Sunday, May 10, 2009

Too wet to dive...

We can't believe it is nearly 2 months since we last got wet. We're blaming the weather. There was in fact record rainfall for April in our area and it is REALLY cold. Not that the rain is a problem when you;re underwater, but the run-off from the land makes it a fairly hideous underwater experience. Instead, we have been working on a new book, and catching up on movies. One of which, I will mention....

If you haven's seen Sharkwater, you should rush out and get hold of a copy. It's an incredible documentary about the shark-finning industry. As beautiful as the underwater footage is, the documentary storytelling is brutal and honest. One of its most graphic scenes involves footage of a recently definned shark swaying gently to the sandy sea floor - it's beautifully reminiscent of a leaf falling from a tree until you realise that the shark is ALIVE and can't move and will inevitably die where it falls on the sea floor, if not eaten alive beforehand.

Mighty praise for film-maker, Rob Stewart - shame on those who continue to satisfy their need for exotic foods without any thought for the poor animals that suffer for their wants.

Visit the SHARKWATER website:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Book Launch - You've Only Just Begun

This month, we are celebrating the launch of our latest book, You've Only Just Begun, in the USA. It's been researched, written and designed with young graduates in mind. Check it out - hopefully you'll know someone to share it with. We are VERY happy with the production quality which gives a big format coffee table feel in a palm sized hardcover format.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Dive Number 5, The Channel, Goat Island Bay

We haven't been diving for a month. Where does the time go? Rain has been falling and wind blowing for the last two weeks - but a month? The forecast today is somewhat challenging for a small boat to make it around Cape Rodney, so we’ve decided to do the dreaded shore dive. It's not shore diving per se that were against, but rather the trudging of dive gear from the car; parking the car; and the sand that will inevitably infiltrate every crease of clothing, gear and skin. In two, or maybe 3, words, we’re fussy! As we heave our tanks onto our backs, the glass bottom boat skipper tells us, "it's horrible there." Encouraging. He explains,” the water's black.’ On most summer days, and every weekend, the glass bottom boat takes dozens of people for a journey through the reserve. They alight the boat full of anticipation, and disembark chattering about all the fish they’ve seen and the water clarity. He’s decided to forego any income and NOT take passengers out today. Nobody likes disappointment.

Sensible – they’ll see nothing. Ominous – we’ll see nothing.

We HAVE to get in the water, we’ve come too far to repack the car with dry gear. The water is darker than tea. Tannins have leeched from the copious seaweed that lies tangled along the beach. Further evidence of the last weeks’ storms. The seaweed is up to 40 cm thick in places and very spongy underfoot.

Of course, the glass bottom boat skipper is right. We can’t see anything. Not a thing. Not even each other. It’s diving by Braille. We optimistically head out into the Bay - side-by-side and holding hands. Nothing romantic, just self preservation you understand. If we lose contact we will almost certainly not find each other again, especially underwater. The water does eventually clear and we head out to sea through the channel where the visibility is drastically improved. It’s now a consistent two metres, even three in places. No need to hold hands now – besides Darryl is keen to try to salvage some pictures out of this dive. And he needs two hands to do that.

We stumble across a couple of eagle rays that scamper away quickly into the doom and a school of parore sweep past. All kinds of shells and small animals are scavenging amongst the rubble and kelp. Some, like tiny nudibranches are struggling to hold on. Nevertheless they seem to be on patrol – they are scattered all over the seafloor. Darryl hasn’t even noticed the little stuff. I’ve never seen quite so many clown nudibranches at Goat Island Bay, and wish I had a macro camera. In fact, I wish I had my own housing and camera. I do, but it shoots film and we don’t shoot film anymore! Darryl, predictably, has a wide angle lens on his camera. I notice that Darryl is attracting a collection of snapper . Six pretty mature fish are following behind him as dutifully as I am. I’m sure they are not as dependent on his navigational skills as I. Silently, I muse whether this is pure animal magnetism or just his funky split fins. ( I don’t have a pair of those either!)

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Not much diving lately

Since we last ventured underwater, the weather has been awful. Rain, rain, and more rain. So instead, I've been reading the book Shark Trouble by Peter Benchley. He’s the author of Jaws amongst many other books. Shark Trouble is a book about his underwater experiences with sharks and other scary sea creatures. It’s a fascinating read – Peter reflects on many years of underwater experience in the quest of (mostly) documentary footage of sharks’ behaviour. He makes a very valid observation:

“None of us would stroll casually into the Amazon jungle, wearing nothing but a bathing suit and carrying for protection a tube of sun cream and a can of bug spray. We know that the jungle is not our natural habitat; we realize we’re intruders in the jungle, and that in the jungle there are creatures that regard us as a threat or as prey, and will use every mechanism nature has given them – sting, bite, poison, whatever – to ward us off or attack us. We know that large predators live in the jungle and that, through ignorance or intent, they might regard us as food. In short, we accord the jungle the respect it deserves.”

Peter’s point is that we DON’T do the same for the ocean and we should. Essentially, its never the shark's fault! Peter is an engaging writer about this subject that he has become such an expert about. I’m quite keen to read Jaws and some of his other work now, but remember that the movie was very frightening when I saw it as a child. I have intentionally avoided watching it again since I began scuba diving. But perhaps the time has come to face those fears...

Monday, March 02, 2009

Eyes on Whangateau Harbour

A selection of Darryl’s photographs are on display as part of an exhibition entitled Eyes on Whangateau Harbour which was launched to celebrate the start of Seaweek. The exhibition features a few local and internationally renowned photographers. The photos are now on display at the Tara Poolman gallery in Matakana. All of the images are available for purchase.

The Whangateau Harbour is a pristine estuary 60-80 minutes drive from Auckland. It boasts abundant shellfish, healthy intertidal habitats and estuarine plants. During dry periods, at high tide, snorkelling here is hard to beat.
Check out the harbour care group's website:
How to find the Tara Poolman Gallery:

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Dive number 3, Northeast edge of Goat Island

We’ve had a couple of weeks off. Not entirely dry weeks though. We went for a very enjoyable drift snorkel thorough the mangroves at the estuary at the southern end of Matapouri and fantastic clear water snorkel in the Whangateau Estuary at high tide. Both revealed dense shell and small fish life, reminding us how relatively unspoilt New Zealand’s coastal waterways are.

Now we are bouncing our way out to the reserve. The time to get the boat into the water is rapidly reducing, but this time, we got tied up in the first day of school activities and reading email before leaving home. But the sky is clear, and there is only a slight easterly swell running, which is milder than predicted. We’re excited to see deep-blue water all around us. We’re going to try to dive the outer edge of Goat Island itself. We find a surge-free area to anchor the boat to the Northeast of the island and we drop into the water.
At first, the 5-6 meters water is very clear – we estimate the visibility to be 50 feet or more. As we descend, it becomes hazy, but still a very acceptable 30 feet of visibility. Finger sponges are everywhere – we guess some of them might be pink, and are excited that they are they are both bigger and more plentiful (and in more picturesque settings) than our last dive.
On the way back, we encounter a school of triggerfish. We wonder, in fact if eight fish of the same species, swimming in a loose group, roughly in the same direction, does in fact constitute a school? Is there a minimum size for a school of fish? What is it if not a school? A gathering? A group? A family?
Or perhaps it’s just a small country school? Triggerfish always make us smile. And ponder it seems.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dive Number 2, North Reef

We’ve come back as we promised ourselves we would. Unfortunately, we are about as prepared as we were last week in terms of preselecting a dive location. In fact, we have discovered it is not that easy to get your hands on a map of the reserve and all of the dive locations. We have been advised by our good friend and marine biologist, Dr Roger Grace, that there are fabulous sponge gardens to the west of North Reef. “Didn’t you get there?” he shook his head when we told him about our fabulous dive, “you went the wrong way – it’s better if you head west.” Well, that was our interpretation anyway!

Finding North Reef was easy – the water looked nearly as clear as the first dive – so far, so good. We anchored and took a GPS reading – we’ll need that as it appears that North Reef is fast becoming our favourite GIB dive spot (100% so far this year!). We confidently descend. It looks familiar – the kelp covered reef is below us. The water is not as clear, but we hadn’t anticipated it would be, so we’re not disappointed. Surge is tossing the kelp from side to side in a slow-motion dance, not dissimilar to a ballet movement. I’m watching the gentle bend of the thick stalks, the swish and final flick of the frond tips as they turn to repeat the motion in the other direction. The fact that we’ve noticed the kelp’s motion may alert you to the very definite, unmistakable absence of sea life. Or more specifically, fish. They seem nonexistent. Where have they gone? Never mind, we are off in search of sponges....we look...we swim....we look....we swim....get the picture?

Eventually we turn and decide the best option is a second dive on North Reef. It is nothing at all like the first dive - the visibility is poor, and although we find a few leatherjackets, red moki and snapper, we are not even excited by the crayfish waving their antennae enticingly from their cracks. We photographed a drab-looking grey finger sponge, more out of duty than passion and didn’t discover till the next day that is was a lovely pink colour in the photograph. Communication was difficult – we were both trying to decide whether to abort the dive, or jolly the other along. We were cold.

What one of us didn’t know was that the other had no idea where the boat was. A quick pop to the surface didn’t help. “This way!” He confidently pointed once submerged. After swimming a 100 metres in that direction, we found...nothing. No boat. Another quick trip to the surface resulted in a new direction to follow. Another 100 meters and there it wasn’t! We resorted to surfacing anyway. About 100 metres away from our little inflatable boat, which was only visible by the dive flag we had sensibly rigged up before heading underwater.

We never get lost underwater. We have a very successful partnership and working relationship, which works because neither of us tries to do the other’s job. We both know our limitations. The same is true for our approach to navigational duties. Land-based navigation is strictly a female domain, and especially in the case of shopping malls. Underwater is a completely different story it’s a purely a male domain. One of us may have had a very short diving career (i.e. 1 dive) had it not been for navigationally-gifted dive buddies.

We’re still scratching our heads. Even on the surface, we can’t figure out where we went, or where we went wrong for that matter. But as it wasn’t a particularly good dive, we don’t really need to know. We‘re unlikely to be repeating it in a hurry and won’t suggest it to other people. But still, we remain troubled by our complete lack of navigational skill. And the concrete evidence of ineptness is worrying. Where is that GPS when you need it? Oh yes, it was on the boat!

Monday, January 12, 2009

What is a giant boarfish anyway?

These are the giants of the boarfish family (Pentacerotidae) - they can reach 1 metre in length, although ours were only half that size. They usually live at depths of 30-150 metres, and even deeper. Which confirms ours was a lucky encounter. Our yellow spotted one is in fact the male of the species, the striped one is either female or juvenile.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dive Number 1, North Reef, Goat Island Bay

We’re doing it. We are actually heading out of the driveway with the inflatable boat and trailer following behind. It’s taken us a couple of hours to make sure we have all the necessary bits and bobs. But I’ve squeezed into my wetsuit – it’s quite a flattering fit actually! Even if the rubber is straining at the seams! We’ll need to check out the buoyancy. Two pairs of fins, check; two dive mask, check; two regulators, tanks and buoyancy compensators. We must be ready to go. It takes us 90 minutes from the time we leave home to get to the water. That’ll have to come down.

Launching the boat at Leigh turned into a waiting game and a quick social visit with a fellow diver on the dock made us even later. We’ll do that in 60 minutes next time, we assure ourselves. My bum seems to have lost all that extra padding as we bounce our way up and down swells, and I know I will be a centimetre shorter due to vertebral compression. But hey, this is fun.We have decided to dive North Reef which we’ve heard good things about. It’s not accessible by shore and is a little exposed. We were not so prepared that we brought a GPS location for the reef, although we did bring the handheld GPS! We located the reef by watching some birds working a small area of water in the vicinity and the water was clear enough to see the reef top in about 8-9 metres.

After we check my buoyancy, we don our gear and start the dive and immediately find ourselves surrounded by a school of 30-40 kingfish. Nice start. And the rest didn’t let us down. We really had no idea where to go, but traversing the west side of the reef towards the open ocean we soon find ourselves in a perfect ecklonia kelp garden.

Why is it perfect? The kelp was not so dense as to obscure the sponge and invertebrate rocky platform beneath, nor the plentiful crayfish that had begun to emerge from their rocky hiding places. I should mention that it is now 6:00 pm, two hours since we left home! Never mind, the sun is still shining and we're enjoying that interesting time of the evening when fish are active.

We descend to 18 metres and soon bump into a school of giant boarfish. There are at least 10, some of which have a bright yellow spotted appearance. We gesticulate wildly to each other and later decide they must be mating and the yellow ones might be females. We’ve heard that they come into the shallow water to breed in summer.

As the boarfish tire of us and swim away, we turn to find a grisly old snapper following us around. He’s fat, thick-chested, with a swollen nose and chin, and his tail and fins have a distinctive white stripe on them. He’s ageing in a very human way we decide. As North Reef is so far away from the shore, it’s likely he doesn't encounter many divers. From the way he follows us around the reef, it seems he is either very interested in our presence, our perhaps more interested in our departure. Nevertheless we find him alarmingly ugly and extraordinarily charming and we are happy to have a third dive buddy for the remainder of the dive.

We are enjoying the spectacle of unbroken finger sponges growing amongst the kelp, when we spot a school of trevally, then a school of kawhai and finally the kingfish return. We turn and head back – we can’t afford to get lost on our first dive. As well as our new friend, other snapper and red moki swim by. We eventually begin our ascent surrounded by a school of trevally. We get back into the boat, an hour after we left it, and marvel at the stillness of the evening. The low sun is reflected on the glassy water surface and we see the yellow-green flash of kingfish swimming close to the surface. We’re enthralled. We’re hooked. We’ll be back.