Bay of Islands Cruises Port Guide

New Zealand is much more than just the North Island and the South Island. The South Pacific country has a myriad of other smaller islands that are just waiting for travelers on a New Zealand cruise to explore. Some of the most beloved of these smaller islands are in the Bay of Islands, an idyllically scenic collection of 144 islands located on the north-eastern coast of the North Island. 

The Bay of Islands is known for its water recreation, particularly fishing, sailing, and scuba diving. American author Zane Grey first wrote about big-game fishing in the Bay of Islands in 1930, and it has been a tourist destination for fishing ever since. 

Cruises to Bay of Islands, New Zealand

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Top Sights & Attractions for Cruises to Bay of Islands

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

This landmark is one of the most important sites in New Zealand’s history. It’s where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, which ushered in a new era of New Zealand as a bi-cultural nation. You can learn more about Waitangi Day and what it means to the people of New Zealand on a guided tour. Make the most of your visit by admiring the magnificent Maori carvings and colonial architecture and taking in a cultural show.

Kawiti Glow Worm Caves

Thousands of glow worms illuminate the inside of the Kawiti Caves, making it a spectacular sight to see. In addition to the glow of these curious insects, you’ll see impressive stalactites and stalagmites during the 30-minute walk along the wooden boardwalk inside the limestone caves. The Kawiti Glow Worm Caves are located just 20 minutes from Paihia in the Waiomio Valley.


Russell is a historic town in the Bay of Islands that was once a Maori fishing village. In the early 1800s, it became settled as a provisioning port for whalers, and the town grew. During its early days, it developed a raucous reputation and earned the nickname “Hellhole of the Pacific”. That image changed when manganese mining, fish canning, and coal brought wealth to Russell. Today, it is a town with a strong fishing industry and oyster farms. Tourism also plays a big part in Russell’s economy, and visitors who go there during cruises to Bay of Islands can see its historic colonial buildings or go on a fishing excursion.

The Hole in the Rock

The Hole in the Rock is the name given to a massive tunnel on the side of Motukokako Island. Carved by the ocean, the island’s tunnel is an impressive 16 meters high and is so big that a medium-sized ship can fit through it. Combine that with the striking cliffs and remote beauty of Motukokako, and it’s no wonder that this is one of the top things to see on a Bay of Islands cruise.


The picturesque town of Paihia is a great place to go to learn about the history of the Bay of Islands with an emphasis on its Maori culture and missionary past. In 1823, missionaries led by Reverend Henry Williams arrived in Paihia and built the first church in New Zealand, which was constructed in the traditional Maori way using raupo. Williams developed a camaraderie with the local Maori people, and the missionaries developed a Maori dictionary, which helped to record the Maori culture.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls is considered to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in New Zealand – and there are a lot of them! The waterfall crashes down from a 27-meter high cliff and has numerous viewing spots, including behind the falls.

Learn More About Bay of Islands Shore Excursions

Top Things to Do in Bay of Islands

Water Activities

Experiencing the water around the Bay of Islands is at the top of many visitors’ lists of must-do activities during a cruise to Bay of Islands. The water is ripe with wildlife and reefs. Enjoy a leisurely catamaran cruise, -or go whale and dolphin watching from a boat. You can even embark on a scuba diving or parasailing excursion.

Urupukapuka Island

An excursion to Urupukapuka Island takes you to some of the best beaches in the Bay of Islands. You’ll also find scenic views and lovely walking trails that are great for bird watching. Add some history to your day with a visit to the historical Maori pa sites on the island.

Kayak Down a River

The water of the Bay of Islands isn’t only about the sea. You’ll also find rivers and an ecologically important mangrove forest. One of the best ways to explore the flora and fauna is on a kayak tour down the Waitangi River.

Top Food and Drink Spots Near the Bay of Islands Cruise Port

The cuisine of New Zealand focuses heavily on farm-to-table options, and here it’s more a way of life than a trendy culinary buzzword. You’ll find many traditional British food favorites with a South Pacific flair, as well as seafood and locally raised beef and lamb.

Culture & History of the Bay of Islands Cruise Port

Though New Zealand has been inhabited by the Maori for centuries, the Bay of Islands wasn’t put on the map until the 18th century. In 1769 when Captain James Cook came to New Zealand on HMB Endeavour, he was the first to map both the North and South Islands. Cook is credited with giving the Bay of Islands its name.

Bay of Islands Port Facilities & Location

Your Bay of Islands cruise ship will anchor offshore, and you’ll be tendered to Waitangi Wharf. If you’re taking a shore excursion, you’ll meet your tour bus and guide at the wharf. If not, you can take a free shuttle bus or walk 20 minutes to Paihia, one of the main towns of the Bay of Islands where you’ll find several shops and restaurants.

Transportation in Bay of Islands

You won’t find much in terms of public transportation in the Bay of Islands as taxis are limited, and buses and ferries mostly run between main towns. From Waitangi Wharf, you’ll find a bus to Paihia and from Pahia you can catch a ferry to Russell.

Shopping Near the Bay of Islands Cruise Port

Paihia is home to many of the shopping opportunities in the Bay of Islands thanks to numerous souvenir shops and boutiques. You can also find local arts and craft shops in Kerikeri and Russell. If a farmers market is happening while you’re in the Bay of Islands cruise port, don’t miss browsing through its stalls as well. 

Local Currency & Tipping Customs

The official currency of New Zealand is the New Zealand Dollar. Taxes are included in the advertised price of items. Credit cards are widely accepted, but if you need cash, you’ll be able to find an ATM in Paihia. Tipping is appreciated, but you won’t be expected to tip more than 10% of the total bill for good service.

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