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Paihia, Bay of Islands | Meet the dolphins of New Zealand | Travel Guide

by Steven

Paihia is a small town in the north of the Northern Island of New Zealand. It is an ideal destination for a few days to explore the area. Here you can visit the place where New Zealand became an “independent” country from Great Britain in 1840, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Or how about a boat trip through the Bay of Islands, where you get the opportunity to swim with dolphins along the way? Or take one of the historic walks found in and around Paihia. Let’s go to Paihia …!

What would you like to know about Paihia and the Bay of Islands?

The port of Paihia in the Bay of Islands
The harbor of Paihia in the Bay of Islands

History of Paihia – This is what you need to know

History of New Zealand: the missionary Henry Williams
The missionary Henry Williams

Paihia is not just another town in New Zealand. It has a rich history dating back to the year 1769 when British explorer James Cook landed here. He was impressed by the local Maori and gave the beautiful bay its current name, Bay of Islands.

More than 20 years later, more and more Europeans found this beautiful place on the Northern Island. The story goes that British missionary Henry Williams (1792-1867) came ashore here and greeted his Maori guide by saying “Pai here,” which means something like “beautiful place. The name for the place was born.

Around 1830, Paihia was a lively village where various crafts were practiced, including teachers, blacksmiths, and carpenters. Paihia was also called “heaven” by the local Maori. This is in contrast to Kororāreka, present-day Russell where mostly sailors stayed. They named that place the ‘ hell’.

But the Bay of Islands is best known for the site where, on February 6, 1840, the British envoy James Busby and local Maori signed the Treaty of Waitangi, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. New Zealand was recognized as a state, but Queen Victoria remained the country’s head of state. The agreements in the treaty were mainly about redistributing land, although this led to some conflicts between the Maori and the British in the decades that followed. As Auckland became larger and therefore more important, the importance of Paihia declined more and more.

Hole in the Rock in the Bay of Islands
Hole in the Rock, one of the attractions in the Bay of Islands

Sightseeing in and around Paihia

Paihia is a nice little town on the Bay of Islands. It is ideal to stay at least two days and explore the area. The best time to travel is between November and March, as temperatures are very pleasant then. Below are some nice sights to see.

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds in New Zealand
The Waka, the Maori war canoe

Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the state of New Zealand was founded

Want to learn more about New Zealand’s history? Then head to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This is where, on February 6, 1840, British envoy James Busby and Maori tribal leaders signed a treaty whereby both recognized the state of New Zealand. Although there are still points of contention about the correct interpretation of the treaty, New Zealand is still part of the British Commonwealth and Queen Elizabeth II is the country’s head of state. Want to know more about this historic place in New Zealand? Then read the article Waitangi Treaty Grounds | Where New Zealand became a state …?

Swimming with dolphins in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Swimming with dolphins

The Bay of Islands is a beautiful destination in New Zealand and one of the places where you can swim with dolphins. Every day a number of boats depart that guarantee you will encounter the dolphins. Halfway there is the possibility to swim with the dolphins for a few minutes, which is a truly unique experience and highly recommended! Also enjoy the beautiful nature and rock formations you pass, including the Hole in the Rock. For more information visit the website of dolphin cruises.

The town of Russell in the Bay of Islands

Visit Kororāreka, or Russell

On the other side of Paihia, you can see Russell, which the Maori call Kororāreka. Together with Paihia, this small town was one of the first European settlements in New Zealand. In 1840 it was even the capital of the country for a short time. In 1835 even Charles Darwin with his Beagle stood for a short time in the port of Russell. Here you will also find the oldest church in New Zealand and from Kororāreka you can make a beautiful walk to Flagstaff Hill and Tapeka Point Beach.

Like Paihia, Russell is a popular destination for tourists in northern New Zealand. From the harbor, a boat leaves every hour for both places. By car, you can cross by ferry at Opua-Okiato. Looking for accommodation in Russell? Check here for the options.

The St. Anglican Church in Paihia, New Zealand
The St. Anglican Church in Paihia, New Zealand

Other tips

Looking for even more great ideas in and around Paihia? Here are a few more interesting options to make your stay in the Bay of Islands complete.

  • Take a walk through Paihia. Although the town itself does not have many historical attractions, a visit to the St. Paul Anglican Church is a must. This church dates from 1925 and in terms of interior and exterior can be called quite special.
  • Visit the Haruru Falls. A few kilometers west of Paihia you will find this waterfall in the town of Haruru. Perhaps not one of the most spectacular, but still nice to have seen.
  • Do you plan to do a lot of hiking in New Zealand? Then do the Opua Forest Paihia Lookout Track. This hike is about 6 kilometers long and goes through the beautiful Opua Forest. Or do the Paihia School Road Track. This hike takes about 1.5 hours there and back to a viewpoint. Incidentally, during the Opua Forest Lookout Track you will also end up at this viewpoint. For more information, check out the New Zealand government website.
  • Finally: Go for a swim and rest on one of the beautiful beaches around the Bay of Islands. There are plenty of them, some more fun than others. If you’re staying in Paihia, you can take a dip right at Paihia Beach.
  • Haruru Falls west of Paihia
Haruru Falls west of Paihia

Accommodation – Staying in Paihia?

Paihia is a small town with just under 2,000 inhabitants. The town is mainly focused on tourism and that explains the more than 100 accommodations where you can stay overnight. I myself stayed at Pickled Parrot, a hostel south of the center. It is an ideal place to meet people and 100 meters away you will find Paihia Beach.

Looking for accommodation in Paihia? Look here for the possibilities

Accommodation in Paihia: Pickled Parrot
Accommodation in Paihia: Pickled Parrot

Transportation – How do you get to Paihia?

Paihia is about a 3-hour drive from Auckland. The best way to get there is by car. I rented a car from Sunny Cars, a bit more expensive than most rental companies but everything was top-notch. Look here for more information about all-in car rental according to Sunny Cars.

Do you have more tips, ideas, or comments about this travel guide of Paihia in New Zealand? Then feel free to leave a comment below.

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