Visit what is arguably New Zealand’s cutest village, Russell, via the rugged and stunning east coast of the Old Russell Road and Helena Bay. Experience a car-ferry ride back from Russell to Opua and rejoin SH1 for the journey home. The roads are bendy and the people are few on the coastal road but the scenery is fantastic and Helena Bay Gallery and Cafe makes it all worthwhile when you stop for a break.
Note: this self-drive “Old Russell Road” coastal route to the Bay of Islands tour can be travelled in either direction.
Lupton Lodge to Helena Bay Cafe (45 minutes drive)
Follow SH1 North until you reach “Old Russell Road” towards Oakura on your right. 15 minutes along Old Russell Road (right) is the stunning Helena Bay Cafe and Gallery. They are open from morning to afternoon for delicious morning teas, lunch and afternoon tea with a deck overlooking Helena Bay or cosy inside seating. The gallery has possibly the best range of Northland arts & crafts in the region and the landscaped gardens are delightful to wander around and stretch your legs.
Helena Bay Cafe to Russell (1 hour drive)
After Helena Bay Cafe the road descends to the coast where you can take a series of detours to Helena Bay, Oakura or Whangaruru Harbour. There are isolated beaches and dramatic scenery to stop off and enjoy along the road as well – which can be handy as the twists and turns make stopping for a break necessary for some.
At the T-junction at the end of Old Russell Road turn right to 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 Whangarei (60-70 minutes drive + ferry)
Omata Estate Vineyard is located on the left 1/2 way between the ferry and Russell village. The Opua ferry is a 10 minute drive from Russell and departs every 10-15 minutes. Make sure you have cash with you as they do not accept card payments or eftpos. The journey across takes about 5 minutes. Drive up the hill out of Opua and you will find SH11 heading South to Kawakawa and Whangarei or North towards Paihia. See Driving Tour 1 for more information on Kawakawa & Paihia.