It's about diving. And cats.

Me diving

Friday, August 29, 2008

Kiwi Kitty

I was in New Zealand for a gathering of very large database geeks, so I decided to spend a couple of extra days there and go diving. I was in Auckland, and the nearest place that is supposed to have good diving is the Poor Knights Islands (which, if you believe everything that you read on the web, were on Jacques Cousteau's top 10 places to dive in the world). They are about a 45 minute boat ride from the Tutukaka coast, which is about two and a half hours north of Auckland. Or three hours, if it is your first time driving on the left side of the road, and you are terrified of twisty mountain roads. The drive up there was pretty scenic, with some great views of the Pacific as you come over the hills.

I dove for two days (Friday and Saturday) with Dive! Tutukaka. I chose them out of the several dive operators there using a complex formula including the Google page rank, how pretty their website is, and what I read on Scubaboard (that they are probably the most likely to go out on any given day during the winter). On Friday, all of the divers (a total of 6) were out of towners, and none had dived there before. Most were pretty inexperienced divers, which I was a little surprised by since it is a cold water destination. I buddied up with the other experienced guy on the boat (Brendon, who also happened to be an instructor back in Australia). So I guess I got pretty lucky with my first insta-buddy experience. I had brought Rob's old point and shoot camera (sans strobe) to take some pictures. I have only used it a couple of times in the past, and didn't really remember all of the settings, so Rob instructed me to just point and shoot, and not bother fiddling with the settings. That sounded good to me, especially since I didn't know if I would end up diving with someone who wasn't very tolerant of waiting around while I doodled with the camera. Anyhoo, we were on the "Bright Arrow", which is 11.5 meters long, and was quite comfortable for 6 divers. They do things a little differently there... we got all the way out to the site before anyone really starting setting up gear or getting into their suits (I put my suit on before boarding the boat which got me some strange looks). I guess this works well when the water is crazy calm, as it was. When we got to the first site, they gave us a spiel about the islands, their geology (they are part of the rim of an old volcano), history (natives pillaging each others' settlements), fauna (fish, birds, and bugs), etc. It's a marine reserve, so it is no-take pretty far out from the islands. Apparently the islands have no rodents, but instead they have giant bugs. Ewww. Or maybe that is just what they tell people to keep them from going on the islands (which is not allowed).

After all of that, the diving commenced. The first site was called Cream Gardens, because of the gardens of cream-colored gorgonians. This site is on the northeast side of the north island. The water was cold -- around 57 degrees. I instantly decided that bringing my drysuit was well worth the hassle. I can't imagine diving that in a wetsuit, which is what everyone else on the boat was doing! Anyhoo, we started out in a shallow sloping cove where the boat was anchored, and from there, the island jutted out in a wall to the east, with the underwater topography mirroring the wall above. Brendon and I pretty quickly decided to take off from the herd (which the DM had told us we would probably want to do). It made it easier to stop and take pictures of things. When we first descended, my first thought was that the overall look of the reef reminded me of the Channel islands (so did the topography above water) -- blue water, rocky reef, short kelp stalks, and lots of sea urchins. Shortly after that, I found a Northern scorpion fish to take a couple of pictures of. They really remind me of Cabezons -- they blend into the reef just like cabs. Then I noticed that the reef was pepper with little spherical orange sponges that looked a lot like our orange puffball sponges! Close up, they didn't have the same texture but from afar, they looked so similar. I was really hoping to see some colorful nudibranchs (which, on the way out, the DM told me were flourishing recently). I pretty quickly found a gray sponge that was covered with little Ceratosoma amoena (known locally as "clown nudibranchs"). The small ones actually look quite a bit different than the big ones, because their spots are so small and to me at least, their gill plume and rhinophores look more purple and less pink. After deciding there was no way my camera could capture these little guys, I headed over to Brendon who was excitedly signaling me... he had found a Gem nudibranch (Dendrodoris denisoni). It was blowing around in the water, so he helped me relocate it and get some pictures. We meandered along, and when we got to the wall, we dropped a bit deeper and headed out a bit from the wall, to see some of the bigger fish that were hanging out at the bottom. Brendon told me that he saw a shark swim by, but I missed it :(

Eventually we headed back to the wall, where the gorgonians were. Their gorgonians are quite different from ours (and from the SoCal and Caribbean ones). They seem more brittle. The wall had more of the same stuff -- a lot of these gray sponges and lots more Clown nudibranchs. There were also tons of moray eels. They have several different species of morays there, but we mostly saw greys and yellows. I also found one other kind of nudibranch that looked very familiar to me -- it was a Cadlina of some sort. Overall, the encrusting life is very similar to what we have here, but in different colors. Their bryozoans, for instance, are much more colorful -- a pretty turquoise one was all over the place and so was a maroon one. As we were cruising along the wall, another shark swam by. While I didn't know what kind it was at the time, I am fairly certain it was a bronze whaler (which are quite common at the Poor Knights). A few minutes later, another, different type of shark swam by -- it was a much sleeker looking shark with a bluer color. I am not certain what it was, but after doing some research into what types of sharks are seen there, and what they look like, and talking to local divers, I think it was most likely a shortfin mako (which are not "common", but are sometimes seen there). We turned the dive and headed back in along the wall, a bit shallower. We passed several large schools of fish -- blue maomaos and demoiselles. We eventually passed the anchor line and after killing some time in the shallows, we ascended. 86 degrees, 51 minutes, 55 degrees

Between dives, we ate lunch and motored over to Riko Riko cave, which is allegedly the world's largest sea cave (by total volume, above and below water, I think). It was pretty cool -- the water looked incredibly clear. Apparently there's some interesting life in the water back there, because it is so dark. After that, we headed to a site nearby called Fruitcake Rock. It consisted of a big rock breaking the water. There were a bunch of New Zealand fur seals sitting on the rock. One of the DMs mentioned that they aren't usually too into divers, they usually just do a swim by and then lose interest. But we figured we would swim around the rock and see if the seals were feeling playful when we came back around. We came across several Tambja verconis, a really pretty turquoise and gold nudi; some of them were mating, and I saw their bright orange egg masses. I also saw a very pretty sponge, Dendrilla rosea, and a sponge that looked just like our aggregating nipple sponge. Also tons of blue-eyed triplefin, which I found totally adorable. When we were almost back to where we started, I had my head buried in a crack looking at a moray, when I got buzzed by a seal. Then he came back a few more times. Then he seemed to be gone, so we continued on, and when we got back almost to where we started, there were quite a few very playful seals dancing around checking out the divers. I took a few video clips of them. They were behaving a lot like our sea lions. 47 feet, 65 minutes, 55 degrees

On the second day that I dove, there were a lot more locals on the boat. We were on a much bigger boat, which included an open water class, as well as probably about 8 regular local divers. I ended up diving with another visitor (from Spain) and a divemaster, Sam, just the three of us. The first site was called Cleanerfish Bay. For the most part, we saw the same sort of stuff as the day before, although I didn't think the site was quite as pretty as far as topography. There were, however, a few little caverns. At the overhang entering the cavern, there were some interesting spots which seemed to have more/different encrusting life than elsewhere. Also, on this dive, I noticed tons of Cadlina willani. The divemaster also found a couple of tiny nudibranchs (one was an aeolid, the other was not) that were too small to ID without magnification. I found another one that looked similar to one he had found. Too bad I didn't have my Bob along to get some real pictures :( I also saw my first "real" starfish of the trip (other than brittle stars) -- I had been thinking it was strange how there weren't any starfish around! 52 feet, 56 minutes, 55 degrees

On the second dive, we were in a spot with a couple of pinnacles, called Trevor's Rock. I was diving with the same buddy, plus one of the other DMs, Debbie, again just as a threesome. Before the dive, we were instructed not to go deeper than 48 feet, since that was our depth from the first dive. Apparently diving to 60 feet after a dive to 50 feet puts you in extreme peril. Anyhoo, we meandered over to the pinnacles, in a sort of boulder field, and then visited a couple of pinnacles of varying size and depth. The last one we ended on came up to about 20 feet, and was very pretty with lots of fish swimming around in the shallows. We saw a small stingray laying in the sand at the bottom of one of the pinnacles. Also several more of all of the nudibranchs I had seen on earlier dives. 50 feet, 53 minutes, 57 degrees

Overall, I thought the diving was definitely worth the side trip. If I went back to New Zealand, I would probably try to dive some other spots too (like the south island, where they allegedly have weedy sea dragons!).

All of the pictures are here.

1 comment:

Hippy Kate said...

Hi Allison,
I am pleased you enjoyed your day with us, and I think your footage is totally cool! I have added it to our website, I hope you are okay with that, please let me know. We would love to see you back here.