Exploring the Reef Gardens of Parininihi Marine Reserve

9th September 2014
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Parininihi Marine Reserve

Coral. Photo: Bryan Williams.

Like the gardens that belong on land, those that rest underwater are at their best when they’re vibrant. Out of all of New Zealand’s Marine Reserves, Parininihi arguably has the best coral reef beds. Whether you are a keen snorkeler with experience or a beginner looking to make their first experience magical, this is a Marine Reserve that is well worth your attention.

A Marine Reserve with Diversity

Why would you want to go snorkelling to see the same beds over, and over, again? While most of New Zealand’s Marine Reserves offer plenty of variety, Parininihi is spectacularly vibrant. Not only does the number of species rank the reserve highly within New Zealand, it ranks highly on the international conservation field too.

Parininihi’s main feature is the Pariokariwa Reef. This reef oscillates between five and 23 metres in depth. As you swim amongst the colourful sponges and soft corals, you may find yourself reaching hidden caves and crevices. For snorkelers who have experience, this is the perfect opportunity to explore areas of natural beauty that few people have entered before.

When you begin exploring the reef during periods of good visibility, you can see the way the encrusting sponges spill across the seabed floor. To many, these sponges look like paint that has been tipped and left to dry in pools. The way they merge with each other is incredibly beautiful, giving underwater photographers the chance to grab some pretty snaps.

Visiting Parininihi at the Right Time

Unfortunately, you cannot visit Parininihi throughout the year and expect to have an excellent experience. Traveling between January and April is advisable for an easy swimming experience and great visibility. Outside of this period, the seas are rough. Not only does this make swimming challenging, it also means you see less while there.

However, if seeing the underwater features of Parininihi isn’t your only motivation for visiting the area, you can head there at any time of year. The White Cliffs walk lasts for five hours and covers approximately 14km. Do make sure you time your walk around the tides, attempting to cover the beach portion of the walk during high tides is dangerous.

Reaching the Reserve by Boat

There are three rivers you can use to reach Parininihi by boat: Tongapurutu, Urenui, and Waitara. Alternatively, you can set off from the New Plymouth boat ramp and travel for one hour from there. As the sea conditions are rough in the area outside of the summer season, staying in touch with the coastguard is a good idea. You can reach the coastguard on VHF Ch61.

Unlike many Marine Reserves, Parininihi is one of the few that does not require you to travel with a charter. In fact, chartered boats do not head to the island at all. It is because of this that the Department of Conservation recommends that you register with the AdventureSmart website to let someone know where you’re going, as the chances are you may be the only boat heading there when you choose to travel.

Parininihi may be slightly restrictive in terms of travel, but it does offer a remote boating experience free from the interference of chartered vessels. If you are looking for seabed diversity, this is undoubtedly the Marine Reserve for you to find it at.

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