The Jewel of the Bay of Island, Paihia, New Zealand

The Jewel of the Bay of Islands

Paihia is renowned for a popular holiday spot all year round. But Paihia is not just a place to go sightseeing, but a place filled with history, culture and dynamic people.

Paihia’s Past

Maori were the first settlers to create their own haven with their traditional Maori huts. Paihia was a dream, surrounded by crystal water and friendly encounters with the range of sea-life that inhibited the sea all around them.

White people arrived in Paihia in 1823.The Reverend Henry Williams led this group of missionaries and went on to build a house, store and the first church in Paihia. This church was constructed using raupo, a traditional Maori building material. Henry was able to gain the trust and respect of the natives, as he tried to understand and learn their way of living. He was actively involved in attempting to eliminate the friction between the Maori and Pakeha (white people).

In commemoration of all the work Henry and his brother William did, plaques have been set up by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust along Paihia’s waterfront.

One of the most significant days in New Zealand history was in 1840 when the local chiefs, missionaries and Queen Victoria’s officials gathered to sign the treaty of Waitangi.

The Locals

Back in the 1800s it was mainly Maori who occupied this small paradise. But now when you visit, there is a diversity of cultures, nationalities and people. Retirees are commonly seen relaxing outside their homes, enjoying the view and the quiet atmosphere around them. Going into the township the locals take it easy, without a care in the world. No rushing or beeping of horns. Some even greet each other and stop to chat.

The locals that work in the shops are always friendly and willing to help. Even offering a quick history lesson when you inspect one of the unique Maori carvings.

Walking along the waterfront allows you to see those out on the water enjoying the time to relax away from the land. There is no sense of city life, just a carefree attitude and an appreciation to what they have. With a small population of around 2000 people, it’s easy to get caught up and forget about the life you left behind.

The Culture

The Maori culture is dominantly seen with carvings and jewellery in the stores, to carvings and other art work dotting the scenery in the town centre. Maori maraes scatter across the countryside, where you can experience first-hand the traditions of the Maori. Stores are filled with Maori artwork, depicting ancient legends, Maori gods, and the scenery that used to be untarnished before the white people came.

The Location

The small town of Paihia is surrounded by a variety of island getaways. It is just south of the mouth of the Waitangi River and opposite Russell; a little island known for its chocolate factory. You can view how their chocolate is made, get a couple of samplings and buy some exquisitely wrapped chocolates.

Where to stay

Accommodation ranges from expensive sea view apartment and motels, to the cheaper options of caravan parks, backpackers and hostels.

The Retreat is for those that literally want to ‘retreat’. Situated in a quiet 10-acre peninsula, with private bushwalking, good fishing, and easy access to coastal walking and native birdlife. Only minutes from the town centre makes it convenient to stop in at one of the many tourist shops. It has to be said that this place is not one if you are trying to keep to a budget. Tariffs range from $105-$195, and increases in peak season.

Another motel to recommend is the Bayview Motel. It has waterfront apartments, all with sea views, 1 km from the Waitangi Treaty ground, and 1 minute from the town centre. Prices range from $90-$350 in peak season.

For ones that want to enjoy Paihia cost-effectively, then a camping and holiday park is for you. The Waitangi River runs through the park. You can go swimming, kayaking and fishing all in this wonderful location. You have the option of staying in your own tent with power at $14-$25, or cabins/onsite caravans for 2 people at $45-$90. If you are not keen on camping, then the tourist flat/motel is available at $55-154 a night.

For those backpacking around New Zealand try the Mayfair lodge, Peppertree lodge, YHA

Paihia and Saltwater lodge. All of these places have friendly staff and a wealth of different people staying there. So you have a chance to meet people from all over the world, as these places offer cosy accommodation suited for encouraging people to get to know each other.

Picking up a Souvenir, or two

For the people that enjoy going on holiday and spending much of their time shopping, then Paihia is not for you. Paihia is not known for high-fashion shops and malls, but for the quaint shops catered for that special buy you cannot find elsewhere.  There are a variety of shops in the town, but two are recommended by the locals and visitors alike.

Classique Souvenirs is located in central Paihia, containing all you need to show people back home what this place is really like. Products available range from native wood products; like Kauri clocks, Maori carvings, wooden bones, photo frames and photo albums. The clothing is made from possum wear, Earth Nymph clothing range, leather squashy hats or souvenir t-shirts and socks, amongst other things. You can buy bone, greenstone or paua jewellery and thermal mud, honey, kiwifruit and lanolin range cosmetics. This shop is especially good for the late-night shopper, as they are opened from 9am-9pm in the summer, seven days a week.

The Cabbage Tree is said to be the best place to shop in Paihia. They cater in New Zealand products ranging from bone/jade carvings, kauri and rimu, bowls, handblown and fused glass, ceramics, jewellery, wall art and quality clothing – possum and merino. They are also open 7 days a week, until 7pm in summer.

Sightseeing, events and festivals are plentiful in Paihia. They offer for those that want an adventure, to those that want to relax and enjoy the culture of Paihia. The Maritime Building offers a wide range of activities on sea and land; they can tell you the best cruises to go on, as well as restaurants, entertainment and local festivals.

Experience Paihia at its finest – on the Water

Paihia is renowned for its deep sea fishing and diving, offering a range of cruises. These cruises leave the Paihia Wharf and visit some popular destinations, like Cape Brett and the Hole in the Rock. Throughout the cruises you will frequently see Bottlenose dolphins, and in some of these cruises you will have the opportunity to swim with these beautiful creatures.

For those that have always wanted to experience the sea air the traditional way, the R.Tucker Thompson Sail Training Trust offers this unique experience. You will travel in style on Northland’s own tallest ship; a replica of a 100-year-old schooner, like a working ship in the 18th century. On this adventure you can participate with the crew to set the sails, climb the rigging or just relax in the sun. This ship will explore the bays and beaches of the Maritime Park. Morning Cream tea and a barbeque lunch is also provided.


There are a variety of other cruises and water activities to choose that range from diving, fishing, dolphin discoveries, sailing and cruising, scuba diving and sea kayaking.

The favourites are the Cream Trip Super Cruise, touring around the many islands, exploring the famous ‘Hole in the Rock”, and allowing the opportunity to spot the marine wildlife.

The other is the Cape Brett ‘Hole in the Rock’ cruise, where you discover the local islands, thread your way through the ‘Hole in the Rock’, pass by beaches and secluded bays, as well as spotting the dolphins, penguins, whales and gannets living in their natural habitat. There is always an opportunity to catch these magnificent creatures in action on your camera.

For those that are looking for an adventure, the Excitor Fast Boat Adventure – ‘Hole in the Rock’ is for you. It offers you a unique adventure, speeding around the Bay of Island Maritime Park. And feel your adrenaline as it surges through the ‘Hole in the Rock’.

Experience Paihia and its surroundings – on Land

Wine tasting is one of those activities that suits just about everyone. Marsden Estate offers succulent wine tasting in the midst of citrus-covered slopes. This estate is named after Samuel Marsden, who first introduced the grapevine to New Zealand in 1899. This activity not only provides an enjoyable experience coupled with pure New Zealand wine, but it is affordable at $20 for admission. Don’t forget to take some home with you.

Popular land tours include Cape Reinga Wanderer via Ninety-mile beach; strolling through the towering Kauri forests, hurtling along the sands of Ninety-mile beach, skimming down the large sand dunes at the Te Paki quicksand stream. Others include exploring through Northland Glow-worms and Culture; allowing you to experience a half of a day travelling from Paihia to the cascading Haruru Falls, the Cheese factory, Maori Arts and Crafts, famous Hundertwasser Toilets, Kawiti Glow-worm caves and lots more.

If you are interested in experiencing the culture and traditions of Paihia, then join a group of like-minded people to voyage the Waitangi River on the Maori Culture and Canoe tour. You will experience the old way of transport for Maori, exploring your surroundings in a traditional Maori canoe. The history of the Maori traditions will be revealed as you visit a traditional Maori village, feel the sprinkle of the gushing water from the Haruru or Waitangi Falls, and learn Maori chants and songs. You will have the opportunity to talk with the local Ngapuhi Maori tribe, sit beneath the Haruru Falls, get exclusive photos, and see native flora and fauna. This tour really captures the original culture of Paihai.

Capture the Heart of Paihia

If you are interested in discovering Paihia, walking tracks weave throughout the Waitangi-Haruru Falls, Opua Coastal Walk, Kauri Walk, Kerikeri River Track and Russell Coastal Track.

The cultural and historical options are especially a fascinating find. The Shipwreck Museum and the Waitangi Treaty House provide you with a wealth of information.

Their cultural activities provide a feast of visual and performing arts, music theatre, workshops and art exhibitions. Others provide an experience of Maori culture, sound and lights, revealing the journey about the first Maori chief that discovered New Zealand to the present day.

Relax and Enjoy

To avoid disappointment, check with the Maritime     building or Jason website to see which tours are seasonal.

When you want to chill out, there a variety of restaurants to choose from; a la carte to bistro, cafes, and takeaways.

Don’t forget that there is also dinner cruises available. A well-known one is Darryl’s Dinner cruise; an intimate cruise that limits around 8-10 people. While you are enjoying a steak, chicken or fish meal with accompaniments, Darryl will introduce you to all the scenery that surrounds you. When dusk has fallen, the little boat will wander over to the Haruru Falls, where you can sit and watch the water surge over the colourful array of lights.

So whatever your preference, Paihia has it all. The number of adventures from land and sea provides a breath-taking trip that will leave you gasping for more.


Paihia accommodation, attractions and travel guide, Accessed 15/07/11,

Things to do in Paihia, Accessed 15/07/11,

Things to do in Paihia, Accessed 15/07/11,

Published by sharlene25

Sharlene Almond is the author of the genre-bending Annabella Cordova series, and a New Zealand travel book Journey in little Paradise. She has written a range of health, writing and body language articles; contributing as a guest writer on other blogs. Over the last ten years, Sharlene has attained qualifications in Body Language, Criminology, Journalism, Editing, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Pet Care, and Animal Behaviour. While setting up an online nutritional business, she is studying to specialize in Medicinal Cannabis and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sharlene is also currently editing her second Annabella Cordova novel, with two others in the works. To support her online business, Sharlene sends out a trimonthly newsletter covering health, body language, writing, and even articles centered on health topics for your pet.

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