There are so many things to do in the Bay of Islands, but if you’re not out sport fishing, a short cruise is an excellent way to see the bays and islands — and sometimes to see whales and dolphins as well; knocking off a couple of great experiences in one go.

We had the chance to do just that: an overnight cruise on the Ipipiri on their last sailing of the season. The Ipipiri is a new-built boat — the largest one sailing in the Bay of Islands — and it is well-designed for comfort and fun on short trips, maximizing opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, rather than housing casinos or multiple restaurants.

Enjoying the Bay of Islands

We were travelling around the Bay of Islands in a Spaceships camper van. Unsure what to do with the vehicle overnight, we checked in early at the Paihia wharf and asked the staff, who were surprisingly friendly, especially considering we hadn’t had our first cup of coffee for the morning. They were prepared to deal with vehicles and organised overnight parking for us. We headed to Waitangi for a few hours of sightseeing then returned at around 12 o’clock ready to go.

Ipipiri Cruise - cabin
Our cabin on the Ipipiri

After a thirty-minute wait in a comfortable waiting room, we boarded a coach with several other passengers to head down to the wharf. We were greeted by the smiling crew as we boarded, and directed upstairs for a short safety briefing, after which we were shown our rooms. Linda and I had a room midships — larger than we expected, with expansive windows and great views of the sea. Although the room was beautifully appointed, we hurried back upstairs for muffins, coffee and wonderful views as we pulled out of the harbour.

Comfortable in a storm

There were some strong winds coming through (a storm had cancelled my dive the day before) but the size of the ship and the protective islands and bays meant we were sailing smoothly. Within half an hour we encountered a pod of dolphins, and also some dolphin-watching boats. The captain pulled to a stop to allow us to watch them play for almost half an hour.

Ipipiri Cruise - Dolphin watching
Dolphin watching in the Bay of Islands

We passed some small settlements on the hills and in the bays, as well as some dramatically high granite bluffs, and by mid-afternoon we had reached Ruapekapeka Island. We took to small boats to go and explore the island, the storm making it too cold to swim in the cool green water.

Urupekapeka Island

Start of track on Ruapekapeka island

Urupekapeka island is partially managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) to control pests and allow native birds to flourish. There were several trails through the forest on the island but, being us, we chose the most difficult. As we moved away from the fine white sand on the beach we realised that we must be on a pest tracking and trapping trail; the way was steep and narrow, covered in deep mud, and we were panting by the time we got to the top of the rise. We were rewarded, however, by beautiful little groves along the way and the sight of several unusual birds. The conservation work on Ruapekapeka Island is certainly doing a lot of good for the endemic bird population, and we were glad to have been able to see it.

Ipipiri Cruise - the ship
The Ipipiri is the largest ship in the Bay of Islands

Dinner and daylight

Back on the boat we bought a couple of glasses of Northland wine to complement the complimentary cheeseboard, as we sailed to our anchoring point for dinner and to spend the night. The many bays of the Bay of Islands offered many options, allowing our captain to choose a sheltered spot for us to stop in. We enjoyed the buffet dinner, seated with a group of Chinese students studying English in Auckland. It was pitch black by the time dinner was over so we had an early night, retiring to our room and going to sleep.

Those magnificently large cabin windows came in handy the next morning as we woke to wonderful views. Steep green hills rose to a blue sky; the winds still blew but the grey clouds had gone. We went up to breakfast, chatted with other passengers, and enjoyed the nearly panoramic views.

Ipipiri Cruise - Passing Paihia Bay of islands
Passing Paihia on the Bay of Islands Cruise

All too soon we were heading back towards the harbour, but there were still some surprises in store. The ship sailed comfortably through wind-whipped white waves, but we were still able to spot some dolphins chasing fish along the cliff face. The captain slowed to give us a good look, but kept a polite distance; the dolphins responded to the attention by making huge vertical leaps to the delight of everyone on board.

By mid-morning our bags were packed and we were slowing down and heading into the harbour as seabirds dove in our wake. It was the end of 24 hours of comfortable luxury and a wonderful way to celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary.  

About the Ipipiri overnight cruise

The Ipipiri overnight cruise in the Bay of Islands doesn’t always follow the same schedule. Depending on weather, wildlife and other factors, the captain and crew have dozens of options for things to do — including kayaking, swimming and snorkelling, as well as island excursions and dolphin- or whale-watching. You can learn more here.

How to get to the Bay of Islands

Without a car, Paihia is a four-hour bus ride from Auckland with the InterCity Northliner bus. You can buy point-to-point tickets or get a flexipass, which allows further travel on a per-journey basis. To check current pricing, use the search box to the right.

Flights from Auckland are possible (private or through Air New Zealand), but the local airports are all very small, so it pays to talk to your accommodation provider in advance about transfers.

Hop-on, hop-off bus passes are also available, mainly serving a 18-35 year-old crowd. The drivers or local guides with these New Zealand backpacker buses can often arrange accommodation for you as well. Check out Stray for current pricing.

If you are driving yourself, head straight up State Highway One until you see signs pointing you away from Kawakawa. With reasonable driving conditions, you can expect to be there in a little over three hours. We really recommend Spaceships as an excellent way to get around New Zealand: priced like a rental car, these converted people-movers come with a fridge, DVD player and a bed: a great combination of luxury and the ability to rough it. They book out early though, so if you see one available during summer, get it.

Your thoughts on "Bay of Islands cruise on the Ipipiri"

  • Wow! Looks awesome! James and I did a day trip on a yacht around the bay of Islands last January - we didn't see any dolphins but it was still amazing!

    on December 4, 2011 at 5:58 am Reply
    • Yes - it's lovely up there: we had a blast. Did you hire your own yacht and sail around, or was it crewed?

      on December 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm Reply
  • Great write up...this looks like solid mix of relaxation and adventure.

    on December 5, 2011 at 12:42 am Reply
    • It is. Worth heading up there for the weekend, but best if you make it part of a bigger Northland trip. We haven't seen you for a while, mate. Going well?

      on December 5, 2011 at 1:43 pm Reply
  • I went diving here once. Great sea life.

    on December 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm Reply
    • Hi Kelsey, great to see you again :) I (Craig) have been diving a little further south at the Poor Knights, but never up here. I'm guessing it'd be pretty special. Were you there in summer or winter? What kind of fish were around?

      on December 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm Reply
      • Oh, I was confusing Poor Knights with Bay of Islands when it came to marine life. I did dive in the Bay of Islands on the Rainbow Warrior though. That's a pretty cool wreck dive with an interesting history, but not as much life. Have you ever dove in Milford Sound? Black coral and cool life there.

        on December 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm
  • Looks like a well-balanced trip. Fun yet relaxing. W wouldn't mind being in New Zealand right about now!

    on December 23, 2011 at 9:49 am Reply
    • It was... There was time to just chat with people over a glass of wine, and time to go hiking (and swimming if the weather wasn't so cold!). Great overnighter :) Today would be a good day to come; we're on a strange weather pattern this year and have had lots of rain to start summer. Apparently it's going to start drying up and heating up pretty soon.

      on December 23, 2011 at 4:32 pm Reply

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