A Weekend Getaway in the Bay of Islands.
Visit Paihia in the Bay of Islands to hike, boat, eat and enjoy the local beaches.
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Day One: Urupukapuka Island
Take the early morning ferry with Explore Group to Urupukapuka Island. You can book round trip ferry tickets the day before at the large information and booking center in town, (you can’t miss it, it’s on the water side by the docks for all of the ferries). The ferry ride is 40 minutes each way, and you may be able to spot dolphins on the way, (so you can skip booking an additional dolphin sighting tour!). Round-trip ferry tickets are $50 NZ. There is only one restaurant on the island and no other amenities, so pack water and snacks for the day.
When you arrive on the island you will be dropped off in Otehei Bay. There will be a sign with a trail map outlining the hike options and distances for the Urupukapuka Island Walk. You can hike up to 7.3km and 5 hours on the island if you hike to every bay and all of the full loops. The trail is designed to be started clockwise and it loops you through all areas of the island. There is 1,118 in elevation gain on the full hike, so there are some longer stretches of uphill climbs. The climbs typically reward you with breathtaking views of the island and surrounding islands.
I shortened the hike a bit and did one larger loop combining the outer edges of Cable Bay Loop, The Otehei Loop, and the Urupukapuka Bay Loop, and then hiked the full Pateke Loop coming back to the starting point through the other side of the Urupukapuka Bay Loop. That route took about 2 hours. The best views are in Urupukapuka Bay and on the Pateke Loop, so if you need to prioritize your time, focus on those areas.
After the hike, while waiting for your return ferry, spend time at the beach by Otehei Bay near where the ferry drops off and picks up. Kayak rentals are available here to kayak in the bay and there is a beachside restaurant with beanbags and tables to relax at. Sunset Beach is a 20-minute walk from the ferry pick-up and is a more quiet spot to relax at if you have time.
See Where to Eat for dinner options in Paihia that night.
Day Two: Paihia
Paihia View Track
Start the morning with a short hike on the Paihia View Track. The trailhead is off School Road, walkable from town. It’s a short (1.5 km) uphill hike through the forest to a nice view of The Bay of Islands
Farmer’s Market and Beach
If it works in your schedule, stop by the Bay of Island’s Farmers Market which is open every Thursday afternoon. We stopped here to get fresh berries, bread, cheeses, tomatoes, and juices for a picnic beach lunch. Spend the afternoon relaxing at Paihia’s Main Beach or rent kayaks there to explore the bay more.
Maori Hangi and Concert
That evening I recommend booking tickets for the Maori Hangi and Concert. I am usually less excited about more touristy shows and dinners, but this one was actually educational, and entertaining and the food was fantastic. They start the evening showing you how the meal is being prepared underground in a traditional hangi pit. Then you take a short walk through the forest to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds (where New Zealand’s founding document was signed in 1840). There are nice views of the bay and Paihia from this spot too. Then they do a traditional Maori performance of song and dance. The singing is beautiful. After the show, you walk back through the forest to have dinner. The dinner is simple meats, yams, potatoes, salads, and bread, but very fresh and cooked well. The steamed pudding dessert was fantastic as well.
You can book tickets for this dinner at the same information center in town where you book ferry tickets.
Build an Itinerary
This itinerary works well as a stand-alone long weekend trip. Our trip to the area was part of a month-long trip throughout New Zealand. My post on putting together the whole trip is here. Auckland works as an easy add-on to make a slightly longer trip.
We stayed in an Airbnb condo in Paihia. Staying in a condo rather than a hotel was the best choice for us because we could make our own breakfast, easily pack hiking lunches, and do laundry regularly for our hiking clothes.
What to Wear and Pack
Check out my Packing List for more recommendations on specific gear.
What to Wear
Comfortable hiking clothes that you can easily layer and take on and off.
A waterproof outer layer.
Waterproof hiking sandals
A hat for hiking. You can sunburn easily in New Zealand.
What to Pack
A lightweight daypack and a water bladder for all of the hikes.
Drybag- A small one for your wallet and phone in case you are caught hiking in the rain.
Motion sickness remedies-These are important if you are susceptible to car or boat motion sickness, Many of the drives are on windy roads and the boats could end up in high wave conditions too.
A packable beach towel you can bring with on hikes
What to Eat
Fish and Chips-The fish and chips I had in the Bay of Islands were some of the best I have ever had.
King Fish- A whitefish only found in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s been called the salmon of whitefish. If you ever see it on a menu or if it’s the catch of the day, try it!
Where to Eat
Charlotte’s Kitchen- A casual waterfront restaurant at the end of the wharf in Paihia. You can’t ask for a better dinner view or atmosphere. They serve upscale New Zealand Classics (fresh fish, prawns, oysters, pasta, steak, and pizza). They often have live music as well.
Zane Grey’s Aquarium and Dock Restaurant- Another waterfront restaurant that offers casual outdoor lunch seating on one side and more formal fine dining indoor seating for dinner on the other side.
Vinnie’s Fish and Chips Takeaway- They serve plain and simple, no-frills fish and chips, but it’s still amazing.
Just Fish and Chips- A restaurant that serves an upscale take on the classic fish and chips. They have an outdoor patio with yard games and occasional live music. They serve beer and wine as well.
Once you are in Paihia the town is completely walkable and you don’t need a car. You will only need a car if you are driving to or from Paihia from other stops.
When to Go
December, January, and February are New Zealand’s Summer and its high season. Temperatures are in the 70s and 80s (Fahrenheit) during the day. Summer also means crowded trails, overfull parking lots, and more expensive lodging. The local New Zealand Summer holiday runs from late December to late January so you will fight local tourism during those months as well. In Spring and Fall the weather will be much more unpredictable with chances of freezing temperatures and many trails could still be snow-covered.
Be ready to adjust your itinerary based on the weather. One advantage of road-tripping is that the weather may vary in each location you are going. We were able to move around what day trip we took each day to avoid any rainy days hitting us during our hikes.
Credit cards are widely accepted in New Zealand, the only times we used cash were at farmer’s markets and when we stopped to buy roadside fruit.
Clean, modern, (and sometimes even music-playing) public restrooms are easy to find in New Zealand.
Tipping at restaurants is not customary in New Zealand
Trip Dates: February 25th-February 28th, 2020