Beach House. Everything is about 8 NZD, well portioned, and delicious. Plus, they have free Wi-Fi. Did I mention you should try the breakfast sandwich? For some great seafood, go to Only Seafood. It’s located across the beach and is not a budget option. A meal here will set you back at least 50 NZD. However, it was worth every penny to go over my budget. The salmon and lightly seared tuna were mouth watering. Just thinking about it makes me want to go back there.

The Bay of Islands is nice, and you could spend about three days here and tick off all the activities. Or you could stay longer and relax in one of the sunniest places in New Zealand. It’s also a great place to work because there isn’t much to distract you. I’ve enjoyed my time here, but three days has been enough.

Photo credits: 1, 3, 4

For more information, visit my guide to New Zealand travel.