A Complete Guide to Scuba Diving in New Zealand

Covering the accessible coastlines and offshore islands in New Zealand, there are plenty of sites for scuba diving and thirty-six marine reserves. The country’s terrestrial landscape is versatile enough to accommodate experienced divers and amateurs alike. One can explore any of the fantastic wrecks from the Tutukaka coast or dive into the clear waters at the Poor Knight Islands.

The dive sites are split into two regions, the North Island and the South Island. The North Island has subtropical weather and many tropical fishes while the South Island favours temperate diving. Diving in North Island is considered the best from January to June and in South Island, anytime from November to April is preferred.

Best Sites for Scuba Diving in New Zealand:

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1. Poor Knights Islands

When you enter the Maomao Arch at the Poor Knights Islands, countless beautiful little blue maomao swim around you. There is also an abundance of kingfish, snapper and many other fascinating types of fishes in this protected marine reserve. The second oldest marine reserve in New Zealand, Poor Knights Islands is often lauded for its diving opportunities.

It is a group of islands near the northeast coast of the country. Dive boats to the islands can be accessed from Tutuka harbour. Definitely one of the best places to go diving in New Zealand, it also offers opportunities for snorkelling for those who are not familiar with diving.

Archways, caves, kelp forests and even sharks are part of the marine life in Poor Knights Islands. The four dive sites are at different depths and hence suits divers of all skill levels.
When to go: The water is warm during summer and towards the end, the stingrays arrive in large numbers.
Location: Tutukaka, Northland, North Island
Timings: 24 hours
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2. Bay of Islands

Located on the east coast of North Island, Bay of Islands has plentiful dive sites which make it a popular summer tourist destination to try scuba diving in New Zealand. It has two spectacular wreck dives, HMNZS Canterbury and the Rainbow Warrior.

Rainbow Warrior was a Greenpeace flagship vessel which sank in the port of Auckland in 1985. The British ship was bombed by a branch of French Intelligence Service while it headed to protest against France’s nuclear testing in Mururoa. It has now become an artificial reef which can be easily circumnavigated for multiple times.

In 2007, a former HMNZ Canterbury frigate was sunk as a dive wreck in the Deep Water Cove in Bay of Islands. Since then, Deep Water Cove is frequently visited to dive the Canterbury wreck.

The wreck is encrusted in colourful jewel anemones and is rich in fish life like kingfish, snapper, etc. Its upper deck and bridge are suitable for recreational divers. They can swim through the bridge to the helicopter hangar at twenty-seven meters.

When to go: Water is warm from February till June
Location: Bay of Islands, North Island
Timings: 24 hours (Rainbow Warrior), 7.45 am – 3.30 pm (Canterbury wreck)
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3. Tui Wreck

A large ship was scuttled in 1999 near Tutukaka in Northland to act as an artificial reef. The large wreck has engine rooms, guns, cabins, etc. which can be explored by divers. Its fish life consists of golden snappers and a cluster of other interesting fish species.

Earned by Tutukaka after long negotiations, Tui has now become one of the sought after places for scuba diving in New Zealand.

When to go: January to June
Location: Tutukaka, Northland, North Island
Timings: 8.30 am – 2.30 pm

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4. Fiordland National Park

With fresh and clear waters, Fiordland National Park is famous for Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. Raved for the visibility of the water, it has a soothing landscape where a mountain meets an ocean.

The layer of freshwater that sits on the top of cold saltwater, absorbs a lot of light and causes creatures that live at least a hundred meters deep to live within just thirty meters of depth. This allows divers to enjoy the sight of giant coral black trees and other wildlife within the recreational range.

When to go: November to April
Location: Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, South Island
Timings: NA
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5. Kaikoura

The prosperity of sperm whales, fur seals, albatross and dusky dolphins help this site stand out among the other sites for scuba diving in New Zealand. Located on South Island, the shallow waters appeal to the marine mammals. The underwater kelp forests and limestone reefs are other exciting facts about the dive.

When to go: November to April
Location: Kaikoura, South Island
Timings: 8 am – 10 pm

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6. Lermontov Wreck

Sunk after hitting rocks in 1986, this Russian cruise ship is one of the largest wrecks to be ever discovered. Octopus, carpet sharks, dogfish, blue and red cod and many other aquatic beings dwell inside the Lermontov Wreck now.

Expert divers can make the most out of this dive since the majority of the areas including each of the corridors and deck can be explored without penetration. But even they advise taking a guide along owing to the risk involved in the adventure.
When to go: November to April
Location: Marlborough Sounds, South Island
Timings: 24 hours

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7. Aramoana Mole

The wildlife at Aramoana Mole includes seven gills sharks, green bone, moki and even the New Zealander Hooker Sea Lion. Other than those, seahorses, crayfishes, eels, etc. can be found while exploring the shipwrecks encrusted with sponge. The waters at South Island are really cold as well.
When to go: November to April
Location: Dunedin, South Island
Timings: 24 hours

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8. White Island

Divers of all levels of abilities can try scuba diving in New Zealand from White Island’s three diving spots. The waters of Club Rocks, Volkner Rocks and Liason’s Reef attract both tropical and large fishes. These dives have a number of underwater vents too.

Whatakane in the Bay of Plenty allows access to the location of White Island.
When to go: January to June
Location: Whatakane, North Island
Timings: NA
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9. Goat Island

The oldest marine reserve in New Zealand, Goat Island has many diving sites including North reef, East Point and Smuggler’s Cove. Rocky shores, underwater cliffs and canyons constitute the variation in its environments. Blue cod, seaweed forests, sea squirts, etc. are part of the wildlife.

It allows the divers to stay close to the underwater community and take some snaps as well. These features help Goat Island be more significant among the places for scuba diving in New Zealand.

When to go: January to June
Location:  Close to North Island coast, north of Auckland, northeast of Warkworth
Timings: 24 hours
Did we miss any of your favourite places for scuba diving in New Zealand? Tell us in the comments.

This post was published by Vishnu Kesavan

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