By Shane Wasik
The Alderman Islands – an all round awesome place to dive offshore of New Zealand’s Coromandel. Being only a few hours from the central North Island, they are within easy reach of many divers. Personally, they are a much easier destination to reach than Northland as I can miss out the traffic nightmare of Auckland heading from the south!
The island group are the remnants of a volcanic cone which comprise rocky islands, cliffs, stacks, sea caves and feel very similar to the Poor Knights in geology. Dolphins and sharks are commonly seen on the surface when cruising around the islands and I even previously spotted a turtle underwater here – I don’t know who got the bigger fright – me or the turtle!
The big difference between the Aldermans and the Knights is that there is no marine reserve here and as such the marine life is in the league below. However it does mean the islands are open for hunters and spearos.
There are heaps of dive spots to choose from, however on a good day the solitary pinnacle of Len’s Reef is where you should set your GPS for.
Len’s Reef is a rocky pinnacle which shoots up from a 60-70m seabed and comes up to around eight to10m under the surface.
Its named after a local Coromandel man who, following some slightly dubious positions from the hydrographic department, was found by dragging freedivers around in the 1960s (thanks to Jim Hope of MV Taranui).
The reef is notoriously difficult to anchor on and whilst running over it with the sounder, all of a sudden a blip shows up on the screen and you’ve missed it! This can get frustrating after the 20th attempt so the last time we had a fit spearo on board that jumped in the water marking the position of the reef for the skipper! ‘Its over here!’ he shouted – can you imagine!
The reef sits a few kilometres off the south-east tip of Ruamahuaiti Island and has no protection so it’s only really decent days you will manage to dive here.
The current can be quite fierce too, so make sure you have really good boat cover, and a delayed SMB or at the least a safety sausage with you.
Navigation is easy though as you just spiral down the pinnacle at the beginning and then spiral up on the way back – simple! Just don’t get too dizzy going round and round!
The top of the reef is tiny and is about the size of a decent living room. Don’t let this fool you though as the reef is like a pyramid – bulking out towards the base, with sheer walls covered in a kaleidoscope of colours. The encrusting sponge and corals are beautiful however as the underwater landscape is so stunning it’s sometimes difficult to concentrate on the small critters!
The pinnacle acts as a fish attractant and in certain conditions your vision can be obscured by clouds of fish such as maomao and demoiselles. In summer Lord Howe coralfish hang around close to the reef and there are usually the attendant sandagers wrasse following you around. Up close you’re sure to spot a few moray eels in all of the cracks, holes and guts that appear on the reef walls.
I’ve seen big schools of kingies here and although I’ve personally not had any special sightings to date, many divers have spotted sharks and even orca here!
It’s really a site where anything could swim past and can almost be diver-overload with so much to look at! You have one eye searching out critters on the wall, whilst trying to see through the clouds of fish, at the same time maintaining a vertical reference on the wall and looking into the blue for pelagics! Just keep breathing and suck in the experience! Magic!
Dive facilities are available in Tairua and Whangamata, where I have been based from when diving the reef. Charter boats and boat ramps are available from both locations although tides can be a little problematic for launching and conditions changeable on the harbour bars.
However with the construction of the Tairua marina starting next year, this will be exciting to see how this develops the diving industry and what extra facilities will be available for divers. Enjoy and say hi to Len for me, whoever he is.