The Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park is a magical playground of 50 islands and countless reef structures right on Auckland’s doorstep.

Many of the islands are recreation reserves popular with day-trippers and others are conservation sanctuaries for endangered bird species.

The sheltered waters are enclosed by an ancient volcanic chain of mountains along the Coromandel Peninsula and Great Barrier Island. A great variety of snorkelling and diving sites in relatively shallow seas provides an irresistible lure to underwater enthusiasts. Marine mammals are often sighted in the outer Gulf including humpback, minke, Bryde’s, killer and pilot whales as well as dolphins. All Auckland dive shops and those at Albany, Snells Beach and Warkworth have connections with charter operators and can organise two-tank day trips to the prime Hauraki Gulf dive sites.

Goat Island (Leigh)

This outstanding marine reserve near the township of Leigh is New Zealand’s best beach dive site. Expect close encounters with playful snapper, blue maomao, silver drummers, banded wrasses and blue cod. Crayfish (lobster) eyeball the diver from rock crevices but seem to know they are perfectly safe.

Kawau Island

Great reef diving with moderate visibility of 5-9m. The best spots are Fairchild Reef, Maori Rock and Nelson Rock.

Waiheke Island

Extensive reef areas can be found on the north side with depths to 18m and moderate visibility. Gannet Rock has a large sea cave and frequent kingfish activity. Further out to sea are rocky islands called The Noises and Ahaaha Rocks, which offer good reef diving.

Little Barrier Island

This is a bird sanctuary 22kms from Auckland. In the vast kelp beds and boulder stacks you can enjoy one of New Zealand’s best crayfish dives. Scallops are to be found in the sandy areas and there’s heaps of excitement when the rays are schooling. Horn Rock to the south east (10-25m deep) attracts schools of big pelagic fish.

Great Barrier Island

This large landmass has a hugely varied coastline with exciting terrain for novice and expert divers. There are marine gardens, abundant fish and two memorable wreck dives – the Wairarapa at the northern tip of the island and Wiltshire at the southern end. The island is worth a visit just to experience the lifestyle in this remote marine environment.

Mokohinau Islands

This island group is a photographer’s dream and is rated as one of the best dives in New Zealand. There are exciting wall dives and huge caverns teaming with fish life. The visibility is from 15-30m.