Little Barrier Bliss
text by Shane Bell, photographs by Kelvin Parkin and Dive Centre
I couldn’t have asked for a better day, 8 am and already hot enough to get a tan! I had the pleasure of diving Little Barrier on the outer reaches of New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf aboard MV Divercity and what a vessel she is, moored in Leigh Harbour situated a little over an hour from Auckland on the East Coast makes a day trip viable.
At 48 feet (16.4 metres) with a 16 diver capacity and room to move this purpose-built power cat is one of the best set up dive boats I have had the privilege to dive from.
Brett was our skip for the day he’s a local lad from Omaha and the divemaster from The Dive Centre was Brent (that made it easy to remember Brett and Brent).
After being briefed on the safety precautions and procedures we steamed our way out to Little Barrier, cruising at 15 knots got us there in a about an hour and a half.
The majority of the dive sites located around Little Barrier are within the recreational limits so it makes a perfect place for both novice and experienced divers, whether you’re a hunter or a naturalist you’ll enjoy your time here.
Upon reaching our first dive site, Rocky Point there was about a half knot current running, a surface temperature of 24 degrees Celsius and the water a comfortable 19. Perfect!
The general consensus for the dive was ‘bugs!’ and according to Brett they were in close, between two and 12 metres. Once buddied and briefed we were all raring to go. Descending without delay, the visability was 12-15 metres and the fish life prolific for the shallow water. Having done my share of crayfishing I was also there to take in the scenery and if there’s one thing I learnt in the tropics, if you want to see more fish when you’re diving, stop concentrating on what’s under you and look around, keep an eye on the horizon and you’ll be surprised at what you will see.
We started the dive into the current crawling across the kelp-covered terrain. It was like crashing through the jungle although being followed by the schooling mao mao has to be better than being stalked by a lion.
The good visibility made staying with your buddy a breeze.
Little Barrier is a great place to take it all in … I was admiring the group of school fish that had filled my view when I reached over to a small rock trying to steady myself and missed planting my hand square into the face of a little yellow octopus by millimetres! I’m not sure who got the bigger fright; they can really move when they feel threatened and are a master of disguise being able to change colour in a instant!
The crayfish were mostly found solo, which is unusual, but most of us returned with one or two keepers.
Exiting the water is made easy by the giant submergible platform that is lowered in to the water allowing the diver to swim right up onto it, remove your fins and get to your feet with ease. Sure beats trying to heave oneself into a 12 foot tinny I tell ya.
The law states that divers must size all crayfish and scallops before removing them from the water, it does ensure a better rate of survival for the returned. Be sure to take your measuring tool, it’s a good idea to attach it to your catch bag handle or similar.
Lunch time! A light lunch of soup and sausages was provided. It’s a good idea to eat but don’t get carried away before your next dive. Keep well hydrated.
Sugar Loaf Reef was site number two, it’s situated on the south-western side of the island, easily identified by big rock directly alongside.
Once everyone’s lunch had time to settle and all had completed their surface intervals it was time to walk the plank for the second time of the day.
With the visibility and depth between 10 and 12 metres it was another comfortable dive. There seemed to be a lot of red moki about on this dive and I spotted half a dozen leather jackets, one trying desperately to hide behind a leaf of seaweed. A huge trail of piper ran back and forth continually for two to three minutes before I spotted a small kingi flanking them while trying to decide which one was his.
I spotted more bugs on this dive than the first although I caught only one, there were many small ones and I came across two nests each containing six to 12 juveniles, this is a good sign for the future and remember to take only what you will eat. Six per diver per day is ample.
How the day flies when you’re having fun, 2.30 and time to board and head for home. Just when I was thinking how lucky I’d been Brett called ‘Dolphins Ahead’ there they were charging, looked like they were rounding up a feed. They weren’t too interested in us as we crept alongside, then they sped off into the distance chasing dinner. ‘Whale!’ Cried one of the quests, blow me down a whale had just breached off the port side, although too far away to establish what type, we were fortunate enough to witness one of nature’s largest mammals stamp its presence two more times before diving out of sight.
The day went off without a hitch, the crew were brilliant! The company was great! The boat was a dream! Thanks to the team at The Dive Centre for making it happen!
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