Wade Doak, Great Kiwi Dive Pioneer


Happy days. Wade & Jan Doak, after Wade received the Wyland Foundation - Dive New Zealand Magazine Recognition Award- one person can make a difference. Presented at the NZUA’s AGM, Tutukaka 8th April 2006.

The Tane Mahuta of diving has fallen.
Wade Doak
23 Feburary 1940 – 12 September 2019

Thursday the 12th of September was, I guess, for most just another day in this beautiful country. But by day’s end many of us were in shock at the sudden death of one of New Zealand’s most recognised diving personalities and conservationists, Wade Doak.

This whole magazine could be filled with Wade’s adventures and accomplishments.

I first met Wade and his lovely diving buddy and wife Jan in the early 1970s. I recall a group of us heading up north to dive. My teenage spearfishing mate Barry Andrewartha, the publisher and editor of Dive Log Australia and I think the late Neville Coleman, who later became renowned for his marine natural history photography and publications, especially about identifying Nudibranchs.

You can imagine how the conversation went… diving… diving… have you seen this or that – just wonderful.

When my wife Petal and I started publishing Dive Log New Zealand in the late 1990s, Wade was always on my radar for articles and he knew the magazine was an excellent vehicle to spread his love of the marine environment and how it needs protection.

I see in the December 1990/ January 1991 Issue #1 in the news section: “Poor Knights – Fear for Fish life”. It was about the important species being fished out. It reads: “Wade Doak, who has been diving intensively at the Poor Knights recently during filming for TVNZ’s Wild South series said the ban on using sinkers for fishing was a farce considering the methods now being employed to catch fish” etc.

Issue #2 has a “Stop Press: Friday January 1991 – Wade Doak witnesses a yellow banded perch that has been jigged at the Poor Knights. Wade had been searching for months to film this now rare fish at the Knights.

Fortunately, Wade’s son Brady was able to vent the fish’s air bladder and return it to the sea.

Wade’s first feature article appeared in the April/May 1991 Issue #3. Titled: “Crazy Yellow Sub,” an hilarious account of Wade’s first dive in Dr Walt Starck, a 1,400 pound sub that was aboard Walt Starck’s research vessel El Torito.

In all Wade contributed over 50 articles.

As the years thundered by, I got to know Wade and Jan and considered them very good friends.

Wade’s love of writing started before he became a member of the Canterbury Underwater Club at the Club’s inaugural meeting in the 1950s. Christchurch was a breeding ground of divers who sure had an adventurous spirit. The late Kelly Tarlton and veteran diver Keith Gordon were some of Wade’s close diving buddies.

The club started a magazine, with the first issue called Bulletin; the second issue was changed to DIVE Underwater magazine.

Wade already had an interest in writing when he joined up with his mate Keith Gordon and took on the publication with the 3rd issue in July 1959 (60 years ago) and started distribution nationwide at one shilling a copy.

(Keith Gordon tells me that, also in the 1950s, the first New Zealand dive magazine to be produced for public sale cost of one shilling – Underwater was published by DW & ER Lynch who were members of the Auckland Underwater Club.)

Wade, a schoolteacher, and his wife Jan, a nurse, headed north to Wellsford around 1963 where Wade took up a teaching job at the local high school.

Kelly Tarlton was living in Matapouri and encouraged Wade and Jan to join him and his wife Rosemary nearby. So began the ever-increasing love affair with the Poor Knights Islands right at their front door.

He and Jan continued publishing DIVE Underwater magazine. They changed the title to Dive South Pacific Underwater magazine with the March 1966 Issue: Vol 5 No 5; price: 2 shillings.

Through the magazine he was instrumental in bringing new diving technology/equipment and photography equipment to light. But most importantly, they inspired divers to get out there with adventurous articles. The expedition adventures of Wade are numerous.

He has published over 20 books, the most recent being e-books. Some tell tales of sunken treasure, or meeting witch doctors in remote Pacific islands and, of course, the love he shared with Jan for marine mammals and all life in the sea.

I guess he may be most proud of being involved (based information he provided and his passion) in having his beloved Poor Knights Islands declared a partial Marine Reserve in 1981 (only 5%!) and finally a full Reserve – including the Principals being legislated totally a NO fishing reserve – in 1998. It was not an easy time as there were many interests against the islands becoming fully protected. Some of that strong resentment lingers today!

Wade received numerous recognitions for his conservation work.

A few that spring to mind: 2006: Wyland Foundation – Dive New Zealand Magazine Recognition Award: One person can make a difference. The advocate for marine conservation in New Zealand. 2012: Queen’s Service Medal.

  • 2016: Life Member, New Zealand Underwater Association.
  • July 2019: The New Zealand Marine Science Society’s John Morton Award.
  • 2012: Wade Doak received his Queen’s Service Medal from then-Governor General Jerry Mateparae

    To finish here’s a little from one of his last e-books: Bring Back the Bird Song.

    It shows how his and Jan’s love of nature continued when diving became difficult. They strengthened their love of the bush around their Ngunguru home and coastline.

    He and Jan have spent years exploring the shoreline and estuaries, walking cliff-top paths, studying the mangroves and roaming the forest. Wade’s engaging text tells a remarkable story, illustrated with an incredible photographic archive of trees, shrubs, vines, orchids, ferns, birds, and attendant wildlife, displaying an area rich in diversity.

    Many of you would have been friends on Facebook with Wade – we will all miss his regular postings.

    He his has left a huge legacy. Recorded via millions of typed words, our history of diving, marine life and conservation struggles.

    I’ll miss our long phone conversations. The “shifting baseline” was always a hot topic.

    Rest in peace my friend – you achieved so much – time to rest.

    Wade is survived by his wife Jan, his son Brady, daughter Karla and their three grandchildren. Our thoughts are with his family. Jan is an amazing person. Her support for Wade is too huge to measure. From typing up book manuscripts and endless documents to providing his dinner. Being his loveable diving, sailing and tramping buddy. She is a true saint.

    Dave Moran – Editor at Large

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