Mike was on his 9th trip to New Zealand and so he had a very well-planned itinerary, to cover some of the best diving that NZ has to offer. He didn’t disappoint.
After a couple of days hiking my way around Waiheke Island, with a few refreshment stops at vineyards along the way, I met the others at Auckland airport and we drove across to the Coromandel coast for 3 days diving the Mercury Islands.
We had hoped to also dive the Alderman Islands, but they are more exposed and it was too windy (sounds familiar?) so we stuck with the Mercury Islands.
The highlight on the first dive was two octopus, though they were both shy and wouldn’t come out from their hidey holes. Goat fish and scorpion fish were plentiful, and there was an odd porcupine fish. On our third day, we dived Resort Bay (so called because it’s the last resort when it’s too rough to dive anywhere else!) My expectations were low, but I experienced two firsts on that dive: first time I’ve been bitten by a fish (a very persistent sand dagger wrasse, which was a nice pretty colour, and then it tugged at my drysuit leg to attract my attention and bit my finger when I turned round! It reminded me of a titan triggerfish), and first time I’ve seen a John Dory.
Overall the diving was a great start to the trip.
Goat Island – cancelled
Goat Island was NZ’s first marine reserve, so we were looking forward to this. Unfortunately it was too windy, and so no diving. Sound familiar again? We went for a walk and could see Goat Island, and agreed that the entry and exit for this shore dive would have been dangerous with the sea conditions.
Poor Knights Islands
The Poor Knights are listed in the book “50 places to dive before you die”, so expectations were high, and we weren’t disappointed. We chose a 3 day trip on a liveaboard (RV Acheron) to get the best of the diving. The diving here made the journey to NZ worthwhile.
Middle Arch and Northern Arch were both amazing. I love arches and caverns anyway, and these were teeming with fish life. There seemed to be scorpion fish on every other rock, snappers, large shoals of blue maomao, a kingfish, and even a couple of stingrays that looked as though they were trying to mate. We even saw a bronze whaler shark, which looks like a beefy version of a Galapagos shark!
Hideaway Bay was a great dive, with loads of fish life. We entered a cave mouth, and could hear the distinctive “boom” from the waves hitting the back of the cave.
Our final dive in the Poor Knights was Blue Maomao Arch. A day boat had just disgorged its divers at the arch, so it started off as diver soup. Sadly for them, their air consumption was no match for ours, and we soon had the arch to ourselves. This has to be one of the best shallow dives on the planet. The cave / swim-through was teeming with thousands of blue maomao (bright blue fish).
Bay of Islands
Next stop was Paihia to dive the Bay of Islands. In particular, HMNZS Canterbury, which was a Leander Class frigate. The wreck is upright and largely intact, and we were able to swim through some parts of the wreck. The nearby White Reef was a pretty dive.
After a 4 hours drive, overnight stay in Auckland, 12 hour scenic rail journey, overnight stay in Wellington, and an amazing ferry journey through Cook Strait and Marlborough Sound, we arrived at Picton on South Island. After a night's sleep our next stop was Lermontov Lodge, a 4 hour drive, with the last few miles being on a gravel road. It had better be worth it!
Mikhail Lermontov was a Russian cruise liner which ran aground in 1986 when the ship took a short cut between a light-house and a rocky reef (oops!) The wreck lies on her starboard side, in a maximum depth of about 36 metres. Highlights included the canopy-covered swimming pool (it still has water in it , the Winter Gardens with bar stools at right angles, through the hairdressers salon with wallpaper still on the walls, and the Bolshoi Lounge with chandelier and tables also at right angles, and the massive engine room.
Even for a non-wreckie like me, it was an amazing dive site, and 4 dives really weren’t enough. The centre owner has done about 4000 dives on the Lermontov, and is still exploring new parts of the wreck. Mike was also able to add some interest when he told us that he'd been on the Lermontov when she was in Tilbury Dock and he was a customs officer.
One of the local divers gave me a lift to Christchurch, and we passed tantalisingly close to world-famous vineyards, including Cloudy Bay. Sadly, my lift was keen to get home and so we didn't stop.
Final diving stop for me was Milford Sound, which is a fjord. With a murky freshwater layer on top, it really didn’t look inviting, but once we were below about 3 metres, the water was blue and the visibility was about 15 metres. The underwater landscape was a mix of sandy seabed, with odd growths of black coral (which is actually white) and some rocky outcrops and a wall. There were more crayfish than I have ever seen in one place, probably because it’s a marine reserve and so a “no take” zone. The Kiwis are hunter-gatherers!
New Zealand above water
Waiheke Island was beautiful, with the added bonus of a host of vineyards within walking distance of each other.
The scenic railways feature in the top railway journeys in the world, and they didn't disappoint. There is something luxurious about enjoying a leisurely wine and cheese lunch as you pass through the stunning scenery of a national park.
New Zealand is very green (yes, they get rain too) with sub-tropical plant life and massive trees.
Did I mention the wine? I was already very familiar with the world-class Marlborough whites, and they also do pretty good reds.
The scenery on South Island reminds me of Scotland - but without the people. New Zealand is a similar size to the UK, with a population of only 4.5 million.
The 2011 earthquake destroyed many landmark buildings in Christchurch, as well as the coastal road and the railway line. 7 years later, the road remains closed in places as the ground is just unstable and it will probably take years to complete the works.
The Kiwis are very friendly and welcoming - maybe because they don't get too many visitors just popping in. I stayed with a relative for 3 days, and he said I was only the 3rd family member to visit him in 20 years!
Yes, it is a b***** long way, but it was well worth it!
Photos on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/maria.harwood. ... 023&type=3
Reports on our previous club dive trips and some of our day diving activities
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