Diving the Bay of Islands

With hundreds of islands, unspoiled sub-tropical reefs, beautiful coastlines and over 35 marine reserves, New Zealand is quickly rising to the top as one of the world’s ‘go-to’ spots for diverse, fun and adventurous dives.

Whether you are an experienced diver looking to explore a broad range of terrains, or a beginner getting ready for your first scuba dive, New Zealand offers a variety of options, especially around the iconic Bay of Islands.

Warm currents that pass through the Bay make it an attractive location during both winter and summer months. The diversity of wildlife that ensues, including dolphins, fur seals, whales, penguins, and schools of fish adds another layer of exoticism perhaps not expected in this part of the world. Especially interesting to experienced divers are Shipwreck dives, with the notable ones being the Rainbow Warrior and the HMNZS Canterbury.

The Rainbow Warrior shipwreck, Cavalli Island, New Zealand The Rainbow warrior shipwreck, and its characteristic hull, sitting on a sandy bottom at 26m.

Dive the Cavalli islands

The Rainbow Warrior was a Greenpeace flagship, which has since come to symbolise ‘man vs. nature’ for many New Zealanders. The Warrior was bombed by a group of French agents in the 1980’s, who sought to sabotage Greenpeace’s mission in Polynesia, during French nuclear test on the Mururoa Atoll.

Although the Warrior sunk in Auckland Harbour, it can now be found just north of the Bay of Islands. She was sunk there to act as a wreck dive and marine life sanctuary, and it is highly regarded as one of the best shipwreck dive in New Zealand. Sitting on the sandy floor of the Cavalli Islands at a depth of 26m, it's an easy dive around most of this wreck. With an abundant sea life, such as Big-eye Cavefish and large Snappers, colourful corals and anemones, it is a much sought-after diving experience.

The HMNZS Canterbury was a Royal Navy Frigate in operation since the early 1970’s on peacekeeping missions. It had circumnavigated the Earth a total of 44 times, racking up an impressive 960,000 nautical miles in its lifetime, before it was ‘laid to rest’ in the Bay of Islands.

HMNZS Canterbury shipwreck, Deep Water Cover, New Zealand. The bridge of the HMNZS Canterbury. Note the flourishing encrusted flora, covering the walls albeit sunk recently in 2007.

Shipwreck diving in Deep Water Cove

The HMNZS Canterbury is equally regarded as one of New Zealand’s best wreck dives. She was sank in 2007 in Deep Water Cove, and lays upright at a depth of 37m, with the highest point reaching just 13m under the surface. The sheer size of the wreck (113m in length), together with entry points purposefully cut into the hull, the wide range of depth and swim through opportunities, make it as a must-do for shipwreck dive enthusiasts.

Swimming in and around the Canterbury, divers can find several schools of fish, and vibrant coral in any one of its nooks and crannies. As its marine inhabitants have taken up residence, the coral encrustations also continue to grow, making the HMNZS a dive spot well worth returning to.

Jewel anemones, encrusted on a ship rail, Bay of Islands, New ZealandPink Jewel anemones, encrusted on a ship rail.

The sub-tropical temperatures and a ban on fishing in the Deep Water Cove area have resulted into a significant increase in coral and fish life around the vessel, including large schools of Snapper, Sweep and Demoiselles. With continued care and preservation, the HMNZS wreck site is set to become even better with age.

Getting to the Bay of Islands

Most visitors to the area base themselves in Paihia, a lovely beach town in the center of the Bay of Islands. From Auckland, it's a 200 km drive, easily covered on a day trip. If you feel like going on a leisurely pace, stop at the towns of Orewa, Warkworth, and Whangarei. They offer many attractions, from hot springs, to native subtropical and dry forests, or scenic drives along the Ocean.

Paihia an ideal place to chill out, with recreational activities for all, and a vibrant dinning scene. If you're not a diver, spend a day in the Waitangi National Reserve to learn about the Maori culture and the early history of New Zealand, or visit the nearby historic towns of Russell, and Kerikeri.

The slightly more adventurous can saddle up, as there are several horse centres in and around Paihia. Rides go through the nearby forests, and feature beautiful farmland and ocean views. If your thirst for active week-end breaks is still not satisfied, marine life can be appreciated above water, during a kayak or sailboat excursion. The area has regular sights of wild dolphins, with occasional pods of Orcas; if anything, the view of the coastline is well worth the effort.

The Bay of Islands, on the way to a dive spot.View of the Bay of Islands, on the way to a dive spot.

Fancy scuba diving ?

With more than 144 islands, over 200 prime dive spots, a rich flora and fauna the bay of Islands marine reserve is an attractive location for divers from around the globe. Reef, Cave and Shipwreck dives provide a unique playground for experienced divers, with a range of depths and terrains that will make their day memorable. First time divers are not left on the side line either; the rich fauna, accessible within a 10 meter range, will not disappoint new comers. After all, swimming with dolphins or watching fur seals swirling a mere meter away, no need to be a dive master.

A dolphin photographed during a dive in the bay of IslandsDolphins are common during dives in the bay of Islands. If you're a newbie, that may well be the highlight of your holidays.

Scuba diving has a lot of specifics. Skills and certifications being the basic ones, experienced divers might want to come with their own gears, while others need to get dressed up head to toes. So there's a little bit of prep-work to check where and how deep your experience allow you to go. It's best asking a pro.

    Diving the Bay of Islands

Craig operates a dive shop in Paihia, if you have kimshi iPhone App, you can send him a direct message Open in App, or take a closer look at his Reef and shipwreck dives.

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photos Craig Johnston ©
text kimshi ©