Hiking In The Bay of Islands: Full Circle Day Walk

The Bay of Islands is a beautiful area of Aotearoa. This beautiful coastal walk captures the beauty of the region and showcases New Zealand’s diversity. New Zealand is truly a hiker’s paradise with its stunning mountainous walkways of the Routeburn Track in the south, to the Coastal Walkways of the Bay of Islands in the north.

Known as the Full Circle Day Walk, this 17-kilometre trek is broken down into 2 sections Paihia to Opua and Okiato to Russell. There’s a short ferry crossing between Opua to Okiato. The scenery is stunning; there’s a lovely feel to this walk, with a nice mixture of landscapes. From beach walking and mangrove boardwalks to dense bush and hilly terrain. The harbour views are impressive.

A reasonable level of fitness is required; allow 5 to 6 hours to complete the full walk.

If time and fitness levels are against you, you can choose to walk shorter sections. Paihia to Opua would be my pick, its flatter and has the better coastal views. Okiato to Russell has more dense bush and hilly terrain but very nice as well. The walk has historic points of interest along the way with a great selection of native birdlife.

Harbour views, full circle walk
Harbour Views

Route Description

Paihia to Opua 2 hours

Starting at the ferry terminal in Paihia, head south and follow the footpath to the far end of the bay. Where the road heads inland, take the coastal track to the left, head around the point and down onto the beach. This section can only be walked if its low tide otherwise take the road around. This is a nice section of beach walking, so check the tides before starting. 20 minutes of walking brings you to Te Haumi, head for the road bridge at the far end of the beach. Cross and pick-up the bush track to the left. It’s a bushwalking track from here to Opua, with great coastal views. After 30 minutes the track passes a campground and follows a gravel road until it meets the Paihia Road. From this point, it’s about 1 hour to Opua. The track heads left through the mangroves and follows the coast, passing through English Bay on the way. 

Catch the ferry at Opua, they run every 10 minutes, for times click here. There are toilets and a shop there, so if you need to stock up on anything it’s a good opportunity.

Full Circle Walkway, hiking bay of islands
Full Circle Walkway

Okiato to Russell 3-4 hours

The ferry ride takes 5 minutes. Take the footpath and walk uphill for 10 minutes. Turn left on Pipiroa Road and then right down to the beach. From here the track enters the bush with some short climbs, 35 minutes to Aucks Road. Follow the signs, the track heads back into the bush on the left. After 200 metres the track turns to the right and descends through lovely native bush, with a short climb to Te Wahapu Road. This section is 30 minutes. Turn right and head along the road for 50 meters and pick up the track on the other side, it’s well signposted. Descend the track to Oronga Bay, enjoying the views as you go. The mangrove boardwalks will bring you to Aucks Road, walk on the left side and pick-up the track just before the Russell-Whakapara Rd, check the map it’s the 12-kilometre point. There’s a shop there, so another opportunity for drinks etc. This section is about 35 minutes. From here its 1 hour 45 minutes to Russell, there’s a mixture of tracks, boardwalks and roadside walking to Florance Avenue Russell. Walk down Florance Avenue and follow the road to Russell Wharf.

There are some nice cafes and restaurants in Russell. I recommend the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, it’s New Zealand’s first licensed pub and offers great harbour views. Russell’s not that big so wander around before catching the ferry back to Paihia.   

mangrove boardwalk, full circle walkway, bay of Islands
Mangrove boardwalk
Full Circle Walk
Full Circle Walk

Getting There

Paihia is one of the main tourist town’s in the Bay of Islands. It’s located close to the historic towns of Russell and Kerikeri, 60 kilometres north of Whangarei. If staying in Paihia it’s probably best to start the walk from your accommodation. If coming to Paihia for the walk, find a park and start the walk from the ferry terminal. Paihia’s a small town and the main road through passes the ferry terminal. The biggest challenge might be finding a park.

What to Take

This walk is a bit different from the classic bushwalking tracks of New Zealand. As mentioned above there are 2 shops on the way, I recommend carrying everything you need for the day. This is what I recommend you take:

    • Food and drink
    • Waterproof raincoat
    • Sturdy footwear
    • Warm clothing: thermals and fleece
    • Hat
    • Sunscreen and sunglasses
    • First Aid Kit
    • Map

For more information on what to bring, check-out my blog on what to take hiking.


To print the above map, click on mapometer.com at the top of the map. The printing and PDF option at the bottom of this page will print or download the post except for the map. Once you’ve clicked on mapometer, the link will take you to the printing or export option. If mapometer asks for your location decline, otherwise it will take you to your location and not the above map. This map gives great information, however, it’s only a guide of the route. This walkway is well-marked and the tracks are easy to follow.

Walking Times 

Expect some variation in times depending on conditions and personal fitness levels. I’ve graded this a medium walk as there is some climbing (nothing major though), the tracks are well defined and well-marked, with the duration of this walk around or less than 6 hours. Whereas, a hard walk is one that is more than 6 hours, will have longer steeper climbs, have river crossings and requires good navigational skills.

Have a great walk and please leave a comment?



There is a large range of accommodation options in Paihia and in other towns of the Bay of Islands. With backpacker hostels, motels and hotels. Self-contained apartments to luxury private retreats are also available. I use Booking.com and Cheap hotel for all my accommodation needs and have found them to be very good, they offer great deals and rates on all accommodation types. Check them out to see what they have to offer.

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8 thoughts on “Hiking In The Bay of Islands: Full Circle Day Walk

  1. First, I must confess this is a beautiful country with the breathtaking terrain. And you appeared to know your way around as you narrate how someone can have a trek instead of boarding a boat or something. I love the way you explained the whole route with ease and precision.

    Thank you for this, even though I am not from NewZealand I will sure be back for those beautiful sights.

    1. Hi there, thanks for your kind words. Pleased you enjoyed the post, if you ever need any information don’t hesitate to contact me, I’m more than happy to help. Hope you manage to get to New Zealand one day.

  2. Wow, thank you for this post! What a beautiful place, and so much good information! I have been wanting to travel and do some hiking, and this will definitely be bookmarked for me! Thanks again!

    1. Hi Kate, pleased you found the post informative. If you require further information don’t hesitate to contact me. Thanks for your comment, much appreciated.

  3. I just saw another posting of your area. It is gorgeous and has definitely motivated me to walk even more!

    Thank you for sharing- and reminding! Sometimes I get caught behind this computer too much!


  4. This sounds like such a beautiful walk! I am about to go and visit Quarantine Island with my Dad but I bet it won’t be quite the same! I’ll have to put this one on my “walks” list 🙂

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