Taioma Transformation (Tauranga)
By Sue Rafferty
Descending on the encrusted chain we were distracted by a lone kingfish cruising past just on the edge of vision. Grinning at each other we continued our descent, eagerly awaiting our first glimpse of the tug. As the sandy bottom came into view we realised we were looking in the wrong direction. Turning round, our vision was filled with our first sight of this proud little tug.
It seemed like only yesterday that the Taioma sank to the seabed to begin her life as an artificial reef. We had expected her to still look like the pictures featured in Dive New Zealand (issue 58, June/July 2000) taken a few days after her sinking. We couldn’t have been more wrong! The bright shiny coat of paint she sported has now disappeared under a mantle of marine life – barnacles, fan worms and general fuzzy growth.
Approaching the railings on her bow we were both amazed to see splashes of colour – vivid purple and bright yellow anemones have already taken up residence. Suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a shoal of yellowtails. There were hundreds of them swimming around us, keen to check out these strange bubble blowers. Swimming over the deck we were watched by several tarakihi and over a dozen goatfish, who were totally unperturbed by our presence. As we continued our exploration a school of juvenile snapper joined the shoal of yellowtails accompanying us.
Through an opening cut specially for divers, the boiler room beckoned. Checking for any obstructions first, we entered, safe in the knowledge that we could see at least two exits. A couple of goatfish were snuffling in the silt for food, and there was a small pile of shells littering the floor – a sure sign that an octopus had taken up residence.
Swimming out the exit we were again surrounded by our fishy escorts. Movement on one of the railings caught our eyes – a shy little blenny was peering out of his new home. After subjecting him to a few happy snaps, we continued on our tour. Seeing a John Dory coming out of a doorway we went to investigate and burst out laughing when we saw it was a toilet. We hope he flushed!
Reaching the stern with our escorts, which now included a couple of John Dory, we spotted two octopuses. They were happy enough to pose for photographs, and seemed to realise that we weren’t going to hurt them – just leave them temporarily blinded from the strobes!
All too soon it was time to ascend. After a quick look through the windows of the wheelhouse we headed up the mooring chain. Returning to the boat we had a barrage of questions thrown at us from our companions for the day, a group of divers doing their advanced course through Tauranga Underwater. They had kindly let us dive the wreck first to ensure the best visibility for taking photographs. Since we were absolutely buzzing, they were keen to get down on the wreck as soon as possible to see what the fuss was all about.
Back on board Pacific Runner we chatted to our skipper, Mike Steel, over a hot cuppa while we waited for the other divers to return. Our trip had been arranged by Tauranga Underwater, and we certainly had a perfect day for it – bright sunshine and only slight swells. Pacific Runner had us out to the site at the south-eastern end of Motiti Island in no time at all, and the quietness of her engines meant we could all hear Mike’s very tall tales all the way out there!
A second dive on the wreck gave everyone the chance to investigate areas of interest more fully. Some items to look out for are the anchor, prop and wheel – they are not what they seem! To raise the funds for the sinking, many items from the tug were auctioned. The propellor was bought back by the original owner of the tug, Bob Owens of the Owens Group, and it is intended to have it mounted as a monument to the merchant seamen who died in the first and second world wars.
To give the wreck a more authentic look, Steve Weidmann (the force behind the Taioma’s sinking) made a new prop, wheel and anchor to replace the originals. Little touches like this have made it a very special wreck to dive. The attention to detail by Steve and the Taioma Reef Society has also ensured that this is a very safe wreck, with plenty of exits and holes to let as much light as possible into the interior.
With her size and amount of marine life that has already gathered around her, the Taioma reminded us of the Rainbow Warrior. Although she doesn’t yet have the riot of colour that the Rainbow Warrior does, we don’t think it’s too far away.
The Taioma Reef Society have set up a scholarship for marine studies students to monitor the changes on the wreck. The first student to be awarded the scholarship, Janine Collett, believes it is a great opportunity to see what goes on at artificial reefs and in which order species arrive. We look forward to reading about her findings.
After our first dives on the Taioma we wanted to see more and wished we didn’t have to return to Auckland so soon. With a 4.30am start to reach Tauranga in time to get on the boat, we were pretty tired. Fortunately Colin and Annette Due from Tauranga Underwater have a solution. They have created backpacker style accommodation sleeping up to 12 people at their dive store, located just three minutes walk from the boat ramp. With cooking and barbeque facilities, a large lounge area, good showers and a secure area for storing your dive gear, this is the ideal place to stay for a weekend away.
So what are you waiting for? Visit Tauranga and enjoy some fabulous diving and hospitality. You won’t be disappointed.
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