FODOR'S GO LIST 2015
The top 25 places we think should be on every traveler's radar this year.More
Getting out on the water is a highlight of the Bay of Islands whether on the ferry crossing from Paihia to Russell or on a trip. The coastal areas are also lovely places to stroll, especially in summer. Those who love to fish will find the charter providers all have their secret spots to snag the big one.
Carino NZ Sailing and Dolphin Adventures. Get close to dolphins (primarily bottlenose) and penguins. Passengers on the 50-foot red catamaran can just relax or pitch in with sailing. This full-day trip (NZ$120) includes a barbecue lunch at one of the islands, weather permitting, and a full bar is on board. This company has a permit that allows guests to swim with dolphins. The tours are not run in the winter months. Paihia Wharf Marsden Road, 0200. 09/402–8040. www.sailingdolphinz.co.nz.
Dolphin Eco Experience. Trips come with an option to "Swim with the Dolphins." You might also spot Brydes whales, migrating humpback and orca whales, or groups of tiny blue penguins. Prices begin at NZ$109 Marsden and Williams Rds., Paihia, 0252. 09/402–7421. www.dolphincruises.co.nz.
Fullers. Cruises and sea-based adventure trips depart daily from both Paihia and Russell. The most comprehensive sightseeing trip is the six-hour, summer-only Best of the Bay Supercruise (NZ$119) aboard a high-speed catamaran. You'll follow about half of what was once called the "Cream Trip" route, but nowadays, instead of picking up cream from farms, the boat delivers mail and supplies to vacation homes. Fullers also visits Urupukapuka Island, once home to a hapu (subtribe) of the Ngare Raumati Māori. Little is known about their life, but there are numerous archaeological sites. It's also the only one to go to Otehei Bay, one of the island's most spectacular bays. On this particular trip, the boat stops for an hour and a half on the island, where you can go kayaking, take a short hike, or have lunch at the Zane Grey Café. The trip also takes in the Hole in the Rock, a natural hole at sea level in Piercy Island that boats pass through if the tide is right. During winter there is a shorter NZ$99 trip that is mostly focused on finding dolphins. Maritime Bldg., Marsden Rd., Paihia, 0200. 64 9/402–7421. www.dolphincruises.co.nz.
The Bay of Islands has some of the finest scuba diving in the country, particularly around Cape Brett, where the marine life includes moray eels, stingrays, and grouper. The wreck of the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior, bombed and sunk by French agents in 1985, is another underwater highlight. The wreck was transported to the Cavalli Islands in 1987 and is now covered in soft corals and jewel anemones; it's full of fish life. Water temperature at the surface varies from 16°C (62°F) in July to 22°C (71°F) in January. From September through November, underwater visibility can be affected by a plankton bloom.
Paihia Dive Compass Ltd.. This company will take you around two significant sunken ships: the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior plus the former Royal New Zealand Navy vessel Canterbury. Accredited divers can rent equipment and the unaccredited can sign up for dive courses. Prices including equipment begin at NZ$229. 7 Williams Rd., Paihia. 09/402–7551 or 0800/107–551. www.divenz.com.
Marlin Fishing New Zealand. Go for the big ones off the Northland coast and around Three Kings Islands. The cost is NZ$3,950 per day for a maximum of four people, including all tackle and meals but excluding alcohol. The company will organize overnight charters if required. 09/402–8189 or 0274/776–604. www.marlinfishing.co.nz.
A far less-expensive alternative than pricey marlin fishing is to fish for snapper and kingfish within the bay.
Spot-X. An all day charter will cost you about NZ$1,200 for up to six people and you can leave as early as you like. You'll need to bring your lunch and cold drinks but the team that takes you out will supply tea and coffee. Word is these people know some good fishing spots. They are skilled at filleting your catch so you can take it back to where you're staying and cook it. They leave from Paihia but if you are staying in Russell they'll pick you up there. 09/402–7123. www.fish-spot-x.co.nz.