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  • BobM

    Was Jacques Cousteau Wrong???

    Traveling 12,000 miles (19,600km); flying for 24 hours, followed by a 2-1/2 hour drive, and then a 1 hour boat ride, all to get to the Poor Knights Islands in New Zealand. Mon Dieu! OK, I hate to admit it, but he was right, it is one of the world’s top 10 diving destinations.


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    Created by volcanic eruptions about 10 million years ago, they’ve become home to a myriad of marine life. There are over 50 different dive sites around the islands, such as the Northern Arch, Blue Maomao Arch, the Magic Wall, and the Rikoriko Cave (one of the world’s largest sea caves), each with its own amazing experience.


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    From the macro to the micro, it’s all here. Pods of Orca patrol the area looking for their favorite Kiwi dish, the rays. Both stingrays and eagle rays visit the islands. Clouds of fish school through the kelp forests keeping a watchful eye for other predators like sharks that frequent the Poor Knights. At the same time, I’ve never experienced marine life so fearless of human beings. I would even say they are downright friendly! Some of them are even a bit of a pain, such as the incredibly curious Sandager’s Wrasse.


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    On the other end of the scale, small creatures inhabit every nook and cranny along with urchins, anemones, sponges and gorgonian corals. They’re so plentiful it’s hard to imagine. Many of the subtropical fish living in the Poor Knights are not found anywhere else in New Zealand. They include species such as the spotted Black Grouper, Mosaic Moray, and Lord Howe Coralfish. And lest we not forget the nudibranchs. Unquestionably, some of the most colorful and unusual nudibranchs I have ever seen are in the Poor Knights. Every color and shape imaginable including New Zealand’s “lovliest nudibranch”, the Gem Doris (or Gem Nudibranch). They too are everywhere to be found.





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    At the Northern Arch, squadrons of Short-Tailed Stingrays can be seen cruising the waters of the archway in the summer months. It’s the only gathering of its kind that has been documented for this species; come winter and it’s a “ghost-town”. Nobody knows exactly where the stingrays go during the winter. However, recent research seems to indicate that the stingrays actually stay within 30km of the Arch.


    The Blue Maomao Arch is (not surprisingly) named for its aggregation of the Blue Maomao fish Scorpis violacea. Massive schools of the fish congregate in the huge natural archway, which is flooded with rays of light from the top and sides. Layers upon layers of fish migrate through the arch, so much so that sometimes you cannot see the other end of the archway, even in clear water. It’s an awe-inspiring experience. And while I wouldn’t think of besmirching one of New Zealand’s most famous dive sites, my favorite fish is actually the Blue Demoiselle (sorry Blue Maomao fans).


    They say that the “ends justifies the means”, and in the case of the Poor Knights Islands, it’s a good thing that it’s true. Getting there will definitely try your patience (and backside). But in the end (pun intended), it’s absolutely worth it.


    Many thanks to Darryl Lowndes and Johnny Zhao for help with the videos.


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