Bay of Islands, New Zealand: A Journey Through History, Culture, and Seaside Splendor

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Curated By

Mia McGraw

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  • Nature Escapes

  • Beaches

  • New Zealand

  • Island

  • Relaxation

  • Romantic

Bay of Islands, New Zealand: A Journey Through History, Culture, and Seaside Splendor
Curator’s statement

Visiting the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, in 2015 was a mesmerizing start to three months visiting all of New Zealand. The warm waters held a celestial surprise as night fell – a magical display of bioluminescence that transformed the sea into a canvas of sparkling stars. This enchanting phenomenon turned each swim into a celestial display, leaving an indelible mark on my memories. The Bay of Islands, with its rich Māori history, vibrant culture, and nature's luminous spectacle, is truly a destination worth stopping in.

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Where to stay

The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs

Relaxing cottages and residences in New Zealand's serene Northland offering access to golfing, nature trekking and sophisticated cuisine.

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  • A gourmet picnic hamper for two.

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Embarking on a journey to the Bay of Islands felt like stepping into an enchanting tale, where each island town revealed its own captivating narrative. Russell, once humorously labeled "The Hellhole of The Pacific," has gracefully transformed into a coastal gem. As I meandered through its historic streets, the tales of yesteryear lingered in the saline breeze, creating a nostalgic ambiance. A must-stop was Hone's Garden, a delightful haven where the scent of wood-fired pizzas mingled with the invigorating sea air. For an extraordinary blend of pizza, wine, and breathtaking views, I set sail to the Omata Estate Vineyard, an experience that truly transcended the ordinary.

Long Beach, with its sun-kissed shores and crystal-clear waters, beckoned me to immerse myself in the gentle sway of the sea. Opting for an intimate boat trip on a small sailboat, I discovered the allure of maritime magic up close, exploring the surrounding islands.

Paihia, a charming waterfront town, welcomed me with open arms. The waterfront's allure was best savored at Charlotte's Kitchen or Zane Greys, where the views were as delectable as the dishes. Strolling through the town, vibrant murals painted stories against the cliff by the beach—a visual feast that invited me into the cultural tapestry of the region. Remarkably, the muralist is still living there today and available to talk about her work.

Journeying to Waitangi, I found a destination rich in history and Māori culture. Immersing myself in the narratives that shaped the nation, I felt the spirit of the land beneath my feet. It was not just a visit; it was a profound journey through time and tradition.

Kerikeri, another jewel in this crown of experiences, revealed the Honey House Cafe—an aromatic haven where the sweetness of honey met the whispers of history. Dining at Plough & Feather restaurant, I experienced the perfect blend of culinary artistry and rustic countryside charm. Venturing into the surrounding nature, walks led me to Rainbow Falls—a cascade of colors and water that captivated my senses.

The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, nestled in Kerikeri, provided an unparalleled luxury experience. Along the untouched coastline of Northland, the resort offered panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, nearby islands, and pristine private beaches. Surrounded by high cliffs, rolling farmland, and the award-winning manicured greens of a championship golf course, my stay at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs promised an unforgettable retreat.

Matauri Bay, a short journey up the coast, welcomed me with open arms and golden sands. The waves serenaded me as I basked in the beauty of this secluded paradise. For those seeking panoramic grandeur, the St Paul's Rock Walk at Whangaroa Harbour was a trek that rewarded me with breathtaking vistas stretching beyond the horizon.

In the Bay of Islands, each destination unfolded as a chapter in a story waiting to be written—a canvas painted with the hues of history, culture, and natural splendor. The optimal time to experience this magic was from December to February when the region unfolded its warm embrace and vibrant colors. It invited me to set sail, walk the paths less traveled, and let the Bay's enchantment unfold before my eyes.

Need to Know

For adults who relish the fusion of luxurious indulgence and thrilling adventure, the Bay of Islands beckons with its seamless blend of opulence and excitement. From the refined ambiance of Russell's charming seaside town to the high-end experiences at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, every moment is drenched in sophistication. Whether it's savoring wood-fired pizzas by the sea or embarking on small sailboat escapades to explore secluded islands, this journey caters to those who appreciate the art of living lavishly while savoring the thrill of coastal exploration.

This trip report is part of our ongoing series on travel to New Zealand. In need of further inspiration? Check out Renée Olson’s guide, Adventure Awaits: Guide to Lake Taupo, New Zealand.

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Travel Advisor

Mia McGraw

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