There's no need to prebook before arriving in town, as there are plenty of operators; by shopping around, you'll get better deals. The only exception is between December 23 and January 15 -- if you're planning to visit then, you'll need to reserve ahead.
Dolphin Cruises & Tours, Maritime Building, Waterfront, Paihia (tel. 0800/653-339 in NZ, or 09/402-7421; www.dolphincruises.co.nz), offers several tours: Its most popular, the Cream Trip—Day in the Bay, includes swimming with dolphins, a trip to the Hole in the Rock (a large natural rock formation that rises up from the ocean with a hole in it, forming a tunnel that boats can pass through), and boom netting off the back of the boat. It costs NZ$102 adults, NZ$51 children ages 5 to 15, and NZ$30 extra per person to swim with dolphins. The tour runs daily from 9:30am to 4:30pm, and includes an island stopover for lunch (bring your own). The Swim with Dolphins Cruise, puts you in some of New Zealand’s warmest waters. The purpose-built vessel Orca II has a large boom net so less confident swimmers also have the chance to enter the water to see these beautiful marine mammals. This trip costs NZ$89 for adults and NZ$45 for children. It’s NZ$30 extra per person to swim with the dolphins.
Explore NZ, Paihia (tel. 0800/397-567 in NZ, or 09/359-5987; www.explorenz.co.nz), will get your adrenalin pumping with an exhilarating sailing adventure on New Zealand’s largest and fastest catamaran. Its 7-hour On the Edge day-sail in the bay has daily departures from Paihia and Russell from October through April and costs NZ$125 adults, and NZ$89 children 5 to 15. It includes lunch on one of the gorgeous islands in the bay. And if you’d like to try an overnight cruise, step on board Great Sights Bay of Islands, Paihia Waterfront (tel. 0800/653-339; www.overnightcruise.co.nz). Their NZ$12-million luxury vessel, Ipipiri, a 46m (151-ft.) catamaran, was launched in late 2009. Rates for the overnight cruise will range from NZ$366 to NZ$409 per person and include afternoon tea, a three-course dinner, and breakfast the next day. Cruises depart from Paihia daily from September through April at 1:30pm (returning 10:30am the following day).
You won’t find any shortage of charter yachts and yacht tours. The Kiwi Experience (backpacker) crowd tends to favor "She’s a Lady" Island Sailing Adventures (tel. 0800/724-584 in NZ, or 09/402-8119; www.bay-of-islands.com), which includes knee boarding, fishing, and two island stops in the full-day outing for NZ$97 (NZ$50 for children under 14). For the best value, consider Gungha’s Super Cruise (tel. 0800/478-900 in NZ, or 09/407-7930; www.bayofislandssailing.co.nz), which has both the 14m (46-ft.) Gungha and a 20m (64-ft.) maxi yacht, Gungha II. It gets lots of repeat business for the full-day sailings, which include a scenic tour of the Bay of Islands with at least one island stopover and a yummy lunch for NZ$95. It has departures from Kerikeri, Paihia, and Russell. For a 3-day sailing adventure, join the friendly crew of Ecocruz, The Wharf, Paihia (tel. 0800/432-627 in NZ, or 027/459-2153; www.ecocruz.co.nz), for NZ$595 to NZ$1,350. For a tall-ship adventure, step back in time with a voyage on the R. Tucker Thompson, Maritime Building, Paihia (tel. 0800/882-537 in NZ, or 09/402-8430; www.tucker.co.nz). It sails from October to the end of April and costs NZ$145 adults, NZ$73 children ages 5 to 15. If you want to try New Zealand’s fastest commercial sailing catamaran, contact Sail on the Edge, Paihia (tel. 0800/724-569 in NZ, or 09/402-7900; www.explorenz.co.nz). Its 22m-long (72-ft.), 12m-wide (40-ft.) vessel is capable of speeds in excess of 30 knots. A day’s outing costs NZ$160 adults, NZ$100 children ages 5 to 15.
For a truly unique, award-winning cultural experience, climb into a traditional waka (canoe) with Hone Mihaka of Taiamai Tours Heritage Journeys (tel. 0800/925-286 in NZ, or 09/405-9990; www.taiamaitours.co.nz). You'll be invited to paddle alongside members of the Ngapuhi tribe. They offer three options based on traditional experiences, which can include a marae welcome, a traditional hangi (meal), traditional prayers, speechmaking, and a soak in mineral hot springs with Ngapuhi elders. Tours depart from Horotutu Beach, beside the Waitangi Reserve Bridge at Paihia at 10am, 1, and 3pm (weather permitting) and cost from NZ$135 adults, NZ$105 children 6 to 10. No children under 6 years are permitted on the waka. For a truly unique Waitangi Day experience that will give you a far deeper and more intimate understanding of Maori culture, join Taiamai's 6-night marae and war canoe experience, hosted by the Mihaka family. Starting 3 days before the major Waitangi Day celebrations, you'll be trained to crew and paddle a waka on the day. This rare opportunity is available only once a year to 32 lucky people, who need to be fit and healthy. Advance bookings are essential and will cost NZ$2,760 per person. See website for further itinerary details.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.