During our long weekend trip to the northern part of New Zealand, we visited the Bay of Islands for an afternoon cruise. In the Bay of Islands, you’ll find 144 natural and wild islands located between an irregular-shaped land surrounded by turquoise waters. This stunning place is home to dolphins and seals. Here are some tips to help you plan your visit.

Dolphin Cruise & Hole in the Rock

Many tour options to experience the Bay of Islands

When visiting the North region of New Zealand, a cruise in the Bay of Islands is a must-do. Different tour operators offer different types of experiences to explore the bay*, from big motor boats to sailing boats, kayaking or jet boats, so you may think you’ll have plenty of choices.

Well, this might not be the case if you visit during the winter season as the number of tours is limited. As we left Auckland in the morning, we could only reach Paihia in time to board the Great Sights afternoon cruise*. There were no other options available.

What to expect during the cruise

While many people signed up to spot dolphins, I was more looking forward to exploring the beauty of the bay. The area was wild and natural, exactly what I was hoping for. We went to the famous Hole in the Rock just in front of Cape Brett, which I really enjoyed. Cape Brett was my favourite place in the entire bay and it was very fun to go through the hole on such a big boat.

My highlight of the cruise

We’re very lucky to see dolphins often when we go scuba diving near Brisbane, so I wouldn’t travel all the way to New Zealand for a dolphin tour. Well, that’s what I thought at the start of the cruise. The marine life exceeded my expectations and ended up being a highlight of the cruise.

We saw many dolphins, including a young dolphin named Charlie, who jumped out of the water many times. This was my first time seeing a wild dolphin jump, and it was a great encounter. The talk was also very informative.

We also spotted seals resting on a rock and on our way to Hole in the Rock. Later, on our way back, we saw three curious little heads popping out of the water. It was super cute!

Don’t get your hopes too high about swimming with dolphins

During our cruise, we did not get the opportunity to swim with the wild dolphins. I’m not sure it happens often, but I was satisfied to see that there are strict laws of conduct to limit the impact of tourism on the animals.

The dolphins we saw were feeding, and there were calves in the group; hence, it was not allowed to swim with them because of the strict regulations by the government. In winter, the water temperature is around 16°, and they were only providing short wetsuits, so I might have passed my turn anyway considering I was already cold on the boat!

Catch the sunset at Russell

After the cruise, we wanted to go for a night safari kayaking, but only day kayaking is available during winter. Instead, we decided to jump out of the boat in Russell to catch the sunset at Waihihi Bay. We had a drink at one of the restaurants & bars on The Strand before catching the ferry back to Paihia.

Russel is only 10 min away by boat from Paihia, but much further by car as it is on the other side of the bay on a peninsula. Our objective was to reach Waihihi Bay, a beach facing west, to enjoy the sunset. Days are very short in June, so we had to walk fast to arrive just in time for the magic hour.

Bay of Islands - Russell

Accommodation in the Bay of Islands

If you want to stay for the night in the Bay of Islands, Paihia offers a large choice of accommodation options*, and Russell* has a few as well. I preferred the atmosphere in Russell, and I’d have chosen to stay there if we had more time.

Have you been to the Bay of Islands? Share your experience in the comments below!

Where is the Bay of Islands?

The Bay Of Islands is in the Northland area of New Zealand, approximately 230km northwest of Auckland. It took us just under 4 hours to drive from Auckland to Paihia, on a scenic road.


Eloise is the creator and writer of MyFavouriteEscapes.com. She writes about her experiences exploring exotic destinations and finding hidden gems closer to home. Her goal is to share tips and stories to inspire and encourage others to go on their own adventures. She loves outdoor and nature-based activities like scuba diving, hiking, kayaking, and sailing. She grew up in France and has lived in England and Turkey before calling Australia home for the past decade. So let's get ready for another adventure!

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  1. Pascal

    A long distance for such a short trip but it is quite nice, I can tell cause I was there 2 years ago with you know who! Cheers

    1. Eloise

      Yes, definitely worth it! Flying to Auckland on Friday night and back on Tuesday morning was not too bad at all! I’ve actually been more tired by spending time on the road while staying in Queensland…

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