The Bay of Islands is the perfect family holiday destination – where else can you combine snorkelling at an island, walking through ancient forests and gorgeous beaches, taking a steam train, cycling bike trails, fishing, ice cream stops and Maori culture? We run you through our top family-friendly things to do in the Bay of Islands.
Snorkel your heart out
Goggles and a snorkel really opens up the magic of the underwater world, and the crystal clear waters of Urupukapuka Island is where you must go. Under the surface is myriad schools of fish, anemones, waving kelp, spiny kina and even graceful rays. Around the wharf there are huge copper-pink snapper to be seen – they’re often fed here so it’s a favoured hangout. There is a café here and many a place to picnic on the grass so it’s a great place to spend a few hours on a nice day.
The Bay of Islands is chocca with beautiful walking tracks – winding their way through dense, biodiverse rainforests, or up high onto viewpoints with 360-degree views of the surrounds, across golden beaches, along rivers and past waterfalls. We love walking to the horse-shoe shaped Haruru Falls from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds after a big rain, and our Puketi Night Walk tour: the kids love hearing the whoosh of bat wings on nightfall, the glow worms, the kiwi and morepork calls, the perfumed flowers of the night, and the weird and wonderful creepy crawlies that venture out in the darkness. For a list of family-friendly walks see this blog.
For an unforgettable thrill, why not soar above the tranquil islands, bays and peninsulas on a scenic flight? Get spectacular bird’s eye views of the Bay of Islands from an aeroplane or helicopter at Salt Air or Swan Air – head out over the beautiful East Coast, or Hole in the Rock, or even head up to Cape Reinga.
The Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail crosses some spectacular country from the Bay of Islands to Hokianga Harbour, and it can be broken down into sections for smaller daytrips. We love the sections from Kaikohe to Horeke. It takes in stunning viewpoints, a spooky curved 80m tunnel, Lake Omapere, a ford with a running stream, the tiny settlement of Okaihau. At the very end of the trail is the Mangungu Mission house, which hosted the largest signing of the treaty on February 12th 1840 – some 70 chiefs signed with a crowd of up to 3000 people. Make sure you check out the Wairere boulders while in the Hokianga – strange rock formations carved by water falling through kauri canopies.
Ride a vintage steam train
Ride a real vintage steam train from Kawakawa to Taumarere Station – this railway was the North Island’s first railway to be opened – and chuff your way through Kawakawa township and then scenic countryside. The trains run Friday, Saturday, Sunday and school holidays. The Twin Coast Cycle trail runs alongside these tracks, so you have the option of cycling one way, then putting your bikes on the open carriage and taking the train back.
Waitangi treaty grounds
There’s nothing like creating awareness of your family’s place in New Zealand’s heritage, and what has come before you: a must for any Kiwi family, recent or going back generations. The two contemporary museums explore the signing of the treaty and also the history of Maori soldiers in the wars – and there are exciting performances around poi, weaponry, waiata and haka.
Fish for your supper
Pack the fishing rod and catch a delicious snapper, trevally or kahawai from the end of the Opua wharf alongside the locals. The wharf is at the mouth of the Kawakawa river so it pays to wait for fine weather for clear waters and better fishing. Today’s wharf is used only for tourism and recreation, but the original wharf built in the 1880s had a rich history of coal and meat export.
Go for ice cream
One thing we all know to be true: the ultimate family destination is often an ice cream shop. The Bay of Islands has plenty of the stuff: try out the family-run Blue River Orchard in Kerikeri, which grows blueberries on site and makes the icecream before your eyes, and has outdoor beanbags under a tree. Cellini’s Gelateria and Espresso in Paihia and Russell is another good one: it has all the flavours you can imagine, from classics to creative gourmet concoctions, so every member of the family will come out with a big ice cream smile on their faces.
Bay of Islands truly is a great place to bring the family – you’ll leave with happy memories and an appreciation for the beauty of the region, we look forward to seeing you here soon! To add a Puketi Night Walk to your trip, we’d love to hear from you.