Snorkeling In New Zealand: Top Locations And Marine Life

new zealand snorkel guide


If it’s up to us, few things are as rewarding as snorkeling. If you’re in New Zealand, that means crystal-clear waters and beautiful marine life regardless of where you go. Because of the climate in this part of the world, you can enjoy snorkeling most of the year. Whether it’s stingrays, snappers, or even dolphins that you want to enjoy, this is definitely the place to be. From fish and plants to beautiful coral, New Zealand offers it all for us snorkelers. Below are some of the places you don’t want to miss when snorkeling is what you’re after.

Top 6 Snorkel Locations In New Zealand

1. Tonga Island Marine Reserve

Located south of New Zealand, the Tonga Island Marine Reserve runs right by a national park that consists of beautiful beige sand. You’ll find lots of coves to explore, not to mention many other fun activities. If you look for the area between Tonga Quarry and Foul Point, you’ll get to experience some of the clearest waters and most interesting animals in the entire reserve. Snorkeling in this area allows you to enjoy beautiful rocks, reefs, and all sorts of invertebrates. You’ll also be able to view kina and turban shells on the very bottom of the waters.

tonga island new zealand

Regardless of where else you go snorkeling while you’re in New Zealand, you shouldn’t miss snorkeling in the Tonga Island Marine Reserve. It’s indeed one of the best spots in all of New Zealand to enjoy this hobby. One trip to this reserve will help you realize why.

This video shows you the marine life:

Snorkeling starts at 11 seconds

2. Taputeranga Marine Reserve

The Taputeranga Marine Reserve is located on the south range of New Zealand, roughly three miles from Wellington. It’s home to nearly 200 species of fish! In addition to the fish, you can easily see octopus, seahorses, starfish, rock lobsters, and anemones, to name a few. In fact, whatever you enjoy looking at when you’re snorkeling, this part of New Zealand can accommodate you. And if you want to learn about some of the animals you’ll see, there’s a learning center nearby that you can visit at any time to do just that.

Taputeranga Marine Reserve

Located on Fitzroy Bay, this marine reserve even houses the famous Island Bay Snorkel Trail that you can enjoy while you still have your snorkeling equipment and your wetsuit on. It’s very easy to access and exposes you to dozens of marine animals that you’ve likely never seen before.

This video gives you a good idea of the Snorkel Trail:

Snorkeling starts at 22 seconds

3. Goat Island Marine Reserve

One of the things that makes Goat Island so unique, is that it can accommodate both beginning and more advanced snorkelers. You’ll also experience more than your fair share of colorful underwater creatures, including stingrays, jack mackerels, kingfish, and snappers, among others. The island is also called Cape Rodney and gets hundreds of tourists every single summer, making this a very popular snorkeling spot in New Zealand.

Goat Island Marine Reserve

There is a discovery center for those who want to know more about the area, and it’s even possible for you to see dolphins and seals while you’re in the water. Goat Island also offers tours in glass-bottomed boats for those who want to look at the marine life without getting wet. There really are a lot of things to do in this Auckland-area island, so you won’t run out of ideas to do and see (regardless of how long you’re there).

Here’s a video of how snorkeling looks like:

Snorkeling starts at 12 seconds

4. Port Knights Island Marine Reserve

Located in Tutukaka roughly half an hour northeast of Whangarei, Port Knights Island is not only great for snorkeling, but it’s one of the top locations for diving as well. You can experience large schools of blue maomao in addition to stingrays, eels, dolphins, and other marine life. If you visit nearby Riko Riko Cave, you can speak into it and enjoy the echoes. Besides lots of fish, the island is home to coral fields and lots of kelp sponge gardens as well. In fact, if you want a very diverse experience when you’re snorkeling, this is the place you want to check out.

port knights tutukaka

Port Knights Island is such a great spot that it was even recommended by the late Jacques Cousteau. Considering that he visited nearly any place on the globe, this is quite an achievement. No snorkeling trip to New Zealand is complete without visiting this area of the country.

This video shows you the marine life:

Snorkeling starts at 25 seconds

5. Cathedral Cove

Because Cathedral Cove is not that close to a lot of the other tourist attractions, this snorkel location tends to be a little less crowded. That being said, you’ll need to get there via a kayak or a 30-minute walk, although neither of those is unpleasant. Consider to go out on a boat, because you’ll be able to see a lot more than when you snorkel near the shore. This area provides you with some amazing marine life that consists of dozens of colors, shapes, and sizes. Regardless of where you snorkel in the area, the site is nothing short of spectacular.

cathedral cove new zealand

Look for Hahei Bay for the best snorkeling spot ( offers snorkeling boat tours). If you just wish to unwind and relax and rest up for the next tourist attraction you have planned, Cathedral Cove is still a great spot to visit.

A good impression of a boat trip:

6. Te Tapuwae O Rongokako Marine Reserve (If you want to combine snorkeling with other activities like surfing)

Located north of Gisborne, this marine reserve is accessible through a beautiful white sandy beach, lending to the ambiance of the entire experience. If you go there two to three hours before low tide, you’ll be able to enjoy the variety of marine life much more. This spot is also great for surfing, or learning how to surf. We’d suggest this location if you want to combine snorkeling with other (water) activities.

Just some of the animals you get to see include crayfish, eagle rays, octopus, and triple fins, the latter of which sometimes come right up to your snorkeling mask! The beauty of this marine reserve will not soon be forgotten, making this excursion one that you’ll never regret doing.

Here’s what to expect:

The Climate In New Zealand

New Zealand consists of 2 “big islands”, the Northern and the Southern. On both of the islands it’s not uncommon to experience some rain, even though the southern island shows a little more precipitation. Rain is often temporary and can change into sunshine within hours. Can you snorkel in the rain? Well, sometimes you can. But it’s always best to pick a dry moment.

North Island

The average maximum temperatures on this island fluctuate between 57°F and 75°F. From December until March, maximum temperatures can exceed 70°F. Between June and August this could drop below 60°F. Remember, these are the maximum temperatures. Minimum average temperatures are usually between 46°F and 63°F.

Rain can be expected throughout the year. May until August usually are the wettest months. November until January are considered to be the driest months, even though a decent amount of rain can still fall.

South Island

This island can be slightly cooler than the northern island. The average maximum temperatures range between 54°F in July and 70°F in January. Minimum average temperatures fluctuate between 45°F in July and 59°F in January.

Rainfall is quite similar to the northern island. Therefore, May until August usually bring the most amount of rain, whilst January and February seem to be the driest (even though it still does rain).

In case you’re planning a trip, make sure to learn all the details about the climate in New Zealand from this website. They explain it all very detailed.

new zealand climate


New Zealand offers a good amount of fantastic snorkel locations. Because of it’s quite “stable” climate you can enjoy stingrays, snappers, dolphins and other marine life most of the year. It could get a little cold at times, especially in the south. Make sure to check the climate whenever you prepare your trip.

The marine reserves and a possible snorkel trail will allow you to have a lovely experience. Inform about excursions and possible guides. They know exactly where to go and could inform you about snorkel life vests or other gear. Using te right equipment can really make a big difference in how you experience the day. Sometimes it can be a good idea to wear snorkel fins for example.

If you ever make it to New Zealand, maybe you also want to visit Australia. If that’s the case, consider to read our guide about snorkeling the great barrier reef. Even though it’s famous among scuba divers, there are a lot of fantastic snorkel locations to be found as well. Another idea for people who visit Australia is snorkeling in Exmouth.

We hope you enjoy snorkeling in New Zealand! And hey, make sure to take some pictures. The scenery is beautiful!

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