By Shane Wasik
The coastline along New Zealand’s East Cape stretching from Cape Runaway to Matakaoa Point is made up of rugged rock. The area is remote with a distinct lack of people, rivers, pollution or anything else that usually spoils shore dives! The area also benefits from having deep water close to shore.
l dressed up and nowhere to go, Labour weekend had caught up with me and I hadn’t arranged any charters or boat diving. A good forecast with no appreciable swell – the week leading up I trawled the internet, guide books and local maps for ideas. Shore diving is a little overlooked in New Zealand, due to inshore conditions.Perhaps the most recognised shore diving is done at Goat Island north of Auckland and the thriving local scene down in Wellington. There is one shore dive in the North Island however, that I had heard rave reviews about, the catch is the road trip to get there!
The coastline along the East Cape stretching from Cape Runaway to Matakaoa Point is made up of rugged rock. The area is remote with a distinct lack of people, rivers, pollution or anything else that usually spoils shore dives! The area also benefits from having deep water close to shore. Taking State Highway 35, Lottin Point sits around 200kms (or three hours) from Whakatane or Gisborne, not one for a day trip! Turning off from the highway onto metal road, we wound our way down to the coast amid the lush bush and bright sunshine. As we crested the hill, the turquoise blue of the ocean dazzled us and I started to get excited. Thinking back to one of the stories I heard at the dive club, one of the spearos had a white pointer swim past him here. I neglect to mention this to my better half!
At the bottom of the hill I had a choice – right or left, without having too much local knowledge I took the option heading towards the peninsula. Reaching a pebble beach at the bottom, we met few other people; campervans and trailers, we seemed to be the only divers though. I took my Hilux over a track and along the coast to a point closer to the water, seeking the shade underneath the Pohutukawa trees. I made a mental note to return here when they are in full flower as it would be a stunning spot.
Being October the water was still hovering around 15 degrees, so there was no question of not being in our dry suits. The sun was beating down so we walked our sets and weights over to the water’s edge first, making life easy for ourselves. It’s wasn’t long till we’re buddy checked and swimming out over the rocks and weed. A group of rocks jutting out into the bay seemed to be the best dive plan, making navigation easy in an unfamiliar spot. After being satisfied that the spot was deep enough, we dropped into six metres with rock and kelp. Turning round as we touched bottom, I realized I almost landed on top of a large eagle ray! Just chillin’ in the weed, he didn’t mind us one bit! I took a few shots and left him in peace, pleased with the ambient light in the shallows. As we finned out on a northerly bearing we seemed to hit a murky layer and the lights dimmed as we reached 15m. The reef turned to a small wall as we descended, following the rocks on the surface, moving onto sand by about 18m. The rocks were covered in large sponges, with lots of blennies, triplefins and scorpion fish all flitting about the in rocks. I even spotted a couple of yellow morays. Many of the holes had crays and in one small cave we came across a good nest of them, being early in the season they were all fairly small. Not that I intended taking any, please note there was a *rahui at our time of visit. Out of respect for this we stuck to the rules. I have seen situations like this in the past where divers have been banned from sites due to the minority!
Continuing on with dive we turned and headed shoreward and were escorted by a large shoal of two-spot demoiselles. They swarmed round us as we followed the reef up, passing through some nice cuts and gullys. Suddenly I hear squealing behind me, spinning round, Nikki had found a large porcupine fish in the kelp! Swimming close to her, she froze to not disturb it. I, on the other hand, had disturbed the silt when turning round. So despite the scatter I fired off a few camera shots before it went on its way through the kelp. As we made our way up through a large gully, doing our safety stop, we came across our eagle ray friend sitting in the same spot. Surfacing, I was happy after a nice wee dive, there was heaps to see and during summer this would be a cracker!
- No phone reception – ensure someone knows you are diving.
- There is boat traffic near the beach so ensure you have a marker.
- Respect local Maori Mataitai, Rahui and permission required for crossing some land.
- Exposed to swell and winds from the northern quarter.
- Be wary of currents in the area, especially if shore diving.
- Nearest accommodation, Lottin Point Motel Ph: 06 864 4455
- Fuel and dairy at Waihau Bay – watch your fuel gauge as gas stations are uncommon round the Cape.
- Air fills and limited spares in Waihau Bay
*Rahui: ban or prohibition on collecting resources; harvest ban. When a rahui is placed on a river, lake, forest, or harbour, people are banned from using some resources. For example, a rahui might ban people gathering shellfish from a beach, for various reasons. Many Māori tribes use the practice of rahui to conserve or replenish a resource.