Local Knowledge - The Bay of Islands NZ.
Posted on 31/01/2020 by John Martin
The Bay of Islands is one of those quirks of nature
where everything comes together to create something truly special.
It’s not a huge place, just 15 km x 12km, it may be pocket sized but
it’s got some great cruising. What could be better, white sandy beaches
everywhere you look, sheltered bays, great fishing and diving and
it’s accessible to just about every means of getting out on the water,
from kayaks to motor yachts. With lots of shelter it’s flat water and no
matter what the wind, there’s always a perfect anchorage for a
The Bay also has great services with fuel and water available at both
the Russell Wharf and the Bay of Islands Marina at Opua where
there’s also a pump-out station. For re-provisioning there are a
number of options at Opua The Opua Store, situated at the head
of the commercial wharf offers a good range of stores, beer and
wine, fresh fruit, veg, a great selection of cabinet food and awesome
For a beer and dinner there are two options; the Opua Cruising Club
which welcomes casual diners or for a quick bite on the run the Old
Store Takeaways. At the southern end of Opua in the Marina carpark
the Marina Cafe is perfect for coffee over breakfast and lunch. On
your way back down the Veronica Channel stop in at Omata Estate
Winery for an award winning glass of wine or a bite from the Omata
Historic Russell offers much to do. A walk up to the flagpole made
famous by Honi Heke, the Russell museum and Pompallier House to
name a few. You can finish off with lunch at any number of the cafes
on the waterfront, a drink at the tavern or fine dining at the Duke of
Marlborough Hotel. For a quick top up on ships stores, the Russell
Four Square is right on the waterfront adjacent the wharf which has
a number of short term casual berths. For more serious provisioning
there’s a Countdown Supermarket in Paihia, accessed from TeTi
beach, a short walk up Puketona Rd, opposite Caltex Waitangi where
you can fill your LPG tanks.
Paihia central also has a small Countdown, some great places to eat
and a number of service shops including a doctors surgery, pharmacy
and Post Shop.
The Bay is also a scenic beauty and perhaps the best way to take this
in is on one of the many walking
tracks. Many of the islands are DoC preserves and have some
fantastic walks, such as the walk to the top of Roberton (Motuarohia)
Island, which is an easy walk with a board walk and steps to a
platform opening to an expansive vista.
Or you could take the Island Track around Moturua Island from any
of the islands beautiful bays or spend some time and explore some
serious walking on Urupukapuka Island where you’ll also find a
Wetland Hide just inland from Otaio Bay. This is just one of the many
DoC developments in conjunction with Project Island Song who’s
mission is; “Bringing back birdsong to the islands, note by note.”
Thousands of trees have been planted, and five rare and endangered
species have been reintroduced.
If you’re a diver ,the Bay of Islands offers some fantastic
opportunities. With clear water the whole year round. You can
explore the wreck of the Canterbury, one of the RNZN Leander Class
Frigates sunk for diving in Deep Water Cove or just dive for Scallops
or Cray. There are a number of dive tours available and bottles can
be filled at the Dive Shop in Paihia or at Cater Marine in Opua.
Living off the Sea, or as our Maori say, Kai Moana!
The Bay is one huge smorgasbord with fresh seafood there for the
picking if you know where to look.
We often Cruise in company and most are hunter gatherers. There’s
nothing like a bit of competition and a seafood BBQ makes a great
occasion. Allocating each boat a catch of either Snapper, Cray’s or
Scallops is a great way to get some variety.
I prefer to dive, rather than dredge for scallops, as I can select good
size shells and not disturb the beds. The beds are easy to find.
Look for any sandy rise with good current and you’re bound to find
scallops there. Make sure you check the size before putting the min the
bag, count them too, as you are deemed to have harvested them,
according to the local fisheries officers, when you deposit them
in the bag. The Scallop season in the Bay runs from 1st September to
In the Bay it’s not unusual to find a bed in 5 to 10 ms of water and we
often get a bag full in short order from our favourite spot, the one
between whatjamacallit and thingami, you know the one, great spot.
There was a fair bit of bragging on the VHF between the boats
towards the end of the day and we decided Pipi Bay would be the
ideal venue for our soon to be feast, as it’s sheltered in most winds.
Pipi Bay is known by a number of names depending on which chart
or cruising guide you look at, but is a sheltered deep cove in the
southeastern corner of Moturua Island. It has a sandy beach, ideal
for a BBQ ashore with lots of room to play, particularly at low tide.
Even better it’s a great anchorage for launches, with deep water
close in under the cliffs adjacent the beach. Rafted together it’s not
uncommon to see six-eight large launches tied stern too the shore.
Before your day ends you should also look at getting some fresh
mussels. I often go to a spot around the corner from Pipi, on the
seaward side of the island, where there are acres of mussels. The
rocks are accessible at low tide from the dinghy, provided there’s no
With a seafood BBQ ashore, for us, it’s the KISS principal (keep it
simple) so the preparation is minimal, the scallops are shucked and
cleaned and immediately poached in white wine and garlic
butter in the half shell. We also have a metal dish with some
vegetable stock boiling, cook the mussels until the shells open and
eat out of the shell. The fish is the only one you’ll need a plate for.
Wrap the Snapper in tin foil with 1/4 cup of stock and the same of
wine, poach and when the skin peals back easily, eat.
Kai Moana, you bet!
The Bay of Islands welcomes around 400 visiting cruisers each
year with Port Opua being regarded as the “Gateway” to New
Zealand alongside Marsden Cove a little further south. We had one
such cruiser along for this adventure, I asked him for his thoughts,
“The cruising here is awesome, the fishing great and the scenery
unbelievable.” It’s great to get feedback from overseas cruisers
letting us know just how good our own little patch of paradise is.
So get out there and enjoy yourselves over summer, if you see a
group on the beach having a get together come on over, bring a
cold one and join in, after all that’s what cruising’s all about.
For in-depth information on the Bay of Islands and Surrounding
areas check out the New Zealand Cruising Guide from;-
Sail South Pacific at