Return to the black forest (Poor Knights)

By Pete Mesley

Never before dived until a few years ago. We were doing build-up dives for the coveted jewel of the Ocean – RMS Niagara. On one of the build-up days the ROV that was part of our expedition became snagged on the reef just shy of the Poor Knights Islands. Not wanting to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gear (and possibly ruining beautiful black coral trees) Tim Cashman, one of the bottom divers for the expedition, went down to free the ROV. Upon surfacing, Tim commented ‘That’s not a bad reef actually. Loads of those pink spotty buggers and heaps of those long silvery bastards’. (You could tell that fish life was Tim’s forte!) With the ever-impending weather closing in and the Niagara now out of reach, Dave Apperley and I decided to give the reef a go. Tim was right, it was a breathtaking dive. We counted 12 two metre trees and lost sight of them in the distance. Tim started the legacy of the newly found ‘black forest’. The adventure begins!

May 2003 – The Dive

The shot was set and Geoff and I kitted up and entered the water. There wasn’t a breath of current. The viz was breathtaking. The wind was picking up but the water was calm. I descended first and as I hit 50 metres, the top of the reef came into view. It was teeming with life. The first thing that caught my breath was a massive ravine heading south-eastwards. Levelling out at 85 metres I could see the white sandy bottom at around 95 metres. And then they came into view – back coral tree after black coral tree. They were everywhere! It was apparent that hapuka fishermen frequented the site as I found more than a few snagged lines on the bottom, leaving scars of torn up reef and bare rock behind them. Such damage really is sad to see. As we swam over many black coral trees you could see snake stars wrapped tightly round the branches, waiting patiently for nightfall to open out and feed. A John dory came into view and a set of Lord Howe coral fish scampered in front of me only to be frightened off by all the bubbles. Thanks Geoff! The beauty of having a rebreather is getting so close to marine life you simply blend into the scenery.

Breathing a Trimix 8/60 blend (8% Oxygen 60% Helium) my head was as clear as a bell! No narcosis. This gave me all 20 minutes of our bottom time to enjoy those massive trees! Splendid perch by the dozen and every specie of sponge known to man cluttered the reef.

About 16 minutes into the dive we were met by some of the biggest kingees I have seen in a long time. Hundreds of them engulfed us, circling us like Indians to a wagon train. And we were loving it! As we ascended into our decompression stops we passed into the blue mao mao layer. This was just as thick as the kingee layer. Every now and then a spot of colour where a pink mao mao would intrude in the group!

This really is one of my favourite spots! I look forward to returning and experiencing some more amazing sights.

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