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Paihia, Bay of Islands

Paihia. Credit: Kiwi Flickr via Flickr (CC) (cropped)

Visit Paihia when you’re in the Bay of Islands; this township is as lively as it is stunningly beautiful.

Paihia Mission Station was established in 1823 at the invitation of Chief Te Koki. That year, Reverend Henry Williams and his family took up residence, with William and Sarah Fairburn and their children, in a four room raupo whare on Paihia beach. They built the first church in New Zealand, a school, and went on to start building a 55 ton sailing ship on the beach in 1824. A hive of missionary activity, Paihia became known as “heaven” while lawless Kororareka was dubbed “Hell”.

In 1835 William Colenso brought the first printing press in New Zealand to Paihia, and, with William Williams, began printing Maori bibles. Paihia’s early history is commemorated in a series of plaques along the waterfront. From the 1930s Paihia started to gain popularity as a holiday spot. It’s now a bustling town, and a great base for sailing, deep-sea fishing, kayaking, and exploring the 144 islands of the Bay of Islands.

There are loads of cafes and restaurants to choose from, and if you need a bit of excercise afterwards try a scenic bush walk, such as the Opua Forest Paihia Lookout Track. For safe swimming on a golden beach with pohutukawa trees and a children’s playground, visit Te Tii Bay at the north end of Paihia. The i-site Visitor Information Centre is located at the Wharf in Paihia, they’ll help with information and bookings for the many cruises and activities on offer.

Once you and your vehicle are fuelled for the day, make a morning of it at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. It was at Waitangi, on 6 February 1840, that the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed between Maori chiefs and the British Crown. New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty ensured the nation became a British colony. The ornately carved Maori meeting house and the world’s largest ceremonial waka (canoe) are well worth a look.

After Waitangi, just 4km west of Paihia are the Haruru Falls, cascading in a rare horseshoe shape. Haruru Falls was New Zealand’s first river port. In the 1800s there were numerous Maori villages along the banks of the river, and missionaries reported seeing 60 to 100 canoes pulled up on the riverbank at one time. Stretch your legs on the walk between Waitangi Treaty grounds and Haruru Falls, through the Waitangi National Reserve, a hike that includes a boardwalk over mangroves.

Once you’ve explored all that Paihia has to offer, head to Russell, New Zealand’s first capital, and get lost in a town that is steeped in national history. Russell can be reached by car; drive to Opua to catch the vehicle ferry.

Read our guide to Russell

What to do

  • Eat fish and chips on the wharf at Paihia
  • Take a boat trip out to the Hole in the Rock
  • Hop on the ferry from Paihia to Russell
  • Visit the Farmers’ Market in Kerikeri, on Sunday mornings
  • Play a round of golf at the scenic Waitangi Golf Club
  • Explore the Treaty Grounds and Meeting House at Waitangi

More info

Russell ferry - tourism site
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Our guide to top golf courses around Northland and beyond
Bay of Islands Walks

Where to stay

Find a property


The Stone Store and St James Church. Credit: Destination Northland.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Credit: Destination Northland.

Getting there

  • From Whangarei by road: 71km
  • From Auckland by road: 236km
Piwa perched