Nature and conservation
The Poor Knights Islands are the remains of a group of ancient volcanoes. Beneath the waves these volcanoes have been hollowed and shaped by the ocean into a web of caves, tunnels and cliffs which Jacques Cousteau rated as one of the top ten dives in the world.
Because of their incredible form and biodiversity, the sea surrounding the islands has been a marine reserve since 1981. It extends to 800 m around the islands.
Beneath the waves the caves, arches, tunnels and sheer cliffs provide a great variety of habitats to explore. From turbulent sunlit waters and kelp forest on the upper reaches of the tumbling giant ‘staircase’ to the dark waters of the islands’ many caves, the Poor Knights offer an extraordinary variety of underwater experiences.
Sponge gardens and gorgonian fields are inhabited by a multitude of fish, shellfish, urchins and anemones, with black coral found in deeper waters. The steep cliffs that fringe the islands plunge up to 100 m below sea level before reaching a sandy sea floor. The arches are some of the most interesting places to explore. A rich nutrient soup washes through them, which feeds the countless animals competing for space on the walls. Squadrons of stingrays cruise the waters of the archways during warmer months.
Above the water, the islands are home to many rare birds. They are the only nesting place of the Buller’s Shearwater, which travels there from North America to breed and shares its burrows with tuatara (a native New Zealand reptile). Around 2.5 million Buller's Shearwaters nest on the main islands every year.
History and culture
During the late 1960s and 70s, divers around Poor Knights discovered large numbers of marine plants and animalsthat had not been seen before in New Zealand. Because of the amazing diversity and abundance of marine life, part of the islands became New Zealand’s second marine reserve in 1981. In 1998, the islands became fully protected to 800 m from the shore.
Ngatiwai are an ancient people who were known as Ngatiwai ki te Moana (those who lived along the east coast and offshore islands) and Ngatiwai ki te tua Whenua (those who lived inland e.g. Ngatihine).
Ngatiwai descend from Manaia, Tamatea and Tahuhunuioterangi. The mana of Ngatiwai is water and this is remembered by Manaia saying to his descendants, "Although you stand on land, you stand also in the sea."
Ngatiwai occupies the shoreline from Motukokako (Cape Brett) to Tawharanui (Cape Rodney) to Aotea (Great Barrier Island). They also occupied many islands including Tawhitirahi and Aorangi (Poor Knights).
They are the kaitiaki (guardians) of a sacred covenant placed on the islands by the ringa kaha Te Tatua (chief) in 1822. This tapu was placed following the massacre of his people while he and his warriors were absent.
The Poor Knights Islands can be easily reached by boat from almost any port in Hauraki Gulf and Northland. Charter boats from Auckland, Leigh, Whangarei, Tutukaka, and Bay of Islands visit the islands.
Places to stay
Know before you go
To help protect marine life inside the reserve, remember:
- no fishing of any kind, either from a boat or from shore
- no taking or disturbing any marine life, including shellfish and seaweeds
- no taking of any part of the sea floor, including rocks and shells
- no feeding the fish as it disturbs their natural behaviour.
Penalties for failure to comply under the Marine Reserves Act 1971 include confiscation of equipment, vessels or vehicles, fines and imprisonment.
Be aware of the boating rules of marine reserves (see the Marine Reserves Regulations 1993):
- The maximum speed permitted for all boats in New Zealand is 5 knots (about 9 km/h) within 200 m of shore or any boat with a dive flag, and within 50 m of any other boat or swimmer.
- Waste, ballast and sewage must not be discharged within the reserve.
- Drop your anchor responsibly to avoid damage to the reserve, and use the minimum amount of chain necessary.
- Vessels over 45 m long are banned from travelling through an area around the Poor Knights Islands. This area extends 9 km (5 nautical miles) from land between Bream Head and Cape Brett north of Whangarei.
- You are not permitted to land on any part of the islands or rocks. Boats must not be tied to any part of the shortline. These rules are to protect the islands from fire and theaccidental introduction of pests such as rats, cats andinvasive weeds.
Make sure you keep marine mammals safe in the Bay of Islands.