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Annual Poor Knights Trip 2023

2023 Annual Poor Knights Competition - Group Photograph
2023 Annual Poor Knights Competition - Group Photograph - Taken by Sophie Journee

Once in a lifetime snorkel experience

All images underwater images and group shots taken by Sophie Journee.

Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) - Te Kura Moana ran their 22nd annual Poor Knights competition trip on Friday 12th May, sponsored by Dive! Tutukaka and The Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation. EMR is a programme of the Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust. The day started with a minute's silence to show respect and aroha to the young man and his whanau following the recent tragedy at Abbey Caves.

Students came from as far north as Peria (Kaitaia) and as far south as Dunedin to experience one of Aotearoa's oldest marine reserves. Students are selected based on action projects they have undertaken and the enthusiasm they show when studying & experiencing the marine environment. The national delivery of EMR is thanks to a network of provider organisations across the country and would not be possible without the amazing support of the The Tindall Foundation and Lotteries National Community.

EMR started in Tai Tokerau/Northland in 2001 with just three schools and the idea of comparing unprotected marine areas to fully protected marine areas with water safety messages embedded throughout the programme. Seeing huge tāmure/snapper swimming has inspired thousands of kids to take action for the marine environment and exercise kaitiakitanga - guardianship for their local beach or harbour.

For this year's trip we had 32 students and 30 guardians representing 26 schools from 7 regions of Aotearoa including Northland, Auckland, Taranaki, Gisborne, Wellington, Nelson/Tasman and Otago. Since 2002, we have taken representatives from 399 schools, totalling 563 students! Each student attends with a parent or guardian. We also had some second generation students attend as guardians!

“Action projects this year included monitoring rimurimu with the Love Rimurimu project in Wellington, rahui monitoring, comparison of marine species at different areas, invasive species research, a kina barren board game, litter blitz with Sustainable coastlines, informative video about the impacts of microplastics and the local rahui says EMR founder Samara Nicholas.

In addition to the opportunity to represent their school or region for the EMR ACTION prize, we offer the EMR Ocean Art prize. The Bobby Stafford-Bush Foundation supports this special prize for young kiwis that have experienced the marine environment with EMR and display that passion and experience through art.

This is the fifth year we have offered the Darren Shields Wettie Spearfishing & Wetsuits freediving representative prize, for a Northland high school student that shows talent for freediving. This year's winner was Noah Edwards from Whangarei Boys High School.

On board the vessel ‘Perfect Day’ our snorkel site this year was the stunning ‘Garden’s at Maroro Bay, part of the Poor Knights Islands that have been protected by no-take status since 1981. Participants were delighted to see thousands of two spot demoiselles, black angel fish, snapper galore and the friendly sandagers wrasse. With this being the first time most of the students and guardians had ever visited the Poor Knights!

Snorkelling in Maioro Bay - Sophie Journee
Snorkelling in Maioro Bay - Sophie Journee


Quotes from Poor Knights Comp Trip Participants


"Thank you for taking me to the Poor Knights to go snorkeling. I had an amazing time and it was a really fun day. I have never been to the Poor Knights before and I wouldn’t have been able to go without all the help. The islands were really pretty and I saw lots of cool fish. My favourite thing was seeing a stingray and going in the cave."

Josie | Taipa School

“Highlight of the day: The haka echoing in Rikoriko Cave was something I will remember forever- It was nice to be inside the cave without engine running (thanks to the experienced skipper!). Also it was special that Steve took us to southern group of rock islands even there was southern (head) wind. Some kids got soaking wet, but they were extremely happy and excited. I love nature. I love seeing healthy environment. Abundance of food and other happy life (not just for humans, but for all the creatures) makes me smile. It was beautiful to see so many lives are thriving around Poor Knights. Outdoor education / experience for kids can be tricky because there is always some risks involved. We have to teach them to take reasonable risk and explore. We need to teach them to respect the nature (without getting scared), too. Throughout the day, both on the boat and in the water, I felt that we were given lots of freedom and choice. That is based on the staff's confidence and experience, which I thought was excellent.”

Maki Millichamp (parent)

“Cassie and myself (Jordyn) had such a good experience on this trip one that will stick with us forever we enjoyed learning about how they are a part of a super volcano, how once the people of Ngatiwai used the islands and where able to once live there until raided by the Hikutu tribe. We found it fascinating that the East Australian Current runs past the islands making it one of the only known places in the world where cold water and tropical water fish can be seen side by side. Also that now there is a tuatara sanctuary on the island is also a very great thing. For us, learning these things showed us that not only does the place look special but the knowing of why it is something so much more shows why it needs to be protected and by swimming amongst the natural beauty of it all seeing how places like this should look shows that protecting areas like this it can stay a real treasure”

Jordyn Clifton (guardian)

“I really appreciated that I got the chance to go. I Loved seeing all the different species of fish and learning about the importance of having a Rahui there. I also really like the kind staff and meeting new people”

Cassie Walker-Hapi

“Highlight was seeing an unusual looking Eel, and having all the fish come very close”

Millie Toren

“Highlight was being invited on the trip as it was on the bucket list. It’s another world under water and looks untouched”

Pania Samson (parent)

“Highlight was duck diving. My action project is going up the estuary with Sea cleaners” Kate Mander.

“A highlight of the trip for me was experiencing first hand the abundance and friendliness of fish inside the marine reserve. Because of the safety the reserve provides, you can observe so many different kinds of fish up close which is an unparalleled experience. It has inspired me to speak up in my own personal life to educate people around me and advocate for the existence of more marine reserves”

Bella Tissink

“I was lucky enough to be chosen to be a part of a snorkelling experience today out at the Poor Knights Islands, organized by the EMR Experiencing Marine Reserves Kaupapa. Students from all over nz were there with a parent or supervisor.

It was awesome, me and TK swam through a big archway, also into shark fin cave, that went a rough 20 metres into the island, saw a lot of different ika, there was some BIG snapper following me and TK when we were swimming back from shark fin cave.

I even saw a gold ribbon groper and its specialty is that when there’s no males around a female will turn itself into a male. When we left the dive site, we went into Rikoriko cave on the boat and we done a haka, the sound was crazy hahahaha, it is also said to be the largest seawater cave in the world. Quick tour around the islands and then it was home time. Wicked day. Thanks again to Experiencing Marine Reserves - EMR, Mauri ora"

From Jermaine Pira


“Thank you for taking me on the best experience of my life so far. It was my first time at the Poor Knights and I liked all the different types of diversity of fish and seeing the schools of blue maomao swarmed around me. It was really exciting to be picked and it felt really special even though I didn’t think I had done much. I am an enviro leader and help do litterless lunches. I’m doing overfishing and raising awareness for my action project. I’m not sure of my plan yet but I am planning now. The poor knights were definitely a lot different than my local area. My local area has lots of mud and my local area could look more lively if we banned fishing.”

Ollie Smith - St Thomas School

“It was such an awesome experience to share with Ollie. I grew up in Whangarei so it's really special to share this experience with him”.

Sarah Smith (Ollie’s mum)

Maelee Mariner - Pap west (currently Remuera Int): “Today is my first time at the Poor Knight’s Islands. It was truly a fun experience to go on and I would definitely want to go on again. It was really cool to be able to get awarded this since I worked really hard on my project. It was cool to see all the amazing wildlife. I have seen fish at home but there were so many cool new ones that I’ve never seen before. I am truly grateful for this opportunity. I had more confidence and capability this time compared to Goat island because I had more practice. I saw more types of fish and more fish here than at Goat Island. It was so cool to see the animals that I learnt about face to face up close. I generally saw more things because the water was clear and the weather was beautiful. There was more variety of animals and plants here compared to Goat Island and my local environments at home. I’m definitely keen to come here again as it was really fun snorkelling.

For my project I did an art project based on the little mermaid but my twist was that I used trash art medium collage - I used rubbish that I found at home or at school to make it. I made a collage to show that things in real life aren’t as how they are romanticised in the movie.

Lela Seely (Maelee’s Cousin): “I’ve never been before, my family is Canadian and our mums are from here. It was nice to be able to experience more of New Zealand, even though we live here we haven’t had many experiences yet.”

Greta Thompson - Waterlea School - “My favourite thing on the trip was when I was coming out of the cave I saw the bright blue light and my favourite fish was the two spot demoiselles and blue maomao together in the caves and under the boat. I think my classmates will ask me lots of questions about my trip. I’ll tell them about how we went to the poor knights and there was a humongous cave which is the biggest in the world and there was a huge arch and lots of fish. I got roasted by big waves while sitting at the front of the boat. For my action project I tried to get our local supermarket to get a soft plastic bin. We were trying to ask people where their nearest plastic bin was and they said the warehouse so we wanted one closer to us so it would be easier.”

Serene Foulagi - Waterlea School - “It was my first trip to the poor knights I liked seeing the big school of fish and going in the cave. It was really cool and exciting. It felt like it wasn’t real, like it was VR. I saw lots of different fish, I didn’t see any fish on my field trip to mathesons bay because it’s not a marine reserve. The water was clearer and there was more snorkelling time compared to my trip to Goat Island. I haven’t seen the fish here before; my favourite fish was the pigfish, because of its colour and its pointy nose. There were lots of different fishes. I think it would be good to have more marine reserves, it would be really good so there can be more protected areas or the ocean. Lots of people fish and it would bring more species in.

My friends and family are a bit jealous, especially my mum because she doesn’t know how to swim. She kept talking to me about it so I think she’s jealous. My classmates are jealous too, they were shocked that I won it. It was as exciting to win it, I didn’t think I would win. I was told at the beginning of the year to help my teacher and she was the last person helping and she told me that I won. I told my parents and they didn’t believe me! My project was about drain captures and to put more litter catchers in drains that have more rubbish but this doesn’t mean you can litter as much as you want, it’s just to minimise the amount of rubbish going into the ocean. I used a potato sack to put it around a drain so see it it would work. They’re not made out of plastic and they are biodegradable. It worked! And I want to make more.”

Natasha Foulagi (Guardian to Serene): “I thought the trip today was really fantastic. It's such a good experience especially to see the kids experience it too it will help them to do some good too. We would love to do something similar. It was really cool and kind of you to pick Serene. You don’t want to miss these opportunities, we normally wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s super cool that EMR comes to the schools and shares ideas and help to inspire the kids. They really enjoy it. It’s great for them to learn and be aware about the environment and teach them about the future and be more open minded about the problems around it.

Scarlette Koppens - St Josephs - “It was my first time at the poor knights: I really liked snorkelling and saw lots of fish. I’ve never seen fur seals in the wild before. I saw lots of fish, there were bigger fish than goat island and there were lots of small baby fish. I don’t have a favourite fish. When we were swimming we saw a massive shoal of two spot demoiselles. Poor knights is much prettier than my local area and has more fish. My project was to tell people to clean the seas, and clean up their rubbish. My class is planning on making a poster and turning it into fliers to tell people to pick up rubbish. I think people will follow the poster and clean up their rubbish. Rubbish can be bad for animals in the ocean and it we clean it up then we can stop them from dying

Steve Koppens (Scarlette’s dad) - “I thought it was spectacular, I loved spending time with Scarlet and it was the first time we have been on a serious boat trip together and Scarlet loved being at the front with the waves and experiencing it with her was amazing. It was amazing sharing the moment with her.”

Emme Curran - Hobsonville Point Primary School - “This was my first trip to the poor knights, it was really cool! There were lots of fish, it was good that it was a marine reserve so there were lots of fish. We didn’t see big schools of maomao at goat island. I really liked coming out of the cave and seeing all the fishes. It was really cool to be selected. It was my first time seeing seals in the wild. It was really cool to be in the cave, it was cool how it went from light to dark, once you’re in it’s pretty cool. For my action project, I made a water purifier and filtration system that can be installed in storm water out of reused plastic containers. So we can make our water more clean. Lots of the beaches near me are dirty, I want to stop dirty water. I used stones, sand and stocking material to block the sediment. The water came out clean.

Jody Curran (Mum): It was pretty amazing, as parents you’re so proud that they’ve done something really cool that will hopefully improve marine life for the future. It’s really epic that she got to come and do this, it’s an amazing reward for all her mahi. I’ve had a few of my students win this trip before, and now my own daughter.

Bailey Liu - Glenbrae - “This was my first ever trip to the poor knights it was really cool. I got to see all the different kinds of fish and how to snorkel properly. It was quite different to goat island, this time the sea was a lot deeper, clearer and way more fish. I was really excited to be selected, for my action project lm an enviroschool leader, I learn about wastes and rubbish. I want to make my community cleaner by picking up rubbish. I don’t know how I’m going to do it yet.”

Sam Liu (Bailey’s brother) - This was my first time at the poor knights, it was my first time going to a marine reserve. It reminded me of outward bound where we did a lot of kayaking and the new thing for me was snorkelling and trying something new. It was my first time snorkelling too.”


Maheli Medagedara (13 years old, New Plymouth Girls High school)- "My highlight has been snorkeling and being able to see all the interesting sea creatures.. it's been an unreal experience. Seeing the eagle ray was really cool it was so beautiful."

Asanka Medagedara - "My favourite part of the day was going into rikoriko cave and seeing what it looked like inside. The different layers of lava on the cave wall mixed with the green algae was beautiful. The echoing effect was great especially when they did the haka."

Rimu Taiapa (11 Years old, Mokau primary)- "It was fun because I saw hundreds of fish swimming underneath the boat, an eagle ray, baby snapper school . I had fun on the paddle board as well and think I saw a shark in the cave. Finding the bright shells for our necklace was cool."

Ken Taiapa - "I really appreciated the chance to connect with a lot of like-minded people. I really liked that our tamariki got to connect with the EMR staff and got further insight into this mahi. Also I really appreciate the EMR team correctly pronouncing Te reo and including tikanga and local stories into teachings about marine biology and biodiversity."


Flynn Brydon (9 years old, Hira School)- I saw this huge blue fish, an eagle ray and a stingray and a black triangle fish in the seaweed. Travelling out and back on the boat was fun especially getting splashed at the back of the boat. I liked making new friends. During my project I was surprised at how much rubbish we found in the creek at our school.

David Brydon- "It was a joy to see my boy's face when we were completely surrounded by a school of fish. Looking for the micro molluscs was also a real highlight as well; very relaxing and meditative."

Hugh Robinson (11 Years old Brooklyn School- "I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn't a dream cause it was so good you couldn't make it up. Also I love the blue maomao in the arch because you could go right next to them and they wouldn't even move away."

John Robinson- "I have enjoyed the connection between individuals and the connection of people with the ocean."


Cormac McAvinue (9 Years old, Ballaclava School)- "I really liked the snorkelling. There were so many snapper and when we were in the shark cave and came out into the sun the snapper looked very shiny and cool. We also saw a fish on the rocks and a grey fish swimming through the seaweed. I liked shooting the video for my project and all the jokes were mine. "

Sean McAvinue- "My son was feeling a bit weary to snorkel at first but he gained confidence and ended up getting in 3 different times and went into the shark fin cave, which he was very proud of. The staff were very patient with him and didn't push at all and just let him do it at his own pace."

Sophie McWilliam (10 Years old, Waikouaiti School) - "I loved meeting all my new friends and the trip to Poor knights was great cause i got to talk and get to know kids better on the trip out, and then when we got out there snorkelling with Thalassa and seeing all the fish was amazing.

The day at Whale Bay was fun. We played on the beach and jumped off the rocks.

Sara McWilliam- "Being the first time the whole thing was amazing and I especially loved seeing the eagle rays and tiki touring around the rocks was pretty cool as well.


Hawea Sullivan (12 Years old, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Nga Mokopuna )- "I liked the snorkelling and seeing all the fish."

Muri Sullivan- "For me the best part was interacting with the kids and seeing how excited they were when they were snorkelling. I really enjoyed visiting the pinnacles as well and comparing this marine reserve to Wellington's."

Charlie Kirona (10 Years old, Poroutawhao School). The water was so blue i thought I was in Fiji, and I noticed that there were too many kina and not enough seaweed at whale bay. I thought it was so cool when we went into the cave and how the water went from dark to light. It was my first time seeing snapper in the water. I really enjoyed making the maro for my project and I remember when mum came to pick me up from school I didn't want to leave until I finished it.

Carl Johnson- "It's been a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that was well-organised and full of amazing experiences. It was also great meeting new people from the other regions that had common interests.


Aio-Bebe Waitai-Hollis (17 yrs old -Te kura o manutuke).- " When asked about career paths I said that I was interested in Marine biology and my teacher gave me an opportunity to enter the contest to come to Poor knights. I liked diving at Poor Knights and that the fish were not afraid of me so I could get very close to them."

Amanda Waitai. I really enjoyed it all , meeting EMR staff and getting to know more about the programme. My favourite was snorkelling at Poor Knights and going into Rikoriko cave. It was also great to meet the other representatives and hear about the projects across the motu."

Margot Manson (8 years old, Wainui Beach School)- I really liked how friendly the fish were and you could get really close and you could see how colourful and beautiful they were. I also spotted a camouflaged scorpion fish hidden on a wall. I loved meeting Sophie and the other kids, and making the lockets (of micro mulloscs) was really cool cause I have something to remember the trip by.

Dan Manson- "It has been awesome to be able to share one of my passions with my daughter. The last time I was at the poor knights was with my dad doing a dive course, so it's super awesome to be able to share this experience with three generations of our whanau. I can't wait until she can share with her Pop. Also it has been really great getting to meet and connect with an amazing group of passionate kids from all over the country. It fills me with hope for the future of our environment."


Student List 2023


Hikurangi - Xander Vanstones and Sasha Wano

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o te Tonga o Hokianga - Ayvah Korewha Crouch,, Niwa Rawiri

Taipa Area School - Josie Millichamp

Peria - Cassie Walker-Hapi

Whangarei Girls High School - Ella Farrier and Bella Tissink

Whananaki School - Katie Mander

Russell School - Mali Johnson and Huinui Legrand

Totara North - Millie Toren

Nga Kaitiaki o te Ahi - Jermaine Pira

I HAD A DREAM - Reihana Mackie

Whangarei Boys High School - Noah Edwards


Waterlea - Serene Foulagi and Greta Thompson

Pap west - Maelee Mariner

Hobsonville Point School - Emme Curran

St Thomas - Ollie Smith

St Joseph - Scarlette Koppens

Glenbrae - Bayley Liu


Te Kura o Manutuke - Aio-Bebe Hollis

Wainui Beach School - Margot Manson


Highlands Intermediate - Maheli Medagedara

North Taranaki Home Educators - Rimu Taiapa


Poroutawhao School - Charles Kiriona

Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Mokopuna - Hawea Sullivan


Brooklyn School - Hugh Robinson

Hira School - Flynn Brydon


Waikouaiti School - Sophie McWilliam

Balaclava School - Cormac McAvinue

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