Scuba Diving at Poor Knights Islands

Welcome to the start of the final leg of our 365 Days: 365 Activities where we’re exploring the “Winterless North” of New Zealand! Well, it doesn’t feel quite so “winterless” when we are scraping ice off our windshield this morning. Nevertheless, our first activity in the Northland region sounds like a goodie and we just can’t wait!

The Dive! Tutukaka Cave

We drive from Whangarei to the Tutukaka Marina this morning and park up outside a cave. This cave just happens to be be the base of Dive! Tututkaka who take divers – beginners and experts alike – to the Poor Knights Islands. It seems that Dive! Tutukaka are committed to the underwater cave theme with their whole shop decorated in colourful corals and rocky walls. We complete the all-important diving forms on a boat-shaped desk, then meet our guide today, Sophie, who sorts out some diving gear for us, packs it, and takes it down to the boat for us.

Aboard the Bright Arrow for a Poor Knights adventure!

We board the catamaran vessel, Bright Arrow, meeting the skipper, Steve, and a dive photographer, Dave from Liquid Action Films. Yep, there are only five of us on the boat today – and that folks, is the beauty of travelling in the shoulder season! Except, we are a little worried that we’re going to be “freezing our balls off” as Robin says when we go scuba diving. Until we see for ourselves, we have a 50-minute journey to the Poor Knights Islands to enjoy.

Despite the crisp morning, it has lead to a stellar of a day: there’s not a cloud in the sky and the ocean is calm. It’s a pretty cruisy ride to the Poor Knights, where about mid-way, Sophie goes through a briefing with us, including an explanation of the skills we’re going to practice once before we get into the water and once in the water.

Diving dream team captured by Dave from Liquid Action Films! Diving dream team captured by Dave from Liquid Action Films!
A grumpy scorpionfish A grumpy scorpionfish
Astonishing underwater sunbeams! Astonishing underwater sunbeams!
You're right, there are not enough fish here You're right, there are not enough fish here

The stunning coastal scenery of the Poor Knights Islands

Although the Poor Knights Islands are meant to feature world-class diving beneath the surface, the scenery above the surface is pretty awesome too. Steve takes us between towering cliffs of the islands and under numerous giant archways, before anchoring up at a dive spot that Jacques Cousteau himself once explored! Here, we get on the top deck of the boat which is open to the coastal scenery made by a super volcano and carved by the ocean over the years. Steve tells us more about these fascinating islands, the geology, the cultural history, and what makes this place one of the top diving locations in New Zealand!

Gearing up and learning the diving skills

When we get back down to the bottom deck, the scuba gear is all set up and waiting for us. We squeeze into nice thick wetsuits, an underlayer with a hood, sockies and fins. Then we are being helped with a weight belt, a BCD (stands for Buoyancy Control Device – a jacket that inflates and deflates) attached to an oxygen tank, and a mask and snorkel. It all feels extremely foreign even to people like us who have done a couple of dives before, but once we step into the water and look down with our masks on, all those weird feelings are washed away. Wow! The clarity of the water is amazing! Before we get too carried away with the sights of the underwater world just yet, we repeat a couple of diving skills in the water, which is far less scary than anticipated. With that, we can descend to 10m deep and start exploring this famous dive site!

We see what they mean when they say: “there are plenty more fish in the sea”

Exploring the kelp forest

From the get go, our breath is taken away by the variety of fish seen in the water (but we remember to keep on breathing because literally losing your breath wouldn’t be a good thing when diving). Small black fish with colourful spots slowly swim past us, not bothered by our presence what-so-ever. Among the kelp forest, Sophie clear the kelp to reveal a crazy-looking brown fish with great googly eyes, a scorpionfish. Although this section of the dive has many amazing aspects, we can’t talk about it for too long, because it’s only going to get more weird and wonderful as we swim into an archway.

Archway into a new world

It’s a whole different world in here… A vibrant world of sea plants boasting orange, green and yellow colours. They shine all the more brightly with the beams of light piercing through a large hole part-way through the arch. All kinds of fish gently swim in the shelter of the arch – fish usually found at greater depth. The fish that steal the show, though, just happen to be the massive school of blue maomao. Swimming slowly enough, we find ourselves among the school ourselves – fish so close we could touch them (but we don’t. No fish were harmed during the making of this BackpackerGuide.NZ story). Although we see see hundreds of fish, we can’t communicate to ask what they are until later…

Another win for shoulder season travel!

How long we stay in the water depends on how well we breath and how much oxygen we use. Because we manage to stay relatively calm as a sea cucumber, we spend around 50 minutes in the water. And you know what, we weren’t even cold – another win for the shoulder season!

The mersmerising Rikoriko Cave The mersmerising Rikoriko Cave
He's thinking about joining the snorkellers in the water... He's thinking about joining the snorkellers in the water...
Sealfie! Sealfie!

A tiki tour of arches and caves

Although our time diving has come to an end, our time exploring the Poor Knights still has far to go! Once we have all the equipment removed from our persons, we take a little tiki tour of the islands. We sail under more epic archways on our way to one of the largest-known sea caves in the world. After Steve tells us more about this epic cave where the roof has an upside down garden, we test out the acoustics which echo so much it feels like as if we were the only ones left in the world.

Swimming with the seals!

As we have some lunch and hot drinks, Steve takes us to a rock where he spotted seals a few days ago. Sure enough, three or four bathe in the sun ahead! We anchor up here to watch them, a couple deciding to make their way closer to the water… This would be a good place to swim with seals! With our beady eyes on the seals, we wait with bated breath to see if they slip into the water. One goes in and a couple more slowly make their way down the rocks to follow. With that, Sophie, Dave and Robin are throwing their lunch aside and throwing on their masks and snorkels. Seal swimming it is!

As we found out in Kaikoura all those months ago, seals are incredible to swim with. Their super playful and acrobatic in the water. They are often more interested in you than you are with them – a feeling we’d all like to experience, right? Robin goes in for a snorkel and enjoys the show of the seals playing together and even playing with him as they circle and bump into him. It’s a lucky encounter to be swimming with the seals as they only show up at the Poor Knights for the colder months and you know what that means? A third win for travelling in the shoulder season!

Seal swimming was more than just an added bonus, but an experience in itself. We can now head back to Tutukaka Marina with more incredible memories than we had imagined.

Recording our dive, identifying the fish, and back to Bunkdown

Back at the Dive! Tutukaka cave, Sophie helps us record our dive, as well as identify the species of fish we saw with a fish book. Finally we can tell you that we saw the following: clown nudibranch, snapper, kina urchin, black spiny urchin, scorpionfish, blue maomao, black angelfish, red pigfish, red moki, strangers wrasse, grey moray (eel), leatherjacket, demoiselle, elegant wrasse and New Zealand fur seal!

We say goodbye to the team and head back to our Whangarei accommodation, Bunkdown Lodge, where we mingle with readers of our website (always a nice feeling to know someone read us once), people we’ve bumped into previously on the trip, and new people! Join us tomorrow where we are going to check out some of the free things to do around here in Whangarei!

Laura and Robin

Not only awesome under the surface
Not only awesome under the surface Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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See you tomorrow!

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