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Locals always know the best spots and the best ways to entertain the kids, so here are our tips on the top 10 things to do for families visiting the Bay of Islands and Northland.
1. Go camping up north
Grab a tent or a campervan and head up into the Far North to get away from it all. Spend the day swimming and exploring the coastline before setting up camp for the night. Wake up to the sound of birdsong and the morning sunlight streaming through your tent, with the beach right outside. There are DOC-operated and private campgrounds located around the Far North. Make sure you check the regulations for visitors before your stay - read the DOC website or camping.org.nz for more information.
Staff tip: ‘I love camping at Matauri Bay with my family’ – Tara Syverson, administration
2. Meet mighty Tāne Mahuta
Located on the west coast of Northland, the Waipoua Forest is home to some of New Zealand's most impressive kauri trees. As soon you enter the forest you’ll be amazed at the size of these giants, but save your gasps for the mighty Tāne Mahuta (Lord of the Forest), the biggest kauri tree in the world measuring 51 metres high and 13 metres in girth. Standing beneath this gigantic tree, estimated to be 2,000 years old, is a magical experience. Learn more about Waipoua Forest tours
3. Cruise the Bay, swim with dolphins and sail through the Hole in the Rock
You simply can’t visit Northland without taking a cruise around the sheltered waters of the Bay of Islands. There are numerous options available, including half day and full day cruises, and tours depart from Paihia and Russell daily. Dolphin viewing and swimming is restricted by DOC to licensed cruise operators, so take advantage of the local experts, who have years of experience seeking out and interacting with these amazing creatures.
4. Bathe at Ngawha Springs
Located five kilometres east of Kaikohe, the Ngawha hot springs have changed little over the years and are a popular spot for locals. Temperatures range from milder pools suitable for the whole family to the dauntingly named ‘Bulldog’ and ‘The Doctor’ – try them if you dare! Don’t expect a five-star spa – this is the real thing, with basic facilities. Just climb in and start soaking your way to bliss. The minerals in the mud and water of the springs are said to have healing properties. You’ll definitely notice the authentic mineral smell afterwards, but don’t worry, it showers off!
Staff tip: ‘'It's the most rustic place ever, and the cheapest hot springs in New Zealand'. Barry Neilsen, Operations manager
5. Catch the ferry to Russell and explore
Just a short ferry ride across from Paihia, the once notorious ‘Hell Hole of the Pacific’ is now a charming little township. Explore on foot or join the guided one-hour Russell Mini Tour for an entertaining overview. Wander around historic sites like Christ’s Church, Pompallier House and the Russell Museum, or get active and walk up Flagstaff Hill or over to Long Beach. When you’re all explored out, settle down for a bite to eat and drink at one of the many seafront cafes.
6. Visit Cape Reinga and see the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea collide
You can’t visit Northland and not go all the way to the top! Make the journey to Cape Reinga, driving along Ninety Mile Beach and sandboarding at Te Paki Stream en route. Although it’s a registered highway, most vehicle insurance policies won’t cover you on Ninety Mile Beach, so it’s best left to the professionals. Don't forget to stop and sample the famous fish and chips at Mangonui. Tours depart daily from Paihia and Kerikeri.
7. Hire rod ‘n reel and go fishing
Nothing beats the thrill of catching your first fish, and the Bay of Islands offers a great opportunity to catch seafood big and small. You’ll often find local kids fishing from the wharf at Russell and rods can be hired from the local convenience store. If big game is more your style then join a local charter operator and head out in search of tuna, marlin, sharks or kingfish. At the end of the day, take the kids to Shippey’s by the Waitangi Bridge, where they can eat fish and chips inside a real live ship – and if you did get lucky, they’ll cook your catch for you.
8. Visit Waitangi, the birthplace of our nation
Here in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between Māori and the British Crown. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds offer a truly unique insight into New Zealand's early history. Explore the original Treaty House, see Te Whare Runanga, a carved Māori meeting house representing all the iwi (tribes) in Aotearoa. Guided tours and cultural performances take place throughout the day. Visiting Waitangi Treaty Grounds is free for New Zealanders, while a charge applies for overseas visitors.
9. Run away and join the circus!
Just outside Paihia, Action World has everything you need for a fun and active day out! Kids and adults alike can soar through the air on the flying trapeze, and have a go on the high wire, jousting pole, climbing wall, trampolines and extreme slides. Award-winning air bags mean every heart-pumping activity is safe and secure.
10. Take a hike
Explore the Bay of Islands by foot and you never know what you’ll discover – a deserted beach, rare native birds or stunning views. There are well-maintained walking tracks around the Bay suitable for all ages and skill levels. Find out more about Bay of Islands walks.
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