In the wake of the fast ferries (Marlborough Sounds)
By Bruce Walton
The Marlborough Sounds covers an area of over 50,000 hectares, made up of nearly 100 parks and reserves, and 900 kilometres of unique foreshore comprising of sounds, reaches, harbours and large bays.
Queen Charlotte Sound is only a small part of this former maritime park. Named by Captain Cook after King George the Third’s consort, Queen Charlotte Sophia, it is better known today as one of the finest natural harbours in the country, and the southern terminus of the Cook Strait ferries.
A number of diving locations are in easy reach of Picton and Waikawa Bay. All are in the wake of the fast ferries, but offer rewarding diving, especially if you have time to explore, rather than take.
Grove Arm stretches back towards Anakiwa, home of Outward Bound, and the start of the Queen Charlotte Walkway. It was once the main link to Linkwater and through to Havelock. Now road access has opened up many delightful bays, while providing entry to the larger part of the Marlborough Sounds.
The district provides some excellent scallop diving and some points offer good fishing. Visibility is usually between three and five metres due to the wake of the ferries.
For the keen underwater photographer macro is the order of the day with the chance of seeing some unusual marine species. Nudibranchs, sea anemones and brachiopods are all present, and elephant fish have been known to breed here. Who knows what you may find.
Known for the pet fish that live here, Double Cove is well worth a visit. Lying between here and Torea Bay rests one of the first purposely sunk vessels, the SS Koi. This complete iron hull sits upright in only 11 metres of water and it is possible to swim into the holds and engine room with ease and safety. Last used as a coal hulk in Picton, it was sunk on 10 March 1940 and has now become a mecca for local clubs. It has also gained popularity as a night dive. Combined with the surrounding bay and the abundance of scallops, this is a great place to dive.
The sandy bottom drops slowly down to just over 35 metres before levelling out and contains a marvellous ion of tube worms, and a species of pure white nudibranch which covers the bottom like flies on a wall.
There is a total fishing ban in place.
Allports Island is a scenic reserve. Much of the shoreline is covered with quartz rock and is part of a mineral belt running out to Cape Jackson. In many places evidence of early mining operations can still be seen.
All points and reefs make interesting dive sites, dropping steeply into deep water. The rocky areas are saturated with cracks and crevices as well as some large caves. Be prepared for surprises as you never know what might have taken refuge here.
The numerous bays to the north are extremely popular with locals for recreational use. Native bush to the water’s edge, bush walks, safe moorings and good scallops create an epidemic of vessels and divers in the summer. Kingfish cruise the points, dolphins play in boat wakes, and even orca have ventured into the locality.
Jutting into the path of all vessels using Picton or Waikawa, The Snout is another exciting dive. Careful planning between all ferry sailings does allow this reef to be dived with safety, but be ready to leave the water quickly as most vessels will come close to going over the top of you. If they don’t their wash will.
Large caves have contained good size crays, while the shallow kelp beds house blue moki, tarakihi, butterfish, snapper and the Marlborough Sounds blue cod.
The reef is quite extensive. Running out to sea it drops in ledges, each having a small, flat, sandy section. Both sides drop into deep water, with the northern side being much steeper. Large blue moki cruise up from the depths, while kingfish have a habit of coming out of nowhere, giving you a scare.
Towards Picton the bottom levels out and scallops exist. All divers and fishing persons should familiarise themselves with the local fishing regulations. Fisheries’ Officers do frequent this region and often give no warnings.
This dive should only be attempted by very experienced divers!
Tory Channel is recognised as an extension of State Highway One! With between 10 and 20 large vessel movements each day, it is very difficult to dive this reef safely. Currents of up to seven knots run at times, especially during new and full moons. Knowledge of tide and shipping is essential to any dive in this large current battered waterway.
Some vessels have experienced trouble in this narrow highway. Although none have sunk, most have faced more than embarrassing misfortunes, usually being placed firmly aground.
Good dive spots with large kelp beds stretch out from nearly every point, many within snorkelling range. Kinas, blue moki, and butterfish can all be caught, and crayfish are on most points, but the larger ones take a bit of finding. Deeper parts, with steep walls reaching depths of 50 metres make thrilling deep dives.
Surfacing between ferries could prove rather embarrassing for you, so watch out!
Large bays on the northernmost side of the Sound offer more laid back diving. Often it is not necessary to travel great distances if you only require enough seafood for a meal. Ruakaka Bay is one such bay, and also contains a large salmon farm. Each part of this extensive bay can produce scallops, fish and crayfish while diving in shelter with little current.
Bay of Many Coves is the first location that now has both fuel and accommodation available.
Snake Point, at its entrance, offers relaxing and interesting diving. The richness of this reef is due to the closeness of Tory Channel, but unlike Dieffenback Reef, does not have the tidal flow across it.
Stretching out into the main channel to the northern entrance, it is often passed in preference to the outer parts of the Sound. Frequently crayfish rest here, but an excellent ion of fish can be caught as well. Large hydroid trees, often covered with the colourful Jason mirabilis nudibranch and eggs make a very photographic stretch of reef. A large deep region also gives the added advantage of many other species which visit this expansive shallow reef area. From here it is only a stone throw to many of the accommodation resorts, and a little further to dive outside the wake of the fast ferries.
There are easily accessible launching ramps and marinas at Picton and Waikawa Bay. The outer parts of Queen Charlotte Sound are within easy reach of small boats, while a number of charter vessels provide services from day to weekend trips. Some accommodation resorts are only accessible by boat, saving time in reaching those outer extremes of the Sound. Most offer a choice of recreational activities, ideal if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
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