By Simon Freeman
East of Great Island and somewhat West of Farmer Rocks, bottom soundings don’t show too much: a rocky bottom that undulates in regular, broad outcroppings that lie between 12 and 35m. A naive dive here doesn’t reveal too much either. Typical of the Three Kings, schools of pink maomao, terakihi, golden snapper and occasionally kingfish will escort divers around relatively smooth and bare rock structures. For all the world it appears as though there is nothing out of the ordinary here, unless you happen to spy the small vertical opening, obscured by the endemic kelp Sargassum johnsoni, in the side of an innocuous rock face.
At any time, the Kings are often subjected to rolling open ocean swells that can be felt by a diver down at 30m or more. What’s curious about the opening to Ken’s dreampipe, and the first clue as to how far down the dreampipe goes, is that water rushes in and out completely out of time with the surrounding swell. Getting close, it’s possible a diver may even miss the entrance until they are close to being sucked in! The small opening can only be entered with care, so a
s not to damage the delicate garden of gorgonians, bryozoan colonies and corals that crowd the inside of the vertical shaft, extending their fragile arms into the whooshing in-out-in-out of the cavern current. At the base of the vertical shaft the floor is covered in pulverized pure white skeletons of dead coral, their calcareous remains dislodged from the wall and slowly ground to dust by the ever present deep-sea swell.
Looking horizontally, the cavern stretches away in two directions. To the west, after some way the cavern ceiling slowly converges to meet the floor and reveals a dead end by torchlight, guarded by a couple of black spotted grouper and a large bastard cod. In the easterly direction the cavern ceiling rises to become cathedral-like and a dim, deep blue glow is faintly visible in the darkness.
Here, the full size of Ken Drury’s dreampipe becomes apparent, for the ‘mouthpiece’ of the pipe is a long way off and only vaguely visible even in the crystal clear Three Kings water. Swimming along the bottom, ripples of white sand – more coral – indicate that some substantial wave energy propagates right through the pipe. The end of the dreampipe
opens into a horizontal exit, the ‘mouthpiece’ – a vertical crack in the rock that’s covered with life in much the same way as the entrance. Ascending to the ceiling of the cave, the source of the white sand is made clear – the ivory coral Oculina virgosa covers the rock, and although stark white when dead, the living tissue glows a vivid orange when illuminated by torchlight. Oculina corals, which usually grow in deep water, seem to be prolific here. Perhaps it’s something to do with the darkness inside the cave? What other deep water species could be living here? It may be that the dreampipe offers a chance to view rarely seen creatures.