Don't Miss

Waitangi Treaty House is of great historical importance as it was here that the treaty between the Maori Chiefs and the British Crown was signed in 1840 to establish the British colony of New Zealand. Regarded as 'the birthplace of the nation,' the building is located in beautifully landscaped grounds. There is a fully carved Maori meeting house, one of New Zealand's largest Maori war canoes, a visitor centre and art gallery. Opening hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. January to February, while the rest of the year is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For guided tours, cultural performances and bookings, call 0800-9248-2644. There is an admission fee for adults, but children are free.

Russell is a delightful waterfront town that has shrugged off its 19th-century boisterous past and is now filled with places to dine, stroll or enjoy galleries and shopping.

Christ Church, built in 1836, is New Zealand's oldest church. A downloadable digital cemetery walk from Hikoi Tahi Walking Tours is available, which guides visitors through the graves and shares the stories of some of the interesting people buried here. Services are held every Sunday at 10.30 a.m.

On the Strand at the waterfront, the 1842-built Pompallier Mission and printery is the country's oldest Roman Catholic building made from rammed earth, and offers another fascinating window on the past. Flagstaff Hill, just north of the town centre, gives a magnificent view of the bay and the peninsula. Opening hours are daily in the summer; closed November through April; closed Christmas Day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, May through October. Daily guided tours are held 10:15 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. (4 p.m. in the summer only). Fee applies. (+64-9-403-9015)

Omata Estate, a vineyard five minutes from Russell, is managed by Bruce Soland, a former professional golfer and entertaining raconteur. Offering sweeping views over the bay, tasting platters and wine-tasting, the merlot and pinot gris are well worth trying. Wine sales are offered 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week, all year. Restaurant and wine tastings can be found from Labour Day Weekend to Easter (inclusive) seven days per week, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (+64-9-403-8007)

Paihia, known as the "Jewel of the Bay of Islands," is a good starting point for most visitors. It's a bustling place with arts and crafts and souvenir shops (see below), three beaches, cafes and restaurants. Settled by missionaries, today the main industry is tourism. This is the best place to depart for tours of the bay or diving, snorkeling or sea kayaking expeditions. Lucky you if your cruise brings you here on a Thursday when the weekly farmers' market operates, where you might even taste some of New Zealand's multi award-winning limoncello, Sovrano.

Haruru Falls is about three kilometers inland from Paihia. The horseshoe-shaped waterfall is spectacular and Maori legend has it that a water monster lives there. Once New Zealand's first river port, there is now a track between the Treaty Grounds, leaving from the opposite side of the road, and offers a sheltered walk along the banks of the Waitangi river to the falls. Allow 2.5 hours one way. Return the same way unless you have organised a shuttle to pick you up.

Kerikeri Mission on the Kerikeri basin is a 30-minute drive north of Paihia and home to the iconic Stone Store, New Zealand's oldest European stone building, built between 1832 and 1835. Today, it serves as a general store and the top floor contains a small museum. (+64-9-407-9236) Opening hours run 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, November through April. Free guided tours of the Stone Store Shop - includes entry to Kemp House and the Stone Store Museum. A fee is incurred for adults and unaccompanied children (up to 18 years), while accompanied children are free. All visitors are welcome to browse in the Stone Store Shop (ground floor) for free.

Kemp House was built in 1821-22, and is New Zealand's oldest European building, originally a mission post superintended by Rev. John Butler. In 1832, it became the home of James Kemp and his family. Descendants of the Kemps retained the home until 1974, when it was gifted to the nation. Entry to Kemp House is by guided tour only. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (November through April); 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (May through October). There is no wheelchair access to either the Stone Store or Kemp House.

Rainbow Falls, 27 metres high, can be reached via a walking track from Waipapa Rd (10 minutes). Just so you know, in New Zealand, hiking is called tramping, and you can do this on the four-kilometre Kerikeri River track, which also leads to the falls via the Fairy Pools.

Puketi Kauri Forest includes a wildlife refuge and is a wonderful tranquil place to walk and spend a few hours.

Arts and Crafts Trail: Find your inner artist and follow the trail to local crafts outlets, handmade silks, pottery, carvings, crystals, skincare, chocolates and more.

Souvenir shopping

There are several good places along the main street in Paihia such as the Flying Fish Design Store. (+64-9-402-7755, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily)

One of the best in the region is The Old Packhouse Market in Kerikeri,
but it's only open Saturday mornings. You'll find great carvings here, metal sculptures, local organic creams and potions, honey and hangi food.

Offbeat activities

Kawakawa, about 20 minutes' drive from Paihia, has something you won't see anywhere else: the world famous Hundertwasser Toilets, well worth a visit. The creation of a renowned Austrian artist who had relocated to the area, these public toilets appear more cathedral-like than conveniences.

Why not take a Cream Trip? Once simply the name for the important deliveries of coal and other staples, now a modern catamaran, takes tourists on the historical route of the original Cream Trip, which is the ideal way to take in the scenic beauty of the bay and get a glimpse of what it might have been like to be a pioneer in the area.

Kawiti Glow Worm Caves, just out of Kerikeri, have been family-owned for generations. You will be told the local fables and stories while walking around with a lamp. The tuis (a New Zealand bird) can mimic cell phones too!

In Kerikeri, it really is worth trying a session of Maori healing from Rawi Pere in the township.

It's also worth heading to the Hokianga (west coast as opposed to Russell's east coast). It's fairly hippy in parts, but beautiful and off-beat and includes the Wairere Boulders. It's a good place for arts and crafts and interesting food at local cafes.

Beaches

Ask a local which beach is best and they may have trouble deciding. It depends what you want to do, after all. Kayaking, parasailing, swimming with dolphins, scuba diving -- it's all possible in the area, and you can hire craft and gear.

Many people plump for Whangaroa (HINT: 'wh' at the start of a Maori place name is pronounced as 'f') and there are plenty of fishing charters from there. If time is limited, take a harbour cruise, or go snorkelling or sea kayaking. For diving, contact Dive Paihia.