Cruise among 150 sun-drenched islands, on a silvery smooth sea. Follow a pod of bottlenose dolphins circling in the beautiful Bay of Islands. When the shout goes out, plunge into the inviting sea to dive and frolic with these playful creatures that seem to have a remarkably close affinity to humans. Afterwards relax on deck and absorb the stunning coastal scenery – a maze of inlets, sandy coves and rocky headlands.

Named by the great navigator, Captain James Cook in 1769, the Bay of Islands is today one of the brightest stars in New Zealand’s tourism universe. The bay has huge historical significance as well; being the cradle of European civilization in New Zealand, a major missionary base, a strong centre of Maori culture and the home of the important Treaty of Waitangi.

Paihia is the commercial centre of the bay, with Waitangi just a stroll away and peaceful Russell a 15 minute boat ride. Choose from a variety of fast and slow cruises, including the famous ‘Cream Trip’ that visits remote homesteads. Also the ‘Hole in the Rock’ excursion, which goes to Cape Brett. Many excursions visit the idyllic Urupukapuka Island, once the deep-sea fishing base for author Zane Grey and now a peaceful haven for overnight stays and unforgettable vistas of the magical islands from hilltop lookouts.

Other islands have no provision for overnighting but offer fascinating day walks. Moturua has native bush alive with rare birds like the spotted kiwi, saddleback and robin, and Motuarohia has two circular blue lagoons that simply demand to be photographed.

Local bushwalks around Paihia can reward visitors with wonderful panoramas. From the Treaty Grounds the road climbs to Mt Bledisloe’s commanding site, while another track heads inland to the attractive Haruru Falls. Flagstaff Hill, overlooking Russell is where chief Hone Heke repeatedly cut down the British flagpole as an act of protest.

Seen from any viewpoint, the enchanting waters of the Bay of Islands leave a big impression on one’s mind. This aquatic paradise is the perfect playground for visitors of all ages – don’t miss it!