Good Old Goat (Goat Island)
by Alex Stammers
Like most New Zealanders in Auckland, my first open water dive was at Goat Island Marine Reserve. Although it has been over 18 years since that first experience, I still remember swimming through waving kelp forests for the first time being followed by large numbers of snapper, blue maomao and blue cod. This first experience had me so amazed and in awe, that it was to fuel a lifetime passion for diving.
After several years teaching scuba diving in many parts of the world, I returned to Goat Island and was still blown away by what a great dive site it truly is. I would personally rank it as one of the best shore dives to be done in the world.
It boasts easy access for divers, plenty of marine life, shallow and safe diving conditions, and only a little over an hour from New Zealands biggest city – what more could a diver want?
While a lot of divers will complete their dive training at Goat Island, most will very rarely return. As is the Kiwi tradition, a lot of divers take up diving for hunting, collecting crayfish and scallops outside the reserve and along the many kilometres of unique and amazing coast line.
However for an underwater photographer, Goat Island, like the Poor Knights, is a great studio for photography. Fish will pose happily for your camera and crayfish seem unafraid of divers, and will walk out to meet you. Eagle and stingrays lie resting on the sandy bottom, uncaring about the clumsy approach of a diver shuffling along with their camera pointed at them. Although most divers are distracted by the large snapper and crayfish that dominate the waters, the small animals within the rocky reefs are often overlooked.
On one dive I was so busy photographing a large crayfish in a narrow crack that it wasn’t until I was reviewing the photos later, that I noticed a family of painted shrimp living around the crayfish. Looking closely will reveal a kaleidoscope of rich micro life; colourful nudibranchs slide across the reef, while triple fins sit on bright orange and yellow sponges. Colourful shrimps and crabs remain hidden within the reef, waiting for an observing eye to discover them.
Most diving is done off the small cove of Alphabet Bay named because of letters spray painted onto the side of Goat Island. This area has a mixture of reef and sand which is great for students and is often frequented by snapper, blue cod and red moki and the occasional John dory. On each dive at Goat Island, I try to find somewhere new to explore as each direction will lead into new topography, and the abode of some amazing creatures.
Heading through the channel on the right, beneath the marine laboratory, will lead to ‘the water falls’. It consists of gullies and highly stacked rocks rising to the surface. The sandy bottom lies at six metres and deep holes in the surrounding rocks hide crayfish nests with humongous crayfish living at the rear.
Swimming off the main beach to the right will take you over sand and reef flats where large stingrays rest in eight metres before you reach kelp beds.
If you have access to a boat or you’re fit enough, the rear of the island offers deeper diving with a reef wall dropping to 30+ metres. Along the back are several sea caves to explore. Marine life is prolific along the rear of the island, with nests of crayfish and moray eels living within the cracks along with an abundance of fish life.
Night diving offers an easy and enjoyable dive. Goatfish and snapper can be found dozing, and rarely become disturbed by divers. The octopus, rarely seen by divers during the day, emerge in large numbers from their hiding holes amongst the reef to hunt. The large numbers of crayfish in the reserve scavenge amongst the reef helping to keep the kina numbers down, which in turn stops the kina from feeding on the kelp forests, keeping them healthy.
With such a rich biodiversity and healthy ecosystem, Goat Island attracts marine mammals such as dolphins and orcas. Lucky divers and snorkellers sometimes have close encounters, as dolphins buzz in to investigate.
Goat Island was New Zealand’s first marine reserve and like the Poor Knights, is one of the most successful. With over 100,000 visitors a year. Located nearby is Auckland University’s marine laboratory for aspiring marine biologists, and it is one of our most important and rich parks to be enjoyed by future generations.
Recommended reading: Goat Island Marine Reserve
Book by Jenny & Tony Enderby NZD$ 18.00 + p&p.
Identification guide for snorkellers, divers and visitors to the Okakari Point to Cape Rodney Marine Reserve at Goat Island, Leigh.
Over 100 colour photographs of the underwater marine life in the reserve. Soft cover, 64 pages, colour photographs.
or on mail order form this issue.