By Shane Wasik
Gannet Island has the title of being the furthest offshore island on New Zealand’s west coast and lies between Raglan and Kawhia. The tip of an extinct volcano, the island only pokes out 15m from the water and is really only a pinnacle in a flat expanse of deep water. As you can imagine, the island bears the brunt of the full force of the west coast, however it makes for a very interesting spot in calm weather!
I have always been excited about Gannet, any island surrounded by deep water and lying offshore tends to get me going. I heard a few bar tales about it: deep walls, monster crayfish, sharks and of course the weather!
Choosing to organize a charter, making sure everyone turned up, including the weather, is one of the glories of being trip leader. Since the island gives only limited shelter it isn’t the place to be at on an ‘ugly’ day.
With the charms of small town New Zealand, Kawhia is a great diving base and there is an easy pick up point at the wharf.
The only problem is the limited access to a compressor so you really need to bring everything. The motel is very cheap for large groups and there are a few shops, pubs and cafes to keep you going. If you time it right there is even a hot spring on the black sand beach and is quite unlike its Coromandel counterpart.
The bar (harbour not drinking hole) here can be nasty, so be very careful if you are heading out yourself and ask for some local advice. The best thing about using a charter is that you have the benefit of all that experience and our skippers David and Paul on the Crazy Horse navigated the bar with ease.
Generally the weather dictates the side of island, however if your prayers to Neptune have been answered he may let you visit some of the exposed sites. Topside the island is one of New Zealand’s significant offshore gannet colonies (hence the name) along with a few fur seals thrown in to boot.
The underwater landscape however is quite different to any other place I have been. Generally there a distinct lack of kelp, reserved to a zone between 20m and 30m, an area which is out of wave action and limited by light availability.
In the shallows the rocks are swept clean, with numerous holes and pock marks around. As the sea can be so rough here you can find huge cauldrons where large stones or boulders have scoured out the holes in the rock similar to a pestle and mortar. In fact, some parts look more like a river bed rather than sea floor. These areas are covered in kina and mat algae with numerous pockets of acorn barnacle shells. Strangely enough I haven’t yet seen any barnacles actually living on the rocks!
As the rock is volcanic there are lots of crevices which in turn provides room for some monster crayfish. During our last trip a number of three kilogram plus were caught which is reflective on the limited diving carried out there.
Fish life can be variable, ranging from large schools of kingies and silver drummers to super abundant red moki – they just seem to be everywhere! Being an isolated rock in the north there is the possibility of anything turning up here and on one trip I am sure a couple of barracuda glinted past.
We also spotted a number of carpet sharks, lazily snoozing on the bottom; these small sharks are very docile and you can get very close to them before they get fed up and move over a few metres – away from pesky divers!
Their natural camouflage makes them difficult to spot so keep a careful eye out on your dives.
If the weather allows a snorkel between dives at lunchtime you can also jump in and interact with the seals. Usually they will come and join you in the water to check you out and it’s awesome to watch them barrel roll, turn and spin, leaving you for dust in cumbersome suits, fins and masks.
The diving is challenging here with the usual dive being at least 20-30m, as well as the remote location, weather and harbour bars with which to contend. There have been some accidents so I would encourage people to dive conservatively whether it be off your own/a friend’s boat or out with a group.
There can be a lot of surge and some strange currents so delayed SMB’s or safety sausages are highly recommended. You need a decent forecast to get here but with a bit of planning and luck it is great to experience this unique spot. Blue water comes down in summer so it’s best to be flexible and if you get the forecast, go, go, go!