Divided in two, the North Island and South Island of New Zealand lie in the southwest Pacific, about 1600 km off the southeast corner of Australia. Because of its unique location that’s halfway between the equator and the South Pole, New Zealand’s two land masses enjoy rather different climates, with the subtropical reefs of the north giving way to the cooler, more temperate topography of the south. This makes for hundreds of sites on both islands that showcase an incredible wealth and density of marine life. From marlins to trumpeters, and from dolphins to fur seals, this unique underwater world beckons scuba enthusiasts of all levels to come and dive in.

New Zealand’s accessible coastlines and subtropical waters offer a wide variety of habitats to explore. Shipwrecks, drop-offs, vast kelp forests, and the opportunity to dive around a live volcano, are just some of the extraordinary opportunities that await you on your next dive. In New Zealand, divers regularly encounter a diverse range of fish, both tropical and non-tropical: blue cod, john dorys, yellowtail kingfish, and a wide variety of sharks all make the clean and clear waters around New Zealand their home.

When you do finally abandon the waters and peel off your fins, the excitement is far from over. Did you know that New Zealand is the original home of the bungee jump? Other non-diving adventures at your disposal include skiing, golfing, river-rafting, kayaking, and world-class hiking. When you’ve finally done it all and are in need of a break, you can simply relax at one of the region’s many vineyards, or join one of the ever-popular, Lord of the Rings tours, to find out everything you never knew about Hobbits.

New Zealand is easily reached, with seven international airports scattered across its two islands, including the two main ones at Auckland in the north, and Christchurch in the south. Auckland is by far the country’s most populated city, boasting a full third of New Zealand’s 4.5 million residents. But from its capital of Wellington, to its Maori descendants, Kiwis are proud of their home and heritage, and are happy to share both with visitors. So just trade in your cash for the local New Zealand dollar, and enjoy the warm welcome extended by this English-speaking country.

While most of the popular sites in New Zealand are easily accessible from shore, you’ll want to consider booking a scuba diving package that transports you by day boat or liveaboard to one of the many offshore islands or more remote reefs. With hundreds of sites to choose from, many of them world-class, there is no shortage of options for both the experienced diver, including night diving and wreck diving, and for those looking to explore the wonders of the undersea world for the first time. Lessons, certification courses, and organized tours that introduce you to the best sites for your first dive, are widely available.

When diving off the North Island, Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve is a must-see. Allegedly ranked as one of the best dive sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau, this famous site off the Tutukaka coast dazzles with its schools of reef fish, pelagics, sponges, and anemones. In the clear and protected waters of the site known as the Bay of Islands, the tourist town of Paihia makes a great base for both snorkeling and diving one of New Zealand’s most beautiful underwater landscapes. Here you can marvel at the marine life inhabiting two different shipwrecks: the HMNZS Canterbury warship, and the bombed Greenpeace flagship known as the Rainbow Warrior. While you’re on the North Island, don’t miss your chance to dive around the White Island volcano in the Bay of Plenty. This unique area of bubbling, underwater vents and warm, offshore currents attracts stingrays, moray eels, and enormous schools of blue maomao. From its remote reefs teeming with life, to its cathedral spire pinnacles offering 150 meter drop-offs, New Zealand’s only active marine volcano offers what many call the dive of a lifetime.

Not to be outdone by its northern half, the cooler waters off Kaikoura give divers and snorkelers alike a whole different reason to suit up and dive in. New Zealand’s South Island gem offers the unforgettable opportunity to mingle with fur seals and dusky dolphins, and to watch for the region’s magnificent, year-round resident sperm whales. If all that’s not enough to make your diving vacation a resounding success, you might want to consider taking the plunge and navigating the dramatic fiords of Fiordland National Park (another Top 10 Cousteau claim). The pristine regions around these ancient, glacier-carved fiords feature black coral (which is actually white in color – figure that one out!) that’s hundreds of years old, and a prehistoric environment that’s akin to finding yourself in outer space.

So long as you’ve got the gear to make the most of the subtropical waters, scuba diving in New Zealand is great all year round. With water visibility dependent on the site, and generally ranging from 10-40 meters (30-130 feet), you can expect water temperatures of 18-24oC (64-75oF) in the north, and southern waters that tend to be a bit cooler at 15-20oC (59-68oF). Overall, the weather remains moderate on both islands all year long, and divers and non-divers alike will enjoy warm, sunny summers of 10-18oC (50-64oF), and mild, wet winters of 3-10oC (37-50oF), depending on which of these two spectacular islands you choose to visit.