Dive Destination New Zealand: Fiordland – South Island


By Lee Czerniak, images by Darryl Torckler.

Unchanged since Maori and European history began, these fiords are wonderfully inspirational.

Eleven-armed sea star.

Eleven-armed sea star.

Fiordland is breathtakingly beautiful both above and below the water. This is not only because of the beautiful natural environment and the marine reserves that exist here, but also because of an interesting effect of the high rainfall in the area.

As rainfall drains through the lush forests it becomes stained with tannins until it is the colour of strong tea. This dark freshwater does not mix with the seawater of the fiords but rather it sits on top, limiting the amount of light that reaches into the depths. As a result, light-sensitive species that normally live at great depths are found much closer to the surface in Fiordland waters. The tannin-laden freshwater sitting on top of the saltwater has created a unique micro-environment. The high mountains casting shadows blocking the light into the fiord are also contributing to this unique environment. This gives divers the opportunity to see rare species such as red and black corals at relatively shallow depths.

To visit these fiords is to see one of New Zealand’s unique and pristine marine environments. Above the water, you can explore the remote and majestic beauty with towering waterfalls that cascade over thousands of feet into the deep waters of these fiords. Under water the sheer cliff faces provide some of the most spectacular wall diving and it’s here that you will find black coral. These trees are stunning white in appearance over a black skeleton.

Black coral and butterfly perch.

Black coral and butterfly perch.

Some of these black coral trees are hundreds of years old and there are brachiopods that are thought to be older than the age of the dinosaurs. Carved out over millions of years by glacial activity, the fiord walls disappear below you hundreds of metres. Holding your position just off the wall is like being in space and because of this, you need to be aware at all times of your depth and where you are at.

The scenery is superb and the visibility can be in excess of 40m, making this a photographer’s dream. The marine life is diverse and while diving you could enjoy an encounter with dolphins, seals, sharks, eels, octopus, stingrays, small nudibranchs and see over 150 fish species that have been recorded here. For the hunter-gatherer, there is crayfish and scallops, and for those of you that are snorkelling you will find paua and mussels to collect, there is blue cod and groper for the spear fisherman and offshore there is tuna.

Plenty of crayfish for dinner.

Plenty of crayfish for dinner.

Diving Requirements

On most of the diving expeditions in Fiordland, you will need to have had some prior diving experience and be able to present your certification card before diving.

Dive Milford Sound

For the complete Milford Sound experience, diving is hard to beat. Dive among the scenic splendour of Milford Sound and view black and red coral, sea pens and brachiopods, not to mention the great multitude of fish life that grace the southern fiords.

Dive Doubtful Sound

Diving is available summer or winter on Doubtful Sound through a number of operators, but these trips must be specially chartered.

Winter is a great time to dive in Doubtful Sound with little variation in water temperature from summer and a lot less rain, with long periods of clear skies and little or no sea breezes.

The fiords offer you some of the world’s best diving. Jacques Cousteau put Fiordland in his Top Ten list of places to dive and there have been several photo-journalists who rate it even higher. A dive charter with Fiordland Expeditions is definitely a great way to see this majestic underwater world.

Dive Operator/Charter: Fiordland Expeditions Ltd
Richard and Mandy
Phone: +643-249 9005
Freephone: 0508 TUTOKO (888 656)

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