Local Escapes

Beyond The Guidebooks, 7 Hidden Gems To Discover In The Breathtaking Bay Of Islands

By Jess Willemse
13th Oct 2020

Paihia, Russell and Kerikeri are staples in the Kiwi summer road trip schedule for a good reason. From endless sunny days to delightful white-sand beaches and boutique wineries, the Bay of Islands really does have it all.

But if you’re looking to take the road less travelled this summer, we’ve gone beyond the guidebooks and uncovered seven hidden gems you need to discover in and around the beautiful Bay of Islands. We’re talking luxurious villas, locally-made Limoncello and sell-out cinnamon buns—rally the crew for a roadie like you’ve never had before. 

Check Into The Luxurious Paroa Bay Winery 

Okay, hear us out. You’ve got a stacked travel savings account just sitting there, yearning to be spent on that indulgent Euro vacay. But here’s the thing, borders are closed and luckily for us, luxury is right on our doorstep at Paroa Bay Winery. Offering two exclusive villa-style houses, this boutique winery just ten minutes from Russell boasts everything you need on the property—from beaches and pools to a personal golf buggy (for real), this is really as good as it gets. Take your pick from the Vineyard Cottage, a two-bedroom architecturally designed villa overlooking the expansive rolling hills. Or, upgrade to the big daddy, Tarāpunga. This residence offers a jaw-dropping 17m heated infinity pool overlooking the most insane views of Paroa Bay and the surrounding islands. Oh, and did we mention, a personal chef is included? The dream. 

Discover Helena Bay Gallery & Café

If you normally shoot up State Highway One and catch the car ferry to Russell, we encourage you to rethink your route next time and go off the beaten path to discover Helena Bay Gallery & Café. Tucked away along Russell Road, this gem is well and truly hidden, requiring a short venture down a dirt road to reach it. In return, you’ll be rewarded with a cornucopia of creative treasures curated by the founder Peter Brown. The impressive site is more than twenty years in the making and over that time, Pete has taken it from bare land to a beautiful gallery and café surrounded by a whimsical wonderland of nature. Take your time to peruse the artwork, furniture, sculptures, jewellery and ceramics available—there are more than 150 artists on display—many from the Northland area as well as contemporary Māori and Pacific artists. Pop next door to grab a bite from the café—you can expect hearty, wholesome fare and a coffee or wine to match, depending on your mood. Hot tip: the back deck at the café offers expansive panoramic views of the ocean, so get in quick for a prime seat. 

Go Wild At Waitangi Mountain Bike Park

Swap the beaches and bottles of wine for something a little more sweat-inducing at Waitangi Mountain Bike Park. You’ll find this gem tucked away behind the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, boasting more than 30 adrenaline-pumping trails to explore. If you’re new to the mountain biking game, don’t fear, the course caters to all abilities with a tonne of scenic trails to take at your own pace. We highly recommend booking an E-bike with Paihia Mountain Bikes to give you that extra boost—there are half-day and full-day hires available. But if you’re used to hitting the trails, simply rock up with your gear, drop in a donation at the start and set out on a day of exploration. Plus, there’s also an on-site café to quench your thirst when you’re done—winning. 

Indulge At Sage Restaurant  

Venture out of Russell township and discover this secret gem tucked away amidst the blissful landscape of Paroa Bay. We’ll get straight to the point—a dinner at Sage Restaurant is nothing short of immaculate. Taking cues from local Bay of Islands produce and foraged ingredients surrounding the property, the team presents a thoughtfully curated Mediterranean-inspired menu. From the perfection of toasted Gnocchi dressed in brown butter and crispy sage, to 12-hour confit Waikato duck leg for mains, and a gooey Whittaker’s dark chocolate fondant for dessert—each bite beats the last. Complemented by an equally enticing wine list of Paroa Bay signatures, a seat at Sage is the ideal spot for a romantic evening out or an afternoon sundowner with friends. 

Sip On Sovrano Limoncello

So your Italian sojourn might be off the cards, but indulging in some of the world’s finest Limoncello isn’t. Andrea and Marzia are the husband and wife duo behind this delicious drop, who originally hail from Northern Italy, but have set roots down in Kerikeri. Using fresh local produce, including lemons from their own backyard, your palate will be delighted with a glass—or three—of their award-winning creations. They also craft a slew of other liqueurs like Limoncello Cream, Orangello, Chococello Liqueur and Rosolio Liqueur. Should you wish to pick up a bottle on your travels, touch base with the Sovrano Limoncello team who will help you get your hands on this liquid gold. 

Order A Cuppa Third Wheel Coffee Co. 

Brews and baked goods are a holiday essential and Third Wheel Coffee Co. have you covered for both. Hidden down a little laneway off the beachfront strip in Paihia, this humble café is buzzing with locals on a weekend morning—so you know it’s going to be good. Helmed by the Richardson sibling duo, you’ll find Tom on the tools pumping out a serious flat white using NZ-roasted Flight Coffee, whilst Genevieve is the genius behind their baked goods line-up. In terms of what to order, we’d recommend one of everything. But if you have to choose, the savoury muffins stuffed with melted cheese and creamy mushrooms are beyond moreish. Follow this up with their sell-out cinnamon buns—we’re not judging if you order a second round. 

Bite Into Sweet Treats At Makana Confections 

Move over Willy Wonka, Makana Confections are making mouth-watering moves in Kerikeri. This boutique chocolate store is one of the best in New Zealand, offering an indulgent and unique experience to those who stumble upon it. At the factory, you can peruse and try the selection of treats on offer, such as coated nuts, artisan truffles and their iconic macadamia butter toffee crunch—yes, it tastes as good as it sounds. You’ll also enjoy seeing their expert chocolatiers hard at work through the clear screens. And if that’s not enough, pop next door to the on-site café which offers up a range of sweet and savoury delights, including some pretty next-level gelato. See you there. 

Pro tip: make discovering the hidden gems of the Bay of Islands a breeze with Fullers, who have you sorted with both a car ferry and a passenger ferry between Russell and Paihia.

Editor's Note: The author of this article was hosted by the Bay of Islands Marketing Group, please see www.visitboi.co.nz for more information.

Image credit: Paroa Bay Winery, Helena Bay Gallery & Café

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