Over a lifetime of diving around New Zealand for work and for play, there are a few places that stand out.
Recently I was lucky enough to pull together a team of New Zealand's best and most experienced underwater film-makers and take them the length and breadth of the country for the new season of Our Big Blue Backyard. It was a tremendous logistical exercise even accessing some of these places - but it was worth it. We found some mind-blowing diving.
Here are my top five New Zealand places to dive.
1 White Island: Laisson's Reef
This phenomenal dive is hard to beat anywhere in New Zealand. Here is a blue-water pinnacle in the midst of strong ocean currents, so it's possible to see incredible pelagics if you are lucky. Who knows? Maybe a marlin, kingfish, rays or sharks. The fish life on top of the reef is glorious as well if you get the tides right.
Top tip: With strong currents and deep water, divers should be experienced and have a skilled local skipper.
This area contains some of the most other-worldly, atmospheric diving on the planet. In Fiordland a fresh water layer sits on top of the sea water and makes the diving gloomy - but also allows you to encounter bizarre creatures that usually live hundreds of metres below sea level. There is one pinnacle I have in mind - unnamed, it sits near Wet Jacket Arm. Here you'll find giant black coral trees, snake stars, nudibranchs and strange, colourful ascidians on every surface. Giant forest trees that have fallen from the mountainous slopes complete the other-worldly atmosphere.
Top tip: Take your time to absorb the life on the walls as you descend. This is "appreciate the details" diving. Use an operator who knows and loves the region.
3 Kermadec Islands: Howard Rock
This archipelago is a diver's paradise, so it's hard to choose just one location. But Howard's Rock is a pinnacle that rises from deep, clear blue water, and it's hard to beat. There are so many things to marvel at: giant Black Spotted Grouper, rock formations, corals, and a chance of big pelagics swimming by - including sharks. This is also an incredible night dive. On the Our Big Blue Backyard expedition, each time I dived here, humpback whale songs boomed through the water, magnified by my communications system. What a surreal experience - especially at night in pitch black water.
Top tip: Diving Howard's Rock requires a high level of experience and a skilled support team. The currents are ferocious and you could easily be lost. Luckily, the Kermadecs are packed with less challenging dive sites where you will still encounter spectacular fish life whenever you turn.
This location hasn't been featured yet on Our Big Blue Backyard - watch this space - but I wanted to include a location in my backyard. I am lucky enough to live on the edge of Queen Charlotte Sound, just out of Picton, and for many years the Sounds and Cook Strait have been my playground. Tory Entrance features wonderful rock formations and swim-throughs. If you get the conditions just right - the water clear and the tide slack - it can be one of the most fascinating dives in the country. The sheer volume of water moving through Cook Strait, Tory Channel and Queen Charlotte Sound means you could see anything here: whales, dolphins, giant jellyfish, bizarre fish species. Most of the time, of course, the tide is screaming and the visibility non-existent. So you need to get the conditions just right - and be really lucky.
Top tip: Tidal currents here are more than legend: beware! A thorough understanding of tides and currents and how they behave in this particular spot is recommended. Cook Strait is not to be trifled with.
5 Poor Knights Islands: Blue Maomao Arch
Here's a dive for the whole family - it makes a lovely snorkel too. Nested in the southern harbour of the Poor Knights islands, this site offers clouds of fish - especially the blue maomao that give the arch its name. When you are under the rock arch, the effect of light coming from the entrance and exit is stunning. At the harbour end, you'll find slipper lobsters and moray eels. And I've had a great time filming outside the western end of the arch where you can see large kingies, stingrays and huge snapper.
Top tip: Keep an eye out for angelfish aggressively tending their 'gardens' and chasing visitors away from their patches of eggs.