Destination New Zealand
by John Kinsella
From the sub-tropical reefs and beaches of the North Island to the unique topography and temperate waters of the South Island, it could take a lifetime to uncover all the dive sites along New Zealand’s 14,000-kilometre/8700-mile coastline. Many of the hot spots are easily reached from the mainland and there’s a wealth of PADI Dive Shops ready to help with trips to the off shore islands and reefs. You can dive fiords, wrecks, and sub-tropical reefs, or explore kelp forests and swim with vast schools of fish. Simply put, New Zealand is a dream dive destination.
It’s also a land of stories, were the Māori culture runs deep. The tangata whenua, (indigenous people), settled here more than 1000 years ago and make up 14 percent of the population. Common Māori terms and phrases are part of the local vernacular: kia ora (hello) is a handy start for the visitor.
When you’re not diving you can try your hand at bungee jumping, river rafting or hiking through some of the many parks and reserves. Other attractions include hot pools, steaming mud, skiing, Tane Mahuta (the largest tree and God of the Forest), mountain biking, snowboarding, helicopter rides,endless beautiful coastline and superb food and wine.
Find a PADI Dive Center or Resort in New Zealand.
Just a 30-minute drive from Dunedinon the South Island, Aramoana Mole has the most accessible dive wrecks in the country, beautiful temperate marine life, exquisite sponge gardens and kelp forests. There is good road access and it's a nice drive when you go with a local PADI Dive Shop. Depths average 7 - 20 metres/23 - 65 feet.
The Fiordland World Heritage Area's overpowering rugged beauty isn't confined to the mountains, lakes and rivers. Deep inside the fourteen sheltered fiords (some penetrating inland up to 16 kilometres/10 miles), minimal water disturbance results in exceptionally good visibility along the steep cliff faces. Heavy rainfall (up to 7 metres/23 feet per year) produces a10-metre/33-foot surface layer of fresh water. This tannin-colored layer reduces light levels, fooling deep dwelling creatures like black coral and groper into thinking their habitat is deeper (about 30 metres/100 feet deep) than it is. The result is a feast of remarkable underwater sights.
In this spectacular fiord divers may encounter black and red corals and spiny sea-dragons. Half the fiord is a marine reserve that is just as spectacular above the water, boasting glacier-carved hanging valleys, thick native forests and spectacular waterfalls. You can drive, taking a bus tour or fly to Milford Sound from Queenstown on the South Island.
Secretary Island, a favorite haunt of bottlenose dolphins, guards the entrance to Doubtful Sound. Carnivorous starfish prey on the mussels blanketing Deep Cove while Bauza Island and The Guthave glorious red and black coral. Doubtful Sound is not directly accessible by road. Travel arrangements may be made at Queenstown,Te Anau and the town of Manapouri, where your Doubtful Sound adventure begins at Deep Cove.
A short ferry trip opens up dive sites scattered around Stewart Island that boast some of the richest and most varied marine habitats in New Zealand. The dense, swaying jungle of giant kelp is home to myriad fish and divers can also visit the Marine Maid wreck. Stewart Island is about 30kilometres/19 miles south west of Bluff off New Zealand's South Island and is accessible via ferry or flight.
Find a PADI Dive Center or Resort on New Zealand's South Island
Poor Knights Islands
Just a day trip away from Auckland is one of New Zealand's finest dive locations. A dive trip to the Poor Knights is a unique,once-in-a-lifetime experience. The islands cover just over 200 hectares/495 acres and they lie 12 nautical miles off the northeast coast of Tutukaka. The southern island, Aorangi, has a conical shape with its peak at 254 metres/833 feet. The northern island is called Tawhiti Rahi. Tutukaka Harbour (30 kilometres/19 miles from Whangarei) is the charter boat base. Depths range from 10 - 40 metres/33 - 130 feet.
This incredible archway plummets to 44 metres/144 feet and is stacked with schooling blue maomao, trevally and demoiselles. The vertical walls are packed with a range of colorful invertebrate life and it is a true spectacle of nature's creation. Watch for the resident stingrays. Currents can be strong here and demand appropriate training and experience.
Red Baron Caves
The rock formations here are typical of these volcanic islands andfeature a series of arches and outcrops that drop to the bottom at25 metres/82 feet. Penetrating light illuminates the colorfulsponges, anemones, hydroids, corals and nudibranchs on the walls atdepth.
Blue Maomao Arch
The signature dive at the Poor Knights, this arch often hosts thousands of blue maomao on one side and two-spot demoiselles on the other. At a depth of 8-14 metres/26-46 feet, sunlight streams through to give the dive an ethereal quality. Divers can also seethe resident moray eel, scorpion fish, wrasses, nudibranch and perhaps even a shy toadstool grouper.
Rikoriko CaveThe largest surveyed sea cave in the world, this ancient gas bubble can fit several boats inside and has a unique flora and fauna due to the light penetration. The cave is 130 metres/427 feet long, 80 metres/262 feet wide, 26 metres/85 feet deep (below the waterline) and the height to the ceiling above water is 35 metres/115 feet. A cup coral that is normally found at 200 metres/650 feet grows in just 10 metres/33 feet of water at the back of the cave. Day boats cater to both divers and nondivers.
Three Kings Islands
Of all New Zealand dive locations, the Three Kings Islands are often regarded as the best. Situated approximately 55kilometres/34 miles northwest of New Zealand's northern-most tip,they offer New Zealand's marine environment at its most raw and beautiful.
New Zealand's most active volcano lies 50 kilometres/31 miles off of Whakatane and continuously vents steam and releases ash clouds. The volcano sits on the continental shelf where the White Island Trench parallels the Kermadec Trench. These undersea canyons convey the subtropical East Auckland Current directly to the island, bringing a colorful array of tropical marine life and large pelagic fish. Visibility can exceed 40 metres/130 feet and schooling fish often attract predators like bronze whaler, blue and mako sharks, marlin, tuna and kingfish. In the depths, expect to spot huge pack horse crayfish (lobsters), groper, bass and evenblack coral.
This open water dive location is five kilometers/three milesnorthwest of White Island and hosts many pelagic fish species. Theeastern flanks drop to 18 metres/60 feet while the west side has astaged descent to 30 metres/98 feet before dropping into the abyss.The northeast corner virtually hovers over the continental shelfand drops to more than 1000 metres/3280 feet.
Off Crater Bay, these volcanic rocks are riddled with caves and holes, which are home to pack horse crayfish and groper. On thewestern side is an interesting plateau at 18 metres/60 feet, which is alive with a multitude of reef and pelagic fish. A kaleidoscope of colored sponges, hydroids and gorgonians line the sheer cliff face down to 37 metres/120 feet.
This reef is in open water between White Island and VolknerRocks. It frequently offers more than 30 metres/98 feet ofvisibility and endless possibilities for viewing many northern fishspecies. The reef rises to 18 metres/59 feet and the sides plummetto 150 metres/492 feet, with countless reef fish and kingfish cruising alongside. Divers get to White Island via boat from Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty on the North Island.
Sunk off Tutukaka on the North Island, this former spy vessel saw service at Muroroa Atoll and was purpose sunk as an artificial reef in February 1999. Now on her side at 35 metres/115 feet, this challenging site rewards divers with prolific growth and schools of golden snapper. She is one of two wrecks within 10 minutes of the harbor entrance that - along with the famous Poor Knights Islands -lend the title of "Dive Capital of New Zealand" to the area.
This was the first Leander Class frigate sunk in New Zealand (again, just off Tutukaka) and the only one in the southern hemisphere with its twin turrets and propeller intact. Upright and listing to port, she is a great multilevel dive from 18 - 29metres/60 - 95 feet, and an ideal wreck diver training site with purpose-cut holes, easy entry and exit, etc.
Now lying on the bottom off the Cavalli Islands, the Rainbow Warrior was originally attacked and sunk in 1985 (killing one crew member). This Greenpeace vessel wasre-sunk as a memorial dive in Matauri Bay two years later. At 45metres/150 feet long and sitting upright in 18-26 metres/59-58 feet of water, the Rainbow Warrior is now best known for her vibrant anemone growth.
The Mikhail Lermontov This wreck is located in the outer Marlborough Sounds' Port Gore at the top of the South Island. At 155 metres/509 feet long, the Mikhail Lermontov is Australasia's biggest diveable shipwreck and sits in 36 metres/118feet of water. With the upper port side at 14 metres/46 feet, even open water divers will be able to see the immense size of this ship. For the more adventuresome and qualified, there is more advanced diving - including penetration for those with the requisite training - available.
This Leander Class frigate is 113 metres/371 feet in length and has a 13-metre/43-foot beam. She lies in three pieces about 450 metres/1476 feet off the south coast of Wellington in 12 - 20 metres/39 - 66 feet of water.
Another Leander Class frigate,Canterbury
lies upright and intact in Northland's Bay of Islands Deep Water Cove at a depth of 14-40 metres/46-140 feet.
Find a PADI Dive Center or Resort on New Zealand's North Island
Depths: 10 - 40+ metres/30 - 120+ feet.
Visibility: 10 metres/30 feet to more than 40 metres/120 feet.
Currents: Can be locally significant. Check with local dive professionals and have surface signaling devices ready.
Water Temperature:During summer (December to March), the average temperature is 20°C/68° F. Winter (June to August) is still quite mild over much of the continent, with temperatures averaging 13° C/55° F.
Weather: The weather is subtropical in the far north to temperate in the south.Warm, sunny summers are followed by mild and wet winters. Average temperatures in the summer (November-February) are from 10 - 18°C/50 - 65° F while winter (June-August) sees approximately 3 - 10°C/37 - 50° F.
Access: Renting a car is a great way to explore New Zealand. The country is also well served for air travelers.
Skill Level: From entry level. Check on specific dive sites with a local PADI Dive Shop.
Scuba Gear: All PADI Dive Shops offer full hire facilities and frequently also include dive computers.
Length of stay:Take a minimum of two weeks to make the most of this spectacular country.
Featured Creatures:Divers encounter a broad range of creatures, including blue maomao,blue cod, blue mackerel, trevally, snapper, tarakihi, hapuku, yellowtail kingfish, red cod, kahawai, warehou, john dory, parore, gurnard, trumpeter, black marlin, blue marlin, Hector's dolphin,blue shark, bronze whaler shark, mako shark, hammerhead shark,thresher shark, kina, crayfish and scallops.
Currency: New Zealand Dollar (NZD).
Tipping: Tipping isn't mandatory or expected in most places, but it is appreciated. A good tip in a nice restaurant is usually 10 percent. Tipping the dive crew is always appreciated.
Transportation:Renting a car is one of the best ways to explore New Zealand's North and South Islands.
Major Airports: New Zealand is served by seven international airports: New Zealand International Airports.
Religion:Protestant (32 percent), Roman Catholic (14 percent), Hindu (1.7percent), Buddhist (1.4 percent), Islamic (1 percent).
: 230Vand 50 Hz. AS/NZS 3112 (Australasian 10 A/240 V) (TypeI).
Airport Entry/Exit fees: Usually included in the ticket price, check with your travel agent.
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