Russell New Zealand: Why It’s the Best Town in the Bay of Islands

Russell New Zealand

If you’re traveling to the beautiful Bay of Islands in New Zealand then Russell should be at the top of your list! This historic town has the perfect mix of beaches, restaurants, and wildlife. Here are the best things to do in Russell NZ, fun tips for your visit, and all about the stunning Oneroa Bay! 

How to Get to Russell New Zealand 

Passenger Ferry: If you’re starting in Paihia like many travelers you can jump on the quick passenger ferry. It runs year round departing every half hour until late in the afternoon. We recommend staying overnight, but this is a wonderful option for those making a day trip to Russell NZ. 

Car Ferry: Just a few minute drive from Paihia is the car ferry. This saves you a massive amount of time driving the winding roads of the coast! 

The Long Drive Around: If you decide not to take the ferry you will have quite the drive to get to Russell. It’s a pretty scenic road though so it can be worth it if you have the extra time.

→ New Zealand North Island Itinerary: 4 Awesome One Week Routes

Russell Ferry

The Best Russell NZ Oysters! 

Hold up! Before you discover the best things to do in Russell New Zealand there is one must stop place along the way. Kororareka Oysters is a little shack on the water just outside of Russell that every seafood lover will enjoy.

Pull down the long driveway off the main road and grab a dozen (or two!) oysters to-go. We found a comfy spot on the water to enjoy them with lemon, and they were absolutely delicious. Also, they were one third of the price of oysters in town so this was a no brainer.

Kororareka Oysters Location

Russell NZ Oysters

Camping in Russell New Zealand 

Since we were traveling to Russell by campervan the Top 10 Holiday Park was an easy choice for where to stay. It’s known as one of the most gorgeous holiday parks in New Zealand, and it definitely didn’t disappoint!

The park is walking distance to town, just a short drive to Oneroa Bay, and some of the campsites even have views of the water. We splurged a few extra dollars per night for the premium site, and it was 100% worth the money!

Perched above the campground with only a dozen other vehicles, we had a beautiful view of Russell and the ocean in the distance. If camping isn’t your thing don’t worry! Check out the bottom of the post for our hotel recommendations.

Camping in Russell New Zealand 

Russell New Zealand History

Once you see Russell with your own eyes it may be shocking to learn the history of this quaint beach town. Believe it or not, Russell NZ was once known as the “Hellhole of the Pacific.” The wild nickname came from the rampant prostitution early settlers engaged in, and the many battles with local Maori tribes.

Despite being such dubious spot for early immigrants to the country, Russell’s place in history can not be understated. It was New Zealand’s first seaport and European settlement in the early 1800’s and was key to jumpstarting the whaling industry.

Russell New Zealand History

Russell in New Zealand

Exploring Russell Town

While walking around Russell you’ll be able to fully take in its historic buildings and colors. The towns layout remains largely unchanged from the early years, and you can even stop into New Zealand’s oldest bar and restaurant. 

While the Gables is definitely worth visiting, our favorite place to eat is tucked away just behind it. Hone’s Garden has amazing wood fire pizzas and a great craft beer selection to go with it. Wherever you decide to dine out, make sure to be near the water for sunset!

Kids jump from the dock into the water and gorgeous boats fill the bay. Another fun way to experience Russell is to actually hop on a boat! There are several tours that leave Russell NZ and travel though the Bay of Islands for a one of a kind day on the water.

→ Book a Hole in the Rock Dolphin Cruise from Paihia or Russell

Russell NZ

Hiking Flagstaff Hill 

Ready for the best view in town? This half hour hike is the perfect place to start when looking for things to do in Russell New Zealand. Once you reach the top you’ll have 360 degree views of town and the surrounding Bay of Islands. 

Unsurprisingly, this short hill also played its part in the early development of Russell New Zealand. Once upon a time in 1840, the British planted the Union Jack flag atop the town. The Maori proceeded to chop it down 4 separate times in an act of resistance. There is a display that explains this confrontation more in depth at the summit. 

We hiked up early in the morning after a massive storm had rolled through. Even with the cloudy weather we got some stunning views of Russell and beyond! 

→ Flagstaff Hill Historic Reserve Location

Russell New Zealand Hike

Oneroa Bay in Russell NZ

Just a 2 minute drive or short walk from the main town is one of the most amazing beaches in all of the Bay of Islands! Also known as Long Bay, Oneroa Bay in Russell takes you from an English Colonial town to a tropical ocean setting.

This is where you can pull up a beach chair and spend the whole afternoon. Unlike the town beach where the water is calm, Oneroa Bay has the perfect waves for swimming and boogie boarding. Try and spend plenty of time here on your trip to Russell NZ!

→ 25 Beautiful New Zealand Beaches on the North & South Island

Oneroa Bay Russell New Zealand

Russell NZ Town

Where To Stay In Russell New Zealand

Fun Vacation – The Duke Of Marlborough – This is your chance to experience a piece of history! Built in 1827, the Duke of Marlborough is an incredible spot on the harbor. Take in the waterfront from the onsite restaurant, and stay for some delicious sunset drinks.

Bed & Breakfast Villa Russell – Cute bed and breakfast just a short walk from Russell town center. Complete with stunning views of the ocean and just what you need for an epic Bay of Islands getaway. 

Apartment Hananui Lodge and Apartments – Fun stay that offers both lodge and apartments in the town center with a beautiful view out over the harbor.  

For more places to stay near Russell NZ you can explore the latest prices here!

Russell New Zealand Hotel

Have any questions about the Bay of Islands or want to share your own favorite things to do in Russell New Zealand? Let us know in the comments below! 

Safe Travels,
Brigitte & Jake

Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar



New Zealand Travel Planning 

Jucy Van: The best way to explore New Zealand is with a Jucy camper! We spent over six weeks driving around the North and South Islands in a van and loved every moment.

 Rental Car: If you’re not renting a van you’ll need a car to see this country. We use Discover Cars when traveling and enjoy having the freedom to get around.

 Flights: It’s easy to find cheap flight deals using Skyscanner and Kayak. That’s how we got flights from Auckland to Queenstown for $40 USD, and New Zealand to Fiji for less than $150! 

 Accommodation: Compare multiple sites to get the best deal such as and Agoda. Also,  Hostelworld should be your go to if you’re traveling on a budget. 

 Tours: Check out Get Your Guide to find activities all over New Zealand! They have everything from tickets to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves to a Hobbiton movie set tour, and even a Northland hole in the rock dolphin cruise

 Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered. We’ve been using SafetyWing for insurance the last few years and they are always there when we need them.

 Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including our electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials


North Island New Zealand

Travel Tips & Guides:  10 Helpful NZ Travel Tips – South Island Itinerary – Wellington to Picton Ferry15 Freedom Camping Tips27 Delicious Food & Drinks

Auckland & Northland: Piha Beach & Kitekite FallsCape Reinga LighthouseMangonuiMount EdenDevonport Day TripWaiheke Island Guide9 Best Waiheke Wineries

Lake Taupo: 17 Fun Things to DoMount Tauhara HikeBest Street ArtTaranaki Falls – Huka Falls Walk14 Tongariro Crossing Tips 

New Plymouth: 10 Fun Things to DoDawson FallsTe Rewa Rewa BridgeParitutu Rock HikeEgmont National Park

Wellington: 10 Fun Things to DoMount Victoria HikeBest BreweriesCable Car & Botanical Gardens

Bay of Plenty:  TairuaHot Water BeachCathedral Cove Walk8 Maunganui Things Not to MissMount Maunganui HikeEast Cape Road TripHow to Find Tua Tua Clams 

Rotorua & Raglan: Kerosene CreekRedwoods Treewalk8 Raglan Things to DoBridal Veil Falls

Explore all our South Island New Zealand Travel Tips & Guides

North Island New Zealand

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