Arriving into the heart of the Bay of Islands, your first port of call will probably be the bustling seaside town of Paihia. With a healthy sprinkling of beaches, rocky peninsulas and plenty of opportunity for exploring the rest of the Bay, it's a great place to base yourself during your stay in Northland.
Your first view will be out over the sea towards Russell
, before the road swings left along the beach, past the kayak rentals and rental apartments. Immediately on your left you'll find Kings Road, with most backpackers clustered along it, along with a couple of bars and a great pool hall. Keep going along the beach though, and you'll arrive in a few seconds in the middle of the town. If you're coming in by car you'll find a carpark on your right, next to the Maritime Building and its pontoons - it's here that most of the Bay day trips
leave from, as well as the foot-passenger ferries to Russell, and the famous sailing
Turning your back to the Bay and heading inland, you'll come across most of Paihias restaurants and bars, with everything from some really tasty fish n chips right on the waterfront to local bars and even a wine bar. There's also a laundry there (get your tokens from the bar opposite!), some gift stores, a pharmacy, a couple of banks, even a hardware store, and of course some souvenir shops. Around about there is also the local library, often with some funky local art on display, and a police station (usually unmanned - if you have a problem it's often easier to go to Kawakawa, a short drive south).
Back on the beach, and heading north, you'll go past a few health clinics on your left, before going over the headland and coming down to another beach, and shortly into Waitangi
. There's a big supermarket there by the roundabout, if you follow that way you'll come to the adventure park and onwards to Haruru Falls. If you want to walk to the falls though, head back to the beach and turn left, keep going over the bridge, don't forget to visit the Waitangi Treaty House and its museum, carvings and war canoes.
It's also a nice walk past the treaty house, along the beach and cliffs, to the golf course. Then opposite the Treaty House you'll find a car park with the start of the hiking trail to Haruru Falls. This path will take you through the mangroves and the native bush to the falls, maybe an hour walk. At the falls you could check out the diving cormorants ('Black Shags'), from the top of the falls you can see them swimming underwater on a clear-water day. They rely on the freshwater fish getting washed over the falls and trapped by the sea water on the other side. Another way of checking out the falls and hearing some more local history is on a sunset dinner cruise from Paihia.
Another nice day trip form Paihia is to take one of the ferries to Russell. Quite a sleepy town, usually referred to as 'Romantic Russell', it has some fun parts to explore. There's the famous Flagstaff Hill, with its really great views over the bay. To get there at low tide look at the ocean and walk right along the beach from the town pier. You'll see signs that lead you through a woodland trail up the hill, maybe 40 minutes walk. There's a great beach over the other side, some local history to discover, the oldest pub and restaurant in NZ and some cold beer! Find out the time for the last ferry back to Paihia before you go looking for night time Kiwi calls though!
Paihia is also a popular base to explore the rest of Northland from, a short (40 minute) drive to Kerikeri and its orchards and vineyards, 5 minutes to Opua
and its boats, and further north you have the famous 90-mile beach, Cape Reinga, and more. Just make sure you reserve your accommodation before arriving as it can often be booked out on busy days.
That's Paihia, there's more waiting for you to discover!