Sunday, 9 January 2011

Diving in the Poor Knights

Poor Knights Map 

The waters around the Poor Knights (PKs) are said to be amongst the Top 10 or Top 5 or Top “whatever number you choose” dive sites in the world. The Poor Knights islands are about 200 kms north of Auckland and conveniently on our route around North Island, so a days diving is fitted into the schedule (what a surprise I hear you say!)

The PKs are about 12 miles off the coast and so 0845 am on a Sunday morning sees us both embarked on a boat trip with “Dive Tutukaka” which we have warned will be a “little bit choppy” until we get to the islands.

The actual maritime weather forecast for today says: “Strong Wind Advisory: Southeast 25 knots gusting 35 knots easing to 15 knots this afternoon. Rough sea becoming slight this afternoon……” and by the time we have exited the harbour, we are both of the opinion that “a little bit choppy” is something of an understatement. The wind is blowing the sea diagonally across our bow and the seas seem somewhat more than choppy to us inexperienced nautical types in this small 30m boat. The

Boat Stern

Boat Bow

captain’s solution seems to be to put his foot down (or whatever the nautical equivalent is) and to hit the weather head on and get there as fast as possible.

We arrive without being sick - we are convinced this due to the combination of a miracle and the sea sickness tablets which we (with hindsight) were careful to take as soon as we heard about the weather. In fact, the captain announces that it is the first time in the marine history of New Zealand that he has taken a boat load of divers to the PKs without one of them being sick! He feels the reason is more because of his skills than our miracle.

Poor Knights education time:

  1. why are they called the Poor Knights Islands?

    You have two answers. They were “discovered” by Captain Cook in the 1700s and although he charted and mapped them, he did not explain his choice of name.

    One theory relates to the silhouette of the island. Looking from the side, you could imagine that it looks rather like someone lying down (head on the right, chest in the middle, legs on the left).

    Poor Knights from the side 

    In olden times, a poor knight was buried on the surface rather than in a deep grave, creating such a silhouette. That some small pinnacle islands nearby are called “The Squires” is said to support this theory.

    Theory two is that when Captain Cook discovered the islands (let us ignore that native Maoris were living on the island at the time), the island was covered with Pohutukawa trees (locally called the New Zealand Christmas Tree) which were in blossom.


    You can see that they have red blossom and hence the whole of the top of the island was red in colour. He and his crew were eating mouldy bread lavishly covered with Red Jam as they sailed up to the islands (a dish known as a “Poor Knight”) hence….
  2. What is so special about them?

    Because they are islands, they have been isolated from flora and fauna changes on the mainland, both natural and many man introduced. Hence the flora and fauna is quite pure when compared with that found elsewhere in New Zealand.

    In order to protect the environment, no one is allowed to land on the islands and any non-native species (such as pigs) have been eliminated. If you wanted to, it would be hard to land because much of the island is steep cliffs

    Island 3 Island 1 Island 2

    In order to protect the seas around the islands, A marine reserve exists to a distance of 800m from the islands. This means no fishing or water pollution (discharge of toilets, throwing food waste overboard, feeding fish etc).
  3. The islands are in a warm current coming down from the North “The Eastern Australia Drift” but at certain times of the year, they are also in a current which brings up colder water loving animals – hence in the Autumn the waters can be home to both warm water fish thinking it is getting cold and cold water animals thinking it is still a bit warm (!) and vice versa in the Spring. Two categories of animals in the same place.

One of the largest sea entry caves in New Zealand exists in the island (there seem to be numerous “largest cave in the world / New Zealand / Southern Hemisphere”) – this one is


about 130m in length and has a unique diving ecology

If you really want to know more about the islands, their ecology and history then click here and here.

The Diving

Two dives were planned for today, both in a sheltered cove on the western side of Aorangi Island – the southern on the two main islands. Water temperature is about 19C so a minimum of a 7mm suit is required, for long dives, a dry suit would be better. Visibility was average at best at 30 metres, underwater surge can be quite strong.

Dive One was at Brady’s Cove this is essentially a kelp forest plus a long wall (known as the Meditation Wall) to one side proceeding South to North. Depths are down to 20m+.

Dive Two was at Trevor’s Rocks, a pinnacle out in the bay. The rocks got their name when Trevor discovered them by hitting them with his boat! Again the pinnacle is surrounded by kelp.

Kelp is a large leafed seaweed which generally grows in clumps or forests.

Kelp Clump

Its leaves are broad and quite tough.

Kelp Leaf

When growing in a “forest”, the clumps are close together. Kelp has a long stem which bends easily in the current

Kelp at trunk level

and divers can easily swim through the less dense forests

beneath the canopy top by pushing the stems aside. The fish which live beneath and around the kelp forests make

Fish in Kelp 2 Fish 3 in krlp 

use of the local ecology to hide / survive / hunt.

My summary of the dives was that it was really interesting diving through and around the kelp – a new experience for me. The fish were nothing special to anyone who has dived in the Red Sea and again, the Meditation Wall is fascinating if you have not seen some of the walls in the Red Sea. The caves are good, easy to get into and quite safe. The underwater surge makes the diving exciting in places and requires good depth control and slightly more weight when finning through shallow surge areas.

1 comment:

  1. I like that little orange fish! He does seem special--he has human-like eyes! Fran