While visiting the Bay of Islands, you have two main home-base options. Choose the thriving tourist center of Paihia as a jumping-off point for most cruises and outdoor activities—or the quaint, quieter seaside village of Russell. Here’s how to make the most of a 3-day stay.
Cape Brett and Hole in the Rock
Motukokako Island, Russell
Cape Brett is one of Northland’s most challenging and rewarding hiking trails. Head out from Rawhiti to the Cape Brett Lighthouse, stopping by Deep Water Cove for swimming and snorkeling. Day cruises or speedboats can take you from the Bay of Islands to the cape. Sail around Motukokako Island, named for an endangered native bird species, and through the Hole in the Rock, which you can also see via a scenic helicopter tour.
Things to Know Before You Go
To hike the Cape Brett Track, apply in advance for a walking permit from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. You will also need to pay a track maintenance fee.
The Cape Brett Track is long and difficult, so take the necessary safety equipment and book a bunk at Cape Brett Hut, so you can rest overnight before returning to the Bay of Islands.
Before and after hiking, thoroughly clean your gear to help prevent kauri dieback disease.
Cape Brett Hut doesn’t have a guaranteed water supply from December to April, so bring your own water for drinking and cooking.
Local Maori people have restricted fishing in the Deep Water Cove area, so don’t take any shellfish or cast any lines.
How to Get There
Join Cape Brett Track at Rawhiti, a 19-mile (31-kilometer) drive from Russell along Russell-Whakapara Road, Kempthorne Road, and Manawaora Road, or from the Deep Water Cove landing. Cruises and boat trips are available from Paihia. If driving to the cape, parking is available at 253 Rawhiti Road and Hartwells in Kaimarama Bay.
When to Get There
Northland has summery weather year-round, so just about any time is a good time to visit Cape Brett and Motukokako Island. Spring or fall might be slightly colder, but there are fewer tourists and more chances of water available at Cape Brett Hut.
Snorkel near a Navy Frigate
In 2007, the New Zealand Navy frigate HMNZSCanterbury was scuttled in Deep Water Cove. The frigate now acts as an artificial reef for fish and coral, and as an underwater attraction for local snorkelers and divers. Bring your mask and snorkel, and investigate the wreck on your trek or cruise.