A week later, despite the not-too-hopeful weather forecast, a group of 15 keen and eager divers from the Waikato Dive Centre defied the wind and rain and drove up to Tutukaka on a Friday night. The next morning we woke to a wonderful view from Pacific Rendezvous – relatively calm seas and even a glimpse of sun over Tutukaka Harbour. We were greeted with the usual warm welcome and freshly brewed coffee from Jeroen and Glenn of Knightline Charters, as we boarded El Tigre.
The winds were northeast, changing to northwest, so there was a small swell as we headed north to the dive site, just two miles up the coast. As we tied up to one of the marker buoys, a sense of relief and eager anticipation spread through the divers – the water was a clear deep blue and there was no current. Two by two we entered the water and looked down at the blue mooring rope disappearing into the clear depths below. The descent line was secure and easy to follow. Suddenly there she was. A huge expanse of pale grey hull and railings visible from about five metres above the wreck. The mooring line was tied onto the railing which made it very easy to find the wreck, the start of which sits at about 23m.
Taking a moment to get our bearings, my buddy and I began an adventure to explore this fascinating ex-naval ship. The Tui is lying on her port side on a rocky bottom. First we swam along the railings to the tip of the bow at 28m, then back along the deck area to shine a torch inside the numerous doorways and purposely cut holes, each one a temptation to resist.
We viewed numerous instrument panels along the journey. Then over the funnel, writing our names in the fine silt that has already settled on the kiwi emblem, looking into the engine room, along the starboard gangways, climbing stairs that ran sideways rather than up or down, swimming all the way to the stern. From the stern you could look down and see the rocks below. By now our no-decompression time was almost up, so we turned and headed slowly back. Following the hand rails made it easy to find our ascent line, stopping to peer through port holes as we went.
As the buddy teams surfaced two by two, the smiling faces and exclamations such as âWow,â âFantastic visâ and âAwesome diveâ, were the consistent expressions. It certainly left me with a big buzz. And the desire to come back the next day with my camera. Sunday brought even more of a pleasant surprise. A gentle southwest breeze meant a perfect flat, calm sea. This time we headed directly down, over the deck area at the bottom of the mooring line, onto the seabed below. With gauges flat on the bottom, she was sitting in 31m.
From there we swam up onto the deck and shone a torch around a huge hole in the deck floor from which could be seen several doorways and corridors leading off. Next we came across the bridge area, very enticing for those with appropriate training to enter this overhead environment through any of the surrounding windows or doors. In front of the bridge is a plaque acknowledging those who contributed the majority of the funds for the Tui project. You can enter the funnel and swim down into the engine room, or come out part way down through a hole.
Moving along, towards the stern, we pass winches, a rope ladder, more instrument panels and instruction notices. These were the things I just had to photograph now, while Tui is in her virgin state, about to begin a new life as a reef. Then to take photos in the same areas over the years, to see how the marine organisms gradually take over and find a home on her. A few fish are already gathering. To see her as she is now is beautiful.
I would urge all keen divers to come and take a look now, while she is still clean and intact. We are lucky to have such an accessible wreck within only a few hoursâ drive for a lot of divers, and a few minutesâ boat ride from Tutukaka. She is a real contrast to the Rainbow Warrior (sunk in December 1987) with all her colourful decoration, and a good dive to try before heading down to the Marlborough Sounds to dive the Mikhail Lermontov (sunk in February 1986).
I would send out a plea that divers leave the Tui intact with all her structural items in place for all to enjoy. The Tui is certainly a dive which I will want to explore many times. In fact, I am heading back there soon and am lucky enough to be diving with someone who served on her with the Navy. If conditions are right, we will take torches, lines and reels and investigate some of the internal corridors. On the weekend we dived, conditions were near perfect and the diving was very comfortable. However, this is a wreck to be treated with respect and a degree of caution that applies to all deep and wreck dives. Divers should keep a close eye on their air and bottom time and not attempt penetration of the wreck without appropriate training. In conditions such as we had, this wreck provided a good dive for Advanced Deep and Wreck training dives. It could also be suitable for specialty training dives such as wreck, deep, enriched air, or photography, especially in combination with the nearby world-renowned Poor Knights Islands.
A few tips – plan your dives well, ensure you have an appropriate level of training and keep a close watch on air-remaining and no-deco time. Leave plenty of air for a slow ascent and three minute safety stop. Use the first dive as an orientation of the layout, and definitely take a torch. Enlist the experience of the local dive operators. Most of all, relax, enjoy this spectacular dive and have fun!