New Zealand North: A Smashing Dive

By Troy Stephenson

I organised a course with New Zealand-based CCR instructor, Paul Trainor, who suggested that we do some of the dives at the Poor Knights Islands, a spectacular marine reserve off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

Rather than the few dives that we had originally planned for the area, we ended up doing the entire course at several of the magnificent dive sites in the Poor Knights. And while all of them were outstanding, the most memorable were those organised by Northland Dive, in Whangaruru.

HMNZS Canterbury 

On our first dive of the day, we explored the wreck of the former HMNZS Canterbury, a Leander class frigate that, after 34 years of service with the Royal New Zealand Navy, was purposely scuttled in the Bay of Islands in 2007 as an artificial reef and dive site. It was a perfect morning as we scudded across a flat ocean aboard Northland Dive’s boat on a scenic trip through the beautiful seascape of North Island. 

Anchoring just off the wreck, we dropped down into an amazing wonderland of marine life. The dive plan called for a dive to 36m (120ft), the deepest point of the wreck, for 80 minutes. A passage of time that, given the abundance of marine life and the 30m (100ft) visibility, seemed more like 20-minutes. Sitting perfectly upright on the seafloor, the hull, decks and compartments of the former warship have undergone a sea change. Settled by colourful soft corals, sponges and anemones, the vessel now provides refuge for rock lobsters, huge moray eels, the occasional eagle ray, and multitudes of reef fish. Beginning our final ascent at the end of the dive, we passed through a massive school of spiralling kingfish, an experience that helped burn the dive into my memory.

Cathedral Cave 

The second dive of the day was to Cathedral Cave, on Piercy (Motukokako) Island in the Bay of Islands. A site with a maximum depth of 60m (200ft) and one that, apart from the prolific variety of smaller fish, is also frequented by large pelagics.

Throughout the boat ride to the site, we were accompanied by pods of dolphins and, later, a pod of orcas whose graceful and speedy movement through the water was spellbinding, but whose presence so close to the dive site did cause some initial, though ill-founded, concern.

The perfect dive 

The dive proved to be yet another of those perfect underwater moments. Dropping down to 44m (144ft), with visibility of at least 25m (82ft), we passed huge boulders leading up to the entrance of the cave, which was filled with large rays, the size of a man, gliding along the walls. Entering the cave, we positioned ourselves on the left-hand side and just sat there for what seemed an eternity, monitoring our gas and dive time, mesmerised by the elegant grace of these huge creatures.

Everything had come together to make this particular dive day one of my most memorable; the good company and professionalism of the dive operator, Northland Dive; the beautiful flat calm sea and warm conditions of New Zealand’s North Island, the great visibility, and best of all, a lifetime’s worth of marine life all seen in a single day.

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