Our 66th Friends for Sharks event was at Dive! Tutukaka. They very generously offered to give us a day diving at New Zealand’s premier diving destination, the Poor Knights. This small cluster of islands sits approximately 15 miles (24 km) North East of Tutukaka in New Zealand’s Northland. The team at Dive! is extremely friendly, welcoming and very helpful with getting gear together if renting; even taking it to the boat and setting up on the day I was there (though everyone should of course always check their gear thoroughly before putting it on). Kathryn had elected to remain on shore to enjoy a relaxing day hiking in the hills around Tutukaka.
For those on their first trip to the islands, the dive guides give a run-down of the history of the islands in the surface interval and I found this really interesting. The islands are the remains of a 4million year old volcano and Maori settlers inhabited the islands until approximately 1824. The tribe warriors were away fighting in the South and a previously spurned pig trader heard of the vulnerable nature of the tribe. He invaded and slaughtered/captured almost everyone and when the chief returned he declared the islands ‘Tapu’ meaning sacred and this is where the English term ‘Taboo’ originated. No one has lived on the islands since that time and the surrounding waters are now a marine reserve that provides stunning diving opportunities.
Our first dive was at the world famous ‘Northern Arch’. This site consists of a wall, with an enormous arch (of which only a tiny proportion can be seen above the surface) that can be swum through depending on the tidal currents, a cave and a headland that is often teaming with life. It has been a few years since I dived in water below around 24 Celcius and the chill was a bit of a shock on face and hands as I dropped in to the 15 Celcius of the New Zealand mid-winter waters. Being used to the stunning soft and hard coral gardens with diverse reef life of the Red Sea I was prepared for a fairly rocky and greyish experience in these sub-tropical waters. Within a few minutes of descending I was looking at my 3rd nudibranch and merrily trying to remember how to adjust camera settings through the housing. I really was blown away, I found it hard to believe the wall of bright colours under the water but there it was and every surface was covered: Corals, kelps, fish, nudibranchs, sponges and all manner of sea life. If you include our time above water you can even add mammals to the list as we encountered New Zealand Fur Seals basking on the rocky shore and a small pod of dolphins.
We moved to the Southern end of the islands for our second dive, at a site called Ngaio Rock or Ngaio Reef. There was less wall diving this time but it was no less spectacular and there were numerous scorpionfish. We also encountered a huge swarm of two spot demoiselles as we rounded the main rock. One pair of divers were lucky enough to spot a carpet shark in this area but sharks were sadly about the only creature I didn’t get to see.
Despite the chill, I surprised myself by managing dives of 53 and 48 minutes long – no doubt substantially aided by the copious quantities of Milo that I was plied with by the ever attentive dive guides back on the boat. While those few photos can’t portray the abundance of life in the waters, it is clear that listing Poor Knights as a Marine Reserve is having a huge impact on the biodiversity and health of these waters – the Snapper are a particular success story. As a popular food fish their numbers around New Zealand had depleted considerably and it was rare to see a large adult any more. Since the Marine Reserve protection however, numbers have climbed rapidly and larger fish are spotted again. These reserves provide a safe haven for many species and allow them to repopulate areas nearby which aren’t protected. this in turn provides richer fishing again.
The journey home was comfortable thanks to a following swell and I related my adventures to Kathryn back on land. We are both looking forward to returning together in the future and will certainly be visiting with Dive! Tutukaka who provided such a wonderful experience. Thank you to everyone involved for a wonderful day diving the Poor Knights!