Destinations, New Zealand, Oceania 23

Dolphin Cruise to ‘Hole in the Rock’ at Bay of Islands, New Zealand – Why this was not our cup of tea

After intensive travelling around Auckland our first week in New Zealand, we set off for Northland region the 2nd week. We stayed in historical Kerikeri and explore the Bay of Islands over the next four days. We did the first day quite unplanned and managed to cover a lot of ground – history, nature and fun at the beach all in one day!

20150404_134846The second day we decided to do a boat cruise around the islands, as it seemed to be a popular activity and was mentioned in Lonely Planet and several websites. You get to see many of the 150 islands and hopefully see dolphins while out at sea. We went with Fuller Great Sights Dolphin Cruise to the Hole in the Rock as opposed to their Dolphin Eco Experience where you get to swim with dolphins. I hadn’t had the chance to read up on the ethics of such close encounters with wild dolphins and figured we were likely to see them while on the Dolphin Boat Cruise anyhow. In retrospect, we could have also chosen their other options Island Adventurer Cruises which would have been better suited for us. I will explain in a little bit why! It seemed like there were two big tour companies running these cruises – Fullers and Explore but later we found several other smaller ones offering the same cruises. Again, this will be all lessons learnt for our future visits here 🙂


You can also do this island cruise by Helicoptor! We saw this land and take off several times throughout the day

The boats leave from Paihia or Russel twice a day. We chose to go in the afternoon rather than rushing in the morning. Plus we had an unexpected trip to the The Farmers Market in Kerikeri, which was literally opposite the Motel we were staying at – Kauri Park Motel. It was such a lovely experience! So much local produce, some organic, all fresh, many goodies to eat, food we tried for the first time (hāngi), listening to live folk music, and just wonderful vibes all around. We had a lovely time here.

We got to Paihia a bit late and just had enough time to pick up our tickets at the Pier and get on the Boat. The boat was full as it was Easter holiday weekend – or maybe it’s always this busy (?)  We managed to find seats inside near the front but could not hear the Captain very well through the sound system. She gave a briefing of the different islands we passed with bits of their history. Thankfully we were given a little hand out which gave some details of the places we sailed through. Anytime we stepped outside to admire the turquoise color of the sea or the many islands, there were crowds of people trying to take pictures (we were guilty of this too, I guess!)



Cape Brett Island home to the Cape Brett lighthouse


Hole in the Rock, furthest Island from Paihia

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And so passed majority of more than half of our 4 hour tour..just cruising along the islands, taking in the beauty of the turquoise waters and the rugged islands. Perhaps if it wasn’t so crowded, or if we had seats outside, maybe we would have enjoyed it more? The scenery was stunning but you don’t really get to experience it, other than visually. We are more of a ‘doing/exploring’ kind of family then just ‘seeing’ things….I think our kind of island cruise would be to take a boat to one or two islands and just explore those on foot or go swimming on the shores. Now we know that is also possible, next time we will choose to go on a single island trip or even better have our own boat and go sailing around, stopping when we want to, wherever we want to, rather than being shepherded around in flocks. The kids did enjoy riding the front of the boat with the strong wind on their faces, looking at the colourful fish, and the boat going through the Hole in the Rock. We were all disappointed not to have seen any dolphins 🙁


Finally after what seemed like forever, we got off at Urupukapuka Island Recreational Reserve , walked to the top of the hills where we had stunning views of the entire bay, and more importantly, we got to stretch our legs, walk about, explore a little bit on our own! We barely had 45 minutes on the island, just enough time to go up and back down again for a quick swim if anyone wanted to. We didn’t this time as the beach didn’t look that appealing with so many boats docked nearby. This place is very popular for hiking and water sports and you can chose to just take the ferry here and spend the day here kayaking, swimming and hiking. I liked our time here more than being on the ship, but it felt quite rushed. 033 046 048 20150404_161141


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We were happy to get back to Paihia, which is a very cute tourist town. Lot of Restaurants, bars and lovely shops to browse through. Our first meal here were alright, we ate at Frank’s Pizza Bar and Cafe, not the best food we have had in New Zealand to date –  We did have delicious frozen Yogurt from a place I cannot remember, but it was one of the best we have ever had!

We liked the little bit we got to see of Paihia,  but we really got to enjoy it the next day when we did kayaking, sea fishing, and Haruru waterfalls here- that’s for another blog post!077 076 075 20150405_093343 079

IMG-20150405-WA0003Linked to #WeeklyPostcard hosted by Travel Notes and Beyond #Weekendwanderlust hosted by A Brit and a Southerner and #wkendtravelinspiration hosted by Reflections Enroute and #SundayTraveler hosted by A Southern Gypsy





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  • RomeNYLondonWorld (@RomeNyLondWorld) says: April 10, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    The pictures look stunning but I do agree with you that exploring the islands rather than just seeing them would have been better 🙂 I get sooo bored during boat tours…
    Valeria @

  • Ruth - Tanama Tales says: April 10, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    Such a pretty place! So bad you guys couldn’t enjoyed it as you wanted. I have been on whale and dolphin whale cruises but the number of people in the boat is controlled. Everybody on board had the chance to take a good look at the ocean residents.

  • suereddel says: April 11, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    Loved your pictures! Too bad they didn’t give you more time to explore the islands. Thanks for sharing the information.

  • Dan Bibb says: April 11, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    Beautiful place for visiting and even better to photograph. We have dear friends from NZ and guess we need to visit. I agree with RomeNYLondonWorld that it would be great to explore the islands more. Was the tour customizable?

  • aswesawit1 says: April 11, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Beautiful place to visit, but even better place to photograph. We have dear friends from NZ, guess it’s time to visit. I agree with the others, I’d want to explore the islands more. Was the tour customizable?

    • samselim says: April 11, 2015 at 9:26 pm

      It really was a lovely place to visit and such stunning scenery. This particular tour was fixed but they had several others (which we didn’t know about when we booked this, hadn’t done the research too well!) where you can explore one of the main islands and spend the day there. Also some of the other tour companies had something more flexible where you still do the island viewings but then can hop on a different ferry if want to spend more time on the bigger island

  • Casual Travelers (@CasualTraveling) says: April 11, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    Thanks for the tips on differences between tours, though I’m not sure we’ll ever get there in person. At least I got to see it in pictures. And despite your disappointment, it looks like kids had fun anyway, right? I had to smile reading your post, because I hope you realize you are not quite the typical tourist who generally are happy just being on a boat and observing. 🙂

    • samselim says: April 12, 2015 at 12:02 am

      I do know that 🙂 I think I was just hoping to see some dolphins, that would have made the sitting around and ‘just observing’ lot more meaningful for me. Or if the boat wasn’t crowded and I could appreciate the beauty without so many cameras and phones in the air! It is such a beautiful place though, I know we will be back and get to enjoy it again, at our own pace and style of travelling 🙂

  • sophierose233 says: April 12, 2015 at 12:22 am

    Great photos. It’s always annoying when you want more time to spend somewhere and you just don’t have the time! I hope you get to go back again soon.

  • galanda23 says: April 12, 2015 at 2:01 am

    I think these kind of cruises are good only to give you an idea of you can actually explore on your own. You have very little freedom when you travel in a group, that’s why we most of the time prefer doing things on our own. On the other hand, when you travel with kids and have very little time on hand, they come in very handy.

    • samselim says: April 12, 2015 at 9:06 am

      I agree with you Anda, that these cruises are more of a teaser and gives a glimpse to all the natural beautiful things out there, but I find them worse with children as they find it more boring than I do! They would rather get on one island, run around, swim, explore and ‘learn’ about the natural history – be experiencing it rather than taking snapshots. I guess such tours can be handy if short in will definitely be a while before I go on a group cruise again!

  • Dailey Adventurers (@daileyadventure) says: April 12, 2015 at 5:33 am

    What a bummer that you didn’t get much time to explore! The pictures on that island though were gorgeous! We enjoy “doing” rather than just seeing the sights too.

  • realityretreat says: April 12, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    even if the tour was awful you still got great photos and family bonding time

    • samselim says: April 15, 2015 at 2:13 am

      Exactly 🙂 it all adds to the overall experience!

  • eileen @ FamiliesGo! says: April 12, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    it’s so helpful when travelers tell you what didn’t work for them and why — wish more travel writers would do this! This is the challenge with boat rides, isn’t it? if it’s not working for some reason— is too long, boring, crowded— you’re stuck! you can’t just hop off the boat!

  • (@hovelstay) says: April 12, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    Is it a wrong thing to admit that all we could focus on are the photos? This place is so gorgeous!

    • samselim says: April 12, 2015 at 7:59 pm

      no not wrong as I am obsessed with taking photographs, all the time 🙂 it’s just that I would also like to ‘experience’ the place and the boat was just too crowded and the cruising around part much longer than the island time (45 min) of the whole 4/5 hours! I will definitely be back though, bay of islands is just so gorgeous!

  • contentedtraveller says: April 13, 2015 at 3:05 am

    Great photos and you do have a point about ‘experiencing’ something rather than just seeing it.

  • Rhonda Albom says: April 13, 2015 at 7:52 am

    Sounds like they tried to pack a lot into your trip. We went out on the Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari earlier this month, and that was all we did for our 4.5 hours, is look for and watch dolphins and whales. It was fantastic. Sorry your experience wasn’t great.

    • samselim says: April 13, 2015 at 7:57 am

      I think I would have been alright if we actually saw some dolphins! And even the cruising and watching would have worked if it wasn’t so crowded…oh well..I am happy just knowing that we have one year here in New Zealand and can always go back to explore Bay of Islands how we would want to 🙂

  • aholeinmyshoe says: April 14, 2015 at 6:40 am

    Samiya, I love how you guys have such huge smiles, even when you are not truly enjoying the experience. I guess you are lucky it was such a pretty spot and you got some great photos to share, but a pity the experience wasn’t as great.

  • Marisol@TravelingSolemates says: April 15, 2015 at 2:11 am

    Hi Sam, it’s great to know that you’re already out and about in your new home. The sights in this cruise is certainly stunning; I particularly like the rock with the hole. But I know what you mean and I can totally relate to it – my husband and I would feel antsy too if we only look at the sights and not be able to explore. But it’s good you got a chance to stretch your legs in Urukupuka. It’s a shame you had a short time there. It looks so spectacular and relaxing; it looks like a great place to linger for a while.
    Your photos are lovely.

  • Annie and Echo at 7700 Miles says: April 17, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    We really wanted to do this too, but when we were there, it was so choppy and rainy that we decided to get a refund for our tour 🙁 The pictures look amazing!

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