Russell via Oakura, Helena Bay & Whangaruru Harbour – Bay of Islands with a twist

Experience the car-ferry ride to Russell after a 45 min drive up SH1. See the Bay of Islands by boat or from the lookout on Flagstaff Hill and stroll around arguably New Zealand’s cutest village. Make your way home via the rugged and stunning east coast. The roads are bendy and the people are few but the scenery is fantastic. There are both well know tourist activities and off-the-beaten-track alternatives listed to give you a range of suggestions for filling in your day.

This self-drive “Old Russell Road” coastal route to the Bay of Islands tour can be travelled in either direction.

Whangarei to Kawakawa (45 mins)

Head North towards the Bay of Islands on SH1. See Driving Tour 1 for more information on Kawakawa & Paihia.

Kawakawa to Russell (via car ferry 25 mins)

10 mins drive north of Kawakawa on SH11 turn right to Opua Marina and the car ferry to Russell. The ferry goes every 10-15 minutes so drive down the hill and wait in line. Make sure you have cash with you as they do not accept card payments. There is a cafe at the wharf for a quick coffee if you have time between ferries. The journey across takes about 5 minutes and you drive another 10 mins to get to Russell village. Omata Estate Vineyard is located on the left 1/2 way between the ferry and Russell village.

Russell is the historic capital of New Zealand. There are several buildings of note including Pompellier House, New Zealand’s first church and the old school masters lodgings. The museum is worth a visit and there are several craft shops and cafes to spend time in whilst you are in town. Russell is ideal for strolling around as it is a small flat beachside village with plenty of restored historic buildings and points of interest for tourists.

Most Bay of Islands boat trips pick up from Russell wharf. You can sail, cruise or kayak around the bay. Regular passenger ferries travel between Russell and Paihia – you can pay $5 (One Way) onboard.

There is a panoramic view over the Bay of Islands from Flagstaff Hill (at the far end of town) and beaches on the other side which present a more rugged, dramatic coastline than the sheltered bay of Russell village.

Russell to Helena Bay (via Old Russell Road 90 mins)

Retracing your steps, drive back out of town until you reach Russell Road on your left. If you pass Orongo Bay Holiday Park you have gone too far. Follow the road through countryside then along dramatic, isolated coastline past the small seaside communities of Whangaruru, Oakura and Helena Bay. This is a scenic route with plenty of bends in the road so is not for the squeamish car traveller. There are several safe stop-off points on the side of the road for photos and picnics but not many amenities so bring along a bottle of water and a snack. After the Helena Bay turn off follow the road up hill until you reach Helena Bay Cafe & Gallery. This is open from 10am-5pm daily in summer. There are lovely views over the coast from the outside deck plus a wide selection of quality local art.

Helena Bay to Whangarei (30 mins)

The road continues up the hill through native bush and farmland until you reach SH1. Turn left towards Whangarei.

For travellers staying at Lupton Lodge, don’t forget to turn right off SH1 towards Kamo/Whangarei Falls. Take Station road (left at the lights) followed by left at the T-Junction onto Ngunguru Rd.

If you still have plenty of time detour via the Tutukaka Coast (reverse direction) on your return. Turn left at Hikurangi, then left at School Rd.

Bay of Islands Driving Tour 1 – Whangarei to Paihia, Waitangi & Kerikeri (return trip)

More Northland driving itineraries and day trip suggestions

More information about Lupton Lodge

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