Sometimes in life, you just need to escape to—or rather, under the water. There’s nothing like immersing in the deep waters of an underwater world to truly feel at one with nature, and to make a few scaly friends, of course.
If exploring spectacular reefs bustling with marine life or ship wreckages floats your boat, you’re in luck. Our country is dotted with swell places to leave behind life on land and scuba the days away.
Grab your fins and tanks, here are New Zealand’s best scuba diving spots.
Once a luxurious Russian Cruise liner, the Mikhail Lermontov now houses schools of sea life and suchlike creatures. Despite sinking in 1986 in the Marlborough Sound’s Port Gore bay, parts of the colossal cruise ship are still very much intact and provide an ample opportunity for those with the scuba skills (and the guts) to explore the ship’s corridors, rooms and decks. As the biggest shipwreck scuba spot in the whole of Australasia, you can be sure that a dive here will be nothing short of impressive.
One of the most stunning freshwater diving experiences in the country is found nestled in the Nelson Ranges at Riwaka River. Flowing under the Tākaka Hill, this river is a natural portal into an impressive underground world called the Riwaka Resurgence, a massive playground of deep pockets of water, caves, tunnels and caverns. In the chambers, you’ll also find impressive rock falls and formations made of mainly of limestone, stalactite and stalagmite—which add to the natural grandeur of this otherworldly cave dive.
A favourite destination for many Kiwis to get up and close with all things underwater is none other than the iconic Goat Island marine reserve. However, if snorkelling or taking the glass bottom boat around this area isn’t getting you quite close enough to the bustling marine life, a scuba dive here will certainly do the trick. Grab your flippers, tanks and goggles and prepare to rub fins with the snappers that call this beaut of a spot home.
Bay of Plenty
While most of the marvelling at White Island is done above sea level, this volcanic island is also incredibly magical to explore underwater. With just 321 metres of the tip of the volcano sticking up making the island that we know, the rest is hidden beneath the waves, just waiting to be explored. In the surrounding marine reserve area are the Volker Rocks which were traditionally used as navigational guides by early voyagers. A dive around the reserve might also see you meet the many shark species and stingrays that swing by during the summertime, too.
Rainbow Warrior Wreck
Bay of Plenty
For an up-close encounter with relics of New Zealand’s history (as well as the odd sea creature), dive away among the ruins of the Rainbow Warrior vessel. Sunk in the Cavalli Islands in 1987, the wreckage still sits there today some 27 metres below sea level. Covered in colourful jewel anemones, teeming with schools of fish, and surrounded in a reef that’s clear from February to June, it’s no surprise that it’s one of New Zealand’s best, beautiful and most historically rooted scuba spots.
Poor Knight’s Islands
Contrary to the name, Poor Knights Island and its surrounding marine reserve is rich in oh-so-many ways. Abundant with all kinds of shellfish, urchins, anemones and more than 120 kinds of fish (as well as the odd stingray during the summer), the sponge beds and seaweed forests here are home to magnificent sea life. The magic of this place doesn’t stop there: underwater arches, rocky cliffs, tunnels and a tumbling giant ‘staircase’ make this reserve utterly enchanting. So much so that not only has it earned its spot on this list of New Zealand’s best scuba spots, it’s also been named by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top ten dives in the world.
An underwater museum of shipwrecks from bygone eras can be found off the coast of Aramoana. One of the southernmost places to visit in the country for a scuba adventure, this settlement and its history-filled harbour is propped up 27 kilometres north of Dunedin. Here you’ll find wreckages of the Mokoialying at a comfortable seven metres deep, the Paloonaas well as the Moanawreck hitting the 25-metre mark. Not only will you come up close with some relics of the past, but you’ll also have the chance to meet wildlife from carpet sharks to seahorses—if you’re lucky.
Venture off the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsular and you’ll be sweetly rewarded with Mercury Islands, a group of seven islands that form an underwater playground for all things scuba. Here you’ll find stunning reefs to caves, sand bottoms to steep drop-offs to explore while you make friends with the schools of maomao, trevally, kingfish and terakihi swimming by. These islands are also a stone’s through from the Coromandel’s many other scuba spots, like Cathedral Cove, Alderman Islands, Black Rock and Danger rock.
While you're at it, check out New Zealand's best hidden beaches.