Looking toward the stern from the Helicopter hangar.

Diving the HMNZS Canterbury F421

When thinking of the world’s naval superpowers, the Royal New Zealand Navy is unlikely to spring to mind. With ~2000 personnel and a handful of ships they may not be taking over the world but they do play an important role in protecting the small Island nation and helping their neighbours.

The HMNZS Canterbury F421 was a Leander-class frigate that served in the New Zealand Navy from 1971 – 2005. She had a distinguished career at sea and was sent to Moruroa Atoll in 1973 as a symbolic protest of New Zealand against French nuclear testing.

Which provides a fitting connection to the wreck of the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior that rests in the waters off the nearby Cavalli Islands. It was sunk in 1985 by French commandos while preparing Auckland to sail in protest against a planned French nuclear tests in Moruroa.

F421 sailing above the ocean surface in its past life.

After being decommissioned in 2005 the fate of the Canterbury was up in the air for awhile. With various proposals being put forward including conversion into a floating hostel of sorts. Corrosion issues put an end to that dream as the maintenance costs would be prohibitive. So it was eventually decided to sink her in the Bay of Islands as a dive wreck in 2007.

She now rests upright on a sandy bottom in Deep Water Cove. The bottom of the hull sitting at depth of 37m with the wreck itself rising from to the depths to 14m below the surface at the top of the ship’s communication tower.

Kelp and anemone covered comms tower.
The top of the communications tower covered with kelp and jewel anemones.

Having been in the water for 13 years now the wreck is covered in growth. With most sections of the exterior supporting colonies of jewel anemones, kelp and gorgonians.

Jewel Anemones are found in numerous clusters on the exterior of the wreck.

Then there is the fish life! Outside on the decks it can feel somewhat disorienting swimming along while having swarms of fish moving around you in every direction. The interior the ship is not any duller with huge schools of Big Eyes inside taking refuge from the light.

Looking out of the bridge
Looking out through the windows in the bridge.

We were lucky enough to get two days diving on the wreck but given its size ( 113m in length ) I don’t feel like we really even had a chance to scratch the surface. The first day diving the visibility was pretty poor at around 5m. So covered the upper levels of the ship from the bridge back to the hangar.

Canterbury Dive Profile
Water was not too cold, but given the depth nitrox would have been a welcome addition.

Second day diving did a similar dive but the visibility had improved to 12 – 14m so I felt like I was able to get a much better grasp of the ships external layout. But given limited bottom time the opportunities for penetration were limited so I would need another 10 dives at least to get feel for the interior.

The only downside is that unlike the HMNZS Wellington wreck the Canterbury is missing the twin cannons on the fore deck which were a huge drawcard. But there is still plenty of interesting features left to see on the rest of the ship. The wreck can also boast still being in one piece unlike the Wellington.

We dived the wreck with Paihia Dive and the service was great with Craig and his team looking after us well. They have a nice spacious boat for the trip to the wreck. With the boat ride taking around 30 – 40 minutes from the town wharf to the wreck.

So would highly recommend their services for anyone in the area looking to dive the wreck.

Paihia Dive
35 Williams Road, Paihia 0247
Phone: +64 9 402 7551
Web: https://divenz.com/

Related Links:

Diving the HMNZS Wellington