8 Awesome New Zealand Dive Destinations

December 10, 2019Watersports

This article was written by Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist, and dive travel writer. Follow her adventures at www.kathryncurzon.com

New Zealand is rightly known as one of the world’s best adventure and wilderness destinations, with stunning environments above and below the waterline.

While Australia might get the dive crowds, there are unmissable dives in New Zealand, including one of the world’s top 5 dives, according to Jacques Cousteau.

Read our article about New Zealand diving to find out more.

The Rainbow Warrior, Bay of Islands

Bay Island Cod

Once a protest vessel for Greenpeace, the Rainbow Warrior was sunk by French government spies in 1985 while she was docked at the Auckland waterfront.

She was refloated and sunk off Matauri Bay as an artificial reef and is a famous wreck dive that offers vibrant pink jewel anemones, moray eels, and plenty of fish.

Island Bay Jewel Anemobes

Sitting at 27m depth and with mild currents, this wreck is suitable for intermediate divers.

Poor Knights Islands, Tutukaka

This jewel in the crown of New Zealand diving is simply unmissable and was once named one of the world’s top 5 dives by Jacques Cousteau.

Accessible from Tutukaka, the Poor Knights Marine Reserve is absolutely teeming with life. 

From huge schools of fish and abundant stingrays to occasional mantas, orcas, and more nudibranchs than you can imagine.

Whether you dive there in summer or winter, there are seasonal highlights to discover and plenty of snorkeling options for non-divers.

As with most dive sites in New Zealand, the summer and winter water temperatures vary considerably. 

Make sure you choose a good quality wetsuit. A 5mm full-length wetsuit with a 5mm shorty you can wear on top is an excellent option for all seasons.

Mercury & Alderman Islands

The Alderman Islands, remnants of a volcanic complex, offer tunnels, pinnacles, and a variety of pelagic life, including huge schools of mackerel.

Offering similar dive highlights to the Poor Knights Islands, they are one of New Zealand’s top dives.

The nearby Mercury Islands are just as beautiful, with white sand beaches, a rugged coastline, and plenty of thriving marine life to discover.

The islands are suitable for both new and experienced divers.

Goat Island, Auckland

As New Zealand’s first marine reserve, Goat Islands has a reputation to live up to, and it does so very well.

Easy to access from Auckland, Goat Island’s waters are full of fish, and you’ll also find octopi, eagle rays, and stingrays.

Just make sure you go early in the day or avoid the weekends, as this is a perennial favourite with just about anyone in the Auckland area.

Taputeranga Marine Reserve, Wellington

Wellington Dive

Lying just offshore from Wellington city, the Taputeranga marine reserve in Island Bay is a real dive highlight of the area.

There are rocky outcrops and pinnacles covered in jewel anemones, and you’ll likely be followed by inquisitive blue cod that come close to your mask.

Look carefully among the kelp, and you might see a resident conger eel.

As a bonus, the dive entry point is a few short steps from the dive center, meaning you can walk from the rocky beach into an underwater paradise with ease.

Mikhael Lermontov, Marlborough Sounds

Marlborough Sounds

This 20,000-tonne Russian cruise liner sank in 1986 under mysterious circumstances and is one of the world’s largest diving wrecks.

She lies intact at 36m, and her impressive size, at 175m length, makes her a unique and exciting dive.

You can penetrate the wreck and dive within the ballroom while admiring the spiral staircases and chandeliers.

Both recreational and tech dives are possible at the wreck. Given that visibility can be as low as 5m, it’s best to do an orientation dive before attempting wreck penetration.

Kaikoura, South Island

Kaikoura Albatross

The proximity of the continental shelf to Kaikoura has created a biodiversity hotspot where whales, dolphins, sharks, and fish life are found in abundance.

As well as offering day boat trips to see sperm whales and swim with dolphins, this small coastal town has some great dive sites for all experience levels.

By far, the best highlight to be had is swimming or diving with cheeky New Zealand fur seals.

Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is renowned for its majestic peaks, heavy rainfall, and waterfalls that spring up from nowhere after downpours.

Head underwater, and you’ll discover black coral trees at shallow depths, plus abundant crayfish, nudibranchs, and fish.

If you’re lucky, you might even see a great white shark passing by, which has been spotted by divers in the area.


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