Astrolab Adventure (Tauranga)
By Darryl Adshead
Even down at 37 metres the surge was apparent. The scenery was spectacular; overhangs and crevices everywhere, superb 15 to 18 metre viz and demoiselles as far as the eye could see.Watching it go past at a slightly faster rate than normal in the current simply added to the fun.
The July school holidays produced some dreadful weather, with four metre-plus swells making diving impossible. However, a break in the weather for just one day enabled Gil Peters to take out more experienced divers to check out some of the fantastic diving to be had out from Tauranga.
We set out from Tauranga in a one and a half metre swell on board Gil’s 33 foot (10 metre) launch Gamebreaker II. She is a beautiful boat to dive from and is fully kitted out with every piece of safety equipment needed. There is plenty of space for eight divers to gear up, especially since Gil allows divers in wetsuits to enter the cabin area to get out of the wind. There is an eight-person liferaft on the roof, lifejackets for Africa and even the correct coloured lights for night diving (the first I have seen here!) Enough oxygen for two people is carried as well as a number of fire extinguishers. One’s safety is obviously of paramount importance to Gil and the crew.
My fellow divers were Chris, the regular deckhand, and Colin Due from Tauranga Underwater. They were keen to show off the sites in their area, and decided to start with Astrolabe Reef. This exposed piece of rock rises to just out of the water and drops away to depths beyond the range of recreational diving. The surge was apparent when we entered off the back of the boat and we had to descend to 37 metres to stop us being buffeted about.
At that depth the light is diminished and time is short. Despite this I spent a couple of minutes simply staring at the variety of terrain and colour. Beautiful lemon-yellow anemones were clustered all round, covering the rocks, clustered under overhangs and sharing space with the huge grey sponges found in New Zealand. Half-banded yellow perch were hiding in holes, crayfish in berry were sitting out quite exposed, although curling their tails carefully round their precious cargos of eggs. Large triplefins hid among the kelp, as well as several large starfish.
Soon our computer alarms were reminding us that it was time to start heading home. As we ascended we were able to branch out and look along the walls. I was so engrossed looking for nudibranchs that I missed the barracuda that Colin saw hanging around above us. However, the butterfly perch and pink maomao were very apparent in their mating colours.
As we tried to accomplish our safety stops, clinging to rocks while the surge lifted and lowered us, our computers, thinking we were ascending too quickly, penalised us by making us do an extra couple of minutes safety stop.
Fortunately the sun was shining as we came back on deck, which made peeling off the wetsuit much more pleasant (I’m trying to dispel the myth that all Aucklander’s wear drysuits).
After our surface interval and lunch we motored off to our second site. We had hoped to get to Mayor Island, but the conditions dictated otherwise and we swung by Penguin Shoals instead. The viz was even better here, being a good 15 to 18 metres. We went down the line to find a huge knoll at around 18 metres, descending to about 32 metres. I levelled out at 29 metres as I figured the time would be brief enough at that depth and I wanted to make the most of it. Again the terrain was stunning, with kelp and sponges in profusion as well as the ubiquitous demoiselles.
We slowly swam around the rock we were anchored to, ascending all the time to max out our time. Colin and Chris were on Nitrox and had a lot more time available to probe small caves and look deeply into likely spots. Next time I’ll be on the stuff too!
Unfortunately, all good things have to end and we were soon back on board heading for Tauranga. On our return Colin took me for a guided tour of the new accommodation and facilities at the Tauranga Underwater Centre. I was well impressed. They can cater for groups of up to 10 divers and are just waiting on the training pool to go in to finish the complex. Nitrox fills and hire are available and trips on Gamebreaker II go out whenever conditions allow. Most sites are accessible within an hour of Tauranga including the wreck of the Taupo and the recently sunk Taioma. These, and the wide variety of local sites help to make Tauranga a truly spectacular place to dive.
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