Discover the best scuba diving in New Zealand

Offering everything from subtropical dives in the north to diving with seals and impressive fiords in the south, New Zealand is a wonderland for divers. There are countless dive sites to explore, including some of the world’s best wrecks, striking volcanic landscapes and rich kelp forests. New Zealand’s waters host sperm whales all year, plus dolphins, fur seals, abundant sharks, orcas and countless fish. All of which makes this tiny country one of the best places to go diving. Read on to find out more.

Top places to go diving in New Zealand.

The Rainbow Warrior, Cavalli Islands

Tucked away in the far north of New Zealand, the Bay of Islands is renowned for its idyllic beaches and warm waters full of life. Nearby, you will find New Zealand’s most famous wreck, the Rainbow Warrior. 

This Greenpeace vessel was on its way to protest France’s nuclear testing on the Mururoa Atoll when it was sunk by French saboteurs in 1985, in Auckland Harbor. After the bombing, the wreck was moved to the Cavalli Islands, where she has become a thriving artificial reef.

The Rainbow Warrior is home to a huge array of marine life and is one of the most popular dives in New Zealand. Sitting at 26 meters depth in mild currents, this is an ideal wreck for advanced divers.

HMNZ Canterbury, Bay of Islands.

Another excellent wreck in Northland, the HMNZ Canterbury was scuttled in 2007 to become an artificial reef and to help depleted fish stocks recover. Sitting on the sand at 32 – 36 meters, and in a no-take zone, the wreck has become a flourishing marine ecosystem.

The outside of the wreck is encrusted with bright pink jewel anemones and surrounded by huge schools of sweep, plus hunting kingfish and snapper. There are also large holes in the wreck that allow easy access to the interior, where you may find hiding crayfish.

Poor Knights Islands, Tutukaka.

If you only go diving at one place, make it the Poor Knights Islands. These unique islands offer some of the best subtropical diving in the world and were rated as one of the top ten dives in the world by Jacques Cousteau.

Lying 23 kilometers off Tutukaka, the Poor Knights Islands have numerous dive sites to choose from and offer excellent snorkeling as well. The waters are busy with massive schools of fish, stingrays, and countless vibrant nudibranchs. Seasonal visitors include manta rays and even orcas. All of which makes Tutukaka diving an unrivalled New Zealand experience.

Mercury & Aldermen Islands, Coromandel Peninsula.

Sitting on the east coast of the North Island, the Coromandel Peninsula is a much-loved summer playground for Aucklanders. This stunning area is dotted with islands and soft white sand beaches that are home to spectacular underwater landscapes. It offers some of New Zealand’s best warm-water diving.

If you like exploring submerged caves, pinnacles and drop-offs, take a trip to the Mercury Islands. The waters there host diverse fish life and seasonal currents attract whales, bronze whaler sharks, makos, stingrays, marlin, and other subtropical visitors.

The underwater scenery of the nearby Aldermen Islands rivals that of the Poor Knights Islands and offers over 30 dive sites. As well as having easy caves to dive, there are light-filled kelp forests and marine life similar to that of the Mercury Islands.

Taputeranga Marine Reserve, Wellington.

Lying just offshore from New Zealand’s capital city, the Taputeranga Marine Reserve is perfect for a quick dive day in-between exploring the city sights. Wellington might be small, but it packs a punch with its attractions, including its scuba diving.

Diving at this marine reserve is easy, with shallow dive features, deeper areas, and simple shore entries. There are rocky outcrops and pinnacles swathed in rainbow-hued anemones and you’ll likely be followed by inquisitive blue cod when you dive there.

Look closely among the kelp for octopi, conger eels and hiding fish. When you’re done exploring, enjoy the local cafes at Island Bay or head back to the city center to enjoy Wellington’s renowned foodie scene.

Mikhael Lermontov, Marlborough Sounds. 

The Mickael Lermontov is a huge 155 meters long and accommodated around 700 passengers during her time as a cruise ship. She sank after hitting rocks in the Marlborough Sounds in 1986 and is one of the largest modern diving wrecks.

Sitting at 37 meters deep, this wreck is for experienced divers only, but the rewards are well worth it. Many of the original furnishings are still present and the wreck is encrusted with life.

Kaikoura.

Lying just offshore from Kaikoura, the enormous Kaikoura Canyon reaches down to over 1200 meters and is swept by nutrient-rich currents that attract a staggering array of marine life to Kaikoura’s shores. 

This scenic coastal town north of Christchurch is one of the only places in the world where sperm whales can be seen all year and close to shore. Kaikoura’s rich waters also host numerous New Zealand fur seals, dusky dolphins, sharks and albatrosses.

Swimming with Kaikoura’s dolphins and seals is an unforgettable experience but leave time to go scuba diving as well. Kaikoura’s kelp forests are full of life and are often visited by seals.

Milford Sound, Fiordland

Sitting at the bottom of the world, forest-draped Fiordland is an international icon known for its steep, glacier-carved valleys and dense ancient rainforests. If you’re ready for a real adventure, take a road trip to Fiordland and go Milford Sound diving

Due to the area’s high rainfall and tannin-stained runoff, there is a layer of dark freshwater sitting on the surface of the fiords. This inky water allows light-sensitive species, normally only found at much greater depths, to thrive.

Milford Sound offers fascinating diving, where sheer cliffs plunge into dark waters and black corals thrive in the shallows. If you can take your eyes off Milford Sound’s moody landscapes, you’ll also find red corals, abundant crayfish and diverse fish life below the water. You may even see a great white shark passing by.

What experience do you need to go diving in New Zealand?

There are dive sites suitable for all experience levels in New Zealand, though some of the top dives are best suited to advanced divers. 

When is the best time to go diving in New Zealand?
You can go diving in New Zealand year-round, though January to June is the best time for warmer waters and subtropical marine life.

Best way / How to go diving in New Zealand
Most diving in New Zealand is conducted from day boats and as shore dives. Some charter boats offer multi-day liveaboards.

Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for Scuba Schools International (SSI), wrote this article.

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