Whilst in New Zealand, I deemed it would be quite rude not to go to one of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s top 10 dive sites in the world. I left Auckland with Naked bus and traveled to Whangarei because that’s as close to the dive site as you can get on cheap buses. Naked Bus was not only cheap but it was also on time and efficient. No messing.
Once in Whangarei, I checked into the YHA after ascending a steep hill and waiting for their reception to open. The hostel was OK but nothing special (the bathroom was bloody freezing in the morning which I did not appreciate). I think it’s been sold now anyway so you probably can’t stay any more which is a shame as it had the only functioning VHS player I’ve seen in 10 years.
Anyway, Whangarei is a picturesque enough town with cafes and souvenir shops. I managed to source a Kiwi charm for my bracelet and many other things to send home which I did at the post office in Whangarei town.
There really isn’t a lot to do there though. I was in Whangarei simply because it is the main transit point before Tutukaka and Tutukaka is where you leave from to dive at the Poor Knights Islands.
My original plan was to do a live aboard trip but the weather scuppered that. Instead, I did a single day diving with Dive Tutukaka, possibly the nicest dive centre in the world. Firstly, every stupid question I posed via email or telephone was answered thoroughly and promptly by some of the friendliest staff I’ve ever encountered. Second, the dive boat (Bright Arrow) was great; It coped really well with some pretty choppy water. Third, the return shuttle from Whangarei to Tutukaka was very reasonable ($20 NZD). Fourth, the dive prices were very reasonable. Fifth, they provide pictures from the day free of charge via Facebook. Amazing!
Diving at the Poor Knights Island seems like it’s endless. On the dive boat there were 2 seriously experienced guys who had been diving over 20 years and they still haven’t been to all the sites at Poor Knights.
I had a lot to overcome on my 2 dives because it was cold water and I was in a full wetsuit. I’d never dived cold water before and never dived in a full suit, therefore, I struggled with buoyancy and body temperature. I did look like a superhero in the full suit though.
The first 5 minutes of my first dive (at Bird Rock) was spent hanging onto some kelp trying to sort my buoyancy out. I eventually got a handle on it and we set off. I saw the most beautiful school of pink maomao, many eels, scorpion fish, tonnes of nudibranchs and a plethora of more common fish. A superb dive that ended too soon. I enjoyed it.
The second site (the Rock) felt better because I was used to the buoyancy change and borrowed some gloves to keep my hands warm. The marine life was superb as were the stunning kelp forests. The most unexpected treat for me was colouration seen on the rock faces. It ranged from black to lilac with blues, yellows and oranges in there too. Simply lovely. There were amazing overhangs which made me go ‘wow’. I had the pleasure of swimming against the flow of a large school which simply didn’t care I was there.
Out of the water the view isn’t bad either. This is the highest rock arch in the southern hemisphere (I think).
And this is just a wicked sail through cave thingy.
Beautiful to look at and easy to marvel at how nature works. Don’t miss the Poor Knights if you’re in New Zealand.