The Bay of Islands, New Zealand’s finest maritime park and the birthplace of our nation, owes its existence to the great melt that ended the last Ice Age. The rising sea drowned many river valleys leaving 144 ridge tops exposed as islands in a harbour of breathtaking beauty.

Today you can enjoy this aquatic playground with the help of commercial operators or on your own. Most popular are the large catamaran cruises that do the Cream Trip, the Hole in the Rock and Swimming with Dolphins. Thrill seekers can choose the fast offshore powerboats that zoom out to the Hole, but others prefer sea kayaks to explore the rock gardens and quiet coves, or yachts that glide silently before the breeze.

Once out on the water the first island you see is Motuarohia, distinguished by its two glorious lagoons – the most photographed scene in the Bay. Next is Moturua, a wildlife sanctuary with a network of walking tracks. Then comes Urupukapuka, the only island where you can stay overnight in Otehei Bay, famed as author Zane Grey’s deep sea fishing camp. Cape Brett is a barren headland near Piercy Island with its natural tunnel known as The Hole in the Rock.

Most visitors to the Bay stay in Paihia for the cafès, restaurants, and craft shops and museums. It is the base for cruises, bus tours and visits to the Waitangi Treaty House and grounds – New Zealand’s most historic site.

Russell with its colonial architecture and Old World atmosphere is a 15 minute ferry ride from Paihia. The information centre is on the wharf and nearby is the excellent Captain Cook Museum, Pompallier House and Christ Church.

A visit to Kerikeri inlet gives a good appreciation of Maori and European history. A reconstruction of a Maori pa can be seen at Rewa’s Village. The Stone Store was the first European building in New Zealand and nearby Kemp House was an early mission station.

The Bay of Islands is a true holiday destination where you can relax and enjoy the natural beauty of your surroundings. It is also an exciting playground with a host of activities on offer – simple pleasures where a dramatic landscape meets a sparkling sea.