With more than 30 marine reserves, there are great dive sites surrounding the island nation of New Zealand, but you couldn't ask for a prettier place to dive than the Bay of Islands. Accessed from Paihia on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, most divers come to explore the areas two large wrecks, each with a unique history of conflict: the HMNZS Canterbury and the Rainbow Warrior. The Rainbow Warrior spent years plying the sea for Greenpeace, while the Canterbury patrolled as a ship of war for the New Zealand navy. Both have had their fierce aspects transformed by the sea into marine life havens. Both feature penetration possibilities and intact profiles for those with appropriate certifications including the PADI Wreck Diver course. Although worthy of multiple dives, the wrecks play tug of war with the surreal and dynamic world of the kelp forests that cover the reefs here. Another world-class dive area is the renowned Poor Knights islands (a marine reserve). Blue Mao Mao rub shoulders with short tailed stingrays. There's even a good chance to see orcas hunting them in this thrilling temperate underwater wonderland. Above the water, the nearby town of Russell offer a quaint look at colonial New Zealand, and right across the bay from Russell are the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the Maori and English made peace to help settle New Zealand. Don't miss an excursion on one of several Maori led local adventures.
When to go:
Enjoyable year-round, with September through May being the main dive season.
Marine life Seasons:
Humpback whales migrate past New Zealand from June to November. Turtles nest on sandy beaches in December, with hatchlings emerging from January through March. New Zealand summer along the Tutukaka coast at sites called Northern Arch and Tie-dye Arch, brings the short-tailed stingrays and the orcas that hunt them
When to Get the Best Deals:
June to August.
What to Pack:
7 mm wetsuit or dry suit in winter with hood and gloves, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, comfortable shoes for hiking, DAN card, long sleeved lightweight shirts, long trousers for cool nights, a light jacket for cool evenings, small medical kit.
Seasonal averages: 15°C/59°F in winter and 24°C/74°F in summer.
Seasonal averages: 25°C/75°F in winter and 30°C/90°F in summer.
New Zealand Dollar; Credit cards are widely accepted.
Valid passport; check with local immigration office for visa requirements.
Included in your airfare.
What to Eat:
If you like lamb, then you'll like New Zealand. If you also like mussels, salmon and other seafood, then you'll love New Zealand. An essential culinary experience is trying the delicious smoky flavored meat, kumara (sweet potato) and vegetables as they come out of a Maori hangi (underground oven). For dessert, have hokey-pokey ice cream or pavlova (a meringue cake topped with whipped cream and fruit).
What to Drink:
There are nearly 400 wineries in New Zealand producing world-class whites and some great reds. There are also hundreds of breweries in the country many of them small operations that are crafting internationally recognized brews. L&P (Lemon & Paeroa) is the most loved local fizzy soft drink . You won't go thirsty in New Zealand.
Tai Tokerau Maori Waka tour with local chiefs; visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds across the bay from Russell, where the Maori and English signed the treaty to form New Zealand; Go wine tasting or hiking through the hills.
Customs and Culture:
Maori culture is strong in the North Island and a must do experience. The Kiwis in general have a great, outdoorsy appreciation for life.
Oyster Festival, September in Russell; it! Bay of Islands festival.
Electricity and Internet:
230V/50Hz; Internet is common in hotels and cafes.
Drink the water?
Water is safe to drink.
English; Maori is widely spoken.
Amazing Marine Life
As strange in appearance as its name sounds, this dark-golden bottom-dweller is mottled with rings of white spots like small pearl bracelets all over its body.
Also known as a spiny lobster, these large crustaceans sport brown or orange shells, often colorfully dappled with yellow, blue, or green.
A large dark-banded fish with a wide mouth, the moki is only found off the waters of New Zealand and a few places in Australia.
A small fish with rough-skinned that resembles brown suede leather. It has a triggerlike spine on the back and bright yellow fins.
This silvery pelagic swimmer with a dark band behind its eyes is endemic to New Zealand.
Blue Mao Mao:
Found only in waters off New Zealand and Australia, this solid-blue fish can grow up to 60 centimeters/two feet long.
This dark gold moray eel is found only in waters off New Zealand and Australia.
Lord Howe Coral Fish:
This variety of butterflyfish, sporting broad black bands, is found only in waters off New Zealand and Australia.
Hot pink with pearly-white tentacles, this cousin to the jellyfish can be found fixed to rocks and reefs.
New Zealand Fur Seal:
This mammal is making a comeback after being hunted nearly to extinction in the 1800s.
With a white belly and a black back, this distinctive dolphin can be found in coastal waters only in the southern hemisphere.
Also known as the napoleon wrasse, this enormous and vividly colored fish can grow to lengths of up to 2 meters/six feet.
The world's largest toothed mammal, this square-headed giant can be seen off New Zealand's shores year-round.
Top Dive Spots
Blue Mao Mao archway, Poor Knights:
This cathedral-like arch teems with the blue mao mao that give it its name. Also look for yellow and gray morays and brilliantly colored blennies.
Tie-Dye Archway, Poor Knights:
Named for its colorful patterns of sponges and anemones, this site features intriguing topography as well as a profusion of fish species, including Lord Howe Coral fish.
Waikaranga Island, Auckland:
Located in the Te Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve, this site features large cracks where red moki and crayfish hide. Look for jewel anemones, kelp, moray eels, leatherjackets, john dory, and (in summer months) pelagic fish.
Kaikoura, South Island:
In the shallow waters off the rocky coastline you can dive with playful New Zealand fur seals in the kelp beds. Dusky dolphins are residents here, and (as it is near a former whaling town) sperm whales can be seen regularly.
Long Island, Marlborough Sound:
Named by Captain Cook, this Marine Reserve is home to giant crayfish, wobbegong sharks, and blue cod.
Lastingham, Marlborough Sound:
This twin-mast iron sailing ship sank here in a heavy gale, taking down with her the captain and his wife. The wreck is covered in soft corals, anemones, shells, sea urchins and aquatic plants. Look for marble fish, blue cod, blue and red moki, triple fins, blennies, sea perch, butterfly perch, banded and scarlet wrasse, leatherjacket (triggerfish), and tarahiki (morwong).
Koi, Marlborough Sound:
Encrusted in invertebrates, the wreck of this 27-meter/90-foot steamer houses seahorses, blennies, decorator crabs, nudibranchs, leatherjackets, and butterfly perch, and is a favorite playground of seals.
Port Pegasus, Stewart Island:
This famous kelp forest features seals, sea lions, seahorses, and blue cod, and is a favorite among macro photographers.
Rainbow Warrior, Northland:
Bombed in Auckland Harbor by the French Secret Service, the wreck of the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, was relocated here (with a traditional Maori burial) to create an artificial reef. Covered now in pink anemones, this photogenic wreck is a general favorite.
Goat Island, Auckland:
This marine reserve features a variety of habitats, from rocky shores to deep reefs to underwater cliffs and canyons to sand flats. Look for blue cod, snapper, crayfish, seaweed forests, sea squirts, anemones, sponges, and shellfish.