A few hours north of Auckland is the Bay of Islands. It’s a small area where people go to holiday, sail, swim, see dolphins, and relax. The main tourist town is Paihia, though a lot of people go to nearby Russell too. If you’ve ever been to the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard, Byron Bay, or any seaside town that relies solely on tourism and vacationers, then you’ll have a good idea as to what this area is like.
There’s not much going on in this area, so it’s an incredible place to go visit and relax. It can be very touristy, but the range of sea activities and the sense of peacefulness more than make up for it. You can spend your days lying on the beach, swimming, horseback riding, sailing, hiking, or taking a boat out to explore the bay and swim with dolphins, which seems to be the biggest draw here.
I did the Awesome NZ dolphin tour. The guides were friendly and informative, but we didn’t see a lot of dolphins, and the ones we did see were moving too fast to get any good pictures of them (like all my dolphin and whale tours). We spent a few hours trying to find bottlenose dolphins to no avail, and I tried to find something to kill my boredom. We took a break on this beautiful island where you could swim and relax, but the water here, while a beautiful turquoise green, was too cold for me. I’m spoiled by tropical water, and 20-Celsius water turns me into an icicle.
Because of the lack of dolphins, there was no swimming with them. It didn’t bother me, but my friends were really keen to do it. The only thing I can’t figure out (and all the companies here seem to pull this move) is why it costs extra to swim with dolphins. These tours are about 90 NZD to start with, but dolphin swimming costs 30 NZD extra. Why? We’re all on the boat anyways, so there’s no extra work involved. Are the dolphins taking a cut? Doubt it. What if I just happen to fall in the water? Do I get charged 30 NZD too? I find no good reason to charge people to get on the boat and then extra just to go in the water with the dolphins. All the companies here pull this trick, and I think it’s just a way to get more money from tourists.
That being said, the tour itself was cool, the staff knew their facts, and if dolphins are your thing, you’ll want to spend the money to go out and see them. Or if dolphins aren’t your thing, you can also sail, kayak, or take tours of the bay. Whatever you do, you have to get out into the bay. It’s where all the action is, even if the water is cold!