Discovering Northland

Discovering Northland

By Monique Witsenberg

Just when you think life can’t get any better – you get invited to go diving at the Poor Knights Islands.

Even as someone who is still wary about what lies beneath the waves, I found it impossible to decline kitting up to discover the beauty that led Jacques Cousteau to rank these islands among the top 10 dive spots in the world.

Dive Tutukaka offers dive trips daily to this wondrous place, and encourages new divers to confront any fears they may have and experience the magic of what it’s really all about.

Today Tutukaka honoured us with a gorgeous winter’s day, calm seas and a great dive team, including Brenda, Luke and Dave as our hosts aboard our sturdy vessel Arrow.

No shark attack thoughts were gonna stop me this time. My ever-so-patient instructor and skilful skipper Luke gave me the confidence to trust my equipment and him, and to take the plunge. Even though the water temperature was a pleasant 17°C, I was grateful to have my cosy 7mm Sequel wetsuit and booties  – all phobias aside, I was warm and ready.

‘Oh my God!’ – I wished I could shout with joy and share my thoughts with my dive buddies while sucking up the oxygen. (Note: new invention needed – verbal communication device.) It’s so totally breathtaking, sharing this unique world with millions of fish, underwater forests of kelp and wall-to-wall carpets of colour. Surrounded by schools of friendly blue maomao, reality escaped me. I don’t think I blinked once until I resurfaced inside the archway of Blue Maomao Arch.

The sight of sunlight streaming through onto the mosaic walls around me aroused my curiosity to check out the cavern below. Hard to spot the divers for all the fish life here.

If only you could stay down for hours, with the schools of snapper, angelfish, wrasse, scorpionfish, juvenile maomao, koheru, leatherjackets, anemones and freaky big black diadema urchins. I was so enlivened, I ended up leading Luke around – I was speechless and  beaming with joy.

The day’s other dives included the volcanic pinnacles of Tie Dye Arch, named for the colourful life on walls covered in soft corals and nudibranchs. It was the end of mating season for rays but  there were plenty of morays, crayfish, schools of kingis, heaps of grandaddy snapper, porae, Lord Howe Island coralfish and barracuda.

Off Main Action Channel between The Canyon and Diadema Reef, there are brilliant dives within Dutch Cove and Hideaway Bay. Here the guys tried to charm an electric ray – not a good move really. These rays have a round fin, not like the usual tail, and can give quite a sharp shock to a nosy diver. Snorkelling is also pleasurable here, encountering caves full of snapper, angelfish hiding out in the kelp and swift schools of the cute two-spotted demoiselles.

I was busy taking shots of these when two larger fish caught my eye. Due to my shark phobia , my heart skipped a beat before I identified them. Then my finger fumbled the camera buttons, trying to capture on film the two kingfish racing towards me. They came within a metre before turning sharply and taking off. Wow, I hope I got that head-on shot.

These islands are truly an awesome place to dive, whether you’re a beginner or not. They would leave the most hardened hunter dazzled. Enthusiasts from around the world marvel at the variety of fish life – easy to understand why, with the diversity of sheltered coves and vertical drop-offs. It is a Mecca for divers, where you can explore the many tunnels, archways and caves, absorbed with artistic exhibitions of colourful fish, soft corals, sponges and anemones within this amazing underwater world.

The Poor Knights consist mainly of the remnants of two large volcanic islands, Tawhiti-Rahi and Aorangi, where landing is prohibited. Within Aorangi Island is Rikoriko Cave – the cave of echoes and shimmering lights. It’s like a big brandy balloon goblet full of nocturnal fish life, with depths ranging from six to 25 metres.

Many will tell you it’s an amazing dive, and the enormity of the cave also creates a fabulous shelter. With a roar and a stamp of feet, we created our own concert of thunder and echoes. Apparently Tim Finn played a gig here, and no wonder – the acoustics are electrifying.

If you’re into a spectacular marine reserve expedition, then this is the place to be, 12 nautical miles from the Tutukaka coast.

Thank you so much to the team at Dive Tutukaka for giving me this opportunity and the incentive to commit myself to becoming a full time diver and to enjoy this adrenaline-rush sport. I now submit to the joy of diving. Now I just need a persevering instructor to take on the challenge of this initiation.

I encourage any half-struck divers out there to open their eyes and live the experience of the underwater world that lies waiting for you. Take on the challenge – do the Discover Scuba course – you’ll never be the same – just do it!

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