Diving the Poor Knights Island - New Zealand

After spending two weeks on the South Island looking for GSW (Great White Sharks), dolphins and fur seals I was ready for a brief break, staying with a long time friend in Christchurch. Times are better now in ChCh after the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.

NORTH ISLAND - Auckland

Looking out of the plane's window I saw the rugged shorelines of the NE part of New Zealand's South Island streaming by. One more hour and I will be back on the North Island. Time for some diving.

South of Auckland lays the airport near Mangere where I picked up my rental car and headed straight North through the busy city of Auckland. The highway system layout caused me some problem finding the right exit to the North bound Highway #1 which led me straight to Whangarei and Tutukaka, a tiny spot on the map NE of Auckland.

This is my second visit to 'Tutu' for diving but this time I brought my better and newer underwater gear and cameras and was ready to film Sting Rays, Kingies (King fish) and possibly Orcas and sharks in HD.

No time was wasted to sign up for some diving on Poor Knights Islands (PKI), a chain of small, crumbled volcanic islands with numerous underwater and topside arches and caves just 17 km East of 'Tutu'. Signing in with Yukon Diving Charters was a must since they catered me so well the last time and Joel and Jo have made such a great effort to make their dream come true.

Just over a year ago they added a 48' catamaran to their original one-boat-fleet and offered a 2-day-liveaboard out at PKI.

My intro one-day diving tour to PKI had a rough start. The strong winds kept all other dive boats in the harbour, but Yukon Charters set sails and a pounding 1.5 hr. rough ride with waves up to 3 mts made a slow going to the islands.

Once we got closer to PKI the waves calmed down and made it even possible to set anchor in a protected cove on the South end of the islands near 'Calypso Bay' where Cousteau's 'Calypso' anchored during their expedition in the 1970's.

Colorful marine life 'Super-Sized' like this 30cm Scorpion fish - © Beat J Korner

Eagle Ray are found between the kelp to avoid being captured by Orcas - © Beat J Korner

The water was acceptably warm, although my dry suit came in handy. I had to adjust to the greenish and murky water. It was the time of salps spawning if you can call it that way since they are related to jelly fsh and reproduction may happening like that.

They cluster to a ball of 10-11 as individual transparent tubes with a pulsing opening at one end and some opaque internal organs for digestion and reproduction. Looking like a cake form but transparent. After they reproduce they start to disintegrate and become part of the plankton/sea soup consumed by smaller fish and other sea life.

Beside those salps there were plankton size fish larvae and jellies floating all over the reef and made it very murky but fun to watch.

We lacked the larger fish like Kingies, but saw moray Eels, Snappers, large schoals of Damsel fish and Pink and Blue MaoMaos (although both fish are not directly related as specie) and occasional Eagle Rays hiding in the kelp.

Around early March large amounts of Sting Rays gather around the islands for mating and that attracts Orcas. New Zealand has about 200 'resident' Orcas closely monitored by NZ biologist Dr. Ingrid N. Visser who has been watching and studying those cetaceans for eighteen years.

After two dives I was adapted to the new environment and was looking forward for more PKI diving the next few days.

Gathering of massive Sting rays at the 'Pinnacles' - © Beat J Korner

No day off for resting? The next morning I showed up at the Tutukaka Marina and signed in for the two days liveaboard cruise to PKI. The boat had a few locals and visitors and made it even more fun to be out-and-about.

Due to intense spawning of various marine creatures and rough weather took the best visibility away from us and we dived a few amazing locations full of fish and at one point a smal Geen Turtle, a rare sight on PKI.

On our last day Bruce, the captain of the catamaran aimed the boat towards the 'Pinnacle' an isolated rock 2-3 km South of the main clusters of islands, known for large king fish, silky sharks and Southern Sting rays. I recalled the scenes from BBC's Blue Planet I when the crew filmed the sting rays filming through the arches of the islands. Here we are, seeing the same scenario in real life. I set me back from the main group of divers led by Maria a long time occasional guide for the boat. She knew about my intentions and let me do what I came here for - filming sting rays in mating and gathering. The main pinnacle had a triple arch system which all led to some central point where the most of the rays hung around. We counted over 25 sting rays. The current wasn't bad so I could film some great clips of the rays sailing by.

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