There's MAGIC in the Air

Trip Start Jan 25, 2008
Trip End Nov 16, 2008

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I decided to join the "MAGIC" bus company once again for my mini-trip through the Northland since I had a good time when I traveled with them down the west coast. the bus was late and picked me up around 8:00am.  today I was bound for Whangarei where I would overnight and then tomorrow I would dive one of the top 10 dive sites in the world (says Jacques Cousteau), the famous Poor Knights Islands! I was uber excited, as all I had heard and read about this place were extraordinary things.

as we approached Whangarei (pronounced FUNG-gah-ray) which is on the east coast and the most developed town in the Northland, we first passed through the area of Whangarei Heads. they're basically huge cliffs that mark the end of a sand spit jutting from the Bream Head peninsula across Whangarei harbor. I was dropped off at the Whangarei info center at around 11 or so and I walked the 5 minutes to my hostel, a cute little home that a nice man named Peter and his wife had converted into budget accommodation. I spent the rest of the day walking around town which I'm sorry to say was not at all what I expected. it was a bit run-down and more industrial looking than I thought, the only decent part being the town harbor. so I headed back to the hostel where I made friends with a nice Scottish gal named Jude and we watched DVDs for the rest of the night.

at approximately 7:20am on November 13th,  I was picked up to be driven to the Tutukaka coast, 30 minutes west of Whangarei to the Dive!Tutukaka dive shop. there's not much more than some houses a few businesses (the dive shop included) and a restaurant to Tutukaka but I suppose that's part of its charm. the guys at Dive!Tutukaka were so nice and although I was alone, they made me feel immediately comfortable. it was forecasted to rain all day and was already raining at a considerable force, so I was a tad bit bummed. my mood brightened though when I learned we were taking a nice big boat with a covered deck. sweet. at least now I wouldn't have to be wet all day. the water surrounding the Poor Knights Islands has been a protected marine reserve since 1981 and the islands themselves are a sacred site to the Maori and no one is allowed to land on them. they are actually the eroded remains of a group of volcanoes which erupted around 11 million years ago, and the steep cliffs which fringe the islands plummet 100 meters below sea level in places, before reaching a sandy sea floor. the islands also receive an offshoot of the East Australian Current, so are bathed in warm water making it an ideal breeding site for many species of fish. many of the subtropical fish living in the reserve are found no where else in New Zealand.
the Poor Knights sit about 13 miles offshore and it took us about 50 minutes to reach the reserve due to some large swells. some of the other people on the dive trip didn't quite expect swells so big and hung out at the stern of the boat.... but I sat up on the bridge next to the captain who was also one of the dive masters and chatted about wildlife. he educated me on some of the cool water foul we were seeing and about some of the amazing dives he's had out in the reserve (like diving with orcas!!!). the water temperature was only 16 degrees (60 F) and this would be my first time cold water diving and I was both pumped and nervous about the experience. my dive partner happened to be a girl named Stephanie from Canada with about the same experience as me and we got along quite well. it was also her first cold water dive and we both laughed as we struggled to pull on our 7mm wetsuits. it was quite chilly when we jumped in and I remember shivering, but l'm sure it was mostly due to nerves rather than the water temperature. I remember telling Stephanie to look down into the water at all the ctenophores (small jellyfish-like animals but don't sting and are classified separately) floating through the water column, and she replied "How do you know so much about this stuff?" I laughed and told her I was a marine biologist and she too laughed and said she got the good dive partner.

once we had descended to our depth of 18m (about 60ft) I no longer noticed the cold as i was completely fascinated with everything around me. it was breathtaking. long stems of kelp swayed with the currents and all along the walls were complete encrusting life-- everything from anemones and soft coral to urchins and nudibranchs, or sea slugs, that were a brilliant yellow and indigo blue. earlier I had asked the captain if we had a chance of seeing stingrays as the Poor Knights are a well known breeding site of theirs, to which he replied that there hadn't been much around lately but that anything could turn up. well no more than 10 minutes into our 50 min dive we saw one swim right by stephanie and i! we were stoked! then again, about 15 minutes later we came over a kelp bed and some boulders and there resting on the seafloor was a gigantic short-tailed stingray! she had to have been at least 7ft across and later our dive guide said she was pregnant! so cool!! we also saw loads of moray eels (3 different species), Spanish lobsters, and all kinds of subtropical fish including giant (and poisonous) scorpion fish! when we surfaced our guide (who happened to hail originally from San Fran) said that had been one of the best dives he'd ever had and that he'd never seen so many animals all out at once at that particular dive site... and he's been diving there for almost five years!  after lunch we motored to the largest sea cave in the world where I was able to take pics of the mineralization of the cave walls before heading to our second dive site. so despite the rainy weather, which ultimately didn't even matter, it was an absolutely fantastic day.

*thanks Dad. 143.
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