Have you ever stopped to think exactly where you are on the planet right at this moment? That thought crossed my mind as I splashed over the side of the inflatable into the crisp, blazing turquoise water. We were at 20Â° latitude, 167Â° 46â longitude – a tiny speck of coral reef in the middle of nowhere named Beveridge Reef, where the nearest land, Niue, lies 201 kilometres west-northwest. We were on an adventure expedition to explore this isolated reef, and assess the viability of it being included in the cruising itinerary of the 38.5m (126 ft) luxury oceangoing ketch South Pacific Sunrise (previously Markson).
There is nothing that gets me going more than the opportunity of diving a location that very few people have dived. What surprise is hidden beyond the next coral head? There is only speculation â¦ itâs great! In issue #42 of Dive New Zealand our regular contributor Peter Atkinson, a lovable ocean-roving gypsy, showed readers his stunning action images of grey reef sharks, set off against the powder-snow whiteness of the lagoon sands. When you hear of Beveridge Reef, you have trouble switching off those beautiful images of Peterâs sharks. We expected to encounter heaps of sharks, and the adrenalin was pumping.
The sea conditions for the 23-hour ocean passage from Niue were near-perfect. South Pacific Sunriseâs 300HP Gardner engine murmured below decks, and a fine spread of billowing canvas aloft injected the romance of the South Pacific as we enjoyed the luxury of cruising aboard a craft that breathes history and high adventure from her noble kauri timbers. As you nose into the main channel entrance on the western side of the horseshoe-shaped lagoon, you are seduced by the water that has the clarity of deep space embedded in the blue of a turquoise.
The rays of the South Pacific sun danced on the undulating sand bottom, reflecting upwards to the surface and creating perfect conditions for the underwater photographer to capture the grace and majesty of grey reef sharks and other lagoon dwellers. The decision was made not to tempt the sharks into close encounters by feeding them; we would let the reef show its culture at its own pace. We soon discovered that without providing temptation for the little blighters, they preferred to stay away on vacation … which does have some advantages!
Our natural instincts tugged us to the main flow of water that pours in and out of the lagoon through the 100m wide entrance. A cauldron of water tumbles through into the lagoon, which measures five by three and a half nautical miles. At ebb tide, the one to two knot current provided relaxed âflyingâ conditions for divers. Drifting with the current in the entrance, we met the huge landlords of the reef, keeping watch over their home. Their eyes rolled upwards as we approached, and they carefully maintained a conservative distance. These ten to 20 kilogram coral trout were magnificent as they hung in the crystal clear waters, always at a distance, which made the mission of snapping a closeup almost impossible â¦ a bloke can only pretend to be part of the coral for so long before the exhaust bubbles shatter the illusion.
The supermarket food chain in the channel was catering for all nationalities. The species list rolled through a Whoâs Who list of fish, including schools of barracuda and jacks, red snapper, squirrel fish, soup fish, hump nosed unicorn fish, surgeonfish, sea bass, parrotfish, cleaner wrasse, dartfish, anemonefish, lionfish, tuna, spotted eagle rays, turtles, white tipped reef sharks, and dolphins, to name just a few! On board we had Wellington-based marine fish scientist Dr Clive Roberts, whose main objective was to collect and identify the fish species that called this place their home. Clive explained that because of its isolation and the dominant ocean current being from the east, there was a strong possibility that many species of fish and coral that are found in the Pacific island reefs to the west may not be present here.
The ten divers on the trip agreed: we were not delighted with the emerald green and protruding rubbery lips of the Maori wrasse, or the kaleidoscopic rainbow colours of soft corals. However, these same conditions allowed for the possibility of unique species developing on Beveridge Reef. 72 new species for the area were discovered. This has also advanced our knowledge of the increasing distribution of these species.
We dived the northern, western and southern edges of the reef, which in general does not have plunging chasms and swim-throughs, but sinks at a 30 to 45 degree angle into the deep water. We did encounter a magnificent misty-white powder-coated vertical wall at 35 metres, which fell into the darkness of the oceanâs belly off the main channel. Large gorgonian fans and whip corals protruded from the wall, like masts and sails from racing ocean yachts scattered across the surface of the ocean. It was an awesome sight in the 50 metres-plus visibility.
A break from scuba diving is always a chance to explore what the reef and lagoon have to offer. Snorkelling the coral heads in the lagoon is total fun. The coral reef residents continue with their daily activities, unconcerned with your presence. Spearguns or nets are not in their vocabulary! If you have finished reading your book, you can stretch your arms cruising the lagoon in a kayak, or if thatâs too energetic leap into the 18 foot RIB, crank up the 85hp outboard and blast off to the wreck of the Nicky Lu, which came to rest on the eastern side of the reef a long way from its home base in Seattle. Or you may prefer some game fishing along the reef edge. Now that can be full of surprises! For something a little different, why not grab a bottle of champagne and a couple of crew to be your waiters while you wine and dine on the large sandy cay just north of the lagoon entrance, bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun. Now thatâs romantic!
I never quite get used to the luxury that these five star vessels provide; it somehow seems surreal. Here we were on this totally remote oasis in the vastness of Mother Natureâs tapestry of ocean life. After diving, you return to your cabin and the beds are made, a fresh towel hangs in the bathroom, and the complimentary shampoo and conditioner bounce your salt-laden hair back into life. You climb into some casual clothes and join the crew and fellow divers on the sun-drenched aft deck for hors dâoeuvres and a cool drink to revitalise your memories of the dayâs adventures. The chef de cuisine, Chad Golding, knew all about creativity as we dined on his master creations in the main saloon. The wine flowed, the laughter reverberated into the vastness of the night. Cameras lay at rest, exhausted after their daily diet of celluloid. Sleep came easily. To visit such a minute speck on this planetâs vast ocean is indeed a privilege. If you hunger for an experience that is not on every travel guideâs to-do list, then this is it. Explore this virgin reef as you cruise between your adventures on Niue and the islands of Tonga, while being spoiled in five-star luxury aboard the South Pacific Sunrise.