It’s undeniable that New Zealand offers some of the most unique, diverse, and untouched places to explore on the planet. If you thought that the scenery from the Lord of the Rings was unrivalled, you only need to take a peek underwater to know that it’s also mirrored beneath the waves – and some of it is just a step off the beach – no boat required!
Shore diving in New Zealand is about as unique as you can get and for any diver that wants to experience a one-on-one with the underwater world, then this is the place to do it. Step away from the crowds and be at one with the fishes at these awesome New Zealand shore dive sites!
The name Aramoana is Māori for “pathway of the sea” and for wreck divers this is a must visit site. Among the kelp forests are several scuttled ship wrecks and an array of impressive marine life. If critters are more to your liking than wrecks, you won’t be disappointed as seahorses, nudibranchs, octopus, eels and crayfish are all common sightings. As well as carpet sharks, seven gill sharks cruising through are a highlight along with the blue moki and look out for the New Zealand Hooker sealion!
Goat Island Marine Reserve
Goat Island is located just north of Auckland and is undoubtedly one of New Zealand’s most famous shore dive sites. Goat Island was awarded Marine Reserve status in 1975 and it shows! Not only can divers expect to see an abundant and diverse range of marine life, but just a walk off the shore is a completely undisturbed underwater world.
Goat Island offers easy conditions, shallow depths and great visibility. There are a variety of habitats to explore, from rocky shores exposed at low tide, to deeper reefs, underwater cliffs, canyons and sand flats. Each individual habitat is home to a different selection of critters and fish which will keep underwater photographers entertained for dive after dive!
Look out for blue cod, huge snapper, crayfish, red moki, goat-fish and triple fins, as well as schools of parore, kahawai, sweep, silver drummers and trevally. Some of the more notable sightings around Goat Island include stingrays, eagle rays and occasional dolphins, seals and even orca can be seen in the area.
Goat Island’s Best Shore Dive Sites:
- ABC Bay– Enjoy a mix of kelp forests and cliff side in this bay which is home to stingrays and blue maomao.
- Shag Rock– This kelp-surrounded rock is a magnet for marine life.
- Waterfall Reef– Located at the southern side of the channel, look out for crayfish and schools of fish.
- Eagle Ray Flats– Huge snapper, eagle rays and plenty of fish are the highlight here.
- Yellow Sponge Garden– Plenty to explore and macro lovers will be in their element!
- Caves – Look out for colourful anemones, nudibranchs and sponges.
Shag Point offers several entry points located approximately 50km/31miles (by road) north of Dunedin. Shag Point boasts beautiful areas of reef and amazing kelp beds, visibility is variable here and the sandy bottom is easily disturbed. Shag Point is very exposed to the north and east so diving here should be in accordance with when the prevailing conditions are calmest. On a good day Shag Point is a delight with stunning marine life and the sun’s rays filtering through the surface make for excellent underwater photography opportunities.
Choose your entry and exit points carefully, especially when conditions are rough and rocky exits can be more challenging.
Wellington and the Southern Coast
Shore diving around Wellington and the Southern Coast is a dream for all levels of divers. The stunning beaches make an idyllic start to dives which is mirrored by the underwater word beneath the waves!
The coastline surrounding Wellington offers an interesting variety of dive sites for all levels of divers, including wreck dives. Some of the common marine life sightings here include; eagle rays, short-tailed stingray, smooth pipefish, kingfish, pot-bellied seahorse, common octopus, nudibranch, leatherjacket, John Dory and snapper.
Wellington and the Southern Coast dive sites:
- Taputeranga Marine Reserve is not to be missed, there is plenty to explore and a myriad of marine life species.
- Whitireia Park and Titahi Bay are suitable for beginners with stingrays and seahorses to be found at just 3 meters/10 feet.
- Wellington Harbor is known for seahorses, pipefish, starfish, schools of wrasse and the opportunity to try night diving and discover the regions nocturnal critters.
Note that water temperatures range from 50 °F (10 °C) in winter to 62 °F (17 °C) in summer and the best time for diving is from January through to June.
Tawharanui Marine Park is a no-take, protected area, and don’t the crayfish and other crustaceans know it! It’s not unusual to see dozens of crayfish feelers from inside crevices where they are jostling for space with a handful of spiny rock lobsters.
Highlights here are the opportunity to see such an abundance of shellfish in one place, and some individuals are huge with staggering body masses. Look out for snapper cruising around, schooling silver drummers and jack mackerel, stingrays, eagle rays diving down to the sand and rearing back up again, kaleidoscopic jewel and common sea anemones, sponges and nudibranch. It’s not only crustaceans that inhabit the rock crevices, octopus and eels are other common sightings too.
Away from the sand, rocks and crevices, the kelp is home to perfectly disguised John dory and in calm conditions one can spend an entire dive admiring the sunbeams from the surface.
Stewart Island lays to the south of New Zealand’s South Island, separated from the mainland by the Foveaux Strait. Maori named Stewart Island “Rakiura” – which means “Glowing Sky”, as Stewart Island enjoys spectacular sunrises, sunsets and aurora.
There are many shore diving options including Oban, Golden Bay Wharf, Halfmoon Bay and numerous others along the coastline. It has one of the richest seaweed floras in New Zealand due to its many habitats and the influence of its two major ocean currents.
A significant feature of Stewart Island is Paterson Inlet which is approximately 100 square kilometres in size, lying in the middle of Stewart Island. Within Paterson Inlet are around 20 islands and islets, including Ulva Island which also offers excellent shore diving opportunities.
Marine life highlights here include fur seals, blue cod, cruising sharks, colourful and equally delicate looking tunicates and anemones, starfish, gobies, southern pig fish, seahorses clinging to kelp, crested weedfish, octopus and countless others which make this lesser known area a jewel of shore diving regions in New Zealand.
Next time you gear up and step off the beach, who knows what you will see!?