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October 2018 marks 20 years of the world-famous Poor Knights Marine Reserve, 22 km off Whangarei.

Date:  31 October 2018

Creating New Zealand’s Second Marine Reserve wasn’t plain sailing. In 1981, the waters around the Poor Knights Islands became the country’s second marine reserve, but recreational fishing was still allowed. It took the next 17 years, until 1998, to achieve full protection as it does today.

To mark this special occasion, DOC (who manage the marine reserve and nature reserve) and Dive! Tutukaka (who take daily tours to the reserve) have put together 20 facts about the Poor Knights Marine Reserve.

20 Facts About The Poor Knights Marine Reserve

  1. The Poor Knights are made up of two large islands and over 24 smaller inlets and rocky outcrops. Below the water, for 800 metres around the islands, is a marine reserve. Above, the islands are a nature reserve.
  2. Each year approx. 25,000 people visit the Poor Knights Marine Reserve.
  3. There are over 120 species with new species being discovered each year from nudibranchs to frogfish sightings.
  4. The origin of the island name is not clear, with some thinking it relates to the Poor Knights of Windsor, or, that the islands were named for their resemblance to Poor Knight's Pudding, a bread-based dish topped with egg and fried, popular at the time of discovery by Europeans.
  5. Jacques Cousteau ranked the Poor Knights as one of the top ten dive sites, anywhere in the world.
  6. Declared tapu by local Maori almost 140 years ago after a bloody massacre, the history is dramatic. Over 400 people once lived on the islands, with pa sites, marae, and terraced gardens.
  7. Locals call it the Cetacean Highway, as it’s directly on the migratory path of a number of species – Common and Bottlenose dolphins, several species of whales, including orca, humpback, blue, sperm whales, minke, Bryde’s and pilot whales
  8. A dead sperm whale washed up inside Rikoriko Cave, making it almost impossible to go inside due to the smell, and as the skeleton sunk, the massive jawbone remains at the bottom inside the cave.
  9. There are five known pa sites on the Island.
  10. The largest sea cave in the world by volume is Rikoriko Cave.
  11. In the Second World War a Japanese submarine tucked away inside the cave and stopped for two weeks whilst undergoing repairs.
  12. Rikoriko means waning light in Māori, twilight, or dancing light due to the patterns that the sunlight makes when reflected off the surface of the water upon the cave ceiling.
  13. Rikoriko cave is renown for its amazing acoustics – Herbs played their music in the cave, Wade Doak has submerged audio microphones in the water transmitting live sound and dolphins entered the cave and swam to the music. Neil Finn performed uncut in this natural auditorium. Gregorian Chants, Māori haka challenges, opera singers, Swiss yodellers, Irish folk singers, and didgeridoo players have made impromptu performances inside the cave.
  14. It is the only nesting place in the world for Buller’s shearwaters.
  15. There are over 1000 tuatara on the island, and they share the burrows with the shearwaters.
  16. There have never been any rats or mice or land-based mammals.
  17. The world's largest insect, the giant weta is endemic to the Poor Knights.
  18. The Poor Knights Lily is endemic to the Poor Knights, they are flowering at the moment (spring)
  19. The plants here have gigantism – where they are larger than their mainland counterparts.
  20. Every experience is different at the Poor Knights Marine Reserve and just when you think you’ve seen it all, you see something new and exciting.


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