We only had TWO objectives for this trip – go NORTH & go DIVING!
With 2400ks travelled and 17 dives in 11 days I think we met these objectives.
Our first stop was Taupo and some fresh water diving – a novel experience for the others and a good demonstration of thermoclines – it is always nicer to ascend into warmer water (well almost always!) A nice giant stride entry of the point in Acacia Bay started off the first dive of the trip and Stuart’s 200th dive! The site drops down deep in the centre with lots of Koura to play with, several native freshwater fish (that all look the same) and a weed line to complete our safety stop.
After grabbing some tanks off Ron at The Dive Shack we headed out to Wharewaka Point where Claire knew there was a great ledge to ‘dive off’ in 10-16m. It took her 45minutes to find it – to the left (not right) of her bearings. It is great to freefall off the ledge but not so much when the air gets trapped in your Drysuit and you just come to a stop upside down!
Now sorted in freshwater it was time to tackle the mighty Waikato. Stuart had foolishly offered to organise transport at either end by dropping us off with the gear and running back!! Geoff and I had the onerous job of putting gear together and relaxing in the sun. The vis wasn’t the best along the river but the current was pumping and there was only 1 direction to go – downstream!
Plans were still being decided at this point but boats were full or seas were rough so we decided to hang out in Taupo for another day with a leisurely visit to Dive HQ Rotorua where they suggested we dived Letterbox Point, Lake Rotoma. A very chilly 12 degrees at depth but great rocks around the point with large koura and a small wreck.
Still heading north we called into friends in Auckland to talk diving and collect even more dive gear!
And then – just because it is there and we have all heard of it – we dived Lake Pupuke. Less vis and less life than the other lakes it was not a highlight of the trip. The French cafe however was great!
Further north and we reached Leigh and the Goat Island Marine Reserve where we were finally back in the ocean diving. It was 21 degrees so not quite like home. A simple 6m dive but here we were surrounded by snapper of all sizes, leather jackets, sweep, trevally, red moki, parore, hiwihiwi…. and several eagle rays flew past.
The next day we headed to Little Barrier Island with Goat Island Dive and Snorkel – for 2 fun dives in the sun. Lots of fish along the walls, kingis, mado, silver drummers, blue maomao, schools of sweep, koheru and trevally. Saw porcupine fish as well – weird looking fish those! We snuck in another shore dive that evening at Matheson Bay while Geoff went and did the grocery shopping. Managed to get to 15m in some great terrain but didn’t manage to navigate all the way back so a walk around the point was required.
The following day Goat Island dive took us out to Leigh Reef – a local reef with lots of fish and some caves! Thanks to currents and unknown terrain we only found some swim throughs and lots of fish so we decided to do another dive here and find the caves. We finally found them at the end of the dive with only a few minutes and a few bar remaining before needing to make our ascent – bugger!! All was not lost though as the skipper offered to take us out again on way back south – our fingers were crossed that the third time would be the charm.
We managed to sneak in another dive at the Goat Island Marine reserve the next morning and even managed to find some depth – 10m this time round. A bit of surge and 17 degrees made the ocean feel familiar – we even saw a blue cod! There are some big crays and snapper in New Zealand’s oldest marine reserve and it is definitely worth diving when you are up this way.
Further north and we arrived at the appropriately named Northland Dive! This was to be our base for the final leg of our trip and a great base it was indeed. A fantastic meal was being prepared as we arrived and were shown around the lodge. There was time for a quick walk along the creek to work on our appetites and a relaxing game of 500 after dinner.
The weather meant that our first dive was at Danger Rock – we were led by Shane down the gut to 32m and some great swim throughs to explore – if Shane could get through in twins we knew we could. There was great colour along the walls and a big school of sweep to swim through too. After lunch back at the beach we headed to Grant’s Crack(s) – a series of parallel cracks with nice bommies at the ends. Great terrain but unfortunately not the masses of fish we were hoping for.
The good news was that we would get to dive the Canterbury wreck – sunk in 2007 as an artificial reef for divers she sits in ~35m of water, is upright and intact! Great for exploring and with a lot of the artefacts remaining on board there is lots to see. Raymond and I ventured through the second level, starting at the laundry room – complete with hot and cold machines, past the JR’s toilets and mess, into the Communications and Sonar rooms to the gun bay and out to the bridge.
Too much surge meant we were unable to dive Cathedral Cave so headed round to T’s Tour. Again the reef had some great terrain but not a lot of life and the surge meant we were unable to explore the cracks and caves in the shallows without being caught and tumbled!! (eh boys!)
The weather meant that we forgo diving the Rainbow Warrior this time round (but a great excuse to head back north) for another dive on the Canterbury – so maps were studied, Shane and Julia were quizzed and we planned a dive through the engine room, into the boiler room and up the hoist shaft with more time to explore the superstructure this time round. Thank god for Nitrox and the longer bottom times allowed!
This time we were able to head into Cathedral Cave which heads ~40m into the reef by Hole in The Rock, Cape Brett. As we headed into the cave, past eels, porcupine fish and red moki, and it got darker we were finally greeted by the short tailed stingrays that hang out in the cave. They get pretty close as the swim up to, under and over you but an awesome dive to finish the road trip north.
Heading south was definitely not as exciting but we had been in touch with Goat Island Dive and they had arranged one last dive at Leigh Reef. The skipper Brian and DM Chris wanted to ensure we got the best of the site and took us directly to the caves. We followed Chris into a honey comb of caves/caverns inside the reef. Thousands of big eye greeted us and the walls were covered in sponges and other colourful marine species. A great dive and with more caves to explore I may have to head back with full gear and reels to truly explore this dive site.
I am definitely keen to head back later in the year – September or October to revisit some of the great sites we found this trip and to explore others especially the Rainbow Warrior and Mokohinau Islands. These sites are advanced but well worth the adventure to get there.