Dive Buddies once more

Trip Start Sep 07, 2003
Trip End Sep 07, 2004

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Monday, February 2, 2004

This weekend we donned wetsuits, BCDs and regulators again to clock up our 16th and 17th dives. We headed for The Poor Knights Islands, a renowned dive site off the East Coast of Northland. The Poor Knights are regarded as one of the world's top dive spots. Beneath the waves around these rocky islands, there's an underwater world of caves, arches and tunnels providing a habitat for a huge variety of fish - many of which are subtropical due to the warm northern currents which reach this area.

On Friday evening we struggled north through the heavy traffic and even heavier rain toward Tutukaka, the small marina-village from where many of the dive-boats leave. At the campsite we met Kristian and Markella, friends of P&C, and fellow-divers who had organised the trip for us. They are excellent cooks and made us a feast of fish in peach sauce with kumara mash and chilli (Kristian is Danish and Markella is Greek - I'm not sure if that explains their culinary expertise, but I feel it must be relevant!)

Saturday morning we awoke to cloud, but no wind or rain, so we were optimistic about our trip. We were booked with Yukon Charters, run by local Dive Instructor and skipper, Noel. This turned out to be a great choice, and I would definitely recommend Yukon to anyone planning on diving the Poor Knights: Yukon Dive Charters. www.yukon.co.nz

After Noel had kitted us out with dive-gear, we zipped out to the islands on his speedy dive-boat, which only takes 6-8 divers, resulting in a relaxed, friendly and personalised service. Not at all like the big commercial dive cruisers where they hurry you along and virtually shove you into the water! We were also accompanied by Jo, a Divemaster who acted as our guide for both dives, at no extra cost.

The weather cleared as we approached the Poor Knights' own little sunny micro-climate and we were joined on the way by a pod of dolphins riding our bow wave. This seems to be a normal occurrence for us now whenever we venture out on to the NZ waves, but it's no less special for that.

On arrival at the islands, Noel cruised around and picked a quiet spot away from the big dive boats, settling on "Nursery Cove" a nice easy sheltered dive for the non-Jacques Cousteaus among us.

Jumping into the water wasn't nearly as cold as I'd anticipated. Though only 20oC, our long wetsuits, sexy little rubber hoods and booties kept us toasty. Jo signalled our descent and we were off - down into the deep blue sea again! The dive was wonderful and very different from the tropical coral dives we'd done up until now. This was a "rock & kelp" dive, teeming with fish in glorious 15-20 metre visibility. My favourites were the evil-looking scorpion fish, the cheeky wrasse which came right up to my mask to say hello, and the nasty looking eels lunging out of cracks in the rocks. But best of all were the huge sting-ray - one camouflaged in the sandy sea-bed, and one gracefully swimming away.

Back on the boat we had lunch, while Noel took us on a little cruise around these dramatic rocky islands, which rise as sheer cliff-faces right out of the sea. We cruised into a large cave, through arches and along tunnels, admiring the craggy outlines of the rocks.

For our second dive we explored some of these caves, diving down to then resurface in "The Lost World" - a hidden cave locked in the centre of the island, but open to the sky above. It was beautiful, if a little spooky. This second dive was harder than the first - more adventurous with all the cave and tunnel swim-throughs we did.

At the end of the day, back on the mainland, we joined Noel and Jo in their local drinking den for a few beers by the marina. While we were there, two game-fishing boats came in with the large marlin they'd caught. We watched as these beautiful fish were strung up and weighed, and couldn't help but feel sad. As Kristian put it: "the ocean seemed a poorer place without them."

And so our 4th dive trip was over. Who knows when we'll do it again - I think the South Island will be too cold for me! Maybe in South America.......
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