AUCKLAND - New Zealand above sea level is pretty spectacular. Below sea level, it’e even more beautiful. Pity so few see it. But if you are a diver or snorkeler, New Zealand offers some awesome sites for you to explore.
New Zealand’s serpentine coastline is almost as long as that of the continental United States and thanks to the foresight of conservationists,
44 marine reserves have been created for everyone to enjoy. They range from the just announced Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, which plans to safeguard an area of 620,000 sq km in the Pacific, to coastal gems on three main islands and the Subant- arctic Islands in the southern ocean.
Here’s a list that expert drivers recommend you check out when you visit New Zealand:
Tawharanui Marine Reserve – Auckland
Beneath the wonderful landscapes and eco trails of the Tawharanui Peninsula native flora and fauna sanctuary is an undersea world that has been protected for 30 years – and it shows. The reserve is accessed from a stunningly beautiful beach and several rocky coves. The Tawharanui Reserve extends three kilometres along the coast and has fascinating sub-tidal habitats, including overhanging reefs, long tunnels and deep caves. Look out for large schools of red moki, blue maomao and red mullet along with snapper, John Dory, banded wrasse and goatfish.
Cape Rodney Okakaru Point (Goat Island) – Auckland
A tiny speck of land called Goat Island, revered by divers, became the focus of an intense study by conservationists in 1975, which led to New Zealand’s first marine reserve. Coming face to face with fearless granddaddy snapper, gnarly red lobsters, cheeky blue maomao and sunbathing stingrays at Goat Island has fuelled a lifelong passion for diving for many Kiwis. Marine scientists say lobsters double their num- bers every two years here and snapper are 30 times more plentiful.
Poor Knights Islands – Northland
New Zealand’s second marine reserve encompasses a rugged group of drowned volcanic lava domes with a remarkably varied ecosystem. The Poor Knights Islands have won accolades for their splendid undersea caverns, arches, tunnels and sheer cliffs. Diving pioneer Jacques Cousteau once described them as the best dive spot in subtropical temperate waters. Squadrons of graceful stingrays wing their way through archways past huge schools of trevally. Swarms of brilliant blue maomao and demoiselles engulf divers and then veer away. You will see subtropical species like spotted black grouper, mosaic moray and coral fish.
Mimiwhangata Coastal Park – Northland
A national marine treasure can be found in an out-of-the-way place on Northland’s east coast that offers a wonderful variety of sea life. Mimiwhangata Coastal Park extends 1000 metres offshore. Commercial fishing is banned but recreational fishing for some species has been permitted over the years, which scientists are monitoring. The park has complex reefs among the numerous rocky islets and
kelp forests. Look out for subtropical fish such as spotted black grouper, fox fish, surgeon and comb fish.
Whanganui a Hei (Hahei) – The Coromandel
The Coromandel Peninsula (two hours south of Auckland) is another favourite ma- rine playground – and a popular beach holiday destination. Lying on the eastern side of the peninsula, and affectionately known as Cathedral Cove Reserve, this protected area of idyllic beaches and many islands has an amazing diversity. You’ll see eerie kelp forests sway to and fro and lobsters scuttle about under shadowy ledges. Blue cod, butterfish, red moki and very contented snapper mooch about calmly amongst the colourful plant communities.
Above: Cathedral Cove Coromandel
Tonga Island – Abel Tasman National Park
Tonga Island is extremely popular with hikers on the Abel Tasman Track and kay- akers paddling from Marahau to Totaranui. Snorkellers and scuba divers can easily access the island in water taxis or private boats. Abel Tasman is New Zealand’s bus- iest national park and the thriving tourist industry makes it easy to get transport to Tonga Island, which is offshore from Onetahuti Beach. You’ll find this lovely part of the world great for spotting cute little penguins and cavorting with dolphins. Baby seals just love to roll over and play, mimicking your underwater antics with an impressive agility and grace. The best snorkelling in the reserve is around the smooth granite rocks between Tonga Quarry and Foul Point.
Above: Tonga Island in Abel Tasman National Park.
Hikurangi – Kaikoura Canyon
There are few places on earth that possess the magic of Kaikoura, the marine mam- mal capital of New Zealand. The nutriment-filled Kaikoura Canyon provides rich pickings of deep-water grouper and squid for giant sperm whales and the equally voracious southern right, blue, humpback and killer whales. Watch out for acrobat- ic dusky dolphins, as well as common and bottlenose dolphins. The rare Hector’s dolphin and fur seals also inhabit the coastal waters, interacting with humans and showing off their athletic skills.
Above: Hikurangi in Kaikoura Canyon
Punakaiki (Dolomite Point) – West Coast
Punakaiki, halfway between Greymouth and Westport, is the gateway to the dramatic limestone country of Paparoa National Park. Dolomite Point’s famous Pancake Rocks were formed 30 million years ago when lime-rich shells on the sea- bed were overlaid by soft mud, raised by earthquakes, and etched out by the sea, forming rock stacks and blowholes. You will find a wonderful slice of West Coast life here with wild rocky shores leading down to rolling, windswept seas. Diving is very dependent on weather and sea conditions, so local advice is needed. Blue penguins and Hector’s dolphins are common, and albatrosses, petrels, terns and gannets are often seen soaring on the winds and thermals.
Akaroa (Akaroa Harbour) – Banks Peninsula
This quiet corner of Akaroa Harbour, under Gateway Point, is a new marine reserve with a spectacular coastline of volcanic cliffs, wild sea caves and unusual rock stacks. The sea floor is between 18 – 30 metres deep, with good populations of blue cod, butterfish, moki, leatherjackets and white pointer sharks. Many whale species visit the area, including humpback, southern right and blue whales, and also common and dusky dolphins.
Ulva Island – Paterson Inlet, Stewart Island
Scenic Paterson Inlet is an ancient drowned river valley tucked in behind Oban in Half Moon Bay. At the entrance is Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara Marine Reserve, established in 2004. The mixing of warm subtropical and cold Subantarctic waters around Stewart Island produces a great diversity of marine life in the idyllic, secluded inlet. Seek out the rare, ancient, filter-feeding shellfish. Brachiopods that were abundant 300 million years ago can be found here. They live happily here among 260 varieties of seaweed. The vast seaweed meadows provide food and protection for the multitude: rock oysters, abalone, scallops, sea urchins, lobsters, octopus, carpet sharks, triplefin, wrasse, blue moki and southern pigfish.
Above: Marie reserve - Ulva
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