WHITE ISLAND – the experience of a lifetime

WHITE ISLAND  – the experience of a lifetime

text by Shane Addenbrook

photos by S and L Clews

During a lifetime there are certain events and points where everything comes together to create a feeling close to perfection. So often in this busy, noisy lifestyle these events become distant memories.

For awhile it was the same for me, until I took up scuba diving. The most recent of these special times was at White Island.

The day began like any other, a group of people gathered together for a Dive White trip at Sportsworld Whakatane. We were all buzzing with anticipation of the day ahead. We boarded Black Shag, the nine metre bladerunner cat, and received a cup of coffee and a welcome from the skipper and owner, Ben Dodds. The one and a quarter hour trip out to White Island had combinations of smooth seas, dolphins, two sunfish and lots of chat about the dive ahead.

The dive site was Laisons Reef situated between the main White Island and Volkner Rocks to the west. The pinnacle comes out of deeper water to a nine metre top, the sea around it this day was almost an azure blue and visible were the backs of the schools of trevally and blue maomao as they fed on the up welling krill. My three diving companions were all experienced and soon we were hanging in this crystal blue as we descended the anchor line. With the visibility around 30 metres, we could see the whole pinnacle laid out before us. Our planned depth was 25 metres, and as we dropped over the ridge and made our way down, the schools of blue and red maomao and trevally started to school around us. At one stage it felt like being in the middle of a fish tornado as these schools encircled us two to three metres away; the vivid blues, reds and silver giving the visual sensors an overload. Suddenly the dynamics changed as the schools in unison moved away, and looking along the wall was a sight that started the adrenalin pumping. The bullyboys had arrived. A large number of kingfish up to 50 kg, like some vagrant street gang, streamed towards us, distracting shoals of smaller fish. As they passed four to five metres away their grace and strength were all in evidence. They were here to check out the new boys on the block.

As we made our way around towards the southern point, we had a chance to study the rock face of Laisons Reef. It too was abuzz with life among the kelp. The demoiselles, marble fish, red moki and leatherjackets all were going about their lives, little worried about these strange creatures in their midst, except for the occasional break away to peer into our masks in wonder. Big free-swimming yellow and sand moray eels opened their mouths in proud defiance at our passing. Among the small outcrops a pair of Lord Howe coral fish, looking so tropical with their yellow and black stripes, came out to see what all the fuss was over.

So far this is sounding like a typical White Island dive, this was all about to change. First indication, as I looked up, were four average sized short tailed stingrays hovering above the southern point. I moved higher up the rock face to get a better look. As I rounded the point my breath caught, two rays two and a half metres across were approaching from the other direction. At the same level as my team, there was little time for communication as the two parties met at the point. I talked to one of the divers later at the feeling of having one of these magnificent creatures face to face under a metre away. Let me tell you, the rays did not give way, and as the divers slid aside they moved on pass. We all joined up again and moved around onto the current side of the rock, and witnessed 30-40 of these rays of varying sizes either moving along the wall or hovering in the current stream. Up until now I had only heard about these types of gatherings, and January/February are the best times to witness such events. Looking out through crystal clear waters at this sight, even now draws me to want to head back to Laisons Reef just to experience it again.

Communication underwater is limited to a basic series of hand signals and few facial expressions, and so it was not until we had surfaced that I realised this feeling of a privileged experience was shared by all four of us. The other divers have dived some of the top places in the world, and this went up to the top two to three dives in their experience. For me I was spell bound. While these few words can only give you glimpses of the actual experience. I hope it has expressed a feeling of what could be, and it is right here on our doorstep.

We went on to have a delicious lunch while cruising around the active volcano White Island, snorkel Spanish Arch, then a second dive at the Fumarole. All these had been over shadowed by this wonderful first dive.

I work as a Dive Instructor for Tony at Sportsworld, and I know I have one of the best jobs in the world. I enjoy teaching new people to dive; so that some of the magic of the sport will touch other people’s lives the same as it has mine. I have seen the same look of wonderment and excitement on a young person I have taught to another nearing retirement who has dreamt of giving diving a try for years. So please, take it from me if you have ever thought of entering this crystal watery realm, then take the step to see about a dive course. It is so much better than you could ever imagine.

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