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Diving in North Island, New Zealand

The cool inviting waters off New Zealand’s North Island beckons divers with its gently swaying kelp, colorful walls, bubbling volcanoes and dives to remember for a lifetime.

Diving in North Island, New Zealand

Quick facts

The array of dive sites available at North Island is positively mind-boggling, ranging from kelp forests, wrecks, caves, lakes and even unique dives around a live volcano. North Island’s subtropical climate is perfect for year-round diving but to see bigger creatures like whale sharks or manta rays, you have to dive during summer. Around North Island, water temperature ranges from 64-75˚F (18-24˚C) depending on the season and location and underwater visibility can be outstanding at some areas, stretching beyond 100ft (30m).

Most divers beeline for Poor Knights Islands upon arriving at North Island. Lying off the east coast of North Island, the Poor Knights Islands are volcanic rocks in a protected nature reserve. Dive sites here consist of archways, vertical walls and stretches of gently waving kelp. With nutrient rich currents passing through from Australia, marine life is abundant making it one of the best diving destinations in North Island.

White Island should also be high on your diving list. Located in the Bay of Plenty, White Island is actually a live volcano. During your dives, you can see underwater steam vents and at the same time, be swarmed by schools of fish. The dive sites here consist of pinnacles, walls and also a swim-through. Travelling slightly further from White Island will lead you to the Volkner Rocks and Liassons Reef which are also great dive sites.

Another area that is a delight for divers is the Bay of Islands which are close to the northern tip of North Island. The area has 144 islands and plenty of great dive sites including famous shipwrecks like the HMNZS Canterbury and the Rainbow Warrior. Head here during the summer months for bigger marine creatures but even in the winter, there is still plenty to enjoy like huge stingrays.

Even further up north from the Bay of Islands, there are liveaboard trips to less visited areas like the Three Kings Islands and even further up to the northeast some 621 miles (1000km) away, the untamed and barely visited Kermadec Islands. Diving at these islands may take a bit more planning as trips are infrequent. Wild currents and open seas at these very remote areas mean that the diving is challenging, but very rewarding.

Other areas with diving at North Island are off Auckland and also off Wellington where there are wrecks and more kelp and sargassum covered dive sites. From Auckland, a boat ride will get you to Goat Island, Little Barrier Island, Great Barrier Island, Hen and Chicken Islands and also the Mokohinau Islands all of which have pretty good diving. Inland, there are dives at places like Lake Taupo and there is also cave diving for qualified explorers.

When to go

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Water temperature

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Where to dive

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What to see

Big schools of fish are frequently seen around the healthy waters off North Island whether you are diving around the kelp forests, boulders or walls. Commonly seen are the blue maomao, Australian herring, trevally and snapper. Yellowtail amberjack are also common and can sometimes be seen in large numbers together with other hunters like red snapper. Giant stingrays are often seen resting amongst boulders or proudly swimming around. Bullnose eagle rays also frequent the kelp forests looking for shellfish and crustaceans.

Animals like whale sharks, manta rays and also turtles do visit North Island but only during summer when the water temperature is warmer. Shark sightings are year-round and usually that of bronze whaler sharks, nurse sharks, and oceanic whitetip sharks. Critter hunters will be delighted to find rock lobsters, leatherjackets, filefish, scorpionfish and a surprising variety of colorful nudibranch. Also look for multiple types of moray eels and bright yellow trumpetfish.


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North Island is quite simply the northern island of New Zealand and also the more populous of the two main islands. The city of Auckland on North Island is New Zealand’s most populated while the city of Wellington at the southwestern tip of North Island is New Zealand’s capital. North Island’s formal name is Te Ika-a-Māui, which means The Fish of Māui in Māori.

A volcanic plateau covers a large area of North Island and it has live volcanoes, lava plateaus and crater lakes. There are three active volcanoes which are Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Tongariro. Lake Taupo, a huge dormant caldera, is the main feature of this area. North Island lies in the path of the Pacific Ring of Fire and the boundary between the Indo-Australian and Pacific tectonic plates. As a result, some 20,000 earthquakes of various magnitude are recorded each year.

Earthquakes and volcanoes aside, North Island is a stunning travel destination for adventure seekers and even urbanites. Along the coastline are beautiful bays, rugged peninsulas, capes and islands. Within the island are wonderful nature parks, rivers, lakes and caves as well as vineyards which do well on volcanic soil.

Other attractions

Sky dive, hike, bike and drive through the wonderful terrain of North Island. Fans of Lord of the Rings will enjoy visiting elaborate movie sets like Hobbiton while those who enjoy cities will have lots to do in Auckland. Head to Rotorua for a mud spa or during winter, ski at Mount Ruapehu. Visit vineyards for leisurely wine tasting trips or head to Lake Taupo for the beautiful sights. Also head out to experience Māori culture and definitely learn the haka.

Getting there

Fly to the Auckland International Airport and hop on the bus network to get around or just rent a vehicle. There are also short internal flights to areas like the Bay of Islands.


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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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