The Poor Knights Islands marine reserve is famous for being on Cousteau’s top 10 dive list. Although scuba diving is the main activity there, the scenery above the water is breathtaking as well.

Even if you don’t scuba dive, the Poor Knights Islands are worth going to: you can go snorkelling or kayaking. We visited the Poor Knights on the second day of our long weekend trip around the North of New Zealand.

Are you covered for scuba diving by your travel insurance? It’s worth double-checking. If not, I recommend DAN (Divers Alert Network) for those who dive regularly. WorldNomads* and Covermore* also make it easy to add adventurous activities like scuba diving to your plan.

Cruise to the Poor Knights Islands

We boarded at Tutukaka Marina and arrived at the Poor Knights Islands late in the morning. The trip to the Poor Knights Islands was smooth; we were very lucky to have such calm and clear weather.

Far at the horizon, the islands can be seen all along the trip. We first could easily imagine the shape of a knight laying down on his back, where the name might come from. Then, as we were getting closer, the knight shape entirely disappeared to reveal a group of spectacular rocks with arches, caves and stunning cliffs. The islands are very wild: no one is allowed to walk on them.

We first stopped at Riko Riko, the world’s largest sea cave. The cave is formed both under and above water and is so big that our boat had plenty of space to enter it. The walls are colourful with the moss and some other wet vegetation stuck on them. Our skipper was told that the acoustic in the cave was better than in Sydney Opera House, so we tried it with his musical instrument (a kind of horn that he found underwater and cleaned… cool story!), and the echo and resonance were indeed impressive!

After our dive, we did a nice tour around the islands, going under big arches that have nothing to envy to the famous Hole in the Rock that we did the day before in the Bay of Islands!

Diving Riko Riko: the world’s largest sea cave

It is always hard for me to put words to describe what I feel when I dive. I am still discovering scuba diving (Riko Riko was my 20th dive), and I have mostly dived in the warm waters of Queensland. I had never seen anything like the underwater scenery of the Poor Knights Islands. I enjoyed discovering something different.

First, although it is quite dark because we are in a cave, the visibility was excellent. There are sponges in the cave that clean the water, which is a brilliant idea! Secondly, the walls were very surprising, very colourful and busy. It was not at all like the corals that I am used to seeing in Australia. Finally, I was fascinated by the massive algae that created a kind of submarine forest where we could try to spot something – hopefully nice – hiding. There was not that many fish on that site, but our guide did a fantastic job of showing us extraordinary marine life.

Some of the marine life we saw:

  • Speckled moray eel
  • Yellow moray eel
  • Fire brick starfish
  • Scorpionfish
  • Diadema urchin – very colourful, maybe the highlight of the dive for me from a marine life point of view!
  • School of blue mao mao
  • a whale bone
  • Snapper
  • Red Moki
  • Nudibranch

Diving the Northern Arch of the Poor Knight Islands

Poor Knights Dive - Northern Arch
Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand

According to our instructor, the Northern Arch is the most beautiful dive in the Poor Knights Islands. Because of the depth and the currents, controlling the buoyancy can be challenging. Although this dive is more suited to advanced divers, we showed enough skills during our first dive to convince our instructor to take us to this particular site.

It was my first time diving without being able to see the bottom, and the feeling was very special. It indeed took me few minutes to get used to it and to be at ease with my buoyancy, which made it an exciting dive from a technical point of view too.

Like in Riko Riko Cave, we dived in a “forest” of big algae. We followed a wall and came back through the arch with the current. The walls were again very beautiful and colourful, and I found it fun to explore this type of area. A torch is recommended to light the walls and reveal the colours.

Some of the marine life we saw:

  • Pink Mao Mao
  • School of Two Spot Demoiselles – plenty of them, maybe the highlight of this dive
  • Big Crayfish / Red Rock Lobsters
  • Coral Branded Shrimp
  • Lord Howe Coral Fish
  • Scorpion Fish

Tutukaka Lighthouse Walk

The last part of the walk to the lighthouse is only accessible at low tide

We came back to Tutukaka just in time to rush to the lighthouse to catch the last lights of the day. The walk to the lighthouse is easy but has many stairs as we must go from a hill down to the beach and up again to the lighthouse! The first part of the walk can be done anytime, but as the last part requires crossing the beach to reach the lighthouse, it can only be done at low tide.

Where are the Poor Knights Islands?

The Poor Knights Islands are on the North Coast of New Zealand, 23km away from Tutukaka Coast. The boat trip lasted approximately 45 min to reach the island from Tutukaka Marina. It takes around 2h30min to drive from Auckland to Tutukaka.

Planning a trip to the Poor Knight Islands? I recommend staying in Tutukaka to be as close as possible to the marina for the early morning start. There are a few accommodations to choose from (click here to view*).

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Poor Knights Islands New Zealand North Island Diving Site
Poor Knights Islands New Zealand North Island


Eloise is the creator and writer of She writes about her experiences exploring exotic destinations and finding hidden gems closer to home. Her goal is to share tips and stories to inspire and encourage others to go on their own adventures. She loves outdoor and nature-based activities like scuba diving, hiking, kayaking, and sailing. She grew up in France and has lived in England and Turkey before calling Australia home for the past decade. So let's get ready for another adventure!

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