In the turquoise waters of the bay, 144 natural and wild islands stand between an irregular shaped land. The Bay of Islands is stunning. Good surprise: dolphins and seals love it as well!

We went to Bay of Island during our long weekend trip in the Northern part of New Zealand. We only had an afternoon to spend in Bay of Islands, which was just enough for a nice cruise. There are plenty of activities to keep you entertained longer if you have more time

Dolphin Cruise & Hole in the Rock

When visiting the North region of New Zealand, a cruise in the Bay of Islands appears as a must-do. There are different tour operators offering tours in the bay in various styles: big motor boats, sailing, kayaking,  jet boat… Click here to have a look*.

But we had no choice in the end. Indeed, as we left Auckland in the morning and options during the winter season are restricted, we could only make it on time to Paihia to board the Great Sights afternoon cruise*.

The cruise description was highly focused on dolphins. I have to admit that I was not that excited about the dolphin spotting. I am spoiled in the Brisbane region with dolphins, and although it is always nice to see some, I would not think of doing a cruise in New Zealand just for them. However, I was looking forward to discovering the views of the reputed bay.

The scenery met my expectations. The area is very wild and natural, a real beauty. We went quite far to the famous Hole in the Rock just in front of Cape Brett. I loved this area, and it was good fun to go through the hole on the big boat.

Cape Brett is impressive, maybe the place I preferred in the entire bay we visited.

The marine life was better than I expected and surprisingly ended up being my highlight of the cruise. As planned, we did see dolphins. A lot of dolphins. Some came very close to the boat; it was a great encounter. Charlie, a young dolphin, made it very special. He jumped many times as high as around 1 meter out of the water. I did have many opportunities to see dolphins before, but it was the first time that I was seeing a wild dolphin jumping like that. The talk was also very interesting and educative.

During our cruise, we did not get the opportunity to swim with the wild dolphins. I’m not sure it happens often. 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 regulation by the government. I was actually satisfied to see that there are strict laws of conduct to limit the impact of tourism on the animals. Anyway, we were already cold on the boat, in winter the water temperature is around 16°, and they were only providing shorty wetsuits so I would have for sure passed my turn!

After the dolphins, on our way to Hole in the Rock, we spotted seals resting on a rock that formed one of the numerous islands. Although the boat was big, we could get close to the rock to admire them. Later, on our way back from Hole in the Rock, I quickly spotted three curious little heads popping out of the water when the boat was passing by. So cute!

Sunset at Russell

After the cruise, we wanted to add a night safari kayaking but only day kayaking is available during winter. Instead, we decided to jump out of the boat in Russel (with a complimentary ferry ticket to go back to Paihia later).

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

Back on The Strand, the few restaurants & bars were busy. We stopped for a drink before catching the ferry back to Paihia.

If you want to stay for the night in the Bay of Islands, Paihia offers a large choice of accommodation options (click here to view*) and Russell has a few as well (click here to view*). I prefer 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 a bit less than 4 hours to drive from Auckland to Paihia, on a scenic road.

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NEW ZEALAND NORTH ISLAND - bay of islands cruise day


Eloise is the creator and writer of 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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