On the surface, Tutukaka comes alive in summer when a flood of Aucklanders begin airing out their holiday homes and the water warms up to greet beach bums while somehow maintaining the illusion of being ‘untouched’ after all these years of seasonal tourism.
Below the surface however, there is a different world that exists all year round for those willing to put on a thicker wetsuit and discover The Poor Knights Islands just off the Tutukaka Coast. The township may be small but it is home to a world-renowned dive site that attracts both beginners and professionals again and again with plenty of surrounding bays and allure to fill the perfect weekend getaway when you’re not diving. While Tutukaka somewhat falls off the radar during the off-seasons, the world underwater continues to amaze those that won’t let a little cold hold them back.
My time in Tutukaka was short but I packed a few incredible views into my trip with the main attraction being a free-diving trip with Dive! Tutukaka out on The Perfect Day cruise. Dive! Tutukaka has been taking people out on the water since 1999 and offers many different packages. The Perfect Day cruise is for free diving and snorkeling with all equipment provided so there’s no barrier to getting in the water. They also offer Scuba Diving tours; visit https://diving.co.nz/ for more info and to book. Here was my itinerary to explore the Poor Knights Islands and other highlights of this incredible area, perfect for the weekend, so you can explore the coast too.
*Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no extra cost to you, I make a commission if you click through and make a purchase/booking.
7:30am - Hit the Road
As I was combining this short trip with a solo road trip around the North Island, I drove to Tutukaka on the morning of my Dive day from Cable Bay, Northland. The drive is about the same from Auckland City. Alternatively, you can always head there the night before and avoid an early morning if you’re coming from further away.
10:30am - Check in at Dive! Tutukaka
Arrive at Dive! Tutukaka’s base on Marina Road to check in for your booking for an 11am departure on The Perfect Day boat. Book here in advance: https://www.aperfectday.co.nz/. When you board the boat the crew will fit you out with a wetsuit, fins, mask and snorkel so you just have to bring your towel and camera! I had my own free diving gear as I’m pretty confident in the water and wanted to explore the depths more freely, however there was only one other person on the boat that also brought gear. Click here to read my other Blog to find out what's in my Freediving Bag! For everyone else Dive! Tutukaka provided all they needed to snorkel and have fun. Don’t let the fear of frigid water temperatures hold you back in colder months as a thicker wetsuit will ensure the season won’t be a barrier for your experience. The transit to the islands is around one hour so you can sit back on their many comfy deck areas and enjoy the views.
12pm - Jump in the Water
The captain will show you around the islands before anchoring up at the appropriate snorkel site for the conditions. The Perfect Day will be anchored for two hours for you to come and go, giving you the opportunity to spend as much or little time in the water as you like. As soon as I jumped in the water I was surrounded by friendly Snapper and huge schools of fish inside of the cave we anchored at. I was so hooked that I dived the cavern three times and ventured to the other side of the channel, stopping for a delicious lunch and coffee in between on board. The crew puts out paddleboards and floating foam platforms to play around on at your own pace.
Unlike snorkelling from a beach in shallow water, this site is actually deeper than I expected. I had no problem with this but be mindful if you’re hesitant about open water. Give it a go as the crew are watching over you but if you decide that the snorkelling isn’t your cup of tea, there’s plenty else to do (including literal cups of tea on deck)! It’s definitely worth taking your own GoPro or begging to borrow your friend’s as you’ll want to remember the sights you see under the waves where your smartphone can’t join you.
2pm - Depart The Islands
After two hours of exploring, paddleboarding and swimming you’ll be called back on the boat to get changed and settle in for a small tour before heading back to the harbour. On my cruise we glided around the many islands while getting some historical and cultural information from our Captain. On this tour you sail into the largest sea cave in the World: RikoRiko Cave. The whole boat is swallowed by it’s damp walls and ringing echoes, really showing off the magnitude of the cave in comparison to The Perfect Day boat. Sit back and enjoy being shown around the islands before heading back to land.
4.15pm - Say Goodbye to the Boat
The Perfect Day will have you back at the dock around 4.15pm where you depart the boat, thank the crew and ensure you have all of your stuff.
5pm - Check into Accommodation
After I had repacked my dive bag and tried to organize my mess of a car I set out to find my pre-booked accommodation for the night. Turns out I had to drive just three minutes down the road to the Tutukaka Holiday Park. I was greeted and promptly shown to my private Standard Cabin to get settled. This park was so great for a weekend away! It has clean, shared kitchen and bathroom facilities, a secure drying cage for dive gear (they know their guests well it seems) and my private cabin was only $85.00 per night; worth it for the location. Book your stay at the Tutukaka Holiday Park here. (https://www.tutukaka-holidaypark.co.nz/)
If you’re keen on a more luxury stay, visit BookaBach and find a place close to Marina Road.
6.30pm- Tutukaka Lighthouse Walkway
After a warm shower and something to eat I decided to get a head-start on my activities list since I still had some energy. I set off on foot from the Tutukaka Holiday Park intending to walk the Tutukaka Lighthouse Walkway before dark (this was February and sunset was late in the day). As the park is just around the corner from the marina I reached the trail in no time. The walkway follows the ridge all the way out past the harbour and gives stunning elevated views of the surrounding hills then out to sea. Now, I actually didn’t make it to the lighthouse. This track is tide-dependent as the lowest point will be covered at mid-high tide. Look up the tide times here and aim to walk it one hour either side of low tide. I could see the waves were closing in and realised I wouldn’t have time to reach the lighthouse and back before the tide cut me off from the mainland so I hung around the small bay taking photos then backtracked before I got wet! If you do plan things better than myself and make it to the lighthouse, send me your pictures via Instagram!
To reach the track you walk past the Marina where you boarded The Perfect Day earlier in the day, keeping to the left as if you’re walking to the boat club. You’ll pass a small gravel walkway with a ‘Tsunami Evacuation’ sign. Follow that and turn right when you reach the road. You can drive to the official start of the track to save this time spent walking; in this case look out for a signpost on Matapouri Road.
10am - Check Out
The leisurely check out time at the Tutukaka Holiday Park leaves plenty of room for a sleep in, breakfast and morning shower before packing up and moving on. If you’re an early riser and can’t wait to explore, no worries! Head off at any time you want.
10.30am - Whale Bay
The big appeal of spending a weekend away at Tutukaka is amazing beaches with warm water and hidden gems. Whale Bay is only 10 minutes from Marina Road. Drive to the small car park and head down off of Twin Coast Discovery Highway and begin the short bushwalk following signposts for Whale Bay. The water glows like a Sapphire when you catch glimpses of the Bay through the trees and opens up around you when you reach the end of the track.
Overhanging trees line the beach to provide a natural cabana to lay your towel and look out over Whale Bay. The water glitters in the sun and is worth a visit whether you're getting your toes wet or just enjoying some secluded relaxation. I visited Whale Bay in the middle of summer and only sa a handful of other people. If you have your own snorkelling or freediving gear this is the perfect place to launch off from and explore the rocks on a calm day. In summer you can leave your wetsuit in the car and a weight belt isn’t necessary at this spot.
Lunch - Whangarei Falls
(if you’re driving South to get home)
After spending a morning in paradise at Whale Bay you can pack up your reef shoes, wet towels and fins to head home. However, it doesn't have to be a few hours of Eye Spy straight in the car.
Stop off just half an hour from Whale Bay in Whangarei, pick up some lunch and make the short walk to the bottom of Whangarei Falls right in town. The track takes you through a short (and slightly muddy) track until you cross a bridge to see the falls open up in front of you. The mist from the 26m Curtain waterfalls fills the bowl sprays off and catches the light through the surrounding trees creating a picturesque and enchanting place for a lunch stop. There is a picnic table or you can choose one of many places to lay out a picnic blanket.
Got more time?
Check out these other spots and let me know how you get on:
- Scenic Lookout, Ngunguru 0173 - Off Matapuouri Road
- Whananaki Coastal Walkway
- William Parata Walkway, Rauhomaumau Bay
- Ngunguru Estuary, Whangaumu Bay