Paihia offers all the facilities and services that diving enthusiasts require. And it’s the ideal base for exploration of Northland’s top underwater attractions.
Just 45 minutes’ drive north of Paihia is Matauri Bay and the Rainbow Warrior wreck, one of New Zealand’s most famous dive sites. Back south, Tutukaka is well within reach for a day trip to dive the absolutely amazing Poor Knights islands, or if wreck diving is more your thing the ex-NZ Navy frigate HMNZS Waikato at Ngunguru. In the Bay of Islands itself, HMNZS Canterbury is within easy reach.
Canterbury in the Bay Of Islands
On our own aquatic doorstep lies HMNZS Canterbury, one of three former NZ Navy Leander-class frigates now serving a s dive wrecks. Canterbury was scuttled in 2007 in Deep Water Cove near Cape Brett and lies upright and intact.
With its superstructure between 27 and just 12 metres down, Canterbury is accessible to divers certified to 30m. Suitably qualified divers can explore the interior through holes cut in the structure for that purpose.
Today the Canterbury is encrusted with life and occupied by schools of small fish that find it a welcome refuge from larger predators. It’s a very accessible dive wreck, close to a sheltered and sandy Bay Of Islands beach that’s perfect for time on the surface during a day-long expedition.
A Rainbow Warrior at Rest
Out of infamy came this fabulous dive site 6km offshore from Matauri Bay: the Greenpeace ship sabotaged by French government agents at Auckland in 1985 with the loss of one life. In 1987 the Rainbow Warrior was sunk for good close to the Cavalli islands, and 35 years on from the outrage she serves as an artificial reef that’s a mecca for diving enthusiasts.
Experience the Rainbow Warrior with Paihia Dive. They’ll organise everything for you to enjoy a day trip that starts at 7.45am and ends by 4.00pm back in town. Have an unforgettable day of diving the wreck and surrounding seabed with its tunnels and caves produced by the area’s volcanic origins.
Ashore at the Cavallis there’s lunch and the chance for those not certificated to dive the wreck to do more basic dives or explore with snorkel.
The Rainbow Warrior is considered a year-round dive site, with water temperatures ranging from 15°C in late winter up to 22°C in summer. Visibility is around 15-20 metres and the maximum dive depth is 27 metres.
Underwater off the Tutukaka Coast
While the Rainbow Warrior is an internationally renowned dive wreck, the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve is a natural wonder beyond compare. Like the Cavalli Islands, the Poor Knights were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago, and the Reserve is replete with spectacular drop-offs, caves, arches and tunnels.
The Poor Knights lie close by the continental shelf-edge, where a warm current flows south and the water is nutrient-rich. Add the rugged undersea landforms that provide ideal habitats of all underwater description, and you have the environment for a rich array of marine life, all brilliantly on display to the suitably qualified diver.
Such is the Poor Knights Islands experience, there’s plenty for accompanying non-divers to enjoy: the abundant birdlife, the spectacular scenery, and the pleasure of an invigorating day aboard while friends and family are diving below.
The Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve is highly regulated. Refer to this DOC webpage for more information.
Before leaving the Tutakaka coast, there’s also the HMNZS Waikato wreck dive. Of course if you’re on a day trip from Paihia, it’s one or the other, and the Waikato may be the more practical option. Canterbury’s sister frigate was sunk in 2000 and lies off Ngunguru Bay at 28-30m deep with her shallowest parts at 12-14m. When scuttled the ship landed upright, but natural forces have produced some separation and a lean of 45 degrees.
From Paihia it’s a long day travelling to Tutakaka and then doing a day’s diving. It means a 6.00 departure and a 12 hour day before returning. To do the Tutukaka Coast dives you may prefer to stop over on your journey to or from Paihia. This summary merely illustrates what the suitably qualified diver has on offer during your time in Northland.
When planning your Bay of Islands or any diving holiday, always seek professional advice and talk to qualified dive operators about local conditions.