Mantas and Macro
by Sue Rafferty & Darrell Adshead
‘Manta ray ahead,’ shouted Noel Ericksen, skipper of Pacific Hideaway. We all leapt to our feet as he brought the catamaran to a halt beside one of the most graceful rays the sea has produced. There was plenty of excitement at seeing a creature rarely seen in New Zealand waters, and it didn’t disappoint, putting on a show for us that took our breath away. It circled at the surface as it fed on krill, swooping and soaring, rolling over so we could see its underbelly, and had us darting from one side of the boat to the other watching its antics. With a flair for the dramatic it swooped between the hulls, appearing again at the other end where it rolled over before zooming off. Close observation revealed the presence of a second manta a little way off, visible only by its wingtip breaking the surface. We all stood mesmerised as they cavorted and fed, then disappeared from view. A perfect end to a perfect day’s diving.
As amateur photographers we find the Poor Knights offers plenty of opportunities to get at least a couple of half decent shots per film. The weather was perfect as we headed out on Pacific Hideaway with about 20 other divers. Our first stop was Northern Arch, a favourite with many divers, and a destination which provides plenty of photographic opportunities. Due to the number of divers we were staggered into four groups, with each group being led by a dive guide if required.
Once the cameras were ready we stepped in and descended through a cloud of blue maomao before moving along the wall where there was a good 20 metres visibility. We never even made it to the arch to see if there were any rays cruising through as we were both so taken with the fantastic colour and all the small fish letting us know in no uncertain terms that we were in their territory and we’d better just watch out! Both cameras fitted with macro lenses, our objective was to photograph nudibranchs, and we certainly spotted plenty of them. But there was also so much more to see. A scorpionfish was totally unconcerned at having a macro lens shoved in it’s face. A rather elusive grey moray was quite happy to pose as long as we left it enough space to escape should it change its mind (but don’t ask to see the photos – we’re not in Darryl Torckler’s league yet). Before we knew it our time was up and we headed back to the surface to endure gravity again.
There was, however, a reward for coming back – a delicious bowl of home made soup, a warm shower and heaps of space to lounge around in while we waited for the other groups to return. The extended surface times that this staggering system gives allows for a greater sense of safety and a more relaxed atmosphere. It also gave us a chance to talk to the crew and get their invaluable assistance in identifying what we’d seen, with the help of several ID guides kept on board. There was also time to jump onto a kayak and go for a play or go for a snorkel.
The second dive was at a new site for us – Red Baron Caves. Wow! We were stunned by the beauty of this site which has three chimneys going from 18 metres to the surface. The colour along the wall was fantastic and there were heaps of little critters attracting our attention, as well as several large stingrays calmly watching us from the ledges they were resting on, or lazily swimming past. The great thing about this wall, apart from the vibrant colours, was the number of recesses and ledges hidden by kelp where you could find all sorts of things. In one very tiny recess we found three species of nudibranch, a couple of blennies, and several triplefins. This place is absolutely teeming with life! We spent so long investigating this wall that by the time we got to the third and largest cave we were running out of time. But then we had the pleasure of surfacing through a chimney with the sunlight streaming down on us in a concentrated beam, giving a new perspective on the rocky walls and crevices. All too soon it was over, but this is definitely a site to return to, preferably on Nitrox to gain some extra time!
Special thanks go to Rees and crew of Pacific Hideaway for making this such a special day.