Anywhere that Jacques Cousteau placed in his top 5 locations to dive has to be worth a visit, so what are you waiting for? For me, probably due to its lack or touted tropicality, New Zealand isn’t one of those locations that readily comes to mind when I think of scuba diving vacations, but the big man can’t be wrong. Indeed, you’ll find so many opportunities to dive it’s hard to know where to start. New Zealand offers everything from wrecks to kelp forests and all sorts in between. Look at any New Zealand dive site location map and you’ll see that the coastlines are brimming with sites waiting to for you to dive. If you travel with non-divers, there are so many land based adventure activities available that I would wear you out just listing them.
When to go?
New Zealand enjoys its summer between December and February with temperatures reaching 76 °f (25°c). Winter, which is June to August, see temperatures drop to 45 °f (8°c). Typical of temperate waters, the colder water brings the best visibility and the warmer water brings the plankton blooms that increase fish numbers but reduce the visibility. Expect winter temperatures to drop to 45 °f (8°c) and summer temperatures can rise to 70 °f (21°c).
North and South
New Zealand is made up of two main islands that are logically called North Island and South Island. The South Island is the larger of the two, and it’s mountainous. 18 peaks rise to 10,000ft (3,000m) which make for some stunning scenery worthy. New Zealand wasn’t the location of choice for The Lord of the Rings films by chance; its vistas underpin certain adventure. There’s a myriad of smaller islands that dot the seas around both of the larger islands, some of which are inhabited, and some aren’t like the Poor Knights which offer a fantastic underwater playground.
Likely the most famous dive area in New Zealand, the Poor Knights Islands, lie 14 miles (23km) off the Tutukaka Coast on the North Island. These islands are known for their topography of caves and arches as well as plentiful fish life caused by the meeting of the sub-tropical and temperate. Rumour has it that one of the caves hid a Japanese WWII submarine, yes the cave is that big. Although it’s a little too cool for them to hang around, divers should keep their eyes open for passing turtles, humpback whales and manta rays too.
A little further along the coast lies the wreck of Greenpeace’s infamous Rainbow Warrior. Sunk by saboteurs who wanted to stop her journey to protest nuclear testing that would harm the marine environment; it’s heartening then that her demise has offered a new habitat for marine life. The wreck is carpeted with anemones and stalked by snapper and mackerel hunting the tasty morsels who make the wreck their home.
The Bay of Islands cloaks not only the Rainbow Warrior in her watery grave but also the more recently and less belligerently submerged HMNZS Canterbury. Sunk in 2007 to create a new artificial reef this frigate has already attracted much growth and new inhabitants. Expect kingfish, snapper and dory amongst a plethora of frenetic marine activity.
If you love wrecks then you’ll be happy to hear that yet another two wrecks lie in easy reach of the Tutukaka Coast. Known as the Twin Wrecks, the Tui and the Waikato are both ex-navy vessels that were specifically prepared for diver’s exploration before they were allowed to slip below the surface. You can enjoy the ease of entries and exits created so that you can enjoy effortless adventure and maximum exploration.
New Zealand also offers you the chance to dive in a combination of fresh and saltwater. Milford Sound lies in the Fiordland National Park to the south of the South Island. Its top 30ft (10m) are fresh water that then gives way to the salt water below this. A visit to Milford Sound is more than just a dive trip. The stunning scenery and thundering waterfalls are worthy of any hobbit-style adventure where you will see seals, penguins and dolphins from the surface. Expect eels, sharks, octopus and much more underwater.
Another freshwater experience on the South Island, the Riwaka Caverns dive starts off with a bush trek to the entrance before exploring a series of caverns. Everything about this dive is large and bold from the stalagmites and stalactites to the pink limestone waterfall. Diving the system involves getting in and out of the water and enjoying the immense sights both above and below the surface.
These are just a few of the highlights that New Zealand has to offer the intrepid underwater explorer, and there are far too many others to mention.