It has been a while since we took a dip underwater so when we had the chance to take three days off from work there was little debate. We wanted to reach the Poor Knights Islands, not only New Zealand’s best dive spot but a world class reserve for viewing marine life.
Barely two hours north of Auckland why wouldn’t scuba diving the Poor Knights be our first hit list.
The weather wasn’t on our side, we had 2m sea swells on our motor out, accompanied by a 25knot relentless wind but you couldn’t wipe the smiles from our faces, we were back on the ocean. It was a pleasure to feel the spray on our skin and watch the ominous looking cliffs appear and disappear with the rise and fall of the waves. On our final approach we disturbed a huge colony of Buller’s shearwater resting upon the turbulent surface, they took to the sky in their hundreds unpertebed by the strong gusts.
Gearing up our captain shared the Maori tales and history of the area, confirming that we had come to a very special place and filling us with awe. Despite the cool water we were eager to get in, he had done his job well. 19 degrees was a shock to the system though bearable in our 7 mm wetsuits and we were soon submersing into a world we know so well. Almost. We had never set our eyes upon a kelp forest before and this place was smothered. With 10m visibility we could watch fields of kelp swaying in the undulating surge and then there were the walls of the island, coral of every colour etched into the vertiginous underwater cliffs, it was a vibrant place. The dive, Jan’s channel, brings you as close as you can get to the island which is banned from visiting due to its sacred maori history. We followed our guides instructions and fought the surge to enter an underwater channel, emerging within the grasp of the island, what was once a cave before its roof collapsed. The wilderness enveloped us while our ears filled with a hum from birds and insects we couldn’t see. A kingfisher darted past in a dash of bright blue, before coming to rest on a nearby branch. When we left we turned instead to the red pulpy sea anemones, surviving on the moisture offered by the swell and then it was time to head back. Before reaching the boat we opted to sit amongst the snapper hovering above the kelp which seem to dwarf the rest of the inhabitants.
On our surface interval the captain made time for us to drive into the worlds largest measured sea cave. “There are plenty bigger,” he laughs “but they’re not measured.” Glenn is proud of the Poor Knights and has been diving this area since 1989. He had seen firsthand the impact of the reserves protection and the rejuvenation of a healthy ecosystem. “It is an in-tact, fully functioning ecosystem and that means it is one of the only places in the world that thrives like this.” As we turn the corner toward our next dive spot we’re pottering merely meters from a 200m+ rugged wall which continues to plummet into the royal blue ocean. A very impressive sight.
Middle Arch is our next location, diving around and within two huge stone columns that meet dramatically together some ten or fifteen metres above the surface. Jumping in first we were told to head straight for the archway walls and keep an eye out for the school of blue maomao, it didn’t take long. Hundreds spilled out of the entrance to a cavern which we happily explored, enjoying most of all the reflection of the caves luminescent entrance in an air pocket on the ceiling. In the channel itself we encounter three short tail stingrays, each a metre across. Stealing the show, however, was the elaborately painted vertical walls, soft corals of a thousand kinds clung to the walls surface as if each ere a dramatic splash of paint. Even the nudibranchs were bursting despite being in their off season.
Exploring our new backyard has only just begun and starting here, at the Poor Knights, has only made us more determined to get out of the city more often. Today was certainly not the best conditions but knowing that things can only get better from here means we will be back. We shall return with our brave faces, ready to plunge in the wintry waters to see what else these islands decide to reveal to us.
Cost: A 2 dive day trip to the Poor Knights Islands costs $205per person ($260 including all gear hire). Snorkelling costs $170.
Cut Costs: Plan our trip using Bookme to get a discount on specific days.
Where: Dive boats leave from Tutukaka, just shy of 200km north of Auckland.
Best time of year: Visit in winter for seals and amazing visibility, spring for nudibranchs, summer for warmer temperatures. But to be honest we learnt from our guides that you can spot anything anytime.
Want to give it a go?