The Rainbow Warrior

Trip Start Sep 27, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Island Prism

Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Saturday, December 26, 2009

In the Knights we had found arches aplenty.  In New Zealand, however, some acrhes are more iconic than others.  Off Cape Brett, we saw one of the most famous; Piercy's Rock, named by Captain Cook after Admiral Piercy.  Famous explorers can have a sense of humour.  Another icon was the Cape Brett lighthouse, keeping watch from its lonely hillside.  

Around Cape Brett lay some fertile fishing ground.  I landed three kingfish, all slightly shy of legal size.  They were safely returned to the sea, with cries of 'Good luck!  See you when you're bigger!' As I had failed to catch us dinner, I took us through the Bay of Islands to Paihia, and treated Jim to a vast platter of prawns at Latitude 34.  

Our main reason for being here was to go out and do some diving.  However, it took a few days to organise, so we had some time for sightseeing.  We hired bikes for an afternoon and cycled from Paihia to Waitangi and the Treaty Grounds.  The magnificent waka gazed out to sea as though aching to feel water on its hull once more.  Nearby was the stump of the vast kauri from which the waka was carved.  It must have been a monster of a tree.  

We rode further on for some lovely views out to the Bay of Islands, and took Prism to Opua for fuel, and to replace our ratty old life jackets in the post- Christmas chandlery sales. 

It's a special day when you fulfill a dream.  A chance came on 27th December, when Jimmie and I booked to dive the Rainbow Warrior.  We chose a small dive company, and were rewarded by finding that we were the only two people on the trip that day.  We drove north to the Cavellis and motored out to the wreck in the dive boat.  Bombed in 1985  by French secret agents, the wreck was now a spectacular wildlife haven, crawling with nudibranches, filled with fish.  With jewel anemones encrusting her hull in precious hues, the Rainbow Warrior certainly lived up to her name.  An afterlife as an aquatic sanctuary seems like the perfect end for the Greenpeace ship. 

We made our way down to the sea bed, and lay on our backs, staring up at the prow.  Our bubbles drifted serenely through the water above us, and all we could hear was the soft sound of our regulators.  We slowly ascended, along the sides of the hull then through a gaping hole in it.  Swimming through the Rainbow Warrior was an incredible experience.  In the dark insides of the boat, thousands of fish were crammed together for safety.  Shoals of bigeye fish flickered round us, the group altering its shape to be where we weren't. 

Outside again, we found thousands of fry keeping close to the protection of algae fronds.  Large areas of the ship served as a fishy nursery.  Scorpionfish lurked amongst the weeds and algae.  Masters of disguise, they lay in wait for any unfortunate fish which strayed too close.  They posed a hazard for divers too, in the form of highly venomous spines.  Good buoyancy was definately encouraged.  

Eventually, air supplies and decompression limits meant that it was time to surface.  The dive boat took us to a pretty bay for lunch.  We were joined by four bottlenose dolphins who were more than happy to have visitors.  Surface intervals don't get much better than this- just Jim, me and four dolphins in the water.  My dream of swimming with wild dolphins came true in a magical and very personal fashion, and I realised my second ambition that day.The dolphins were in a playful mood.  A favourite game was rustling fish out of patches of weed and chasing them about.  They reminded me of cats after lizards, or small children running about, chasing ducks. The dolphins performed an underwater ballet of incredible grace as they twisted and arced through the water.  Sometimes they found perfect synchronicity, at other times they moved to their own beat.  They communicated constantly, whistling, clicking and squeaking to each other- singing? Gossiping?  Whatever it was, they seemed full of frivolity and totally relaxed.

The dolphins acknowledged us too.  Every few minutes we would get a quick hello, as one or two of the creatures sped towards us, veering off at the last minute or briefly pausing a few metres away.  Once or twice they vanished, but never for long.  Jim was adamant that his singing called them back.  If so, the auditory tastes of dolphins are quite different to those of humans.  

Our second dive was on True Love Reef, a nearby dive site.  We wondered how it could possibly compete with the Rainbow Warrior and dolphin swims.  It was very different from our first dive of the day, but still very lovely; a glass of fine port following best champagne and Bordeaux.  One of our games was 'spot the scorpionfish'.  They grew them big round here, and spine-tinglingly ugly.  What photographer could resist?  Goatfish were also plentiful.  Often white and ghostly, these were more vibrantly coloured.  Torches and flash gave them a rosy glow.   

We found more of my beloved nudibranches on this dive.  Colourful, oddly shaped and downright bizarre, the highlight had to be the brightly coloured orgy.  Being nudibranches, this was of course going on very slowly.  Perfect photo opportunity...  I was also fascinated by many of the other invertebrates we found.  Seen up close, the strange shapes of jewel anemones, sea urchins and weird fluorescent yellow sponges prove that when diving, we are in an alien world. Even the safety stop was amazing, as we were surrounded by huge schools of demoiselles pouring over the reef.  A very satisfactory day indeed. 
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