Poor Knight’s Islands Marine Reserve frequently makes it’s way onto the World’s Top 10 Diving Sites for a reason: the gorgeous, protected marine reserve has allowed interesting marine life to flourish, and crystal clear water makes viewing them as easy as looking over the side of a boat. If you’re interested in renting your own speed boat to snorkel or scuba dive Poor Knight’s Islands then we have you covered!
Ben has always loved the mystery and adventure of scuba diving, but has become slightly obsessed with the sport since we sold our home in 2017 to travel the world. Our travels have taken us to some of the most gorgeous, popular dive spots, and he is determined to do whatever possible to see each one we cross.
I don’t scuba dive, however, so I usually stay back at the beach with our 6-year-old some while Ben plays. When we’re lucky we will join Ben on the diving boat and snorkel while his group dives. Our son and I have developed a decent love for snorkeling through this, and we are usually happy to tag along on Ben’s dive trips to see what interesting marine life lurks just below the surface.
When we settled in North Island, New Zealand, for 2 months Ben insisted we spend some time exploring the incredible waters around Poor Knight’s Marine Reserve. I’d never heard of the place, but I now understand that it’s infamous in serious scuba diving circles for having prolific marine life and clear blue water. He looked into joining a scuba diving tour, but he’d have to wake up early to make the 2-hour drive by morning and it was an expensive endeavor. We decided to make it an overnight family trip, instead, choosing to spend just a touch more than his scuba trip would be on a private speed boat hire we could take to enjoy the islands and snorkel at our leisure.
It turned out to be one of the single best days we had on the North Island of New Zealand.
What makes Poor Knights Island so special
Named one of the world’s top 10 dive spots by famous French adventurer Jaques Cousteau, Poor Knights is considered one of the most unique snorkeling and scuba diving spots in the world.
The water surrounding Poor Knights makes it particularly ideal for underwater adventure. While the New Zealand coast can be known for cool water temperatures, the currents around Poor Knights island cluster are considered warmer than most. Swept south from the Coral Sea, the warm water is also incredibly clear.
Calm water leads to 10-20 meters of visibility. Simply looking over the edge of your rented speedboat will show you some incredible marine life below the surface of the water, and the light filtering through will highlight the beautiful fish yards down!
The warm currents along the steep rock walls of the Poor Knights islands is home to diverse marine life. You’ll find stingrays, moray eels, stargazers, triggerfish, scorpionfish, wrasse, and more at various times of the year. Even if you can’t easily identify each fish species the bright colors and interesting patterns of the fish which crowd the waters will amaze you!
Vast schools of fish prefer the warmer water found at surface level, which means that simply looking over your rented speedboat will lead to beautiful views of fish as they interract with one another. Just remember that this is a protected marine life reserve, so avoid the temptation to throw bits of food overboard for the eager fishes!
The islands which dot the Poor Knights area are an integral part of the marine ecosystem. The marine life has learned to find shelter, food, and recreation from the island masses, so the islands are as protected as the surrounding waters. As a protected marine life reserve, human interaction with the land is strictly prohibited. A single footstep onto the ground leads to huge fines, so it’s best to leave your awe from your boat.
The islands are as beautiful from sea level as you would expect them to be while hiking. Two large islands include the majority of the main scuba and snorkeling hotspots, and smaller islands between the two lead to stunning views above water. The kelly green landscape is a beautiful contrast against the dark blue water, and a feast for your eyes!
Getting to Poor Knights by Speed Boat
Poor Knights Island Cluster is 23 kilometers away from the nearest town of Tutukaka. The Tutukaka coast is known for it’s proximity to beautiful diving locations, so a number of dive shops are available for chartered scuba, snorkeling, and kayaking trips around Poor Knights island.
Joining a Poor Knights Diving Tour:
A diving tour to Poor Knights will run around $300 for 2 scuba dives and gear and leaves around 8:00 a.m. Diving spots are limited, so advance booking with any of the Tutukaka diving shops is required.
Snorkeling spots are available on diving trips or on specific sightseeing tours for non-divers and typically cost around $200/ person, including lunch and use of top of water recreational activities.
Renting a Private Speedboat:
For $400/ day you can drive your own rented speedboat to Poor Knights. These Stabicraft speedboats feature aluminum siding and three airtight chambers which make the vessel virtually unsinkable with extra protection from incoming wind or rain.
Up to 4 passengers are able to fit on a rented speedboat, which makes this the most flexible and affordable way for a small family to enjoy snorkeling Poor Knight Island. The boats are delivered to the Tutukaka harbor, include a thorough walkthrough before launching, and recreational equipment such as snorkel mask and fins, shortie wetsuits, and more.
The best part of renting your own speedboat is the extra time and flexibility to explore the islands on your own. There are lots of nooks and crannies along the island coasts, and a special map will show you how to access the best of them. Chartered tours will definitely hit the best 1-2 places, but a rented speedboat allows you to explore the entire area at your leisure!
If you are interested in making your Poor Knights trip as adventurous as possible we definitely recommend renting your own speedboat! The waters along the Tutukaka coast can be quite rough, which makes navigating the voyage a fun, adrenaline-pumping challenge with virtually no safety risk. Our 6-year-old loved our boat ride, as he felt like it was a bonus roller coaster ride on an amazing snorkeling trip!
If you’re a certified scuba diver you can even rent your own gear and tanks from a local dive shop to dive Poor Knights at your leisure with a rented speedboat. This offers the best scuba diving option, as you’ll be able to go to less crowded spots and choose your own locations.
Snorkeling at Poor Knights Marine Reserve
As mentioned, what makes Poor Knights Marine Reserve a wonderful snorkeling and diving spot is the amount of marine life just below the water’s surface. Visibility is between 30-65 feet, which means that, unlike other scuba diving locations, this one is perfect for snorkeling!
As a marine reserve, protection of the native marine life is the highest priority for Poor Knights Islands. For instance, any form of fishing and feeding fish is strictly forbidden to encourage as much natural activity and growth and possible.
Some of the marine species you can find at Poor Knights Marine Reserve are stingrays, moray eels, boarfish, stargazers, triggerfish, scorpionfish, wrasse, nudibranchs, and more. You aren’t guaranteed to see all of these fish while snorkeling, but you will almost certainly see various schools of fish as you snorkel.
The most abundant animals near the surface of the water will be various fish, but you may also get lucky and spot some sea turtles and sting rays. We only saw fish on the day we were out, which was absolute marvelous.
While you’ll see plenty of interesting fish life while snorkeling around any portion of the island, the highest concentration of fish will be surrounding the various caves and arches. The fish love to hang out in these dark places, and they also make for interesting landscape for snorkelers!
It’s easy to find these when exploring on your own speedboat, which is why we loved having one to ourselves. One simple way to find the best fish is to simply follow the official scuba diving boats. You’re bound to see 2-3 (at least) while at the islands, and dropping anchor in the general vicinity of one will ensure you are in a great location to see interesting marine life but far enough away to still have a bit of ocean to yourself.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when snorkeling at Poor Knights Marine Reserve:
- The ocean can get rough near Poor Knights. The waves are calmer at the islands than on the open ocean getting to them, but they can still be wild enough to drag you a decent distance away from your boat. Only snorkel while you have enough energy to swim against a current to get back to your boat.
This also means you’ll have to be careful where you drop anchor. Use your rented boat’s navigation tools to ensure that the height of waves are included in the depth your trying to drop to.
2. The water gets pretty chilly, especially outside of summer months. This isn’t a tropical location, so be prepared for lower temperatures than you’re used to in other diving spots. The average water temperature near the beginning of summer, in November, is around 60 degrees F, or 16 degrees C. It rises to 72 degrees F by February, or 20 degrees C. It’s recommended that you wear a wet suit to stay warm while snorkeling, unless you are used to lower water temperatures.
You’ll also find the highest number of stingrays during the summer months of December-March, which would make your snorkeling adventure even more special.
3. Poor Knights can get crowded by scuba diving tours and independent boaters. Your best option for a more relaxed, private trip is to rent your own speedboat and find a spot with fewer boats around.
4. The Poor Knights island cluster is a marine and wildlife reserve. Any disruption of the local landscape and ecosystem is punishable by law with jail time and/ or hefty fine. There is absolutely no fishing, no feeding of fish, no littering, and no walking on the land masses aloud.
What to Bring to Snorkel Poor Knights Islands:
- Wetsuit. Your chartered tour or speedboat rental company may include a wetsuit in the rental price, but double check this before leaving. Even in the height of summer the water temperature become frigid quickly, and wearing a westuit over a bathing suit is the best way to stay comfortable.
- Lunch, snacks, and WATER
- Ree-Safe Sun screen: Anyone spending any amount of time in New Zealand needs to understand the risks of sun exposure. There is a hole in the ozone layer above New Zealand and parts of Australia which leaves people vulnerable to harsh sun rays. The risk of skin cancer is much higher in these areas, so sunscreen is highly recommended when spending any amount of time outdoors. Not only do you have to wear sunscreen, you should also consider getting REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN. Reef-safe sunscreen is made without chemicals which can harm marine life and delicate reef ecosystems.
- Go Pro. You’ll definitely want an adventure camera on your snorkeling trip, and a Go Pro is the best on the market. A Go Pro Hero 7 will take incredible video or pictures underwater to capture all of the beautiful things you’ll see!
- Hair Comb: My biggest recommendation for snorkeling trips is a hair comb. Your hair gets matted by the pull of a snorkel mask and become rough from the salt water of the open ocean. A portable comb will help you tame your hair without making you crazy!
Planning your own Poor Knights diving or snorkeling trip? Pin this article on everything you need to know for later!