Russell has lots of offer domestic and international visitors, and local explorers too. We’ve visited Russell at least five times with the kids in the last year and found it a great day out! There are plenty of things to do in Russell and even some that are worth a visit for if the weather isn’t as great as planned.
This list is our top 5 of the best things to do in Russell with kids with handy details about the location and tips to know before you go. (Plus, it includes handy local hints such as the best place to do roly-polys if visiting Russell with kids!). Read on…
1. Explore the Russell Museum and grounds
To be fair, museums aren’t always at the top of every list of things to do with kids. (Sorry Mum). But the Russell Museum is one I would recommend. It does a fantastic and concise job of telling the stories of Russell and the Bay of Islands. Russell is only a small town (the population is estimated as less than 1000) and hence the museum is only small itself. And in that sense, perfect for a choice outing with kids.
I haven’t been to the museum in Russell for years so I was really impressed with the new displays and artefacts. The kids were intrigued by awesome interactive media shows depicting the arrival of settlers to the Bay of Islands in the 1800’s. This in turn sparked questions and conversation about the history of New Zealand but in a way that was relevant and interesting for young kids.
And if you don’t have time to go inside (or don’t believe me that it’s worth a visit. You should!) at least walk through the grounds. An old whaling ship is on display, garaged to the side of the museum. And there are huge, old whaling pots on show as well. Worth a look for sure!
Address: 2 York Street, Russell
Open: Thursday to Monday 10:00 – 4:00pm
Cost: Adults $10.00, Children: $5.00 or free if accompanied by an adult
2. Find the musket holes at Christ Church
Christ Church in Russell is the oldest church in New Zealand and claims fame as the oldest building still in use today for the purpose it was built for. The church was opened in 1835 when the town was a busy little seaport, popular with Pacific whalers.
The church holds a special place in the settlement story of New Zealand, and is a great place to visit for a tangible sense of history. As you walk around the outside, take time to find the musket ball holes from battle in 1845.
Address: 1 Church Street, Russell
Hours: Open daily, weekly service on Sunday 10:00am
Entrance fee: Optional gold coin donation
3. Swim at Long Beach
Long Beach is located on the east side of Russell, facing out into the Bay of Islands. The beach is renowned as a safe beach for swimming, and a great place for families. Growing up in the Bay of Islands, Long Beach was a regular outing for us for a family day out, with a picnic packed and a boogie board.
A road runs along the length of the beach, and parking is available almost all of the way along.
Pack a picnic for lunch and head up over the hill from town to discover Long Beach.
4. Climb up Maiki/Flagstaff Hill
Maiki Hill (also known as Flagstaff Hill) looks out over the Bay of Islands from a high point near the township of Russell.
There is a walking track beginning near the boat ramp at the end of The Strand. The track takes about 15 minutes uphill to the lookout point at the top of the hill.
Flagstaff hill played a significant role in the early history of settlement in New Zealand, as a place of early relations between local Māori and European settlers. The lookout and monument sundial at the top of the hill have recently been upgraded. Take your time to read about the history of the area and admire the view right out into the Bay. (Or, the hill turns out to be a great place for roly-polys down the grass if you are looking for other fun things to do in Russell with kids!).
5. Eat fish and chips on the beach
Fish and chips is a New Zealand favourite. Maybe even arguable as a New Zealand icon! And our vote is unanimous as a family, that visiting Russell wouldn’t be complete without fish and chips on the beach.
There are several options to choose from to complete this part of the mission. You can dine in for fish and chips at one of the many cafes and restaurants on offer. Or you can get takeaways and sit on beach. (Local tip: This is a great option for a choice if visiting with kids!). Russell is a beautiful place to be in the late afternoon as the beach faces west for stunning sunsets.
However, if you are looking for something a little bit fancier, I recommend the Duke of Marlborough. Find yourself a waterfront table across the road from the main tavern, and you can have a cold drink and some of the Duke’s famous beer battered fish and chips while the kids play on the beach. The Duke of Marlborough is the oldest pub in New Zealand, established in 1827. (Fun fact: The pub received New Zealand’s first Liquor License in 1840!).
Takeaways: Crusty Crab Takeaways
Address: 2 Cass Street
Open: Fri – Monday 11:00am til 7:00pm; Wed – Thurs 11:00am til 4:00pm.
Dine in: Duke of Marlborough
Address: 35 The Strand
Open: 07:00am til 9:00pm every day.
Getting to and around Russell
The compact size of Russell makes it ideal to explore on foot. The longest distance on our list of things to do in Russell is getting from town to Long Beach. By car this would take 5 mins to drive via Wellington Street to Long Beach. On foot, the walk is up over the hill and is an easy 20 minute walk.
Via passenger ferry
The passenger ferry from Paihia runs regularly and is a convenient way to get to Russell. Ferry crossings take approximately 15 minutes.
Cost: Adults $13.50 return; children $6.50 return.
Timetable: Check passenger ferry timetable here.
Via vehicle ferry
The vehicle ferry operates between Opua and Okiato. Crossing time in approximately 10 minutes. The vehicle ferries depart every 10 minutes during the day, and every 20 minutes early in the morning and later in the day.
Cost: Check vehicle ferry ticket prices here.
Payment: EFTPOS is available on board.
Opua is a 10 minute drive from Paihia, and Okiato about a 20 minute drive from Russell.
Via Old Russell Road
Suprsingly, and despite the easiest modes of access being by ferry, the town of Russell isn’t an island. It is possible to drive via the Old Russell Road if you have more time. If heading north from Auckland, turn right off SH1 at Whakapara, about 20 minutes north of Whangarei. Follow the signposts for the small beach town of Oakura. The road is rugged but stunning, and passes some secluded beach spots along the way. This route takes approximately 75 minutes (20 minutes longer than the main state highway route north). Note: The road is sealed this way but is narrow and winding in some parts.