Waikato drift dive

Waikato Drift Diving

by Darrell Adshead

Over it or under it, I wondered as the log loomed out of the gloom in front of me. By the time I had tipped my fins to steer myself, the decision had been made for me and I shot over the smooth bough. I fought to turn down and found myself being caught in a forward roll as the current continued to spin me. As I looked up I saw my buddy pointing to the next obstacle, now looming in front of me! He’s laughing, I thought, as I tried not to be dashed onto the rocks. However, once the rush of ice to the heart had subsided, I realised that the current had in fact moved me around, cushioning any blow that might have come….

I started diving because the idea of actively participating in a sport without sweating appealed to the lazy side of my nature. So when Freedom Dive in Browns Bay told me they had arranged a drift dive on the Waikato, where I wouldn’t even have to fight the current, I became very interested indeed.

We had arranged to meet at one of Taupo’s backpacker hostels in the evening in order to give ourselves the chance to go for a night dive in the Great Lake. This was on my list of ‘things I’ve never done before’ so I was looking forward to it. Our Divemaster, Greg and several others from the club arrived and we headed to Acacia Bay. After a dive briefing we waded out into the lake. A short descent past the oxygen weed brought us into the realm of the freshwater koura – easily spotted by their golden eyes seen in the light of the torches. They’re aggressive little devils if approached, keen to take you on despite the obvious size difference!

The rock floor, covered lightly in silt, descends sharply as you head around the point. We saw several catfish along the way as we searched for trout and eels. We saw neither and all too soon it was time to multilevel up as we reached our planned halfway time. The scenery on the return sweep did not change much although it was enjoyable to swim around a couple of trees rather than walk around them in the normal way on land.

The two drift dives were the real reason for the trip and are something I will never forget. We met up with our guides from Dive Inn at Cherry Island and were treated to one of the best dive briefings I have ever had. It was then time to gear up and wade on in. The flow was not extreme, and after descending we were able to make it down the side of the big bowl under the bungy jump. The flow accelerated as we went up the gravel shoal bank on the other side and then we were into the rocky alleyways that make up the main run.

The turbulence of the water and the size of many of the rocks as we sped past were enough to make us draw breath faster than normal from our regulators. The shapes carved into the bottom by the river reminded me of the power of the water around me as I headed downstream. The colours are breathtaking, although you don’t get enough time to truly appreciate them as you go past. There is little weed here, and with the visibility of around 10 metres we were able to see far enough ahead to work out whether we had time to do a barrel roll before bouncing off the next obstruction!

It soon became apparent when the river narrowed as the flow increased and I felt myself being picked up and carried, rather than being able to glide across the currents as in the slower reaches. Soon the water changed to a greenish colour caused by water from the hot springs mixing with the cold water of the river. By this stage in the run the chance to surface and warm up in the thermal springs by the riverside was definitely a highlight! However, getting back into the main stream for the last leg seemed positively Arctic! The final stage down to the exit point was more serene and calm with more weed as well as trout to be seen. Unfortunately, there was also a substantial amount of rubbish including car tyres and numerous bottles.

The exit point gave easy access to the bank and soon everyone had dumped their gear into the trucks provided and we were heading back to the start to do it all again. On this dive though, someone upstream had the clever idea of opening the power house gates, so now we had a lot more flow, visibility of around two metres and a ride that was much more exhilarating. We had just enough time to spot the logs and rocks, but were kept alert for when the next one appeared. This run was much quicker as we zoomed down the river at around seven knots! Touching a rock I was travelling over at high speed sent me spiralling over doing barrel rolls and forward rolls, fins coming out of the water, and pure adrenalin rushing through my veins. With heart pounding, I grinned at my buddy as we raced each other down the current to the finish…

Watch out Taupo – I’m hooked and intend to return!

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