Five reasons to protect the Bay of Islands

There's more than what meets the eye to the 'winterless north'.
There's more than what meets the eye to the 'winterless north'. Photo credit: Getty Images.

There's a serene beauty found in the Bay of Islands, but its appeal runs deeper than what meets the eye. 

Regarded as the birthplace of our nation, meetings across the Bay of Islands
with historical figures made decisions that formed New Zealand as we know it today.  

Found on the northeastern coast of North Island, the Bay of Islands harbour runs 16 kilometres wide with 144 islands home to small towns like Paihia, Kerikeri, Waitangi, Opua, and Russell.  

As an ideal holiday destination it is known for today, the 'winterless north' offers fun activities amid a stunning setting, boasting idyllic views and great dining options. 

But for the area to remain what it is, it must be cared for and protected by visitors. 

Here are five reasons why.

The rich history


Throughout the Bay of Islands sit pockets of cultural significance and traces of Kiwi heritage remain.  

Well-known Māori were born in the bay, including Hone Heke who cut down the flagpole at Russell to start the Flagstaff War. 

Captain Cook named the region in 1769 and it was the first place of New Zealand for Europeans to settle in 1814. 

Whalers arrived towards the end of the 18th century, but it was the arrival of Samuel Marsden in December 1814 that marked the beginning of permanent European settlement in New Zealand. 

New Zealand's first flag was chosen at Waitangi, the country's first identifying national symbol, and the first two foundation documents, the Treaty of Waitangi and Declaration of Independence were first signed there. 

Caitlin Timmer-Arends moved to the Bay of Islands four-and-a-half years ago to take up a job at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds as the curatorial manager. She says not a lot of people know New Zealand has a Declaration of Independence, which predates the Treaty by five years. 

The Waitangi flagstaff (left) marks the spot where the Treaty of Waitangi (right) was first signed on 6 February 1840.
The Waitangi flagstaff (left) marks the spot where the Treaty of Waitangi (right) was first signed on 6 February 1840. Photo credit: Waitangi Treaty Grounds

"We weren't declaring independence from anybody, we were just telling the world we're here as an independent sovereign nation," Timmer-Arends says. 

She looks after the museum at Waitangi and everything that's in it, maintains the exhibition spaces and manages the guides. 

Her favourite piece of history is that Charles Darwin stayed at Waitangi's Treaty House when it was the official British residence on his voyage on the HMS Beagle in 1835. 

"He liked Te Waimate Mission, which was further inland, a lot more than Busby's house, but overall he hated New Zealand." 

Care tip: Visitors can be mindful and respectful of the grounds through understanding the significance of the place and taonga.

"The best way to understand is to participate in our tours and shows as they explain these things," Timmer-Arends says. 

Untouched nature


Joanne 'Floppy' Halliday has been living in the Bay of Islands most of her life, working for Fullers Ferry since 1990.  

She says her favourite part of the Bay of Islands is the nature because a lot of it is relatively untouched. 

Halliday, who works for Fullers GreatSights, says that includes the weather, the environment, the wildlife on the islands and in the water. 

The co-founder of says getting out onto the water is the best way to enjoy the beauty that is found within the islands. 

Five reasons to protect the Bay of Islands
Photo credit: Getty Images.

"You can land on these islands, there are some awesome walks, we've got walking tracks that you get to hear the birdlife that's going on, there's so much stuff that's all gathered around nature itself. 

"I think that's what's special about being out here, is that you can get into nature and feel like you're in a world of your own." 

Care tip: Enjoy the surroundings without interfering with them. Even things as simple as coming through on a boat and finding a pod of dolphins, give them space and respect so that they then have the opportunity to make their own choices around you and a boat.  

Endangered species


The Bay of Islands provides a safe habitat for many native bird species. 

Predator-free islands such as Urupukapuka Island and Moturua Island are home to a number of rare and endangered species.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) and Project Island Song are working to increase the numbers of native birdlife where visitors can discover the home of some of the world’s most rare creatures. 

Some of the islands are home to endangered species of birdlife, so for them, it is important to keep things as pristine as possible. 

Five reasons to protect the Bay of Islands
Photo credit: Supplied.

The seven main islands in the eastern Bay of Islands have been pest mammal-free since 2009, and the natural ecosystems are being restored. 

Reintroduced tieke (Saddleback), toutouwai (North Island robin), pōpokatea (whitehead) pāteke (brown teal) and many other species are among thousands of trees planted. Many more species are planned. 

Kauri dieback is a major threat to kauri trees in Northland, including Bay of Islands, and the main message is to clean shoes and stay off the track.

Care tip: There are currently about 25,000 Northland brown kiwi. Uncontrolled dogs are the main killers of kiwi in Northland.

Helen Ough Dealy, community ranger Pewhairangi/Bay of Islands DoC, says if the area is to maintain having Kiwi in locals' backyards, all dog owners need to keep their dogs under control at all times.

The cultural heritage


In the 1800s, foreign explorers and trading ships began arriving at the shores of Paihia and surrounding islands. 

Missionaries such as Henry Williams, Charles Baker, Richard Davis, William Hall and Thomas Kendall were among the first Europeans to visit the Maori village that was well established at the Te Puke cones. 

It was one of the most heavily populated areas in the Bay of Islands.  

The 30-metre-long canoe, Ngatokimatawhaorua, was launched at Waitangi in 1940.
The 30-metre-long canoe, Ngatokimatawhaorua, was launched at Waitangi in 1940. Photo credit: Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Tiff Holland, a local who spearheaded the development of the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park, told Newshub a key part of her team's purpose is to embrace and celebrate the cultural heritage of the area. 

"We bring to life old Māori place names for the area, significant tupuna related to the land, or share intrinsic Māori value. 

"To protect the heritage of our area, we embrace it, highlight it and share it wherever we can." 

Care tip: Others can protect the cultural heritage by gaining knowledge and, therefore, a deeper understanding of the richness of this significant piece of land.

The community


Home to people with contrasting lifestyles, the Bay of Islands attracts varying types of residents. 

Not only tourists travel to the area for holidays, but visitors seeking short and long-term employment. 

Restaurateur Anton Haagh, who owns the Duke of Marlborough and Charlotte's Kitchen, estimates about 20 percent of his workforce are from overseas. 

"The ones that work seem to have realised that they get a Iwi experience in somewhere very beautiful, they can meet Pakeha and Māori - and it’s a lot warmer than the South Island," Haagh told Newshub.  

Five reasons to protect the Bay of Islands
Photo credit: Waitangi Treaty Grounds

"A good thing about somewhere like the Bay of Islands is there are so many interesting people who have moved here or live part of the year here." 

He says the way the cultures work together is quite cool. 

"There's definitely a very strong Māori story here and pākehā story, along with new immigrants," he said.

He thinks it’s the natural beauty, history and enforced remoteness which brings in a like minded group of people from around the globe. 

"I hear people talk about the relaxed mindset, and how they get to get Russell back to themselves when the ferry’s stop or when the weather cools."

These people are Māori, pākehā both wealthy and working class, he says. The large amount tourism and wealthy business peoples estates require local workers.

"There’s plenty of work if you want it."

Natives from France, Germany and Britain jumping in to Kiwi culture, while sharing their own with others at the same time. 

Care tip: It is about looking after what is already there. The phrase 'leave only your footprint' is a really simple way of urging visitors that whatever is taken to the Bay of Islands, take it back so any rubbish or debris doesn't tarnish the environment.