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Dolphins and sand boarding: What to do in Paihia, northern New Zealand

New Zealand's North Island has long been shadowed by the adventurous South, with its fjords, mountains and dramatic settings, boasting every watersport known to man. But the North is well worth visiting, too – so much so that the Reporter decided to dedicate a series to the forgotten island. This is the first part of New Zealand's Lost Island.

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Paihia, Northland, New Zealand — The captain of our tour boat edges the ship up close to the huge cave that nature has carved out of a rock, rising high over the azure blue sea. The vessel stops for a moment, seems to hesitate. We, a bunch of tourists, stand on the foredeck in fascination of the imposing cliff towering above. 

The captain’s voice, heavy with New Zealand-ish accent, comes through the loudspeaker: “The waves makes this difficult… But I think we’re going to be OK! The boat has pretty good maneuverability,” he says reassuringly.

And then he charges ahead.

The rock encloses the boat as the engines thrust forward. Soon we all emerge on the other side. Without incident.

A tour boat charges into a nature-made cave off the coast of Paihia, northern New Zealand. Photo:

A tour boat sails into a nature-made cave off the coast of Paihia, northern New Zealand. Photo:

Boat adventures like these are typical for The Bay of Islands (map below) and its small town of Paihia on New Zealand’s North Island. I’ve arrived by bus from Auckland to spend a few days at this spot close to the country’s northernmost tip. And it turns out there are lots to do. Much of if happens on, and in, the water – there are loads of tours available for every taste. Here, you can embark as crew member on antique vintage ships, go fishing or kayaking, get on a speedboat trip, view the beautiful landscape from above on a helicopter ride, and explore the many islands from which the bay has gotten its name. Adventure tourism is plenty, and visitors who enjoy nature in general should be able to find at least one activity.

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And then of course there is the dolphins. The dolphin tour concept, including swimming with wild dolphins, is a prime attraction in an area where the sea is part of most things that ever happens.

The captains of the tour boats communicate on radio to exchange the latest information regarding the dolphins’ whereabouts at any given time. The animals seem to come in pairs, at least, and we spot from a distance how one boat stops and then, for a brief second, a shiny dolphin fin emerges from the sea to show off for the tourists onboard.


In a chaotic scene on our tour boat, everyone hurries to get into the water in an attempt to get close to the wild animals.

“No touching!” explains the crew as the crowd jumps overboard. “These are wild animals, you shouldn’t touch them. They’re not used to humans.”

My snorkel has decided not to cooperate, and I am having serious trouble getting enough air while I swim towards the spot where a dolphin was last seen, trying to gaze down in the water at the same time.

Then, suddenly, they are there before me. Two dolphins, looking pretty much like sharks in my view, materialize from the blue depths and swim right towards me. I freeze, stunned. The animals take a wide turn, steer to the right — and disappear.

The moment is over as quick as it came.

GALLERY New Zealand’s far north

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The editor of the Traveling Reporter works as a business news editor, and is a frequent traveler. When not doing any of that, he spends time on his boat and tries to figure out where to travel next. Two of his top destinations are the Philippines and San Francisco. Email Erik! Follow the Traveling Reporter at Stumbleupon, Tumblr, Chime In, Pinterest, Google+, Weibo, Storify, Facebook, Traveldudes, Myspace.