A Pocket of Paradise!
Driving into the main town of Paihia, your instantly greeted by sparkling oceans, luscious rain forests and sandy beaches, or so I’ve heard. On the day we arrived it was raining, but once the unpridcatabele New Zealand weather cleared we could see what all the fuss was about.
The main town of the bay of islands, Paihia, is about a 3 hour drive north of Aukland and a rental car is almost a must to get to this location. Buses do run from Auckland but they leave you limited in what you can independently do, once in the tiny town. Plus car hire is a cost affective way of avoiding tours and having the freedom to go wherever and when ever you like. Juicy rentals is a cheap car rental company that hires camper vans, vans and cars for all users, but one of the only rental companies in NZ that hires to under 21’s!
Things to do on the main land:
Kayak or Hike to Hururu Falls:
- There are lots of kayaking tours that offer to take you the ‘3 hour’ kayak to Hururu Falls, however as we discovered not only is this option overpriced, it is completely unnecessary. The kayak to the falls is a relatively easy 1-2 hour one way trip and is very straight forward. We passed many a tour group, who were constantly stopping and waiting for other people to catch up or steer straight. We were very pleased that we didn’t book one of these over priced tours, however perhaps if you had no canoeing/kayaking experience at all then a tour might be for you, but i would avoid it if i could. The falls themselves were rather disappointing once we arrived, I think we must have visited at a bad time, but there was very little water flowing through them and really we were underwhelmed. it was still a fun day though and the paddling was nice, however be sure to check the tides, as on the way back we got bogged and had to walk out canoe for about 500m to get to deeper water, the paddle back however is much easier and quicker as the current does all the work for you!
The other option is to hike to Hururu falls and this is about a 10km round trip, through the rainforest and along the banks of the bay and river. Its a nice, relatively easy hike and very doable if you have moderate fitness level.
Hike the Opua Forest Lookout Track:
- This is a nice uphill 1hour walk that takes you to a nice vantage point to get a birds eye view of the bay of islands. I wish we had done this when we first arrived as it
would’ve given us a better understanding of the lay out of the small town and its surrounding islands. None the less, its a great hike ad the view from the top makes it worth it.
We went in summer and although the we climbed was in excess of 27 degrees celsius, once you enter the path, the canopy of the trees makes the temperature considerably cooler, so a good option for a warm day! Access to the beginning of the trail can be reached by foot from the main town, and is about a 5 minute walk. It is however easy to miss, as its tucked away so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the classic green and yellow signs that are plentiful about NZ to disclose of pathways and trails nearby.
Hire bikes and ride part of all of the twin coast rail trail:
- Bike hire is relatively affordable and plentiful in the bay of islands and these a nice track that winds along the coast. Our hostel Centabay Lodge hired bikes to us, but if your hostel doesn’t offer this, then there are many bike/adventure companies in the area where you can pick up a bike, by the hour of by the day. The rai trail is a 85km Trail from Opua in the East to Horeke and the Hokianga in the West and is open to ride partially of fully over a few days. Like anything in NZ the scenery is amazing and with the nice costly sea breeze, it is ideal conditions for a bike ride.
Take a boat trip to neighbouring russell for sundowners:
- Russell is just a 20 minute ferry ride from the mainland and is a gorgeous place to watch the sun go down over the bay of islands. Its most popular at night and the little main street gets very busy around dinner time, as many flock to the island to watch the sun go down. Don’t let this deter you though, we were there in summer, aka the busiest time, and I’m sure that at other times of the year it wouldn’t be quite as busy. Crowds aside, its got lots of old, refurbished building, with one main pub that is the watering hole for many as the sun goes down. Fish and chips on the beach is also a cheap and nice way to spend the night at Russell, before getting on your return ferry back to the mainland. Ferry’s leave roughly every 30 minutes, but may be more or less frequent depending on the time of day and what mount of the year, so be sure to check and confirm what times you can get back, as once the last ferry is gone, thats it!
Take a boat trip to neighbouring Urupukapuka Bay and hike!
- Its a big call but i would say that with the exception of the alpine crossing, this was my favourite hike in the north island of NZ. The free ride out there was quite pricey, cost around $30 for a return journey, but as we weren’t willing to pay the $100+ for any of the other boat charters, that go to the famous, but overrated ‘whole in the rock’ this was a good alternative that allowed us to go to some of the outer islands as well as get a full day of hiking in. The Island is small, and can be hiked in a day, and with the exception of a cafe, is uninhabited. Although lots of people come to the island everyday, surprisingly not many of them were doing any of the hikes, besides the short 20 minute uphill hike to the look out. That suited us just fine and allowed us to explore the island and its many private beaches and vantage points with no one else, but a few yachts every so often.
We spent about 4 hours hiking but this easily could’ve been longer or shorter depending on how much time you have. While we did cover most of the island, we did a big circle around the outside, so didn’t get to explore inland as much, so you could easily spend 6 or more hours hiking if you really wanted to!
There is also a canoe hire shop, and we took out the canoes for a few hours as well. It was quite pricey to hire a 2 person canoe, about $20, and to be honest it wasn’t worth it. There is a lot of boat activity in the bay and this made the ocean very choppy and we didn’t feel safe as larger boats sailed past. It was still a fun few hours, but i wouldn’t do it again. Additionally there was a long wait list when we were there, so if its busy i would recommend booking in a time to use the canoes prior to exploring the island, to avoid waiting.
There are many other things to do such as 4WD on 90 mile beach, quad biking, horse riding and dolphin watching tours. However we didn’t participate in these, mainly due to the high cost for all of those activities, and while they would’ve been fun i don’t feel like we missed out on doing anything while we were there. New Zealand is inherently expensive, so to do it on a budget you have to pick and choose what is worth spending your money on. We didn’t feel these activities were as worthwhile as BLACK WATER RAFTING or visiting WHITE ISLAND and hence decided to do more budget friendly actives.