Photo Of Bay of Islands

Sunset at Bay of Islands, New Zealand. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Bay of Islands

About a three-hour drive north of Auckland is one of New Zealand’s most stunning (and warmest) regions: the Bay of Islands. The name is a misnomer, since it’s actually a number of bays and inlets dotted with over 140 islands—meaning, a lot of beaches. The subtropical weather here is some of the sunniest in the country, making for a great destination during the Kiwi summer (December through February), when the local population swells with thousands of sun-seeking travelers.

The Bay of Islands is known for its aquatic recreation—great fishing, excellent diving, sublime sailing, and some of the best kiteboarding in New Zealand. The area features four little townships: the tourist center of Paihia/Waitangi, the old whaling port of Russell, the tiny anchorage of Opua, and the lush town of Kerikeri, all picturesque and friendly to visitors. Paihia has the biggest concentration of motels and hotels, while Russell and Kerikeri offer smaller bed-and-breakfast options. Many tourists base themselves in beach-lined Paihia since a majority of the water tours— dolphin cruises, whale watching vessels, tall ships, dive trips, and kayak trips—depart from the town’s busy wharf at the corner of Marsden and Williams roads. Get out on the water: From shipwreck dives to swimming with dolphins to paddling in a traditional Maori canoe, it’s the best way to truly experience the area.

Not to be missed: Waitangi, just north of Paihia. It’s a significant site of national history—New Zealand's most important event, the signing of The Treaty of Waitangi, happened here in 1840 between a few (not all) Maori chiefs and the British Crown.

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