Diving Tutukaka

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Tutukaka, New Zealand


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Country: New Zealand  Area: New Zealand

Water Temp: 15 - 23°C (59 - 73°F)

Visibility: 10 - 40m (33 - 131 ft)

Depth Range: 10 - 40m (33 - 131 ft)

Stingray Mating - Dec to Feb

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Tutukaka is the gateway to the amazing Poor Knights Islands rated by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world!

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Tutukaka is on the beautiful Northland coast of New Zealand. Its marina is the perfect departure point for all sorts of trips out to the famous Poor Knights Islands. These islands were created 10 million years ago by a series of volcanic eruptions and have been eroded down to create the stunning islands and rock formations that you can see now.

The diving here is so excellent as the Poor Knights are influenced by a warm current that comes south for the Coral Sea in Australia, so the water temperature is always warmer than that of the coast of New Zealand. It means get a great range of tropical marine life either settling or passing through in the summer months such as manta rays, humpback whales and sometimes even turtles!

A coral in Tutukaka, Credit

The climate is too cold for corals to form but there are dramatic kelp forests in its place and many rocky formations that crustaceans and smaller fish can hide and crate homes in.


The weather here is agreeable year round so there is no bad time to dive this world class area. Unlike coral reefs where the life is similar year round the temperate environment around the islands changes dramatically with the seasons.

The summer months have the most agreeable diving with the warmest water and good visibility, usually averaging 20m and mild air temperatures. This is the time when the tropical visitors come down from Australia with the warm water.

From May until September the water cools to its coldest of 15C but the visibility is at its best, it is winter so there will be cold, windy days, but when the weather is calm the visibility can reach 40m!

From September to December the water will slowly warm back up, which triggers many plankton blooms and signals many species to spawn and this is when invertebrate life on the walls is at its best. All this activity reduces the visibility to 10m but also attracts a lot of fish life and plankton feeders.

Whale Bay, Tutukaka Coast, Credit

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Day Trips

Day trips are run to the Poor Knights Islands every day, weather permitting. There is also an option of visiting the nearby wrecks of the Tui and the Waikato. Most day trips to the Poor Knights are a two dive day and start early in the morning with a 45-60min boat ride out to the islands and lunch is provided during the surface interval.

Approaching Tutukaka, Credit

Underwater around the Poor Knights there is a unique marine environment where sub tropical and temperate species co exist. This obviously provides a diverse reef life and is amazing to explore.

There are many, many sites to choose from around these islands all have morays, nudibranches, pink maomao, snapper and kingfish.

The best deep site of the area is Sugarloaf. This solitary rock is to the south of the Poor Knights and is a great place to see whales, huge schools of Kingfish and possibly sharks. There is a crack at 15m called Stingray City and can sometimes have 50 or more gliding gracefully around.

During the summer months there are huge gathering of Stingrays in the arches of the islands. These gatherings are believed to form for mating purposes and are around the arches for protection from the hunting Orcas. While these gatherings are taking place you can dive with hundreds of stingrays swimming on every side of you and they can get very close! This is a spectacular experience.

The wrecks are both deep dives and have minimum dive restrictions on them. You should check with your dive centre first before diving.

Scorpion Fish, Credit

The Tui sits at 32m and was purposely sunk as a dive attraction in 1999.The Waikato was also purposefully sunk for divers in 2000 and she sits at 28m.

Both wrecks are close to Tutukaka with a short journey of about 15mins so are dived individually with a surface interval back at shore. This gives the flexibility to just take part in one dive in the day or many.

Liveaboard Trips

There are options to do 2-4 day liveaboards which although visit the same sites as the day trips allow you to explore the islands more thoroughly. They offer 2 or 3 dives a day and are at a more relaxed pace as they eliminate the travel times each way. This is a great option for dedicated divers but not so good for families or those travelling with non divers.

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How to Get there

The closest international airport is in Auckland which is a 2.5 hour drive from Tutukaka. There are many coaches and buses that travel the route between Auckland and Whangarei.

The lake and the Boat, Credit

Whangarei is northlands largest city and a 25 min drive from Tutukaka. There are many buses between the two and also some dive centres provide a shuttle bus at extra cost.

The alternative if you are visiting for a few days or would like to tour the rest of Northland after diving is to hire a car. There are many car rentals in Auckland and also Whangarei that you can use.

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Other Activities

Most other activities besides diving on the Tutukaka coast revolve around the sea. The main activities available are surfing, kayaking, sightseeing cruises or fishing.

Surfing is a popular watersport in the Tutukaka region and most surfers head to Sandy Bay or Ngunguru Bar. You don’t have to be an experienced surfer to give this sport a try, it’s possible to take surf lessons and it a fun activity for all the family.

Mermaid Pools, Tutukaka, Credit

Kayaking is another great activity to take part in along the Tutukaka coast. It allows you to explore all the hidden beaches and see the spectacular landscape form the sea. You can a few options for hiring kayaks. You can take the kayaks out by yourself, hire a guide or take lessons if you have never kayaked before and wish to learn.

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Rating 10/10

Northern Arch - Poor Knight Islands.

Tutukaka11 Jan 2014 - 18 Jan 2014

Tutukaka is the harbor town for a trips heading out the the Poor Knight Islands. The Poor Knight Islands are a full nature and marine reserve, several Islands fully protected and uninhabited. They are full of history and lore and full of life!

The water here is affected by the east Australian current which causes the temperature to vary between 14 C winter and 22 C in the summer. Welcoming a host of temperate and seasonal tropical visitors. Since becoming a marine reserve life has exploded here and all sorts of temperate life calls the Knights home. All Boat diving with nil access to the Islands.

There are MANY dive sites around the Poor Knight Islands, each with its own features.

One of my personal favorite is Northern Arch, the photos here are all taken there.

Northern Arch is an Archway and Wall dive, depending on conditions and currents the dive plan can change here either side of the arch, around the point or through the arch and back. Max depth is around 43m at the bottom of the Arch which is 6-8m wide, the top of the arch is above the water level.

At times you can see Sharks and larger creatures swimming off the point of the arch (Mantas and Orca included).

In the Archway... any day you can get conditions to dive there, epic amounts of fish! (also Rays, eels and macro life) Kelp lined walls with helpful ridges around 10m, 20m and 30m.

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Janelle Pette

2 votes

Go to Tutukaka and then to Poor Knights Islands - it is amazing! Also it is summer in NZ so all the dive locations are in season x


Morgan Bennett

0 votes

My partner went there last year with Ocean Blue (www.oceanblue.co.nz) and absolutely loved it.

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