The Bay of Islands is a 3.5 hour drive from Auckland. However, when you’re driving a long distance, you also have to account for pit-stops, filling up petrol, road works and traffic. So, realistically it took us around 4 hours to get to Paihia.
Paihia is the main town you stay in if you want to visit the Bay of Islands. It is also accessible by car, making it the more popular destination to stay in. If you want to stay in a quainter place, there is the option of Russell, which can only be accessed by ferry.
We stayed at Waitangi Holiday Park. If you are camper-vanning around New Zealand, this was situated in a really good location. It overlooked the water, was only a 2 minute drive from the centre of Paihia township and the facilities were nice too.
To get the most out of your experience at the Bay of Islands, I would suggest doing a helicopter ride and boat cruise combo.
Don’t stress about having to book anything before you arrive. I just walked into one of the many tourism stores the afternoon I had arrived, told them what I wanted and booked the tour for the next day. I got a package deal for $319, which included a 20 minute helicopter ride, a cruise out to the islands with walking tracks and an add on cruise out to the hole in the rock. While I completely understand $319 is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on one activity, a lone helicopter ride with Salt Air for 15 minutes was going to cost $250. So, in retrospect, our deal looked pretty good!
Another reason I could justify spending so much money on one activity was that most other activities I did in New Zealand were free! The weather was perfect and you just aren’t able to see the entirety of the beauty from a boat. It was a once in a life time opportunity, that I think everyone should do if they visit the Bay of Islands.
An important tip for you is do not use Google to check the weather here! Just don’t do it. It is not very accurate, and will cause unnecessary stress. I found on the two days I was there, the weather was perfect in the afternoon. Of course, the weather is subject to change very quickly in New Zealand and it strongly depends on which month you visit, too. We visited in February, and we had great weather the entire time.
If you’re an ice-cream fan, go to Cellini’s for New Zealand ice-cream! It is located in the strip mall in Paihia, right near the wharf. Make sure you try the Hokey Pokey and Goody Gum Drops flavours at least once before leaving the country.
Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack has delicious food for dinner if you’re after something nicer than a local takeaway store! It was reasonably priced as well.