This is the thirty second in a series of reviews of the best dive resort locations around the world. In this post, the focus is the San Juan Islands in the U.S. state of Washington.
In addition to this series on dive resort locations, the best worldwide liveaboard dive locations and services are reviewed in their own series. To check them out, or others in this series, click on Liveaboards / Resorts on the menu at the top and choose a title from the list.
Poor Knights Islands Diving
Location – Situated 24 km (15 miles) off shore from Tutukaka on the northeast coast of the North Island of New Zealand are the Poor Knights Islands. The two main islands and several smaller ones are volcanic in origin and up until the 1800s had a population of Maoris. Today they are uninhabited and at the center of a 2,400 hectare marine reserve created in 1981.
Undersea World – Reflecting volcanic origins, the seabed has a unique combination of walls, arches, boulders, pinnacles and caves. This undersea topography, in combination with a mixture of warm water currents coming from the east, with cooler water from the west, has resulted in very atypical flora and fauna for this latitude. Plant and invertebrate life is bodaciously colorful and diverse with red and green algae, kelp forests, numerous species of nudibranch, hydroid trees, tunicate colonies, anemones, gorgonians, finger and golf ball sponges, starfish and urchins. Poking their heads out of nooks and crannies are the likes of blennies, gobies, triple fins, lizardfish, and yellow and speckled moray eels. Schooling fish include trevallies, snappers, king fish, koheru. demoiselles, and pink and blue maomaos to go along with an impressive list of other fish, highlights of which includes John Dories, toad stool and black spot groupers, butterfly perch, Lord House coralfish, red moki, sharp nosed puggers, leather jackets, pig fish, boar fish, sandagers and green wrasses. In all there are 125 species of fish. Poor Knights Islands is also home to bull rays and long and short tailed stingrays. In summer when the stingrays are mating, Orcas come and eat them, skillfully avoiding getting stung. In addition, bronze whaler sharks are also often sighted.
Jacques Cousteau rated Poor Knights Islands in the world’s top 10 dive sites.
Seasons and Conditions – Winter air temperatures run from 12-17°C (54-64°F) and in summer rise to 22-30°C (71-80°F). Correspondingly, water temperatures in winter are 14-16°C (57-61°F) and in summer rise to 20-23°C (68-73°F). The rule of thumb is that divers will want at least a 3 mm wetsuit in summer and 5 mm in winter. Most of the year visibility is quite good at 30 meters (100 feet) or more. The plankton blooms with the warm water from September to January and at that time visibility dips to as low as 10-15 meters (35-50 feet).
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Selected Poor Knights Islands Dive Sites
Northern Arch: to 60 meters (200 feet), steep walls, huge range of colorful invertebrates and fish, resident stingrays, 10-30 meter (35-100 feet) visibility, experienced level
Middle Arch: to 20 meters (66 feet), schools of demoiselles, moray eels, perch, grouper, Bernie’s Cave is to the left, 10-30 meter (35-100 foot) visibility, all levels
Red Baron Caves: to 25 meters (82 feet), arches and rocky outcrops, very colorful hydroids, sponges, anemones, corals, nudibranchs, 10-30 meter (35-100 foot) visibility, all levels
Nursery Cove: to 18 meters (60 feet), many juvenile fish, good for snorkeling, “The Labyrinth” is off the southern point, 10-30 meter (35-100 foot) visibility, all levels
Blue Maomao Arch: to 18 meters (60 feet), schooling blue maomaos in the east entrance, sunlight filtration for beautiful visual effect, 10-30 meter (35-100 foot) visibility, all levels
Rikoriko Cave: 130 meters (425 feet) long, 80 meters (260 feet) wide, 26 meters (85 feet) maximum depth, largest sea cave in the southern hemisphere, boulders on floor, kelp forests, giant snappers, groupers, moray eels, unique plant life, interesting mixture of day and night species of fish, 15-25 meter (50-83 foot) visibility, dozens of dive sites around the cave, good night dive, experienced level
Hen and Chicken Island: to 25 meters (82 feet), many nudibranchs and stingrays, 30+ meter (100+ foot) visibility, beginner level
Landing Bay Pinnacle: to 45 meters (148 feet), pinnacle from 5 meters (15 feet) down, 10-30 meter (35-100 foot) visibility, advanced level
Maomao Arch: to 20 meters ( 66 feet), schools of maomaos and demoiselles, 10-30 meter (35-100 foot) visibility, all levels
Sand Garden: to 20 meters (66 feet), 10-30 meter (35-100 foot) visibility, all levels
Getting There – Whangarei Airport is the nearest domestic airport. From there, taxi, shuttle and car rental services are available for the 33 km (21 mile) trip to Tutukaka.
Auckland is a 2.5 hour drive from the north and the Bay of Islands is a 1 hour drive to the south.
Diving – There are several dive shops in Tutukaka. These two come highly recommended:
- Dive! Tutukaka
- Yukon Dive
Housing – Several hotels are available in Tutukaka starting at $80/night. This website can introduce them and arrange booking: Tutukaka Hotels
Tutukaka Things To Do (aside from scuba diving)
Only around 25 people live in Tutukaka, but with the 80,000 in the Whangarei District and tourists, a quaint village has been developed to enjoy. The Tutukaka coastline has beautiful pristine white sand beaches and rocky areas great for hiking and exploring. Seaside activities like surfing, kayaking, cruising, fishing and boating are popular. There are seafood and pizza restaurants. Shops include those selling sporting gear and clothing, and arts and crafts. Several wineries are also nearby.
Poor Knights Island Photos
With the dozens of dive sites, macro life, colorful, diverse reef life, lots of fish and scenic shore-side environment, there are many excellent photo opportunities. For information and reviews of diving cameras, click here: Best Underwater Cameras Compared and Reviewed
A cushion for emergencies provides peace of mind when on vacation. I recommend this diving insurance as they have worldwide coverage and provide scuba divers a quality insurance and medical assistance service.
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