Diving in New Zealand
I went 12,000 miles to dive the Rainbow Warrior, the Greenpeace ship that was bombed and sunk in Auckland Harbour by the French foreign intelligence services to prevent it from protesting nuclear testing in Moruroa. The Rainbow Warrior was refloated for forensic examination. After refloating it was clear that she was irreparable and was taken and scuttled in Matauri Bay near the Cavalli Islands, on 12 December 1987, to serve as a dive site and fish sanctuary. On the day I was due to dive the Warrior Severe Tropical Cyclone Gita blew up a storm and had us sitting it out.
The following day I had diving booked further south at Tutukaka to dive at the Poor Knights.
The Poor Knights Islands are a group of islands off the east coast of the Northland Region of the North Island of New Zealand. They are found 14 miles offshore from Tutukaka. I had chosen to dive and stay with Dive Tutukaka there website can be found at http://diving.co.nz Dive Tutukaka is a very friendly well run dive business who I would whole heartedly recommend and who I will dive with again soon.
The Poor Knights are two large islands and a chain of smaller islands The two large islands are called Tawhiti Rahi, and Aorangi. There are several smaller islands Aorangaia and Archway Island lie to the southwest of Aorangi Island, and there is also a group of smaller rocky islets between the two main islands, the largest of which is Motu Kapiti.
The Poor Knights Islands are what is left of a rhyolite volcano that is estimated to have been 3,300 feet tall and Forty million years old.
The Islands are uninhabited and have been so since 1820. Maori of the Ngati Wai tribe who were farmers and fishermen inhabited the Islands.
On the trip back after the diving the Evan Barkley the skipper of the dive boat told us the story of how the islands had become uninhabited. Tatua the tribe chief led his warriors on a fighting expedition to the Hauraki Gulf with Nga Puhi chief Hongi Hika in the early 1820s.
While they were away fighting, one of the islands slave escaped the islands and travelled to Hokianga where he told Waikato, a chief of the Hikutu tribe, that all of the islands warriors had left to fight and the islands were undefended. In a previous skirmish Waikato had been offended by Tatua, so he took his warriors inn three canoes to attack the islands. They arrived at the islands one night in December 1823and soon overpowered the islanders in the absence of their warriors. Many islanders jumped off the high cliffs to avoid being taken as slaves. Chief Tatua’s wife and daughter were captured and taken to the mainland where they later were set free by a relative.
Tatua returned to the islands to find a scene of destruction. Only nine or ten people were left on the islands, including his five-year-old son who had been hidden in a cave during the attack. The islands were declared tapu (holy) and Tatua left with the survivors and went to Rawhiti in the Bay of Islands where he unexpectedly found his wife and daughter.
The Islands are now a nature reserve and permits are required to land or tie boats up. Permits are usually granted only for scientific research. A notable native plant of the islands is the spectacularly floweringPoor Knights lily, which has become a popular garden plant.
The islands are home to a breeding population of about 200,000 pairs of Buller’s Shearwaters.
The islands contain rock arches and sea caves, including Rikoriko Cave, the largest cave in the world by volume. It is 7,822,000 cu ft with an opening large enough for our dive boat to easily enter. Rikoriko Cave measures 130 by 80 meters its ceiling is 35 meters high and the floor is 26 meters below the water line. The coral along the back wall is black coral due to the lack of light penetrating the back of the cave.
Tawhiti Rahi contains the Northern Arch, Middle Arch, and Maomao Arch, a great diving location. Aorangaia Island’s east-west rock arch resembles a long tunnel, while the aptly named Archway Island is bisected by two rock arches, with the larger Cathedral Arch about 40 meters tall.
The Poor Knights are very close to a continental shelf and are under the influence of the subtropical current that sweeps south from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, has enabled a nutrient rich environment that attracts an incredible range of marine life. As you dived you could often see where the warm and cold water met the shimmering clearly identifying that the water was about to get cooler. The sub continental current brings with it wonderful fish species and the continental shelf causes an up swell of nutrient rich water to provide food for the many filter feeders who in turn are a food source for larger fish species. As I visited in summer (February) there were young tropical fish that had been carried as larvae on the East Auckland current. These included Lord Howe coral fish, yellow-banded perch and blue-headed wrasse.
Dive Tutukaka ran seven dive boats, I was diving on Bright Arrow. Kate who is one of the owners, had grouped the days divers together, and I was diving on a boat with seven other divers all of who were instructors or dive masters. We dived at two sites during my short trip The Tunnel which is found on the East side of Aorangaia island and Hope Point which is the end of a finger protruding from the east side of Puketuaho Island.
At the Tunnel we dived to 20 meters and spent an hour in the water. This was a wall dive dropping to 20 meters and swimming along the base before turning the dive and returning at 15 meters. Several of us had sufficient air to swim the wall again at 10 meters returning at 5 meters burning the remaining air until we returned to the boat. The wall was alive with Red and Pack Horse Crayfish. A large Mosaic Moray free swimming. We swam amongst a very large shoal of Blue maomao and saw red lizardfish and black spotted grouper. On the wall we saw several different nudibranch including a pink spotted one that I am told is a clown nudibranch.
After a lazy lunch and a snorkel around a bay we moved to the second dive site Hope Point. This is a rocky outcrop we dived this to about 18 meters as we got to the end of the wall we hit the current and swam around another group who were on the wall as we moved out into the blue we were passed by two Bronze Whaler sharks.
If you get the chance to dive in New Zealand, you will regret not diving at the Poor Knights, and if you were Diving at Poor Knight you would be daft not to dive with Dive Tutukaka and their accommodation in Lodge 9. You can follow Dive Tutukaka on their Facebook site where the post sightings and the weather every day.