Many of New Zealand’s prime scuba diving spots are just offshore, offering easy access. One of the best spots is the crystal-clear waters of the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve, whose amazing range of fish, including many tropical species, was considered by the late Jacques Cousteau, the most famous undersea explorer of the 20th century, to be one of the world’s top ten diving locations.
23 kilometers (~14.3 miles) off New Zealand’s Tutukaka Coast, the Poor Knights Islands are an international icon. They’ve been around for over 11 millions years. They’re a total Marine and Nature Reserve that offer volcanic origins such as myriad spectacular drop offs, walls, caves, arches and tunnels.
The Poor Knights are situated such that they receive the warm sub-tropical current that flows from the upper reaches of the South Pacific Ocean. This warm water means that the islands are home to many species of fish that are normally only found much further north. The islands have literally hundreds of different dives, but there are one things they all have common in: underwater caverns! Caves, tunnels, chimneys and arches abound, cut into the softer sections of the igneous rock by the water action. You will find at least one of these physical features and most two or even three in every dive—like literally! There are at least 11 major archways that start above the water’s surface and drop down to depths of up to 45 meters. As can be imagined, this makes a spectacular underwater paradise.
One thing I know for a fact that legend has it that the islands are cursed or ‘tapu’. No longer a place where mankind is welcome, the islands are scared by the violent deaths of the people who once called them home. Uninhabited since the 1820s, the Poor Knights Islands and the surrounding waters are fully protected as a reserve under New Zealand law, and you are not allowed to step foot on the islands or fish around them – if you do, you risk a huge fine or imprisonment!
Anyways, Ryan and I couldn’t have been any luckier to scuba dive with award-winning Dive! Tutukaka. They’re New Zealand’s largest premier full-service dive charter operator company, servicing the Poor Knights Islands and offering a wide range of PADI dive courses with experienced instructors who have logged thousands of hours underwater. Their instructing staff include marine biologists, naturalists, tech and wreck specialists and award-winning photographers. They’ve taken over 12,000 people the Poor Knights Islands every year.
The Poor Knights Islands
We all know that diving at the Poor Knights is world class. So, it was pretty exciting for us when we arrived in the morning.
At first, we wanted to prep Ryan up for his scuba lesson as he hadn’t been certified at that time. We both assumed that it would just take him a day for him to get certified because of email conversation we had with them that made it seem possible for Ryan, but we were wrong as the course would take him few days. Thus, Ryan ended up tagging along to snorkel around the corals while the group went diving.
Anyways, we headed for the Poor Knights Islands, 45 minutes from the coast. We spotted a rock with the shape of a knight on an island on the way. It was totally sweet to see that and it helped me understand the connection between the name of the islands. The sea was a bit rough, but as soon as we reached the island, the sea was calm and we anchored the boat.
Of all the places I had dived in, this place was by far the most professional and fun group of people to dive with. They took care of literally everything from loading up our equipment to packing our lunch. I practically just showed up, put the regulator in my mouth and jumped in. For Ryan, he just had to put on a snorkel mask and drop into the water.
The First Dive
As I jumped into the water, I tried descending into the water, but as I went deeper into the water, the pressure in my ears became more painful. I couldn’t go any further. I was utterly disappointed that I couldn’t do and that I didn’t know why. I tried descending one more time after surfacing above the water, but it still hurt like hell. When I got out of the water onto the boat, I coughed up some blood. I was horrified, but they assured me that it wasn’t serious and that it was normal body reaction from the water pressure. The dive master instructed me to sit out on this dive, but try again on the next dive. I obeyed.
I couldn’t sit still, so I went into the water to snorkel with Ryan while waiting for the group to finish. We ended up getting some epic sights of colorful fishes, rocks, and coral reef.
One point of this snorkeling session, I actually dropped my GoPro Camera to the bottom of the water. I remember the feeling of struggling to swim deeper because of the wet suit. It made me float, so it took me a while to swim harder and reach the bottom to grab the camera. I was relieved when I had it back in my hands, but this reminded to get a floater for the GoPro Camera soon in case.
After everybody returned on the boat from the first dive, we were given lunch bags with a delicious sandwich, fruit, and a chocolate bar. Not to mention that they also offered a selection of soups (chicken noodle, tomato, mushroom and few others I can’t remember) and beverages such as tea and coffee. Yum!
The Second Dive
We have finally arrived the Blue Maumau Arch for the second dive. It looked real awesome because it was literally a cave.
Once more, I jumped into the water and put the regulator in my mouth. I cried out of relief in my thoughts when I descended to the bottom of the water without encountering any water pressure pain in my ears. This was when I knew I was ready for the rest of the dive.
The thick wet suit kept me surprisingly comfortable in the chilly 60-degree (fahrenheit) water. My hands got cold toward the end but it was worth it for all of the under water wildlife.
Anyways, straight away I came face-to-face with a large variety of tropical and sub-tropical fish, as well as urchins, sponges, caves, and tunnels. I was in awe of everything through out the inky blue water. There were thousands of Blue Maumau (fish) just hanging out. The school of fish was so thick it created a wall of shimmering blue darkness blocking out the light bursting into the cave from overhead. They didn’t seem to mind us passing through.
I felt like I was channeling my inner merman when I swam straight into the school and they slowly readjusted their formation to make room for me as if they were dancing around me.
I got to see lots of nudi branchs (big colorful sea slugs), not to mention a stingray, few eels, huge-ass lobsters, and many beautiful fishes! All were very curious and apparently pleased to meet their visitors – the colors of the underwater wildlife in this area were captivating and there is something different behind each rock! It was unbelievable and surreal.
After 1.5 hours of diving was over, we boarded the boat for some hot soup and drinks. The staff took the boat inside Riko Riko Cave, which is actually the world’s biggest surveyed sea cave. It was absolutely massive inside.
This was a lovely, relaxing and educational day – one that I’d never forget and one I’d keep boasting about! The knowledgeable and patient crew were all part of the experience and they helped enhance the memories.
I’ve done more than 7 dive sites all over the world. I’ve never seen a stingray in any of them, including Manta Rays (largest stingray in the world), but I got to see one in this one! However, I could have seen a Manta Ray back in the Philippines, but they weren’t around when I was there–GRR!
But with my dive experience in the Poor Knights Islands, they topped off all of that! I know they’re named as Poor Knights, but they’re not even poor at all. The coral reef was made me feel like I was completely in a whole different world, definitely not this planet!
Bottom line: the dive was unbelievably exhilarating!
Whenever you’re in Tutakaka, be sure to take a dive with them!
- Address: Poor Knights Dive Centre, Marina Rd, Tutukaka 0173, New Zealand
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: http://diving.co.nz/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DiveTutukaka