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  • Coastline Cliffs, coves and clear blue sea
  • Coast Life Maori culture, maritime nature

‘Easy does it’ is the mantra in this subtropical sanctuary where you can frolic amid 144 islands, craggy coves and crystalline waters on the breathtaking north-east coast of NZ’s North Island.

Animal lovers can spot dolphins, whales and penguins, while culture-vultures can soak up the area’s fascinating early history and rich Maori heritage. It’s the best of both worlds: plenty of buzzy surf-and-turf activities with loads of slacker alternatives for just kicking back and recharging. Do the rounds of pretty tourist hub Paihia, sleepy, historic Russell and mellow Kerikeri (known for its orchards and cafés) – as well as the famous Waitangi National Reserve. Or just tap into the laid-back pace of small-town seaside life by banking some beach time (Mother Nature has pulled out all the stops in this idyllic bay-bedecked wilderness). Captain Cook visited for a week in 1769; we suggest you do the same.

Do go/Don’t go

The warmer months from September to April are the best time to visit as it can get chilly in winter, when many tour companies close down.

Getting thereView map

  • Planes Auckland (www.aucklandairport.co.nz) is the main international gateway for travel to Northland. Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.com) operates daily flights from there into Kerikeri Airport (www.bayofislandsairport.co.nz). There are also a number of charter operators offering helicopter and fixed-wing transport into the region (see www.saltair.co.nz; www.mountainair.co.nz; www.skylink.co.nz; www.skywork.co.nz; and www.airnational.co.nz).
  • Automobiles The drive from Auckland to the Bay of Islands is just over 200 kilometres and takes about three and a half hours. State Highway 1 goes to Paihia, where you can continue on to Kerikeri or hop to Russell on the ferry, which departs every 20 minutes.
  • Taxis Local hubs Kerikeri and Paihia have taxis but they are usually run by tour operators and can be expensive. Dial-A-Ride offers a taxi and shuttle service between Kerikeri Airport and the Bay of Islands (www.dial-a-ride.co.nz). Water taxis are also available, but again are used mostly for private tours and start from NZ$130 for up to six people (www.islandshuttle.co.nz).