Less than two hours drive east of Auckland the Coromandel Range thrusts out into the Pacific Ocean.

This bush clad scenic finger of land is one of New Zealand’s most popular holiday spots because of its unspoiled coastline, pristine beaches, idyllic offshore islands and rich reefs.

The west coast has a succession of jagged, rocky bays lined with pohutukawa trees, while the east coast has gentle sandy bays and coves that are ideal for shore dives. Offshore islands provide the opportunity for deeper diving amongst a wide range of marine life.

Dive shops in Coromandel township, Tairua, Pauanui and Hahei can arrange day trips on dive charter boats, and in Whitianga you can join dolphin-swimming cruises.

The top dive locations are as follows:

Hahei Marine Reserve

This is a high quality diving location in Mercury Bay with varied marine habitats near four offshore islands. There is good beach diving and snorkelling along the coast. Also superb weathered rock formations at Cathedral Cove just 40 minutes walk from Hahei.

Mercury Islands

These offer spectacular rock pinnacles, caves and drop-offs in 8-30m visibility, 30km out from Whitianga. Best sites are Black Rocks, Danger Rocks, Whale Rock and South Sunk Rock. The underwater terrain is exceptionally varied throughout the Islands. Never Fail Rock is a popular cave diving area with drop-offs to 37m. Scallops can be found at Opito Bay and Otama.

Tairua Area

This offers good diving 800m offshore around the Slipper and Shoes Islands (5-18m) especially at King Rock and other rocky points on the seaward side of the islands. Visibility is down to 6m in heavy ground swells. Some 12km offshore are the Alderman Islands where scenic pinnacles and walls drop off to 55m and harbour abundant marine life. Big game fish are often seen along the drop-offs. Dogger Reef, 15m below the surface has a variety of pelagic species in summer and is often visited by sharks. Tairua Reef around 22km offshore has stands of black coral and myriad schools of fish in depths ranging from 9-46m.