Local Knowledge - The Bay of Islands NZ.

Posted on 31/01/2020 by John Martin

Local Knowledge - The Bay of Islands NZ.


Local Knowledge.

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

quiet night.


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

31st March.

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

surge running.

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