After booking our trip for today yesterday, we were up early as we had to be back in the neighbouring village´s marina at Tutukata for 8am. After a quick return home, as Dani had forgotten to bring his antibiotics, we were off.
We got to the Dive Tutukaka dive centre in time and made our way into its entrance which has been made to feel as though you are entering into a cave, with rough, uneven walls and seashells embedded into its floor. The centre itself is extremely modern and up to date, we found out yesterday that the classrooms are actually located further down the road within the marina, so they offer a very organized and professional set up. After filling out our registration forms and paying our fees, 130 NZ dollars for me as a snorkeler and 225 NZ dollars for Dani as a qualified diver, we made our way over to the long desk for our equipment. There were six staff there each handling the one on one needs for kitting out individuals. The wetsuits, BCD´s, fins etc were located in a large orderly area behind the desk so that the staff were able to give people their personalized equipment very quickly. We were each given a large, waterproof kit bag containing our stuff with our names attached and were told then that these bags would be taken to our relevant boats so would be there for us at 8.30am when we were due to set sail. We had a quick coffee first and then headed down into the marina to find our boat for the day, ´Bright Arrow´measuring 11.5m in length.
Once our captain, Luke, (also a qualified diving instructor), was on board along with diving instructor Tam, we all stopped our chit chatting to listen to our safety briefing. Although a serious topic, it was made extremely entertaining and it seemed to break the ice between us all. After the briefing, it was time for us all to sit, and introduce ourselves and state where were were from so that we knew the people that we were spending the day with. A mix of friendly folk, younger and slightly older people than ourselves, coming from all over the place:- Germany, Canada, San Francisco, the Lake District and from New Zealand itself. The boat had a window sided, covered front deck, with an outer deck at the back where the tanks were stored along its sides with seating here if you fancied being outside for the crossing, there was also roof access to a deck above. The crossing was only slightly choppy as we made our way across the 24km towards the islands. The Poor Knights Islands are the remnants of a large volcano, which erupted over 10 million years ago, with the islands themselves now providing a predator free environment for land animals such as native lizards, flax snails (which can live up to 90 years old!) and giant centipedes.
The islands themselves now are made up of two larger ones, Tawihiti Rahi Island and Aorangi Island, two smaller, Aorangaia Island and Archway Island and the distant Pinnicles and Sugar Loaf. All in all, between these islands there are approximately 60 dives sites available. Depending on the wind direction, you are anchored on the opposite coastline to give divers and snorkelers more shelter.
The islands and their waters are a Marine Reserve meaning only scientists are able to climb the rock faces to access them. The penalty for coming ashore otherwise is a 250,000 NZ dollar fine, or a 6 month jail sentence. You can´t take anything away from the reserve, or leave anything behind.
Once reaching the islands, we were taken on a route between the two larger islands where Luke chose a spot within a small sheltered bay called ´Rock Lilly Inlet´. After a briefing about the best way to tackle the bay for the divers, and an idea given to me of the best way to view the bay from snorkeling above, we were off. Divers kitted up and entered the water first, and I followed afterwards. For me it was an amazing experience snorkeling along the bay walls, covered with seaweeds wafting in the water current, filled with small colorful fish feeding off the plants. Snorkeling across the bay, the water beneath deepened and larger fish were visible. The friendly Snapper fish, large and grey with small turquoise spots along its dorsal side, were keen to follow me wherever I went, swimming beside me, under and over me. Approaching the end of the bay walls, the sunlight illuminated the water and it felt as thought I was swimming in my own aquarium, the sunlight and the abundance of small colorful fish was amazing, from Blue Maomao (bright blue) to their juveniles (blue with a small yellow fin on the underside of their bodies) to name e few.
After the first dive we were all back onto the boat for a break where hot drinks and soups were available as well as a hot shower hose on the back deck for those who needed to warm up. We had purchased a packed lunch in advance for 10NZ dollars, consisting of a sandwich, apple, banana and large cookie. During the break, the boat was moved from this bay along the the coast of Aorangi Island where we were able to view some amazing scenery en-route to our second site. Large arches are clearly visible within the rocks, one of which we passed through to get to our next site, ´Blue Maomao Arch´named after the abundance of this particular fish that reside there. Again, a briefing was given with regard to the best ways to dive the site, and for me to get the most from above, before we were in the water again. There was an amazing 40 metre tunnel to pass through, the lack of light in its centre giving rise to an abundance of colorful sponges clinging to the rock walls within, It was described to us as ´like someone had got a giant cement mixer, filled it with fruit salad and thrown a grenade into it´, and it was indeed just like that!
Here, following the rock face on my return, I was able to see further friendly Snappers, Red Moki (vertical stripes like a zebra in browns and creams) tiny Oblique Swimming Triplefin´s (orange with black stripes), Black Angel Fish (black with white lips) and my favorite of the day, a female Leather Jacket ´grayish green marbled in colour with large green eyes and a long, elongated face tipped with a small lipped mouth). The divers here saw large Crayfish, Stingrays, King Fish and big Scorpion Fish. The water in both sites was extremely clear and warm, perfect. Once all out of the water, armed with hot drinks, Luke was able to give us some lessons on the history of the islands which was extremely interesting.
The journey back was slightly more choppy than our outbound one due to the fact that the wind had picked up, but even though it seemed like we were traveling in a washing machine, there were no sick people Once back in the marina, it was off into the dive centre to have log books stamped and to say our goodbyes to the people that we had spent the day with. It was such a wonderful day, and to be honest, too much to write in one post. The school itself was so organized and professional with all staff being extremely knowledgeable in all aspects of their jobs and I think that we will both be leaving today with fantastic memories, not only of the great people we met but also of what we saw both above and below the ocean…..absolutely mind-blowing!