Kayaking at the Poor Knights. © David Kirkland

Tutukākā and the Poor Knights: national treasure

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We are a maritime nation. New Zealand is blessed with its coastline and most of us find some way of enjoying ourselves in, around and under the water.

One of the best places for those who want to experience the full range of watery pastimes is the east coast of Northland and, in particular, Tutukākā, just to the north-east of Whangārei.

This little settlement really jumps in the summer – a natural waypoint for yachts en route up and down the coast and holiday-making landlubbers alike.

Just north of Tutukākā, Matapōuri marks the start of a chain of superb, white-sand beaches that scallop the coastline north to the Bay of Islands and beyond.

Tutukākā is also the hub of an extensive network of fishing and diving charters. Game fish species abound in the deep blue Pacific water that washes this coast: at Tutukākā, you can hook up with a boat running everything from day charters to longer excursions as far north as the Three Kings.

Tutukākā is also the gateway to the diving spots of the Northland coast – ‘Twin Wrecks’, two ex-navy vessels sunk to provide diving wrecks, and, of course, the Poor Knights Islands.

Every dive spot around our coastline has its advocate in the stakes for the best in the country. But most divers will agree that the Poor Knights is unrivalled, with the happy coincidence of their proximity to the continental shelf, the influence of a warm ocean current and the unusually good visibility that is present year-round – not to mention the sheer variety of terrain.

There are over 50 notable scuba diving spots around the island, named by pioneering divers and charter boat operators over the years, which cater to snorkellers and the novice scuba diver (Nursery Cove, for example) and to more advanced divers (such as the adrenaline-pumping Wild Beast Point). In between, there are archways, drop-offs, canyons, kelp forests and the giant, acoustically fantastic Rikoriko sea cave (allegedly the largest in the world), which is nearly as interesting to visit on the surface as under it.

Every known northern species of fish is not only present but also thrives and some species properly distributed in the waters far to the north of New Zealand are encountered here, too.

Such was the obvious uniqueness of the area that for years after they first became known, the Knights enjoyed a voluntary but almost universally observed spear-fishing ban among divers, and was sensitively treated by line fishermen. In 1981, they were made New Zealand’s second marine reserve.

They’re a national treasure and they’re just waiting for you to take the plunge...

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