23 kilometers off New Zealand's Tutukaka coast the Poor Knights Islands allegedly got their name from Captain Cook who thought they looked like a knight lying down - see above! They are now a marine nature reserve and a great place to see millions of schooling fish as well as a huge diversity of other marine life. Fresh from two weeks diving in the Solomon Islands the water temperature in December is a bit of a shock at 20C but Dive Tutukaka kits us out with 7 mm tunics and suits. We are visiting New Zealand's Northland and friends have told us that divers shouldn't miss the chance to dive here.
The islands have been uninhabited since the mid 1820s after the Maori tribe living there was attacked by a rival tribe while the warriors were away. The returning warriors were horrified to find their friends and family slaughtered or taken as slaves and placed a curse (tapu) on the islands. Now only visiting scientists are allowed to land.
Originally part of a massive volcanic caldera which extended to the mainland, the remaining islands now include spectacular arches and the worlds biggest sea cave. At lunchtime our boat takes us into the cave and we try out the amazing accoustics. Underwater the walls drop into the sea and other submerged pinnacles provide artificial reefs.
Much of this New Zealand coastline had been overfished, particularly for snapper. As a result sea urchins had proliferated and destroyed the kelp forests which are habitats to many fish. Creating the marine reserve has restored the snapper population and the kelp is also back with many other fish as a result.
The Poor Knights are also at a convergence of colder currents from the South and a warm current from Australia which increases the biodiversity hugely. When we are diving at the end of December southerly winds are keeping the warm current away but we still see large schools of fish.
Having only dived here for a day I can't claim to be an expert but still manage to see big schools of trevally, maomao (blue and pink), the smaller koheru bait fish in huge schools (top left above) as well as the two-spot demoiselles everywhere. The viz is a bit cloudy on our first dive as we swim along a wall but on the second it is clearer (10-15m) as we explore various pinnacles (Trevor Rocks). I experienced walls and gullies, passages through the kelp as well as the interesting pinnacles. We saw several eagle rays (above) and a long tailed stingray. Moray eels poke their heads out of cracks and scorpionfish sit on the bottom waiting for prey. We also see a number of nudibranchs and quite a variety of soft coral in the more shaded areas where the kelp does not grow.
Because we are diving with a mixed ability guided group I suspect that our dives are a bit limited but we still see a lot in two 52 minute dives. It was great to experience this famous dive location and would be interesting to visit with warmer currents to see the volume and variety of life that the Poor Knights are famous for.