Located on the North Coast of New Zealand, the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve is famous for being on Cousteau’s top 10 dive list. Scuba diving is indeed the main activity at the reserve, but even if you don’t dive, the Poor Knights Islands are worth visiting. You can go snorkelling or kayaking to explore the stunning scenery both above and below the water. Here’s an overview of what to expect with tips to plan your trip.

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 our boat at Tutukaka Marina and arrived at the islands late in the morning. The boat trip was smooth, and we were lucky to have calm and clear weather.

The name “Poor Knights” is believed to have been given to the islands due to the shape of a knight lying down on his back that can be seen from a distance. As we got closer to the islands, the knight shape disappeared, revealing a group of breathtaking rocks. The islands are wild and beautiful, with spectacular rocks, arches, caves, and stunning cliffs.

Our first stop was 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 moss and other wet vegetation. Our skipper was told that the cave’s acoustics were better than those in the 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!

We also did a 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 was still discovering scuba diving (Riko Riko was my 20th dive), and had mostly dived in the warm waters of Queensland. The Poor Knights Island’s underwater scenery was something totally new to me!

First, although it is quite dark because we are in a cave, the visibility is excellent thanks to the sponges in the cave that clean the water. Secondly, the walls were very surprising, very colourful and busy. It was not like the corals I am used to seeing when scuba diving 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 were not many fish on that site, but our guide did a fantastic job showing us extraordinary marine life, from speckled moray eels to fire brick starfish, scorpionfish, a whalebone and Diadema urchins – which were a highlight for me. We also saw schools of blue mao, a snapper, a red moki, and nudibranchs, among other things!

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. Controlling your buoyancy can be challenging at this dive site because of the depth and the currents. Although it is more suited to advanced divers, we were lucky enough to dive there as 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 took me a 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 into 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 exploring this type of area fun. A torch is recommended to light the walls and reveal the colours. This time, we saw a pink mao mao, big crayfish and red rock lobsters, coral banded shrimps, lord howe coral fish, a scorpionfish and, my highlight, the school of two-spot demoiselles.

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 from Tutukaka Coast. To reach the island from Tutukaka Marina, a boat trip lasts approximately 45 minutes. The drive from Auckland to Tutukaka takes around 2h30 minutes.

If you’re planning a trip to the Poor Knights 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.


Eloise is the creator and writer of MyFavouriteEscapes.com. 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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