Bay of Islands - Rocky islets, turquoise sea, and golden beaches (31 May)

Interesting Facts about Bay of Islands

IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE, vacationers head north for sunny beaches. And in New Zealand that means the sheltered Bay of Islands, with lighthouse-topped promontories, forested islets, and wave-lapped golden-sand beaches. Sheltered in an eastern nook of New Zealand’s North Island, these 114 picturesque islands enjoy a mild subtropical climate and support a bevy of marine and bird life that includes populations of dolphins, kiwis, little penguins, and migrating whales.
Tribal Maori settled here as early as the 10th century, though Captain James Cook is credited with “discovering” the region and naming it in 1769. The tiny village of Russell, whose bulk juts out on the westernmost end of the Te Rawhiti Inlet, was New Zealand’s first European seaport. Once a catch-all settlement of whalers, missionaries, and escaped convicts from Australia, it still boasts some of the country’s oldest buildings. The cream-colored, clapboard Te Whare Karakia o Kororareka (Christ Church), New Zealand’s oldest surviving church, was built in the mid-1830s with funding from visitors like Charles Darwin. He passed through the area aboard the H.M.S. Beagle in 1835 collecting specimens of fish, shells, and insects.
Today, visitors come to the Bay of Islands to experience the laid-back island life. They cruise from Cape Brett Peninsula to the uninhabited island Motukokako (Hole in the Rock), which has a famous wave-worn gap in one of its sheer cliffs, large enough for catamarans to pass through. Many tourists base themselves for days in the central boutique town of Paihia on North Island, but nature seekers camp along the shores of remote Urupukapuka Island, where the only way in and out is by boat. Hikers climb the easterly island’s gently sloping grassy hilltops for stunning views of the island-specked bay.
Kayakers round Tapeka Point north of Russell to spot penguins, and charter boats head to the waters beyond in search of marlin. In Kerikeri in Northland, vacationers tip back crisp cupfuls of Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc with regional cuisine at dozens of wine-forward restaurants. It’s said New Zealand’s budding international wine industry originated here, with the planting of the country’s first vineyards.
At the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, visitors can learn about the signing of a document in 1840 between the British and Maori tribes that paved the way for New Zealand’s nationhood. To commemorate the event, each February 6, the day the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, a 115-foot (35 m) long war waka (canoe) is launched from nearby Hobsons Beach.