Bay of Islands 2 - 3 week cruising guide.

The Bay of Islands is the heart of the cruising ground for New Zealand's stunning Northland coast. A sub tropical paradise that offers sheltered anchorages and easy sailing for charterers of any level of experience.

The Bay of Islands, as the name suggests has many Islands and inlets where you can cruise to one of the many sandy bays for lunch and a swim, take in a spot of fishing or sail out to the "hole in the rock" off Cape Brett and back to end up at a bay for a calm nights sleep. This program will captivate the charter for a week or more with new spots to visit every day but with more than 7 days you should consider what the coast around the BOI has to offer. This is the 2 or even 3 week itinerary to make the most of a longer sailing holiday in New Zealand.

The Northland coast that is best ventured from the bay of Islands is a stretch 30 miles to the South to Tutakaka harbour and 25 miles North to Whangaroa harbour with the bay itself  being 10 miles across from Cape Brett to the Nine pins.

Auckland's Hauraki Gulf is 80 miles south of Cape Brett but this is an extensive cruising region that is best embarked on from Auckland as a separate holiday.

Tutakaka north to Whangaroa is a coastline with interesting harbours and Islands, points of interest and it is this area that is the subject of this cruising guide.

On this Page:

Day 1 Arrival at Opua, Roberton Island and on to Opunga cove. 9 miles

Opua charter base and passage out to the bay
Opua charter base and passage out to the bay

Historic Russell town
Historic Russell town

Roberton Island
Roberton Island

Opua is an historical port with deep water up a sheltered estuary where in past years goods would be taken to be offloaded onto the rail network. There has never been a township of any size located at Opua so the main stores are to be found in Paihia 5 minutes drive to the north.

Today Opua consists of a wharf with the charter berths and a modern marina with a thriving marine services centre. The car ferry to the town of Russell crosses from here making it a place to pass though rather than hang around. Your briefing with your skipper will discuss the workings of the boat and much of what is on offer in the Bay of Islands. Do not be hesitant to ask for his assistance to leave the marina as the tide that flows through past the wharf can be strong at times of peak flow making getting under way a bit tricky as a first exercise on a new boat.

As you motor from the marina you pass the historical town of Russell. The nation's first capital is now a thriving tourist spot with restaurants and shops which are worth a visit later in the trip. Paihia is to port and is where the main shops are located. 

As you round Tapeka point the Islands of the bay appear before you. The first Island you come to is Roberton Island, with its long beach connecting the two headlands with two tidal lagoons on the seaward side. This is the most photographed Island in the bay and a good place as your first stop to go for a swim and get the feel of being on a sailing holiday. 

Roberton Island can be an overnight anchorage but for a superb first night's sleep you are best to head south east for 2 miles into Opunga Cove or any one of the bays in this area on the mainland.

Day 2 Explore the Islands of the Bay.


View of the bay
View of the Bay of Isalnds

Sandy beach on an Island in the Bay of Islands
Sandy beach on an Island in the Bay of Islands

The Bay itself is 10 miles across with the Islands covering an area of just 5 miles. The first day usually involves surveying the area from the boat to select places you may wish to come back to for a picnic or overnight stay.

The next Island in from Roberton Island is Moturua Island. On the southern shores you will find two horseshoe shaped bays which offer deep water close in and are ideal overnight anchorages. This end of the island is in private ownership, which along with part of Roberton Island is the only private land holdings on the Islands. The northern end is a DOC (Department of Conservation) park as are the rest of the Islands on this side of the bay. New Zealand does not charge for the use of its national parks which are extensive areas protected for you to enjoy. You will find well marked tracks in most of the locations we will visit on this trip. On the north eastern side of this Island you will find a shelterd sandy bay at the entrance of a passage leading out to sea. This is ideal for a day stop to take in some great snorkelling or diving and one of those well marked DOC tracks.

Motoring back into the bay from here observe the sand bar that extends to the south of Motukiekie Island and proceed around this Island to the sheltered shores of the outer Islands Okahu and Waewaetorea Islands. These are ideal for day stops with beautiful sandy beaches and clear water for snorkelling. With dive gear you will find scallop beds (fan shaped clams) in just 6 metres of water in the area south of these Islands.

Heading South from here you pass Urapukapuka Island which is the largest of all the Islands with many beaches and walks to enjoy. For the night I suggest Omakiwi Cove or further up the inlet to Parekura bay for that perfect night's sleep in a bay sheltered from all winds and sea.

Day 3. Oki Bay

Oki Bay
Oki Bay is a great spot for the kids to play on the beach.

Hat Island entrance to the Albert Channel
Hat Island, take the narrow entrance through the Albert Channel

Rawhiti over the hill from Oki bay where you will find a store

Leaving Omakiwi cove you can go back to the Islands to enjoy any of the many interesting places you sailed past or if you are in a mood to explore turn right heading for the Albert channel. Caution needs to be taken as there are underwater hazards in this passage but the channel is well marked. As you head out to sea you will see the high cliffs of Cape Brett and Percy Island. The best way out is to take the narrow passage between the southern headland and an awash rock known as Hat Island on which a channel marker, navigation light is placed. Following the coast around you will eventually come to the best bay in the bay, Oki Bay. This deserves a day at least as it is such a good example of a Northland coast bay. It has a long sandy beach set well back, sheltered from most winds. The high country to its south side you can climb up a small cliff to bathe in a rock pool at the base of a waterfall. 15 minutes walk along the road above the beach brings you to the Maori settlement of Rawhiti with a small store where you can pick up fresh bread, milk and reward the kids with an ice cream. The bay is great for the kids to play and offers excellent snorkeling where a deft hand with a Hawaian sling can easily spear dinner.

Oki bay is a suitable overnight anchorage providing there is no ocean swell running. If in doubt head back round to Omakiwi for a good night's rest rather than risk the discomfort of a roll. 

Day 4 Passage out of the bay to Wangamumu harbour. 10 miles

Pearcy Island
Hole in the rock, Pearcy Island off Cape Brett

Whangamumu Harbour

Mmiwhangata farm parklands

This is where the logic of a set itinerary needs to be questioned. By now you have a feel for what the Bay of Islands has to offer and you may choose to hang out here for a few more days. If you are still keen to explore and the weather is settled then its time to head out to the coast knowing that you will return to the bay on your way back.

The sail out to and around Cape Brett and Percy Island is a memorable open water sailing experience New Zealand sailors hold dear in their heart. It is a dramatic landscape and being a cape the tide flows around the point mixing with the incoming swell that goes in several directions as the depth of water does not provide any dampening of its inward force before it hits the cliff and bounces back. This serves to create a sense of drama that is perfectly manageable in settled weather and is an enjoyable and memorable scenic trip. This is a sail that should be embarked upon even if the intention is to turn around and return to the bay. That is not our intention, we are heading south to Wangamumu Harbour which in reality is just over the hill from Oki Bay. The seaward side of the cape has a very different personality to the landscape we have passed on the way out with high cliffs and detailing in the coast that is noticeable evidence of the power of the sea, whittling away at this exposed coast. Standing off shore one would assume that this area would offer scant refuge for the passing mariner but that is not the case. Five miles from Cape Brett a charming harbour opens up with a narrow entrance ensuring shelter and a peaceful anchorage. Whangamumu harbour was a whaling station as late as the mid 1940's and was unique in the way they used to net the whales in small boats. The remnants of this enterprise can still be seen today and DOC have placed story boards to relay the history and nature of these hard men of the sea.

Day 5. Whangaruru Harbour 10 miles

Mimiwhangata sandy beach

North new zealand bay
Sandy beach typical of many along this coast.

Whangaruru harbour offering sheltered anchorage along the coast

There are native bush walks from Whangamumu that are extensive and form part of the 3 day trek around Cape Brett. You can take a portion of this track for a time to observe the natural bush and its colourful bird life leading you to vantage points where you can observe where you have been and where you are next to go.

When you have walked or fished and made the most of this neat part of the world head South toward Whangaruru Harbour. The harbour offers excellent shelter but is shallow in parts and in settled weather there is more to offer when anchoring in one of the bays at its entrance.

At its northern entrance is Bland Bay which is an unfortunate name for such a spectacular sandy beach. The land on shore is in private ownership and you will find shops for basic supplies in the holiday periods. This bay is prone to an ocean swell from the north and for this reason is known as a surf beach but in good weather it makes a great stop for a swim.

More interesting is Mimiwhangata an extensive series of sandy beaches on the southern headland of Whangaruru Bay and well worth a stop overnight to explore the farm parklands the following day. If the weather is unsettled or there is a noticeable ocean swell head into Whangaruru Harbour for the night.

Day 6 Tutukaka Harbour 13 miles

Tutakaka Marina
Tutakaka Marina from the cafe deck.

Whale Bay
Whale Bay 2 miles north of Tutakaka.

Tutukaka entrance
Tutukaka entrance with Cape Brett in the distance.

Snorkeling at the Poor Knights Islands

13 miles to the south is Tutukaka, returning you to civilisation with a modern marina with full washing facilities, shops, cafes and restaurants. 

Phone (027 487 9807) or VHF on Channel 4 to secure a marina, you will find that at most times you will have cellular coverage for your mobile phone even off this remote part of the coast. The entrance has a large awash rock on its south and the tall headland to the north leaving an entrance of around 220 meters wide. Take care approaching the marina especially at low tide as the channel can be down to 1.8m of depth with very little water either side at low tide.

This is a quaint little marina that is completely landlocked and makes an excellent base for a couple of days exploring this part of the coast. The Snapper rock cafe does an excellent breakfast and the Swordfish Club is good for a value meal in the evening. If you want something upper class there is a finer dining restaurant in the apartments at the head of the bay. Or sit at the Pizza bar on the open air deck and watch the sun go down. 

There is not much of interest to explore inland but the coast around here has plenty to do and a couple of day trips exploring is a rewarding experience. North is Matapouri and Whale Bay both very special spots for the day. If you are interested in snorkelling or diving an excursion out to the Poor Knights Islands is something you must do.

The Poor knights Islands are a total marine and nature reserve - and pending World Heritage Site - the 11 million year old islands’ volcanic origins provide myriad spectacular drop offs, walls, caves, arches and tunnels. Above and below water, the islands are abundantly populated with unique and incredibly varied plant, animal and fish life. Laying claim to an astounding Maori history and the world’s largest sea cave (and only living dinosaur and largest insect) the remarkable Poor Knights thoroughly deserve their protected status.

Sometime after day 7 Back to the Bay 30 miles.

Paradise Bay Urapukapuka
Paradise Bay Urapukapuka

Urapuka puka looking back at Rawhiti
Urapuka puka looking back at Rawhiti

Stone store Kerikeri inlet

Follow the coast back to the Bay of Islands, you may choose to stop off at one of the locations you missed heading south or take the 30 mile trip back in one passage.

If you are low on stores or fancy dining ashore you may take the time to go back to Russell or you can head to the northern side of the bay towards the Kerikeri inlet where there are anchorages for all weather offering a different lanscsape to the side of the bay you have seen. If yours is a 3 week charter you could even catch the tide up the Kerikeri inlet to park in the basin outside New Zealand's oldest building the famous Stone Store which is located on the outskirts of the town of KeriKeri.

For our purposes let us assume we start north towards Whangaroa on day 9 to keep this itinerary within  our 14 day program.

Day 9 Bay of Islands to the cavalli Islands. 20 miles

Cavali Islands horseshoe bay

View from Kauri Cliffs
View of Cavali's from Kauri Cliffs golf course

Approaching the seaward side of Cavalis Islands heading north

20 miles north of the northern most point in the bay are the Cavalli Islands. This group of Islands is administered by the DOC and most of the land in Matouri bay on the mainland is customary maori title. Foreign investment has seen the development of world class golf courses and resorts nestled into the hills, a testament to this location's beauty and seclusion.

To experience this part of the world and truly enjoy what it has to offer you are privileged to be on a yacht rather than the 5 star resort up on the hill.

As you approach the Cavalli Islands keep them to starboard, take a look over the side, yes thats the bottom you can see but dont worry the water is so clear it is most likely 40ft deep though it does shallow in places and it's prudent to take a look at the chart on boats with deep keels. You will get used to the uneasy feeling from being able to see the bottom. 

Approaching the main island you will find 2 large sandy bays facing to the west, the northern most of these is the most common overnight anchorage in favourable conditions. 

Around the corner there is a cluster of Islands forming a protective barrier from the sea providing a playground for diving and snorkelling. Here you will enjoy diverse fish and marine plant life covering an area of 1000 meters in diameter between the main Island and the outer islands.

When we stopped here for lunch on our return in summer of 2010 one of our party came up with a large crayfish. This was accompanied on the dinner table with albacore tuna caught trailing a lure behind the boat heading back to the bay.

Day 10 and 11- Whangaroa harbour. 10 miles

Western Arm Whangaroa harbour
Western Arm Whangaroa harbour

Orca in Whangaroa harbour
Orca in the bay surfaced beside the boat at anchor. (grainy photo a bit "nessy" like but true)

Tasty Feast at Kingfisher lodge

Kingfisher lodge
Kingfisher lodge

Heading North West past a headland known as Flat Island we follow the coast west to a point where it heads north again. At this point there is an opening in the steep cliffs of just 250 meters which forms the entrance to an expansive harbour.

As you glide through the pass the wind will be taken leaving only the momentum of the boat to effortlessly deliver you into this mystical landscape. Your attention will at first be attracted to starboard up the western arm with its dramatic pinnacle rock forms. Then to port as we pass a bay whose headland is covered by chalets and the main centre of Kingfisher lodge. Straight ahead the landscape changes back to farmland which is somehow at odds with the lanscape at the entrance.  At the upper reaches of Whangaroa is a township with a marina where you will find basic stores and facilities. Inland excursions can be arranged from here if you wish to tie up for the day and see the upper west coast and northern tip of New Zealand.

This location requires a couple of days, Kingfisher lodge is a nice place to enjoy a cocktail on the deck and is proud of its quality cuisine guaranteeing the dining experience ashore. This is not a 5 star lodge but has tons of charm, it is rustic, friendly and under the relaxed exterior knows how to cater to demanding clients. It is known to be on the itinerary of the world's rich and famous who are drawn by its simple charm. When we were here a pod of Orca whales came into the bay, the bull male dorsal fin surfacing right beside the boat and then again as they exited the harbour, throwing stingrays on which they feed, into the air as they went.

The western arm is the most popular anchorage, at high tide take the dinghy up the river and go for some distance through the valley with dramatic high cliffs either side. 

Day 12 head back to the bay 25 miles.

Bay of Islands bay
Bay of Islands bay

 beautiful sailing in NZ
Blue sky, 15 knots of wind, beautiful sailing in NZ.

Bay of Islands, relaxing at anchor.

If you are to leave the Bay of Islands to work your way along the coast make sure you allow yourself at least a day or more than you need for the return. The weather in New Zealand's summer can be changeable and you should pick your weather and consider the forecast in your cruising plans.

Generally during settled periods the sea breezes take over, the wind builds in the morning as the land heats up and sucks air from the cool sea to replace the hot air rising off the land. This creates ideal sailing conditions for reaching either way along the coast. The unsettled weather will generally be in the form of lows forming in the Southern Ocean creating south westerly winds or tropical lows forming in the Pacific to the north creating strong easterly winds. These depressions will usually pass in a few days so you are best to be well located when they arrive to make the most of the time you have enjoying a sheltered anchorage. Avoid any unnecessary rough weather passages in the interest of keeping to this or any other itinerary, always keep your plans flexible depending on the weather and how you and your crew feel.

Returning to the Bay with 1 or 2 days of your holiday remaining gives you the chance to catch up on those places you marked on your first days of charter but did not have the time to stop and enjoy. By now you will be well into the chilled out cruising phase of your holiday, with exploring out of your system there is nothing better than relaxing going nowhere, sitting in the sun allowing a beautiful part of the world to refresh your soul.

View Bay of Islands and Northland New Zealand 2 - 3 week itinerary. in a larger map

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