Ice diving Lake Alta, New Zealand

The lake is 1850m above sea level in the Remarkables’ ski field. It offers a depth of up to 70m and is covered by a layer of ice of around 50cm in winter. This exciting New Zealand dive opportunity happens annually since 1987.

After spending Friday night in Cromwell, thanks to Steve’s hospitality, Rebecca, Chris and I left early Saturday morning to meet with the two groomers who would take the equipment to the lake’s edge. We quickly moved to the chairlift for the first leg of our journey to the lake. A snowmobile taxi system had been established from the top of the chairlift to transport all the divers to the lake.

From there a group of about 30 people, mainly divers from all around the country, set up camp around the ice hole. The sun was out and the wind, although really cold, was only blowing sporadically. The dive was getting nearer and my excitement was building up. How bad was the cold going to be? Would I be one of the sissies who leave the dive hole after 30 seconds because the 1-2°C of the water was too much to bear?

Our turn came and the three of us donned the BCD and regulator sets provided that were designed to handle the cold with minimal free flow incidents. Chris volunteered to be the tethered diver and a line was attached to his BCD. Most of the divers who had entered the hole before us had been underweighted, likely because of the layers and layers they had put on to keep the cold out. Because of this, we all decided to add a few more kilograms of lead to our weight belts in order to avoid the painful minutes spent on the surface trying to get the buoyancy right.

Although we ended up largely overweighted, the gamble paid off as we sank below the surface with minimal struggle. The freezing water was manageable and we enjoyed an 18 minute dive. The contrast of light and dark is quite fascinating under the ice. We spent a good portion of the dive attempting to stand up-side-down under the ice, but we all failed to keep in position long enough for a photo shoot.

Back at the hole at dive’s end, we were hauled out by helpers and our equipment was quickly passed around to the next group of divers waiting for their first taste of ice diving. I was thrilled by the whole experience, but the strong wind came as a quick reminder that it was time to get changed and grab ourselves a soup to warm up.

The day on the ice came to an end and it was with great enthusiasm that we threw the previously extracted massive ice blocks back into the hole to refreeze overnight. With the gear packed and waiting for collection by the groomers, we slid our way down the slopes on our bums under the laughing eyes of skiers. Steve had already started a barbecue for us which made it the perfect end to a perfect day! I can’t wait for next year to get another chance to get icy wet!

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