Tutukaka: a perfect day at the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve

What a great name to go with the wonderful weather and destination: I’m booked for a day out with A Perfect Day. (And what a great topic for my 1002nd blog post on this site!)

I have taken a tablet for motion sickness but suspect it was not needed – but once you have had a couple of days with your head in a bucket on a yacht you, or rather I, am always cautious!

My Northland road-trip pauses for this day of cruising on the ocean – out to visit the Poor Knights Islands on the east coast of New Zealand’s Northland.  A marine reserve, these islands are  25km (15 miles) off shore and  have been rated by the famous Jacques Cousteau as one of the top-ten dive sites in the world.

The National Geographic magazine (Nov/Dec 2011) after looking at 99 coasts around the world, rates the Tutukaka coast as “top rated” which they say means ‘excellent shape; relatively unspoiled, likely to remain so” – praise indeed and from what I’ve seen, well-justified. (The other NZ coast rated was the Great Barrier Island)

The water is known for its clarity and an abundance of sea life, and with visibility of up to 30 metres underwater divers, and we snorkelers, will be able to see rich and diverse marine life.  I’m looking forward to putting a wetsuit on and checking it out once there. (I really only like the very warm sea water on the equator – so now you know what a baby I am!)

I’ve lost my voice over the past few days and, laughing at the pathetic little voice I have left, one of the staff suggests I may find it in Riko Riko, the world’s largest sea cave – 40% of it is below the water level. This claim has been lodged with the Guinness Book of Records and it’s an amazing 7,900,000 cubic feet with over a hectare of sea surface area inside the cave itself.

But back to the office and jetty where our journey starts:  I love the humour and laconic, laid-back kiwi-style to telling us how to be safe on board and at the islands – it’s this way of delivery that makes me remember it all easily.

The 24k-trip out to the islands at latitude 35.38 S, longitude 174.44 E doesn’t take long, and we’re soon helping zip up each other’s wet suits as we watch a huge floating island of gulls off the top end of the main island we’re moored at.

I slip into the water off the back of the boat and I’m soon enveloped in a school of fish who just part as they go past me. As this is a marine reserve they have no fear of people nor do they expect food from us – we are just another non-threatening creature in their salty environment. I love the sting ray that glide past … all the fish trapping their prey against the underwater cliff for easy catching.

When I’m back on board I name the fish I’ve seen in the various books they have in the library: terakihi; blue maomao; goat-fish; and trevally with their beautiful  yellow tail and markings – to name just a  few.  It’s not long before I head back into the water, just floating on the surface, watching my nature show.

On land (no-one can land on the islands) the Buller’s Shearwaters burrow in the side of the slopes to create their nests, and around the corner the beautiful, Cleopatra-eyed gannets are raising their young.

This has been a perfect day with perfect weather and for me, perfect snorkelling, while others used kayaks and as always on days such as this, it all goes too quickly – just another place to add to my I-must-go-back-to list.

It seems Captain Cook did not explain his choice of name for the island but we hear an interesting possible account involving a popular pudding!  We also hear some history of Maori occupation of the islands and information about the islands flora and fauna.

And no, I didn’t find my voice in the cave – and once back on land I return to my rental car and head for my next stop on this Northland road trip – maybe my voice is further north!

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Author: Heather - the kiwi travel writer

Nomadic travel-writer, photographer, author & blogger. See more on http://kiwitravelwriter.com and Amazon for my books (heather hapeta)

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