Image: Shellie Evans | ©
This reserve has rich and varied marine and coastal life. Hard rock reefs and soft sandy bottoms house communities of plants, crustaceans, molluscs and fish.
Crayfish and black angel fish hide in the cracks and crevices of the reefs around Mahurangi Island. In the large boulder fields near Motueka Island, curious schools of sweep may follow divers.
Delicate corals, usually found at depth, are close to the surface in Poikeke Island cave. Closer to shore, brittle starfish might be found on rocky platforms and red moki graze amid forests of seaweed. Predators like the leather-jacket feed on the smaller animals.
Whanganui A Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve is part of the area first claimed by Hei, a tohunga (priest) on Te Arawa waka at the time of the Polynesian migration to New Zealand, circa 1350 AD.
Hei settled his people on the area around Mercury Bay, asserting ownership by referring to Motueka Island as 'Te Kuraetanga-o-taku-Ihu' ('The outward curve of my nose').
It is said he made this claim near the present day site of Hahei. Hei's descendants, as tangata whenua, still retain a strong ancestral and spiritual attachment to the site, and continue their role as guardians, or kaitiaki, of the resources within it.
Travelling by car, the trip is about one and a half hours drive from Thames in the west, and about two and a half hours drive from Auckland.
From Thames on the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula, travel east across SH25A which then joins SH25. Travel north on SH25 towards Whitianga and follow the signs to Hahei.