We’ve been exploring New Zealand a whole lot lately. It is known for its picturesque mountains and lakes, rolling green hills and spectacular rugby team. But did you know there is also a whole world of wonder under the sea ready to be explored? There are plenty of dive sites we could rave about. But one stands out – the shipwrecked Rainbow Warrior. It sits sunk off of the Cavalli Islands, in the Bay of Islands, northern New Zealand.
This isn’t just any old ship, it has a fascinating and tragic history. In 1985, the Rainbow Warrior was the flagship of the Greenpeace fleet. It was due to sail out from Auckland to protest French nuclear testing in French Polynesia. However, this didn’t sit too well with the French Government. And two secret service agents snuck on board and bombed the ship, sadly killing a photographer on-board. James Bond-level drama down under. After being refloated and inspected, it was scuttled off the Cavalli Islands. And it has since become a spectacular artificial reef.
The Rainbow Warrior sits in 18-26 metres of water, so you’ll need to have at least your Open Water license. Once you get up to Matauri Bay, the boat ride is a short 8 minutes out to the wreck. After a packed lunch and some snorkeling, you’re on your way out to another dive site in the Cavalli Islands. With underwater tunnels and caves to explore, you’ll absolutely love this one. If you don’t have deep dive training, you’ll be guided around the wreck by an instructor. This is the best way to ensure you see the best of what’s on offer and keep you feeling relaxed. Or take a course and get yourself certified while you’re there.
The wreck is a living reef, and thus a home to all manner of marine life. Nocturnal fish hiding in the ship’s cabins, stunning coral, stingrays, Golden Snapper, Kingfish, John Dory, dwarf scorpionfish, moray eels, goatfish, bigeyes, and leatherjackets, among other things. Not only will you be swimming amongst an amazing array of beautiful, fascinating and occasionally odd sea creatures, you’ll also be swimming inside a sunken shipwreck, with walls and rails covered in colourful microalgae. New Zealand is home to the largest stingrays in the world, some are up to 3m wide and weigh over 300kg! There is certainly more to see in New Zealand than flightless birds and hobbit cosplay.
Paihia is spectacular to visit year-round. The climate is subtropical, and water temperature ranges from 15°C in late winter and 22° in late summer. If you visit in late summer, around the end of February, visibility can be up to 40m and you may also see sea turtles and manta ray. When you’re not in the ocean, make sure to spend time on it. Yacht charters are particularly popular, both day trips and overnight. If you’re around in late summer, you might even spot a whale shark and you’re fairly likely to see a dolphin or two.
There are a few choice diving spots in this area that are worth your while, but the Rainbow Warrior should be on your list. If marine life is your jam, the Bay of Islands is quite literally, Unmissable®.
Bay of Islands, New Zealand
What you need to know:
Just be prepared to fall in love with scuba diving!