At the northernmost tip of New Zealand is one of the country's best kept secrets: the picturesque Bay of Islands. This is where the locals come for holidays - there is something for whatever strikes your fancy: sailing, fishing, snorkeling, horse-riding, hiking, kayaking, Excitor boat riding, swimming with dolphins, discovering history or just laying in the sunshine under one of the world's bluest skies.
There are about 150 islands in the bay, some uninhabited and barely explored. There are two main towns to base yourself. Choose Paihia if you like a thriving tourist center, or Russell if you prefer a bit more history and quaintness. Settle in, then get out amongst all those possibilities.
Day 1: Explore
You'll want to get your bearings and maybe have a closer look at all those beckoning islands. Since the 1920s a small boat has made its ways around the islands to collect milk and cream from the dairy farms and deliver mail; you can take this 'Cream Trip,' although on a more luxurious vessel than the original small boat. Or you can gaze at the islands from afar, walking along the pristine, sandy beaches of the mainland.
There is also fantastic bird watching, snorkeling, whale and dolphin spotting to be done. And of course, this being New Zealand, there are great places to eat wherever you go, and excellent wines to taste. Perhaps head for the waterfront restaurants in Russell for the evening.
Day 2: Discover
The Bay of Islands is where modern New Zealand began. The controversial Waitangi Treaty between the Maoris and the British was signed here and is only a short half-hour stroll along the beach from Paihia where you can learn about the Maori culture. You can also visit Kerikeri, the earliest permanent settlement in New Zealand, which is now a charming, small artists' town. Or take the short ferry ride between Russell and Paihia to explore neighboring areas.
Day 3: Thrill
Now that you've got the lay of the land and some history and culture, it's time to experience the thrill! Take a beautiful scenic helicopter flight over Cape Brett and Bay of Islands, and opt to land on top of the Hole in the Rock! Experience the island in a way that very few have before. Choosing to land on top of the Hole in the Rock is a must-do!