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Diving in New Zealand

Two islands with completely disparate diving, New Zealand's waters offer a wealth of wrecks, fjords and kelp forests that will evoke an awe inspired reaction. New Zealand is truly a land of plenty above and below the water.

Diving in New Zealand

Quick facts

From the sub-tropical reefs and beaches of the North Island to the unique topography and temperate waters of the South Island, it could take a lifetime to uncover all the scuba diving sites along New Zealand’s coastline. You can dive offshore at the Poor Knights Islands or explore fiords, wrecks and sub-tropical reefs, or navigate through kelp forests and swim with vast schools of fish. Simply put, New Zealand is a dream dive destination. It’s also a land of stories, were the Maori culture runs deep and common Maori terms are part of the local vernacular – kia ora (hello) is a handy start for the visitor. When you’re not diving you can try your hand at bungee jumping, river rafting or hiking through some of the many parks and reserves.

Recommended training

The PADI Wreck Diver, PADI Deep Diver and PADI Boat Diver courses are natural choices for enjoying diving in New Zealand. The PADI Dry Suit Diver course may be a good idea if diving in the South Island.

When to go

Diving happens all year in New Zealand. The weather is subtropical in the far north to temperate in the south. Warm, sunny summers are followed by mild and wet winters. Average temperatures in the summer are from 10-18°C/50-64° F while winter brings 3-10°C/37-50° F.

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Where to dive

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Bay of Islands – As the name suggests, dive sites are plentiful in the Bay of Islands. Spectacular wreck diving can be had on either the HMNZS Canterbury or the Rainbow Warrior (Greenpeace’s flagship vessel, bombed by the French Secret Service). Both wrecks are now encrusted in stunning colourful jewel anemones, abundant in fish life and beautiful reefs. This area is rich in New Zealand history and a must see for all visitors. Poor Knights Islands – As a protected marine reserve, there is spectacular underwater topography including drop offs, walls, caves, arches, tunnels and an abundance of marine life. The sub-tropical climate and ocean currents mean the archways are teeming with blue maomao, snapper, kingfish, morays and brilliantly colored nudibranchs and often frequented by tropical species such as turtles, mola mola and manta rays in the warmer months. It truly is a photographer’s dream. With opportunity to see orca feeding on the many sting rays that inhabit the area, the Poor Knights Islands is a unique experience that should be on everyone's bucket list. The Coromandel Peninsula - Dotted with islands, this coastline provides many healthy dive sites. Hiding inside the kelp and crevasses you will find trevally and blue maomao. In the summer months large kingfish school with giant boar fish, john dory and tarakihi. A great variety of other marine animals inhabit these waters from moray eels, stingrays, wrasse, demoiselles, porcupine fish, snapper and many other vibrant species. Goat Island, Auckland – New Zealand’s oldest marine reserve features a variety of environments, including rocky shores, deep reefs, underwater cliffs, canyons and sand flats. Look for blue cod, snapper, crayfish, seaweed forests, sea squirts, anemones, sponges and shellfish. The South Coast, Wellington - The South Coast is a favorite for Wellington shore divers. Rocky reefs and copious marine growth makes the area an attractive breeding ground for a wide variety of marine life. Long Island, Marlborough Sound - Named by Captain Cook, this marine reserve is teeming with life and home to giant crayfish, curious blue cod, wrasse, triplefins and leather jackets - just to name a few. Mikhail Lermontov, Marlborough Sound – Sunk under mysterious circumstances in 1986, this Russian cruise liner now lies fully intact on her starboard side. Diving on the Mikhail Lermontov is a fantastic experience, with many areas accessible without requiring penetration. For those with the training and experience this dive site will provide many opportunities to explore her every corridor and deck. Kaikoura, South Island - In the shallow waters off the rocky coastline you can dive with playful New Zealand fur seals in the kelp beds. Dusky dolphins are residents here and sperm whales can be seen regularly. Aramoana, Dunedin - Nestled amongst the macrocystis kelp forest lies several scuttled ship wrecks. Divers can explore the sponge encrusted wrecks whilst looking for seahorses, nudibranchs, eels, crayfish and carpet sharks. Diving here is made unique by the seven gills sharks that occasionally swim by, curious cod, greenbone, blue moki, wrasse and perhaps the most special of visitors - the New Zealand hooker sea lion. The area is also a voluntary marine reserve to ensure it remains at its best for divers. Milford Sound - This spectacular area of Fiordland is stunning both above and below the water. Dive through a blurry fresh water layer to discover crevasses full of crayfish, extreme drop offs and enormous boulders. Always keep an eye on the deep water where a pod of dolphins or playful fur seals are often seen. Brightly colored spiny sea-dragons stand out underwater with schools of demoiselles, leather jackets and the much photographed jason mirabilis nudibranch. Rarely seen in such shallow waters, giant black coral trees break up the inner fiord rock walls to create a dream location for divers. Stewart Island - The famous kelp forests feature seals, sea lions, seahorses, blue cod and is a favorite among macro photographers.

What to see

New Zealand’s nutrient rich waters attract a variety of life, however the highlight for many divers are the spiny sea dragons which dwell in the spectacular Milford Sound. While New Zealand is a sanctuary for macro life such as nudibranchs, sea sponges and coral, there are also larger marine species that grace the waters. The warmer waters of the South Island attract vast schools of tropical and large pelagic fish that lure species such as bronze whaler and mako sharks, as well as tuna, kingfish and marlin.

There is nothing quite like diving through the serene kelp forests of the South Island's Aramoana Mole dive site, where you can glide through giant stems of kelp that wave in the current searching for the sun.


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New Zealand is located 900 miles (1500km) from Australia and is divided into two differing islands, the North and South. The climate of the North Island is a make-up of warm tropical weather, whereas the south island has a cooler climate with many fjords and glaciers. New Zealand has some of the world’s most stunning landscapes due to its violent geologic make-up and is the setting for many books and films.

The Maori tribes are the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, however due to the country's settlement by European colonies throughout the years there is a distinct European feel and culture. Therefore the main languages are English and Maori.

New Zealand is a member of the British Commonwealth, yet is run by a cabinet parliament with the elected Prime Minister John Key.

Other attractions

Famed as the set of Lord of the Rings, New Zealand has so much more to offer than just diving, with some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. Milford Sound in the south island is a fjord that is atmospheric at any time of day with dolphin and whale watching boats operating in the area; it’s an opportunity to see these huge cetaceans from above the water. It is also advised to visit Queenstown for those with a strong stomach for heights. Bungee jumping, river tours and skydiving make the south island city the ‘adventure capital of the world’. For those who have access to their own transport, the roads around the country lead to treasures around every corner, make sure to sample some of the premier wines from the regions of Hawke’s bay and Marlborough. Yet perhaps the most enriching experience to have in New Zealand is to immerse yourself into the Maori culture and to interact in their way of life, whether playing a game of rugby or participating in indigenous ceremonies.

Getting there

Traveling to New Zealand is a long journey for those travelling from the USA and Europe, however the journey itself is simple. There are seven main airports that operate to international airports around the world. Most international visitors arrive in the major hubs of Auckland Airport or Christchurch Airport. However, flights from Australia or the Pacific Islands arrive at New Zealand's smaller international airports. Once you have arrived in New Zealand it is easy to organise transport around the two islands with fantastic public transport.


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Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.

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