By Shane Wasik
During a visit to New Zealand’s oldest dive club (Wellington Underwater Club) I luckily had also timed my trip with a superb weather window. I was really keen to dive the F69 (HMNZS Wellington) and thankfully Phil Young from the club had arranged a trip with Tony Howell on his sleek trailer boat.
I was treated to unseasonably flat calm seas with not a cloud to be seen in the sky!
The weather isn’t always so calm in these parts and the south coast can witness some fearsome weather, including the storm that broke up the frigate. Three months after her successful scuttling in 2005, a huge low pressure system whipped up 12m seas. During the storm it’s likely the top of the ship was exposed to air in the troughs of the huge waves and at the storms conclusion, the ship was left in three pieces scattered over a large area!
There hasn’t been a great deal of changes on the site since the violence of the storm with the wreck remaining in three distinct pieces. The bow section rests on its side, split behind the gun turret which is the famous weak part on these leander class frigates and is the same place the Waikato wreck split off Tutukaka.
The middle and stern section are separate from the bow and the wreck is usually explored over two dives, with the dive boat relocating during the surface interval. We launched from the boat ramp at Island Bay and it was only a short ride to the site which has a couple of marker buoys attached.
I have heard of people diving it by kayak, however I wouldn’t recommend it as a shore dive! Conditions were perfect and water temperature was 15C which, for me, was firmly drysuit territory although some of the clubbies still dived regularly in a wetsuit. For me there’s no contest in the comfort stakes!
The bow section is the most intact section where moderate penetration is possible. There are a number of large spaces where the diver can fit through but care needs to be taken as this is not a sanitised wreck anymore! There are still plenty of interesting parts on the exterior with the large twin barrelled 115mm gun turret still pointing defiantly out to sea, along with masts, prow, bollards and winches all being easily explored.
Sitting in around 20m there was plenty dive time available and is an easy no-stop dive.
The wreck is covered in algae and encrusting marine life with its transformation into an artificial reef plainly visible. An interesting difference from those wrecks further north is the growth of sea tulips. These unusual invertebrates look like a medieval weapon and cover the wreck. The local divers might not really pay much attention, but I found them quite fascinating!
There is plenty of fish around with terakihi and blue cod being noticeably abundant over the site.
Following an easy ascent and safety stop our surface interval was spent discussing the wreck, the efforts that went into the acquisition, cleaning, scuttling and the subsequent break up. Sandwiches devoured, our second dive started on the bridge section and began with the ritual cleaning of the brass plaque placed by the dive club.
The bridge still sits upright with the decks and hull flattened underneath. There are a number of swim-throughs, passageways and rooms in this area and with the level of collapse it can be a little disorientating which section of wreck you are on.
However in saying this, navigation round the sections of wreckage is fairly straightforward. Again the depth is an easy 20m which ensures the site can be visited by most divers.
The stern section, which is again separate but close to the middle, is described as being pancaked with all the decks spread out like a deck of cards. Part of the wreck can be entered but many of them are quite tight squeezes so again care is needed if you decide to explore them.
On a single cylinder, there is only limited time to explore here in order to make a return to the bridge, otherwise you could ascent under an SMB. This area was really interesting due to the level of collapse and on another dive it would have been great to explore the wreck from the aft end of the wreck site.
The F69 seems to be a really under-dived site, being so close to shore, coming within the Taputeranga marine reserve and the shallow depth makes it very accessible. Although there is a big shore diving scene in the area, along with the shoreline wreck sites, the Wellington is a little more difficult to get out to but it’s well worth the effort!
Trips can be arranged through Dive Wellington
but if you’re in the area give the Wellington Dive Club a shout too!