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Three Kings Group, Northland

Spirits' flight

On a still, clear day, you can see the pyramid-shaped form of Te Manawatawhi from Cape Reinga, rising like a tombstone from the horizon. It must have appeared like that to the northern Māori ancestors too, because the stories handed down through generations of Ngāti Kurī tell of the great leap of the spirits from the cape, and the long flight to the distant isles—their last resting place, and the spiritual home of the iwi.



Three Kings Group, Northland

Fly over Manawatawhi

The cliffs of Te Manawatawhi are plumb and wrinkled with age, and at the waterline, wear a piupiu of bull kelp that reaches out towards the sea on an incoming swell, and hangs supple and bronze as the wave departs. Where the land gives an inch, the sea takes a mile, cutting vertical slots through headlands, punching holes through walls to form great archways and shattering organised land masses into jigsaw pieces. To the north, the largest piece of the puzzle Manawatawhi soars 300 metres high. To the west a collection of slain bowling pins called Princes Islands—tall stacks and arches of rock—others awash and topped with kelp like unkempt hair.

Watch what you eat

There is very little data on the population and distribution of hāpuku, a large fish species caught on the King Bank (and elsewhere). It is very likely not a sustainable fishery.

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Three Kings Group, Northland

Dive with dolphins

These are islands of the stream—awash in unusual currents bringing tropical fish from the Coral Sea, cold upwellings from the south, and protected too by the swirling tides around the archipelago. At times, the rips between the turrets of rock form whirling vortices and great mounds of smooth water that erupts from the depths like its boiling.

Waves stand up stiff and proud on the faces, dark and sheer in the troughs. More so than any other archipelago, the sea here feels like a living breathing thing.



Three Kings Group, Northland

Explore Crater Bay

The Three Kings has one of the highest rates of endemism in New Zealand, which is to say the things that live here are found nowhere else.

In Crater Bay, feathery arms of sargassum weed—unique to these islands—wave in unison, marking the motion of each swell like a hypnotist’s watch. Tangled in the fronds are pink tufts called epiphytes—the only known member of their family in the entire southern hemisphere. Blue maomao flutter in mid-water like a ticker-tape parade.



Three Kings Group, Northland

Swim with a stingray

Landsbergia Rock is cloaked in a diverse forest of weeds, one of which is only found on this single rock. Swarms of maomao circle above and a short-tailed stingray gets spooked by the camera! The size of a table top, these rays are found throughout New Zealand.

GIVE IT SPACE

The Three Kings are a wildlife reserve on land, but not in the water. As a result, marine life gets hammered by fishing charters every summer. They are well-intended, but have a huge impact on the ecosystem.

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Three Kings Group, Northland

Dive Arch Pinnacle

On the north coast of Princes Islands, a huge rocky pinnacle rises steep from the seafloor. Golden snapper and pink maomao linger in the shadows. You can see demoiselles with two delicate white spots, and butterfly perch—a tawny little fish with what looks like a thumbprint on their flank.


Three Kings Group, Northland

Irishman's Garden

Colourful sponges festoon a cave in Irishman’s Garden which shelters a plethora of reef fish. However the abundance of small fish mask what’s lacking—larger fish, predators like snapper, pelagic species like kingfish. So, where are they? Well, it’s complicated…

There are less habitats available in a small island group, and so generally less diverse fish life. For instance, there’s no seagrass meadows here, which are nurseries for juvenile snapper and kingfish. As a result you’ll only see adults, but then surprisingly few of them, for a completely different reason…

Watch what you eat

There is very little data on the population and distribution of hāpuku, a large fish species caught on the King Bank (and elsewhere). It is very likely not a sustainable fishery.

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Three Kings Group, Northland

Charter fishing

Each night we drop anchor in North-West Bay, between the lollipop-coloured floats marking cray pots. Each night we’re joined by fishing charter boats—vessels bristling with fishing rods and crawling with fishermen who have paid handsomely to be here, to drop their lures into these rich waters and pluck out a fish or two or three or four.

Here they’re picking up small fish to fill their live bait tank. The bait fish will be used later, on the banks farther out to sea to hook the prize fish of the ‘Kings, hapuku. Longliners set their hooks on those banks too, pulling up their catch which will be consumed, ultimately, by you and I.



Three Kings Group, Northland

Discover a kina barren

Fishing effort, day after day, century after century, has changed the shape of this place. It’s still heaving with reef fish, but the predators are gone. It’s still resplendent with sargassum weed, but kina that were once devoured by the snapper and other reef predators, are tearing holes through the fabric of this ecosystem.

It’s obvious where an ecosystem is out of balance—diversity is replaced with monotony and absence. A single species will dominate. It’s started here already, as a result of fishing, but perhaps also changes in the patterns of currents that wash through this archipelago.

Reduce emissions

Being on the edge of the Tasman Front, the Three Kings are uniquely vulnerable to climate change—the water temperature varies dramatically according to currents transporting food and life from the tropics. Even small changes have amplified consequences.

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Three Kings Group, Northland

Explore Catton's Cave

Deep beneath a rock stack is a dark cavern, invisible from the surface. Protected within is a china shop of delicate ornaments. Gorgonian fans—usually found much deeper—thrive in the darkness, and deeper into the labyrinth, oculina coral sprout from the roof of the cave.