insights from the ultimate cruising team

New Zealand's Beautiful Bay of Islands

New Zealand's Beautiful Bay of Islands

New Zealand’s beautiful Bay of Islands is known for summer fun on the beaches, swimming with dolphins, fishing, boating and of course, for the Waitangi Treaty grounds.  Every year thousands of visitors flock to Paihia and Russell to enjoy lazy days on the beach or spectacular days out on the water.

But there’s more to this small touristy destination than first meets the eye.  Here are 10 fun facts about the Bay of Islands:

  • Some 144 islands dot the Bay of Islands – some inhabited, many not.
  • Around 700 years ago, Puhi (a progenitor of the Ngāpuhi iwi) sailed into the Bay of Islands aboard the Mataatua, one of the largest Māori migration canoes that journeyed from Hawaiki to New Zealand. 
  • On 5th December 1769, Captain Cook hit a sunken rock in the Bay of Island, luckily sustaining no real damage.  He named the rock “Whale Rock”.  It is believed to one of only two places that Captain Cook hit rocks or ran aground – the other being the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
  • The township of Russell (Kororāreka) was the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand.  It was also known as the “Hellhole of the Pacific” with a reputation of brothels, drunken sailors and not-so-savoury goings during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
  • Kororāreka translates to English as “How sweet is the penguin” .
  • In 1886, Albert Ernest Fuller launched a sailing ship to deliver coal supplies to those living on the islands in the bay.  After fitting a motor in the early 20th century, he could make it as far as Cape Brett.  By 1927, Fuller upgraded the vessel and began transporting cream – the beginning of what is still known as “The Cream Trip”.  Visitors can still cruise this historical route – although it is now operated by a modern catamaran. 
  • In a 2006 study, the Bay of Islands was found to have the second bluest sky in the world, after Rio de Janeiro.
  • In the Bay of Islands, you can find New Zealand’s oldest surviving wooden building (complete, rumour has it, with resident ghosts), oldest surviving stone building (the famous icon, The Stone Store), New Zealand’s first printing press and first church.
  • New Zealand’s oldest church, Christ’s Church in Russell, still sports ancient bulletholes from back in the days when Russell was the “Hellhole of the Pacific”.  You’ll also find some of the oldest graves in New Zealand here.
  • The Bay of Islands attracts hundreds of boaties each year who duck into sheltered coves fishing for snapper, marlin, kingfish and more.  It is a boaties paradise!

Several cruise lines call on the Bay of Islands during their New Zealand itineraries.  If your cruise doesn't stop there, it's just a 3 hour drive (or 40 minute flight) from Auckland and a perfect spot for a few days relaxing before heading home! 

Photo Credit:  NZ Tourism | Alistair Guthrie