White Island Rockslide Adventure

Text by John Papesch, images John Papesch and Mike Arthur

After waiting many months our planned annual trip to White Island finally arrived. We expected to get battered by the weather with stong SW winds forecast but the last thing we expected was a close encounter with a rockslide! It was my fourth trip to White Island, and I went with friends from the Auckland University Underwater Club. The trip on board Ma Cherie commenced with a pod of orca passing close by the boat, a good luck sign? A nice lazy roll for three hours saw a few of us ‘feeding the fish’ but completely worth it upon making it to the protected waters around the Island!

The first dive was at club rocks. Nice clear water and large schools of blue maomao made it a fantastic dive! We dove around the rocks to the sand at 30m and had a bit of fun with the current on the return swim! Next dive was at ‘the femerol’, a place where a six metre round hole in the reef dives from 5-15 m and has a 10m cave to the outer reef. There are lots of inquisitive moray eels in the shallows and plenty of fish in the greater depths.

As the day got colder and the wind increased, we found sheltered waters and settled in for the night. Our last discussions before hitting the hay were ‘sounds like guns going off on the island, must be rock slides’. Then at 2 am, whompff! Down came a large landslide only 30m from the boat! We woke with the rumble, some of us just in time to poke our heads out the window to see a mass of rock tumble into the water, causing a shockwave beam on to the boat! We all had a small heart attack, but the boat settled safely from the wave and we were encased in a mass of dust and spray from the landslide. There was nowhere else to hide in this weather, so a quiet prayer and back to bed.

In the morning, we pulled up anchor and broke out the bacon and eggs to celebrate surviving the night. We completed two dives during the day, in the protected waters as the wind was gusting over 40 knots, lifting the tops off waves causing horizontal rain! We decided to tempt a walk over the island, and donning our drysuits made the snorkel for shore. The wind was so strong, we had to walk half the way to the cone with our hoods and masks on to protect ourselves from the sand and gravel being hurtled around. The lake level was quite a lot higher than I’d seen it before and there were plenty of cracks around the cone edge, so we did not venture too close! That evening, a few of us threw on our gear and headed out for an hour long night dive. There were a number of small conger eels out and the torches easily picked up the shapes of the nudibrachs. It was a fantastically clear night dive followed by a welcomed hot dinner. We chose a different anchorage for the night. On Sunday, the wind had lessened to 15 knots and the northerly swell had died, so it was off to the Volkner Rocks for some spectacular diving! The water was pretty rough on the surface so we were dropped close to the middle island and descended quickly to the calm waters beneath. Heading around the Island, the waters dived off to over 40m, but we kept this as our limit. Fish of all types, plenty of maomao and great visibility made for a great dive! For the second dive of the day, we chose the more protected waters of the island, and another wall dive. Unfortunately, where we dropped we missed the wall and the bottom was at 40m again. Over to the wall and up, tonnes of life and nudibranchs everywhere. Another hour long dive to finish an enjoyable journey, ready for a lazy roll back home.

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