Take a journey with us as we take a look at the spectacular Scuba Diving New Zealand has to Offer
New Zealand is famous for its stunning landscapes, rugby and Lord of the Rings. However, the world beneath the surface of this rich and diverse country is every bit as spectacular as anything that J.R.R. Tolkien could imaging.
From the eerie stillness of Milford Sound to the world-renowned Poor Knights, the diving experiences on offer are plentiful and varied. There are wrecks galore, including the infamous Rainbow Warrior and the huge Mikhail Lermontov.
Animal encounters with seals, sharks, dolphins and a wide variety of unique sea creatures are commonplace, not to mention Kelp forests, rugged coastlines and inspiring topography.
Bay of Islands
The wrecks of the Rainbow Warrior and the HMNZS Canterbury are not the only reasons to dive in the bay of islands, but they are perhaps the main drawcards.
The Greenpeace ship The Rainbow Warrior is in the Cavalli Islands. Originally sunk in Auckland harbour in 1985 by the French government, it was refloated, cleaned up and then re sunk in 1987 as a memorial and dive site. Covered in Jewel Anemones and sponges and filled with fish life, it is now a world-class dive with a story like no other.
The ex HMNZS Canterbury is located in the Deep-Water Cove reserve, in the Bay of Islands. This Leander-Class Frigate was purpose sunk in 2007 by divers for diving. It ranges in depth from 14 to 36m so suits a wide range of experience in divers. The Bay of Islands also has a vast number of reef sites to dive, ranging from shallow protected reefs to deep walls, caves and archways. It’s well worth spending a few days in this area exploring.
Paihia Diving New Zealand – Offer diving trips to the spectacular Rainbow Warrior and HMNZS Canterbury and the stunning local reefs.
The Poor Knights Islands is one of New Zealand’s most famous Marine Reserves having been rated as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world by the late Jacques Cousteau. The Poor Knights are teeming with life, and there are plenty of dive sites to choose from to suit all qualifications.
Rock faces that tower over 100m above, and 60m below the sea level create a spectacular landscape to explore beneath the waves. The walls and pinnacles are covered in colourful encrusting species where fish and invertebrates make their home. The many arches, tunnels and caves provide fantastic ground for bigger fish, stingrays and the occasional shark. Trips run daily from Tutukaka in Northland for divers and snorkelers to experience the magic of the Poor Knights Islands. This really is a bucket list destination.
Dive Now Whangarei – Are proud to be one of New Zealand’s premier dive training, retail and servicing facilities and are regular visitors to the world-renowned Poor Knights
Goat Island, Auckland
Tucked away in the placid bays of Auckland regions Hibiscus coast is the long-standing Goat Island Marine Reserve. One of the 1st marine reserves in the world, this humble Island and it’s surrounding waters were established in the 1970s to ascertain a baseline of aquatic health for New Zealand’s waters. Situated a 45-minute drive from Auckland, the ‘no-take’ statute of the Island & it’s immediate surrounds allows a rare encounter with mature native fish species in higher than average numbers.
The shallow waters & sheltered nature of the bay has become a go-to for entry-level divers and open water dive courses, with the promise of an effortless beach entry & a guaranteed ‘fishy’ dive, regardless of the conditions.
The bottom topography is classic for the Hauraki Gulf with Large table-top rock reefs rising from a white sandy bottom. Defiles in the rocks create canyons where divers can ‘trench run’ to their hearts content in less than 12m of depth. Crayfish pepper the crags while battle-scarred Snapper mooch overhead. This is a classic ‘big-water’ experience, all within the confines of the shallows as several fish species school together through the dappled light.
Kiwi Scuba Divers – explore and dive in the some of the most picturesque dive sites New Zealand has to offer. From the waters of Mokohinaus to Great Barrier Island and many, many more.
Mercury Bay, Coromandel
The Coromandel Peninsula is an extraordinary part of the world. The natural beauty above the surface raises the expectations of what hidden treasures await below the waves. Only a couple of hours drive from Auckland, Tauranga or Hamilton; the peninsular offers some of the most spectacular vistas.
The subaquatic scenery is equal to any in the land of the long white cloud. Here temperate diving is at its best courtesy of rich marine currents that feed all manner of life on this eastern seaboard of the Peninsula. Exploring around the offshore islands of Mercury Bay will reveal vibrant rocky reefs, colourful underwater caves and overhangs, and sheltered coves cloaking friendly fish-filled kelp forests.
Once in the water, be amazed by the diversity of marine life this region has to offer, including numerous species of nudibranch, photogenic triple fins, schools of Blue Maomao, Kingfish and Kahawai. Coming face to face with a local New Zealand fur seal and feeding kina to any number of affable wrasse species on the same dive is a treat and well worth the trip. Dolphins are frequent visitors to the area, and occasionally Orca pass through hunting their favourite meal – Stingrays.
Dive Zone Whitianga – Run daily trips to the great dive spots right on their doorstep including Mercury Islands, Alderman Islands, Cathedral Cove and its Marine Reserve or fantastic diving along the eastern Coromandel coastline.
Scuba Dive Wellington
Wellington ticks all the boxes for scuba diving and freediving. Best of all, much of it can be done from the shore. There are numerous wrecks, marine reserves, access to deep dives and plenty of fish life. With deep water drop-offs, you never know what you may see, Orca, dolphin, seals and more. With the shape of Wellington’s coastline, there is always somewhere to dive, the South Coast, the West Coast or in the harbour.
Taputeranga Marine Reserve on the South Coast is an easy shore dive that is teaming with life. You can see crayfish, giant blue moki, blue cod, stingrays and much more, a perfect site for learning to dive or for an adventure. There are several shore-based wrecks including the Yung Penn which sits in 6 meters of water. Further offshore is the wreck of the Wellington F69, a purpose sunk frigate which sits in 20 meters. In the harbour you can see seahorses, scallops, stingrays and many species of fish.
Dive Wellington – are Located across the road from Taputeranga Marine Reserve and a five-minute boat ride to the F69 Frigate Wellington, what better way to enjoy Wellington’s underwater world.
The Marlborough Sounds are a vast network of sunken valleys at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. Picton town lies at the heart of the Sounds and is the gateway to the North Island from the South. Diving in and around the Sounds offers an exciting variety of experiences, with numerous historical wrecks, kelp forests, and the jewel in the crown the wreck of the Mikhail Lermontov a 176m Russian cruise liner, sunk under mysterious circumstances in 1986.
The Lermontov could not be situated in a better location and offers excellent dives no matter what your level of expertise. The top of the wreck lies at 14 to 15ms and is teaming with a huge variety of local fish species. For the more adventurous and well-equipped divers, and those who like to be challenged, penetration dives can be planned through the vast engine room, restaurants, bars and duty-free areas. Also close to Port Gore is the wreck of the Lasingtham a steel sailing ship sunk in 1883 and the Rangitoto a steamship sunk in 1874. This is an area of NZ few get to dive and explore and well worth the stopover.
Go Dive Pacific – Has36 years of experience guiding divers in and around the Sounds, numerous historical wrecks kelp forests and the impressive Mikhail Lermontov one of the biggest and best shipwrecks in the world. Worthy of anyone’s bucket list.
The oceans in Kaikoura are full of a huge range of incredible marine life. Huge whales, dolphins, seals, stingrays, octopus, crayfish and many more.
The diving in Kaikoura has changed a lot since the 7.8 Earthquake in 2016 and mostly for the positive. So much bedrock was forced up through the sand to create amazing structures and swim-throughs, which makes diving here incredible fun. In the last three years, all these rocks have created more prime real estate locations for marine life to thrive so not only do we have many more reefs to explore there is now a lot more life to see.
Kaikoura is home to an incredible, kelp filled coastline. These underwater forests come alive in gentle swells that buffet the rugged shores of this diving wonderland. This picturesque part of New Zeland has it all, stunning topography, vibrant kelp forests and endless marine animal encounters both large and small.
Dive Kaikoura – Will take you to explore the kelp forests and limestone reefs, home to octopus, crayfish, encrusting sponges and intricate invertebrates all competing for space on the rocky reefs.
On the southeastern side of Te Waipounamu (South Island), exposed to the Southern Ocean lies the funky university town of Dunedin, but put your head just under the surface, and you will get an authentic Southern Ocean experience.
On either side of the harbour entrance are several easy to access shore sites where wrecks sit in 6-12m of water encrusted with colourful sponge life, surrounded by kelp forests.
The wrecks along Aramoana Mole (a breakwater and the entrance to the harbour) are mostly hulks from the steam era. After the vessels were decommissioned, they were sunk to stabilise the breakwater. These structures are still mostly intact, but while there are no opportunities for penetration, there are still plenty of points of interest to swim through.
Often seen dancing between the wrecks are whakahao or New Zealand sea lions, one of the rarest sea lions in the world. These enormous taonga species are an experience not to be missed. Their sheer speed and manoeuvrability in the water can hold your gaze for almost an entire tank. Sea hares, nudibranchs and sponge life make getting closer to the action all the more rewarding.
Dive Otago – Dive Otago has been one of New Zealand’s leading dive stores for over 20 years and Specialise in trips to see the impressive kelp forests, numerous wrecks the area has to offer.
Milford Sound is New Zealand’s coral diving capital and one of the world’s most unique dive locations. Located in the deep South, Fiordland’s most Northern Fiord and the country’s most famous geographic landmark sits just a 4-hour drive away from the little party city of Queenstown.
Deepwater emergent black coral trees grow in abundance on Milford’s impressive Fiord wall diving sites, a species usually inhabiting water hundreds of meters deep. Black coral has a stunning white appearance and gives the impression of having a mystical presence, also to be found while diving the steep Fiord wall faces are red and pink hydrocorals, gorgonian fans and seapens. The ability for deep water species to reside here is caused by Fiordland’s infamous rainfall creating a mixed salinity surface layer and acting as an eerie light filter to the clear, deep waters below. And Milford is deep at over 300m, straight down in some sites, perfect for technical diving exploration.
While diving you may also see bottlenose dolphins, sharks, eels, octopus, stingray, crayfish, nudibranch and over 150 different fish species all within the Piopiotahi marine reserve.
Dive Milford Sound – Descend Scuba Diving – Milford Sound dive company Descend offers regular day and multi-day boat diving tours, technical diving support and dive training and equipment rental to this unique destination.
From the temperate waters of the north to the frigid seas of the South, New Zealand boasts a wealth of world-class diving not to be missed, and with the Covid-19 virus under control in and no community transmission, all dive operations are up and running. This is just a taste of some of the fantastic diving available in New Zealand. Now is a great time to get out and support your local dive shop or travel to an area that you have always wanted to see.
Photo Credit: Craig Johnston, Simon Collins, Brent Tassell, Kiwidivers NZ, Dive Zone Whitianga, Kristine Zipfel, Go Dive Marlborough, Gerald Van der Watt, Jaydin Cassel, Miles Holden, Tom Bliss, Tim Smith Grant Thomas Photography / Descend Milford Sound