Kermadec Islands, New Zealand

by Pete Mesley

New Zealand’s northernmost territories have only seen a handful of divers in its millions of years of existence. This has been mainly due to its remoteness, lying 1085km NE of New Zealand and only accessible by boat.

It takes a good two and a half days of continuous steaming to reach the Kermadec Islands. In 1990 the Kermadec and outlying islands became New Zealand’s largest marine reserve, extending 12 nautical miles round each island group covering 7480km2

All the islands in the Kermadec Group have been formed by volcanic eruptions with the latest eruption occurring in March 2006. This eruption unfortunately took the life of a DOC worker (we were up there when this happened regrettably) .

Raoul measures 34km2, with steep mountains rising to 516m above sea level. The island has two lakes and a freshwater lagoon at Denham Beach. It was around this fantastic island and the Meyer Islands where we did most of our diving

On the first day we dived the western side of Meyer Islands. It didn’t take long to realize how extremely privileged we were to dive in such a unique place. As I dipped my head below the warm surface, crystal clear, sapphire waters filled my vision. Three Galapagos sharks came up to the boat to meet our group. As we descended to the bottom, the raucous din of the ever active reef rang loud in our ears. Just then a large black spotted grouper immerged from under a rock and with massive black eyes fixed on us, came over to investigate. Who were these unfamiliar visitors? Massive shoals of blue mau mau, black spotted grouper and shark became a common sight. The sharks constantly circling us like B52 bombers. Shrieks could be heard through regulators as rare fish like gold ribbon grouper and yellow banded perch and morse code leatherjackets were spotted. Again not taking long to realize that these fish were prolific here! Beautiful, large lionfish paraded around coral encrusted rocks making for some amazing photo opportunities.

So why is the Kermadec group so diverse and exclusive?

It is the convergence of tropical and temperate water fish that make these islands so unique. The South Pacific ocean circulation pushes warm water down Australia’s eastern shore, splitting eastwards, as it meets cooler water travelling north. Warm tropical eggs and larvae travel eastward out towards isolated islands like Lord Howe, Norfolk and the Kermadec Islands. This is why there are so many endemic species in these unique places. This will probably answer the question as to why New Zealand has quite a few Australian species but they don’t have any Kiwi species. Interesting!

Our ship moved anchor into Denham Bay for more shelter from the wind and we spent the next few days covering the eastern side of the bay. It’s amazing the vast difference in topography a few hundred metres make! On descent you could immediately see massive kelpless rocks with spiny urchins and the giant limpets covering them. Swimming a short distance out we dropped off into 22m of water. Here masses of mau mau and demoiselles entwine themselves through the labyrinth of rocks with a Galapagos shark present in every corner of your field of vision. Hovering inches above the sand was a massive grouper, then another, then another. We counted seven. Being on the rebreather they came well within arms reach and I rattled off another quarter of a memory card of memorable images. It couldn’t get any better than this.

Next dive was off Smith Bluff – Parsons Rock. A submerged outcrop dropping to about 30 metres. Here we spotted the largest number of sharks, losing count at over 40! With a little current the fish loved it and so did the masses of soft corals fluttering in the breeze. More grouper, yellow banded perch and Kermadec angel fish kept us in awe.

Before we knew it our time was over and after spending four days at Raoul, eight dives and a lifetime of memories, we headed for home.

About the author: Pete Mesley is a technical diving instructor trainer who plans specialized trips all round the world.

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