The Poor Knights Islands: Dive the World’s Largest Sea Cave in New Zealand

Poor Knights - Northern ArchThe Poor Knights Islands marine reserve is famous for being on Cousteau’s top 10 dive list. Although diving is the main activity there, the scenery above the water is breathtaking as well so it can also be a destination for non-divers who can do snorkelling and 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? I recommend double checking to avoid bad surprises if an incident happens. If you don’t have travel insurance, you may be interested in reading more about DAN and WorldNomads*.

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 a calm and clear weather.

Poor KnightsFar 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 that 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 music 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

IPoor Knights - Riko Riko Cavet 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 fascinating 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 star fish
  • Scorpion fish
  • Diadema urchin – very colourful, maybe the highlight of the dive for me for the 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 ArchAccording 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 on 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


 Your underwater pics don’t look that good? Check out my tips for beginners to take underwater photos that aren’t blue!


Tutukaka - Walk to the Lighthouse

Tutukaka Lighthouse Walk

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 to cross 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 from the marina for the early morning start. There are a few accommodations to choose from (click here to view*).



Save it for later, add it to your Pinterest board:


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


*These are affiliate links: I will receive a commission if you make a booking or purchase a product using this link but this does not affect the price you pay. This will help me maintain this website.  







What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.