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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Tutukaka and Oceans Resort Hotel

Continuing on my Northland road-trip, when I headed for Tutukaka it took me longer than the books says.  The reported half an hour north-east of Whangarei maybe so,  but I was stopping to see waterfalls and great sea views!

Tutukaka is the gateway to the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve. The Islands, 25km off shore, have been rated by the famous Jacques Cousteau as one of the top-ten dive sites in the world – the water is known for its clarity and an abundance of sea life. Sea currents and visibility up to 30 metres underwater allow the diver, (or kayakers and snorkelers) to see a highly populated, rich and diverse tapestry of marine life. The world’s largest sea cave can be found here, a record claim lodged with the Guinness Book of Records. It is an amazing 7,900,000 cubic feet with over a hectare of sea surface area inside the cave itself. (More of these islands and photos in my next blog)

Right on the edge of the Tutukaka Marina is Oceans Resort Hotel and is where I stayed overnight.  I was told that “with a myriad of water-based activities on your doorstep, fabulous beaches and a lush subtropical climate you will feel as though you have escaped to paradise” and I agree. It’s a peaceful setting and I loved wandering around the water front both in the evening and then again in the morning.

Interestingly, I find Oceans is owned by the local iwi (Maori tribe) Ngati Wai who have recently won two well-deserved prestigious awards. (2011 Customer Choice Awards; 2011 Best Emerging Business)

There is a relaxed kiwi-feel to the resort and it is a popular wedding and conference destination – it also has apartment’s long-term rental too. It seems the local pub that was on the site burned down in 2000 and five years later Oceans opened. As well as having a comfortable night and  good service, I also had a great breakfast which was included in the room rate.

Here are some notes I made while there:

  • Compendium says – they have alarm clocks but say they ‘strongly support the use of island time here in Tutukaka.’ (always good advice when vacationing)
  • Lots of local artists work on view and for sale – wonderful that they give space for locals free and with no commission on sales (Well done!)
  • BBQ beside pool for guests use
  • Interesting New Zealand facts in compendium incl. NZ women getting the vote in 1893; Sir Ed and Mt Everest; a kiwi invented the bungee; and that NZ has 6,000 kilometres of coastline with nowhere being more than 120ks from the coast. (translation for my USA readers – 3728 miles of coast and no one lives more than 74 miles from it)

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For more ideas of things to do in Tutukaka keep reading my blogs and of course check out Destination Northland and for a rental car see NZ Rental Cars.

And, to find out about the birds and other creatures in the area see these fabulous New Zealand books: Collins Travellers Guide, Birds of New Zealand 

COLLINS FIELD GUIDE TO NEW ZEALAND WILDLIFE  by Terence Lindsey and Rod Morris.

photo of oyster catcher birds

Northland provides a fabulous day and trip… a perfect day!

When I look in the mirror I forget I’m a red-head – after all, the face looking back at me has short white hair on top of it: so yet again I’m burnt by New Zealand’s harsh sun Sad smile

Nevertheless, its been a great day out to the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve .. you could almost call it a Perfect day, and in fact, that’s exactly what they do call it – A Perfect Day (@poorknights)

Today my blog is mainly photos as I’m off to bed ready for an early start out on three boat trips ( the last one an overnight trip on a floating YHA youth hostel, so no blog tomorrow night)– I just have to remember that even though my sun protection is factor 70  it doesn’t last all day in the fiery  New Zealand sun.

Now, lets see if I can make a  better job of the photos this time (a  new – little – computer and picture programme = issues for me!)

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(No, I can’t change the photo setup!)

Many thanks to Destination Northland for helping with my itinerary and Rental Cars New Zealandfor the vehicle for this road trip: I can recommend both!

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