Today was spiritual, and I’m not religious.
I’ve had my unfair share of ‘Shit Hot Dive Sites of the World’ during my year. Similan Islands, Sipadan, Malapascua and others. When in New Zealand I’d be crazy if I didn’t try diving at the Poor Knight Islands. I’m getting pretty skint, but as I said at the end of the day to the guide – there are two sports that instantly make me ignore my bank balance. Heliboarding or diving. It doesn’t matter, I just sign for it, or enter my PIN. But would it live up to the hype? The Poor Knights Islands contain one of Jacque Costeau’s Top 10 dive sites of the world. Dive Tutukaka recently won a prestige tourism award. Blah blah blah. Wade Oak who has done a lot of photography, research and more in the area is often quoted as saying ‘…what is distinctive about Poor Knights is I dive in them, not at them” as there are so many volcanic remains, cavees and swimthroughs around the area. Spoilt I know but after a while you start to think that any ‘attraction’ can spin something great or other. But this was diving. Hardly any of the world’s population sees this stuff, so why not?
The first dive was at Brady’s Corner. We exited the superb dive boat with the volcanic cliff edge only a few feet away. The Poor Knights used to be a volcano, and used to rise 1000m+ above the sea. I won’t pretend I can remember all the stuff, but basically now you dive over the volcanic remains. In a marine reserve. I could tell before I surfaced after jumping in that it would be a great dive. Great visibility of around 20m, and a kelp ‘forest’ to swim around. If you don’t know it, think of kelp as a forest of seaweed trees that you can swim through. I’ve never dived in an environment like this before – I’ve always been spoiled by wonderful coral gardens. But this was fantastic too and very different. I was also pleased that I spotted two large (by my standards) short tailed Stingrays before the guide did – both about about 1m+ wide. There were also several Northern Scorpionfish which are far larger than their Asian equivalents, and less harmful. These were around three feet long, totally camoflagued with their surroundings. There were also loads of other fish I haven’t seen befor along with many sponges, a few nudibranches, yellow eels, starfish quite different to ones I’ve seen before, and loads of sea urchins.
I was quite lucky to come out of the water with my nose just spouting out a lot of snot – I’ve never seen so many people seasick on a dive boat before. Maybe they shouldn’t bother trying to dive in Asia!
Dive two was where it all came out…..
Off it was a few metres round the bay to Riko Riko cave (Picture : interior of the cave). This is thought to be the worlds largest sea cave. It’s so large you can anchor several boats in it, and ours was quite large (and the only one – yaaah, off season travel rocks!). It has a 35m cavity above the sea level, and measures 134×80 metres, going from around 9m to 26m at the entrance. Riko means something like reflection so it was named after how the sun reflects from the cave’s roof.Apparently the acoustics are superb and Neil Finn has even recorded here. And I dived it in May meaning with a low sun, it penetrates futher than normal into the cave.
I stepped off the boat, popped my goggles under the surface then popped my head up. My first words were :
‘For once, it’s just like the brochures.’
(Picture : Riko Riko Cave entrance above the surface) When you looked out towards the entrance to the caves, the visibility was stretching up to around 40 metres. The volcanic rock formations were silhouetted against the incoming rays of the sun. Other divers were silhouetted against the rays. And this was the day I couldn’t get my frickin’ underwater housing buttons in line with the camera buttons so it was useless. I left it on the boat. I was absolutely gutted as all over the place I was lining up some of my best ever diving shots, and I was without a camera. I kept pretending to take photos and banging my head to the guide. The amazing scenery lasted the whole dive. This was, and is, one of my best ever dives so far, despite not seeing that much marine life compared to other dives.
(Picture : One of the smaller Dive Tutukaka boats inside Riko Riko cave) One of the marine life highlights was seeing a large 3 foot Northern Stonefish lying on a rock with a small yellow eel sitting alongside with its mouth wide open, both of them quite happy just sitting there posing away. Despite me never being able to capture a picture to give it justice, I kept imagining hovering there lining up a perfect image of both of them with the silhouetted background of the cave’s entrace with the sun’s rays beaming in.
And then it got better. As some of the group surfaced as their air reduced, three of us went to the back of the cave. From here you looked out to a majestic view which was like an underwater amphitheatre. I could have stayed there for hours. As you left the rear of the cave you could look up through the 10 metres or so of water and slowly catch the sun bouncing off the cave’s roof which gave you a completly different perspective.
(Picture : A dive boat heading towards the cave entrance which looks deceivingly small in this shot) Just as I thought I had the best we started heading back to the boat. From around 9 metres, with the guide in front of me I had a perfect silhouette of the hull of the boat, the dinghy off the back, the guide in front of me, and a school of fish to the side. I can’t even describe how pissed off I was at not having a camera in my hand. I’ve heard several comments recently (partly in Dylan Moran’s comedy show!) that you should ditch the camera and enjoy the moment, but any description just wouldn’t do this sight justice, especially if you are a non diver.
When I relucantly surfaced (I could have stared at that sight for hours) I had that amazing feeling of witnessing something truly amazing and honestly almost ‘spiritual’. Yes get the sick bags at the ready, but it was amazing. I was like this until well after coming on shore, which is probably why I have babbled on about it so much.
What a day.
It wasn’t even ruined by me realising that I hadn’t bought oyster sauce to make my dinner, and that the campervan had the fridge turned up so high the sour cream was for my alternative burrito meal was almost frozen.
Oh and I didn’t even question what was on the plan tomorrow. I sat around reading the articles around the Dive Tutukaka office, looking at the fish ID books and had already signed up for another day’s diving. I definitely won’t say the other operators in the area aren’t as good as I’ve not experienced them, but Dive Tutukaka were excellent. A great crew who coped well with the range of people and experience on the boat, and a professional approach that still let everyone do what they wanted to do, whether it be diving with a guide or with a buddy. Highty recommended.
The van is a high top so you can stand up in it. If you ever get one I’d recommend this if you can as it just makes everything from cooking to moving around so much easier, and you feel far less claustrophobic.