Updated: Jun 28, 2021
MJ and I embarked on a bit of a road trip in the New Year to visit the Bay of Islands in New Zealand.
With COVID-19 forever in our minds, we opted to drive in case anything changed and our flights were cancelled.
It was a long way to go. 10.5 hours from Wellington to Paihia. We stopped overnight in Hamilton on the way up, and in Rotorua on the way back to help break the drive up.
To keep the costs down, we packed food and drinks, stopping every now and then to eat and stretch our legs.
Top tip: Google Maps. We found this incredibly helpful when we were in areas we weren’t familiar with. Google Maps would let us know if there was heavy traffic and suggest alternate routes, which we accepted. We were never stuck and traffic and we got to see some beautiful parts of the country too!
With just five nights in Paihia, we knew we could only do only a handful of the things on offer.
Here are the top five things we loved doing in Paihia.
1. The Cream Trip
We had the option of choosing a half day dolphin cruise to see the Hole in the Rock, or this full day cruise with boom netting - both with Fullers GreatSights. I know, I didn’t know what boom netting was either but MJ did! Essentially they drop a net in the water alongside the boat, fill it with willing passengers and drag them back and forth through the water. Super fun and it was a must do for MJ.
We just loved this cruise, visiting 15 of the islands and the commentary on board was genuinely so interesting. Highlights for us were going through the Hole in the Rock, stopping for lunch and a walk at the stunning Otehei Bay, and learning all the history about the area like the Marsden Cross, where the first Christian sermon in New Zealand was held in 1814.
Top tip 1: take warm clothes! Even though the weather was incredible, the boat can get very windy. We didn’t, and ended up being wrapped in a towel for most of the trip. Fail.
We were staying close to the passenger ferry terminal in Paihia and loved being able to walk down and take a quick trip over to Russell. It’s really affordable and they run often, three times an hour in the summer months.
Approaching Russell on any boat is such a feeling. It’s a gorgeous place with its historic buildings and pohutukawa-lined bay. We had heard a lot about Russell on our cruise the day before so knew it was steeped in history but walking around the town and visiting the church and cemetery really made it hit home.
We learnt that Russell's original street plan and names from 1843 are still intact and feature some of New Zealand’s oldest and most significant historic buildings. Make sure you stop for a shrink at the iconic Duke of Marlborough Hotel, which holds New Zealand's first liquor licence.
Top tip: grab a map of the area from the ferry terminal. It highlights the sites to see so when you arrive, you can do your own little free tour.
3. Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Being Kiwis, we know a lot about our history but being here, where much of it took place was pretty special for us. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are only a 7 minute drive from Paihia, close enough to bike or maybe even walk. And it’s super affordable, kids are free and you can add free tours to your booking too. We opted for a tour and a cultural experience.
The tour guide kits the group out in headphones so everyone can hear and describes the most important aspects of the grounds. But the cultural performance is something we’ll never forget, it’s 100% worth doing. I won’t ruin it for you but it was beautiful, spiritual, funny and even emotional at times. It really was beautifully done and I left feeling very proud to be a Kiwi.
4. Paihia (of course!)
Honestly, I could have stayed for the entire summer. Our accommodation was only minutes from the beach so we spent big parts of the day laying in the golden sand, reading, relaxing and swimming.
There are plenty of activities to do if that’s your thing. MJ hired a kayak, but there was also jet skiing, parasailing and stand up paddleboarding (took me a few days to work out what “SUPs” were!)
And if you’re feeling more adventurous you can do helicopter tours, trike tours on big V8 Chev trikes, jet boat rides and even scenic flights.
Paihia’s little village is just around the corner and it’s filled with restaurants, bars, cafes and even a small Countdown supermarket. The town’s quirky public bathroom is on the way, in case the kids are busting.
Top tip: this place packs out in the summer so if you’re driving, you’ll need to get there early to get a park.
5. Food, food and more food
You know we love to eat right?! But we also need to stick to our travel budget so while we ate breakfast in our hotel room each day and grabbed cheap lunches from bakeries and supermarkets, we did eat dinner at some awesome places in Paihia.
Here are our faves:
Tipsy Oyster It’s bright orange, always has great music playing and it just looks like such a vibe. I had the oyster mix platter which was one of each of the six styles of oyster they do, including one called HellBoy Mexican Style! MJ had the One Love burger. It was almost as big as his head and he says it’s the best burger he’s ever had. It was so good, we went back a second night ….
Charlotte’s Kitchen Located right at the end of the wharf, the setting could not be more perfect. The views out over the bay are stunning and staff were so warm and really knowledgeable about the food on offer. MJ had bao buns, I had salad with the most amazing buttermilk dressing. I’m still dreaming about that. And we shared a pizza. It’s got a cool story too with the menu telling the tale of Charlotte, who was “a fabulously naughty lady, who we believe deserves to be remembered and celebrated.”
JFC The name is on the tin at Just Fish and Chips. Their fish is fresh and the chips are crunchy. It’s right across the road from the beach at the southern end of Paihia, so it’s handy if you haven’t planned your lunch. They package it up into little boxes if you want to eat it on the beach, or you can enjoy it in their courtyard. It’s also fully licensed and you can play petanque! Love it.
We absolutely loved our trip to Paihia and can’t wait to go back. We give it a big fat five stars!