NZ: Bay of Islands

Diving at Tutukaka

Today, we all woke up around 4AM and packed up to head to Tutukaka for diving. It’s a little less than a 4 hour drive from Auckland and our tour took off around 8:00… so it was an early morning!
Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s (a renowned oceanographer) listed The Poor Knight’s Islands among the top 10 diving spots in the world. I’m not certified in diving and neither is Victoria, so we signed up for snorkeling instead. Once we reached the first dive location, I started talking to one of our guides and he told me you can dive at a beginner’s level without a certification. I wish I had known this sooner! Snorkeling was still awesome.

A few highlights…

  • The first reef had thousands of fish and jellyfish and all kinds of beautiful Oceanic life. It was beautiful and incredible… I think the most intriguing part of diving is the fact that you are surrounded by oceanic wildlife in their natural habitat. It makes the appeal of aquariums completely pale in comparison.
  • The crater that we were diving into was created by a massive volcano.
  • The water was incredibly cold because certain conditions have prevented the EAC (East Australian Current) from reaching that area. Usually it arrives at the beginning of January, pushing warm waters and tropical sea creatures that ride the current. This makes the area more tropical-feeling and warm.
  • I felt a little sick at the first dive but I contribute it to jet lag, no sleep and motion sickness. Once I ate lunch I was doing much better.
  • After lunch, we drove to the world’s largest sea cave. It has been named “Rikoriko” which is a Maori term referring to the light that reflects off of the cave wall when the sun is hitting it just right. In the summer (such as now), the light is only on the front side of the cave. But as the sun gets lower in the sky later in the year, there are times when the “Riko affect” lights up the entire cavern.
  • Moss and ferns grow on the ceiling of the cave because over many years, the water has trickled down from the top of the island, creating this under-rock garden.
  • A sub-tribe of the Ngatiwai people lived on these small islands and were well protected by the geography, but in the 1800s they were attacked by another tribe and all of the people were massacred while the chief and warriors were out fighting a different battle. Since then, no one was permitted to live on the island and this was sanctioned as sacred.
  • This area of the ocean and the islands are part of a marine and wildlife conservation and no one is permitted to go on the islands except for those conducting research. This preservation has allowed many rare species to live on the island including massive venomous centipedes that kill and eat geckos (what?!). We were also shown pictures of massive crickets (picture half the size of your head…) that live on the island.
  • Some divers could see the jawbone of a whale that had died in the ocean and got washed into the cave. The whale’s body was trapped in the cave and efforts were made to remove it because of the stench. But when this was attempted, the body was decomposing and fell apart leaving only certain remains (like the jawbone).
  • After the second dive, we all warmed up with hot drinks, took off our gear and headed back to dry land.
  • SJ, Victoria and I changed and re-packed the car and then grabbed lunch from the restaurant that is right next to the dive shop

After our dive, we hit the road for another 1.5 hour drive to our hostel in Bay of Islands. It was a long, exhausting ride because we were tired from diving and sleep-deprived from the night before, but the countryside was breathtaking.


  • Dive! Tutukaka: I can’t give enough good reviews for this company. The staff was amazing – incredibly helpful and friendly. The skipper was very knowledgeable and gave us a lot of really interesting information about the islands and the wildlife. The dives went really well and you can’t beat a location has been listed in the Top Ten diving spots in the world! They provide lunch or you can pack your own. The lunch was a sandwich with meat and lots of veggies (you can get a completely veggie option if wanted) + a banana and a chocolate peanut bar. They also provide all of your dive times and log information so that you can track your dive. (
  • The Schnapper restaurant is connected to Dive! Tutukaka and serves some great burgers (grass-fed beef, organic vegetables). This is a great dinner option if you have a good drive in front of you because it’s right on site. Our meals ranged around $20 (which seems typical in this area).

Fuller’s GreatSights Cruise

We woke up with a start this morning and quickly grabbed our beach gear and walked down the street to Fuller’s Great Sights Cruises.

I originally chose a later return time so we could spend more time on one of the islands. The guy working the front desk told me there were no food options on the island, so I quickly changed our return time to noon as we hadn’t packed anything.

We took the Island Adventurer Cruise (cliffs and caves + walking option). A small pontoon boat picked us up and toured the area showing us different islands. This wasn’t terribly spectacular and our guide wasn’t all that talkative… I think if I did it again I would do the dolphin cruise.

BUT, once we arrived on the island for hiking, we immediately dropped our shoes and went through the green grass barefoot – it did my soul good. The scenery here was absolutely breathtaking. At some points, you could see many of the surrounding islands contrasted by the crystal blue ocean water. Breathing in the fresh air was such a treat.

We hiked and hiked and began to get worried about the time. The map we were given was really difficult to read (and no – this was not just due to my complete lack of direction) and we were convinced that we were aimlessly wandering the island without hope of getting to the other bay in time for pick-up. Finally, we came across a man that pointed us in the right direction and we made it just in time!

When we got down to the bay, low and behold a café. No one could’ve missed it – especially since it was on the shore exactly where the cruise companies drop off and pick up passengers. At this point I was just angry that the guy lied to me and we decided to order food and drinks in spite of the fact that we were leaving soon. When our boat pulled up, I marched down and asked that we be put back on the later boat and they obliged.

The café had awesome outdoor bean bags, so we each grabbed one and laid out at the beach. I fell sound asleep and we all turned a nice roasty red… lesson #1, the sun affects you differently in different parts of the world… applying sunscreen early is a good idea!

Victoria got completely in the water but SJ and I couldn’t suck it up enough to completely dunk in the cold water. We had a great time just laughing, people watching and hanging out.

Once we cleaned up a bit we walked down the street to “Sauce” for a pizza dinner. I don’t think any of us would recommend it, but the ice cream parlor around the corner added some redeeming value.


  • Fuller’s GreatSights: if you are looking for just a boat ride around to see some of the islands, this is a good tour. Plan on hiking as soon as you dock. They drop you off at one bay and pick you up at another, so not hiking is not an option. But the hiking is breathtaking and definitely worth the trek. I was annoyed that the man at the desk told me there was no food on the island. There is a large café at Otehei Bay. So if you want to stay the whole day and don’t want to pack food (which is also an option), you can plan to eat there. They have fantastic salads and cider on tap. My other frustration was the map that they gave us when they dropped us off to hike. It was incredibly confusing and I didn’t think it was marked very well. The other large company that gave cruises and owns the café is Explorer and I think I would check them out if we went again.
  • Sauce Pizza Pub: the pizza was, meh… ok.
  • Saltwater Hostel: this was a good hostel and accommodated us well. I thought it was strange that their check-in counter closed at 7pm. Also, you share a room with other people but you all have one bathroom in the same room – there aren’t public showers. This means you have to take turns using the restroom with other people in your room. It wasn’t a huge deal, but just not as flexible. The internet is horrible so if you are intrigued by the “Free Wifi”, don’t be…


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