Bay of Islands in 24 hours (+ what to see on the way back to AKL)

Summer has been completely spoiling us rotten. We’re trying to take advantage of the warm weather and visiting all the beach destinations while the water is fit for a swim!

After our long weekend in Raglan, we decided to stay home for the next. Rates for accommodation in our bucket-list locations were incredibly high on a holiday weekend! But Devonport feels enough like a vacation destination, especially when we have easy access to local beaches.

But the next weekend had us itching for a little road trip. Last minute, we snapped up a room at motel in the Bay of Islands and set out on a Saturday morning for a quick trip.

After a three hour drive, we arrived in the Bay of Islands’ tourism hub, Paihia. We headed straight to the Explore Sailing kiosk (one of the companies I work for) and hopped on a boat set for Urupukapuka Island and the famed Hole in the Rock – all with 10 minutes to spare.

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We cruised past some of the 144 islands, circled the Hole in the Rock structure, took a gander at the Cape Brett (!) lighthouse, all before disembarking for some self-guided hiking and relaxation on Urupukapuka Island’s Otehei Bay. I still can’t get over the fact that sheep graze (and unfortunately, poop) on the island overlooking tropical blue waters. They seem so out of place!

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We didn’t have too much time before we had to get back on the boat, but that was by choice. We wanted to get back to check in to the motel before a nice dinner, but Explore lets you book later return tickets if you want more time to hang out (or even camp!) on the island. On the way back, you can opt to get off in Russell (the more secluded town across a bay from Paihia) and catch a small ferry back to Paihia later. We took only a 30 minute stroll around Russell, but if we go back, would love to have a pint at New Zealand’s oldest pub, Duke of Marlborough Hotel.

After checking in to the Admiral’s View Motel (such nice hosts!), we walked to dinner Charlotte’s Kitchen. Rewarded for making a reservation, we had a seat looking directly out to sea, and were able to watch the full moon rise while enjoying cocktails, local market fish (with lime, miso butter and fried avocado – holy moly!) and pizza. Highly recommend this spot!

The next morning, we hiked the short trail to the Opua Forest Lookout, and hit the road. We made a detour to the Tutukaka Coast’s hidden beach, Whale Bay in Matapouri. I went for a swim, and the water was surprisingly clear and warm! On the way home, we stopped for a beer sampler and dinner at the Sawmill Brewery in Matakana – not to be confused with the nearby Leigh Sawmill Cafe (which is also delicious).

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It was a lot of driving (about 7 hours over two days – thanks to Brett!), but worth the beautiful views and lots of relaxation between. Can’t wait to get back up to the Bay of Islands for a longer stay!

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