For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to arrange a dive on the North Island and mostly failing. However, this week I managed to pull through, arranging to dive at Poor Knights marine reserve an hour outside of Tutukaka. The biggest issue was accommodation, but there was a last minute cancellation at the YHA holiday park in Whangarei, so at 7:30 on Saturday, hoped on a Mana Bus and headed North for a day in Whangarei, and then a day on the ocean.
Have to get to Tutukaka for 8:30, so I’ve forked out for the Dive Shuttle that’ll pick me up and drop me off so I can get back in time. It’s only a 20-30 minute drive, but its $20 each way – as much as the bus tickets from Auckland! On the plus side, the shuttle driver Chris is really knowledgeable about the area. Along the way he points out things of interest and tells us a bit about the area, so feels like we’re getting more than just transport.
There’s 2 companies that dive Poor Knights Marine Reserve – Yukon Dive and Dive!Tutukaka. I went with Dive mostly because they replied to my query first. The building is next to a pricy café if you want decent coffee, but I ignore it and head straight in. Get handed over to Will, who gets me fitted for my first cold water wetsuit, and the usual equipment.
It takes about an hour on the boat to get to the marine reserve, and the ocean’s pretty calm, so doesn’t wreck me. While we travel, Will introduces me to Rebecca, a girl interviewing with the company who will be my partner underwater, and part of our dive group.
When we reach the first dive site, they have the briefing upstairs (so I chose to go up at the last possible moment). This area has plenty of things to see, although the wildlife get really interesting in a few weeks when the EAC shows up, bringing turtles, rays and dolphins with it. Still too cold for most of them, and when I jump into the water, I can tell why. It’s probably the chilliest I’ve endured – not freezing, but still refreshing.
When we get down, the kelp forest is the first thing to register. I’ve mainly dived in coral reefs, where you have to be extra careful not to hit anything and cause irreparable damage. Here, the kelp is not only hardy and mobile, it’s practically indestructible. We can swim through it, grab on to it and generally ignore its presence without fear of harm.
It’s also home to an abundance of Coldwater fish, with several snapper shoals swimming overhead. But also caught a glimpse of a manta ray while we explored – either early or trapped from last year.
After 50 or so minutes, we headed back to the surface for lunch, and the captain took the boat into the largest sea cave in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a huge cavern, dwarfing the boat, and apparently a great dive spot. Several years ago a whale carcass floated in, and dropped several bones before it left. Most of its eroded away, but there’s still a chunk of jawbone if you’re willing to look.
Our next dive however, was outside and next to an area known as Meditation Wall. It’s a cliff face in the water that runs along the bottom of Poor Knights, and home to quite a few fish and nudibranch.
There were less surprises on the second dive – no mantas or rare nudibranch, but did get to look up and stare at the wall and the shoals surrounding it. Floating next to it and watching fish go by was incredible.
Sadly, my air intake wasn’t what it usually was, and got sent up in the second wave of divers. Once everyone was back on board, we headed back to Tutukaka, and I settled myself of on the front of the boat for the ride home.
It’s quite the trek to get back to Auckland. Once I’m back in Tutukaka, I have to get the shuttle to Whangarei, and then wait a few hours for the ManaBus. By the time I get back to Auckland, it’s 10:30 at night, and I all but keel over on my bed. Gonna be exhausted tomorrow.