New Zealand’s raw beauty, national parks, glaciers, and extreme sports opportunities make it a great place for those seeking adventure and adrenaline. Its superb forests, mountains, beaches, and fjords have made it one of the best hiking destinations on Earth. But if you’re tired of all that fresh air, get your nose underwater.
Although overshadowed by its neighboring and more popular diving destination – Australia, with its spectacular Great Barrier Reef – New Zealand is somewhat of a hidden gem that does not fall short on interesting wrecks and unique underwater topography. Even the well-traveled explorer Jacques Cousteau placed the Poor Knights Islands as one of the top diving locations in the world. With numerous dive sites both easily accessed from the mainland or around more remote and pristine islands, there’s no shortage of things to discover.
Due to the country's diverse landscape, the climate of New Zealand is varied, although it is largely temperate. The weather is subtropical in the far north during the summer and temperate in the south. Consequently, you can dive in New Zealand all year round, but the optimal time to explore the underwater world is between January and June.
Water temperature varies depending on location. In the south, water temperature is about 8° C/46° F in the winter and 18° C/64° F in the summer. In the northern parts, the water temperature is higher and can exceed 22° C/71° F in the summer, while during winter, it averages 15° C/59° F.
Depending on the dive site and location, visibility can range from less than 10 meters (30 feet) to more than 40 meters (130 feet).
A school of koheru fish at Poor Knights Islands.Credits: Joanna Penn/Flickr
Definitely the place to be if you want to enjoy world-class diving in New Zealand. The tropical currents that flow in this area bring a spectacular array of fish of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Marine life abounds in moray eels, snappers, kingfish, but the islands also see occasional visitors like manta rays, Mola molas, and sea turtles. The topography has also been impacted by the currents, that have created many caves and passages worth exploring. The stunning wall dives and beautiful coral gardens are also a big draw.
Another popular spot, not too far from the Poor Knights Islands, Bay of Islands is located on the east coast of New Zealand’s second-largest island – North Island. The islands, numbering up to 150, are one of the top summer tourist destinations in the country, and the primary attractions here are the water sports. The area is well-preserved and abundant in fish life and healthy reefs. There are also several wrecks worth checking out: the HMNZS Canterbury and the Rainbow Warrior vessel, two of the most popular ones, are now encrusted with marine growth and offer fantastic photographic opportunities.
Goat Island is New Zealand’s first marine reserve and the most successful one, some would say. These waters are teeming with life and it is specifically famous for its resident snappers. These fish are very friendly and make excellent photography subjects. Macro lovers can spot various species of nudibranch and blennies, while those looking for the big stuff can find copper sharks and hammerheads in the summer.
This biodiverse coastline offers some of the best diving in the South Island. Kaikoura is known for its lush kelp forests and limestone reefs. Octopus, crayfish, and numerous invertebrates are residents of the area, which you can see on every dive, and large sea mammals such as sperm whales, fur seals, and dolphins have also made Kaikoura their home.
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