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.

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