Skip to content

Matapouri and the Bay of Islands

By Julia McNally

This past weekend I finally got to cross off one of the top items on my New Zealand to-do list: the Bay of Islands. Located about 3 hours north of Auckland, the Bay of Islands is a collection of 144 islands and features towns of Paihia, Russell and Waitangi, where the famous Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

Along our drive up we stopped at Abbey Caves, a set of three caves that are home to the glow worms found all over the North Island. Moss-covered geometric rocks framed and formed the caves, making the trip down into them a slippery one. The first two caves were difficult to get inside of but the third we decided to attempt. Forming a single-file line we descended, careful not to step into the water or cut up our legs. We moved on all fours into the depths of the cave, holding each other’s bags and hands when needed. Crawling into a small side section of the cave, we turned off our flashlights and waited for them to appear. Looking up, we saw the white-blue glow of the worms, like stars in the sky. Having only my phone with me and not my camera, I wasn’t able to get a picture of the worms we saw but I’ve pulled one from

After consuming the lunches we’d packed we got back in the car and headed for AH Reed Memorial Park. We arrived at the park and read the map, which showed a 45 minute each direction walk to our next destination, Whangarei Falls. At this point in the semester waterfalls were nothing new, but this one was three times the size of any we’d seen before. Perhaps not the tallest, but the widest and most vivacious. The path lead across the top of the fall, providing a steep but breathtaking view down towards the the lagoon where the waterfall gathered. Following the path down to the base, we took in the scenery from all angles and heights. At the base a family was having a picnic, the little girl exploring the edge of the water, watched closely by her father so that she wouldn’t fall in. I took a moment, thinking, “this is someone’s everyday life. My paradise, my other-worldly beauty, someone lives here always.” That thought permeated many of my experiences throughout the semester.


Our next stop was the Mermaid Pools near Matapouri. At this point we had lost the other car we were meeting at the Bay of Islands, and the urge to see and swim in these pools was far stronger than our desire to track them down. We pulled up to an absolutely surreal beach. The sand was pure, soft in texture and light in color. The waves weren’t crashing, but discreetly rolling in. The water and sky displaying idyllic shades of blue. Slowly, we walked across the beach, following a map we found online to the pools. The way to the pools was first up a steep hill - steep in the way that it was almost 90 degrees vertical. There was a rope secured into the ground to grab and use to pull ourselves up. Equipped with flip flops and massive cameras, we were ill prepared for this type of climb but persevered nonetheless. A short walk awaited us at the top, taking us down an equally steep rocky journey to the pools. They looked exactly like what I pictures something called the “Mermaid Pools” would look like. Rough edges framing emerald water that overlooked a view of the ocean and islands in the distance. Without hesitation we dove in. The water, as per usual, was freezing. That didn’t stop three of the four of us from spending over an hour splashing and swimming around, living out our childhood mermaid fantasies.


From Matapouri we finally made our way up to Piha, the town we were staying in. The next morning we took a ferry from Piha to Russell, a small town well-known in the Bay of Islands. We hiked up and over the town, reaching the summit and taking in the views before descending to a small, hidden beach to relax for a few hours. Just around the bend from where we sat we found a tire swing that stretched across the rocky shoreline just out over the edge of the water. We soaked up as much warmth from the sun as we could, as it was difficult to catch a warm day in the winter. Piling back on to the ferry to Piha and heading back to Auckland we were all satiated with the number of adventures we’d found on our way to and around the Bay of Islands, one of the must-do locations for New Zealand visitors.