Underneath the Arches – The Poor Knights, May 2011

To celebrate Rita getting a job and me becoming a kept man, last weekend we decided to go diving. Despite a less than impressive weather forecast, Friday afternoon saw us heading north from Auckland to Tutukaka. Not long after setting off we drove through a torrential rainstorm, which was made even more frightening by the fact that the windscreen wipers don’t work properly. Fortunately the further north we got  the better the weather became, and we finally arrived at the Tutukaka Holiday Park where we were staying. This is a great holiday park, it’s very peaceful and spacious, especially with it being so late in the season which meant that we had the place to ourselves. They have tent and powered sites, along with a variety of cabins, in beautiful scenic countryside, only a few minutes walk from Tutukaka itself.

That night we headed to the Schnappa Rock, which is a bar / restaurant right next to the harbour. The seafood chowder was excellent, and the beer was very welcome. We took advantage of a mild evening and sat out under the stars, being treated as VIPs as we were the only people in the place. This was partly because it was the end of the tourist season, and partly because everyone else was in another bar watching the rugby league.

First thing (‘ish) on Saturday morning we drove over to Dive Tutukaka. We actually dived with them 3 years ago and were very impressed at how slick and efficient they were at getting everyone organised. Fortunately they were just as slick and efficient this time too,  which was just as well as we turned up late and would have missed the boat otherwise. (We were working on the principle that the late worm avoids the early bird). So it was at 8:30am when Bright Arrow left the mooring with the 2 of us, 3 girls from Auckland, 2 girls from Israel and an Italian snorkeller and his diving girlfriend. Oh, and Skipper Ben, and Kieran and Joe from Dive Tutukaka. Outside the protection of the harbour the swell was pretty bad and Kieran and Joe were kept very busy handing out sick bags to some of the more unfortunate passengers.

Our destination was the Poor Knights, which is a marine and nature reserve. They consist of 2 main islands, Aorangi and Tawhiti Rahi,  along with a group of smaller islands. No-one is allowed to land on the islands and fishing is also prohibited. Since all the introduced pests have been removed, the local wildlife is now flourishing on the islands, as is the marine life in the waters around them. They are volcanic and are protected by steep, near-vertical cliffs which are peppered with dramatic arches and caves. They were occupied until the early 19th century by a Maori tribe, whose last chief was called Tatua. He apparently insulted Chief Waikato of the Hikutu tribe by refusing to trade pigs with him. Several years later while Tatua and his warriors were away on a raid in the Hauraki gulf, a slave escaped and told Chief Waikato that the islands were undefended. Chief Waikato attacked the islands and killed everyone they could find. When Tatua got back, he declared the island tapu, or sacred, and no-one has lived there since.

Moray EelIt took almost 50 minutes to get out to the Poor Knights, and then Ben took us up to Middle Arch to see what the conditions were like. Middle Arch is half way up the islands, between the imaginatively named Northern and Southern Arches. Unfortunately it was still quite rough, so he turned us round and took us to South Harbour instead. Here we did our first dive on Magic Wall, which, believe it or not, is a wall. It’s also encrusted with all sorts of life and lots of kelp, which was swaying in the surge. Visibility was around 15 metres, and there was good fish life, including snapper, a stingray and several moray eels. I had a great dive, unlike Rita who came up complaining about how painful her foot was. For future reference, don’t tie your boots so tight.

After lunch, our second dive was Blue Maomao Arch. We swam underneath a boulder at around 9 metres, and emerged into beautiful blue water, lit by a shaft of sunlight coming from the left hand side of the arch. The site is named for the schools of blue maomao that are often found there, and which we were hoping to see. We weren’t disappointed. The whole area was so full of  fish that I  couldn’t see more than a foot in front of me. It was like being part of the shoal. There was quite a lot of surge, but my only reference was the fish around me, so it didn’t look as though they or I were moving. And then suddenly the shoal would thin slightly and I’d see a large chunk of rock racing past me, which was quite disorientating. We spent the whole dive just swimming gently backwards and forwards through the arch, surrounded by blue maomao. After this dive, I can see why Cousteau rated the Poor Knights as one of the top 10 divesites in the world.

Scorpion FishThe run back to Tutukaka wasn’t quite as bad as the trip out, which was just as well as we were running out of sick bags. When we got back, we bumped into Andy and Fiona, the National Instructors with our dive club. They had driven up from Whangarei for the afternoon, and had decided to dive on the Sunday. When Dive Tutukaka found out that we knew each other, they arranged to put us all on the same boat. That evening, Rita and I had a pretty good dinner at the pizzeria down at the end of the marina, before walking back under another beautiful, starry sky.

Sunday morning, and we weren’t quite as late as we’d been on the Saturday. We were on Blue Arrow again, with Andy and Fiona, plus an English Kiwi, a Dutch guy, and Joe and Sophie who work at Dive Tutukaka but were out for a fun dive. Kieran was crewing again, but today’s skipper was Sam. Although the swell was still very bad the wind had dropped, so the run out to the islands was better than the previous day.

This time we decided to give Middle Arch a go.  Rita and I headed along a wall and it was only when I checked my compass and found that we should have been swimming directly into the wall itself that I realised that we’d actually swum through the arch and almost out the other side. The arch is so big that despite the great visibility, I couldn’t see the opposite wall, although the lack of kelp was a bit of a giveaway. Next to the arch at around 15 metres, is a large, deep cavern called Bernie’s cave. This has an air pocket in the roof. There were lots of fish all over the floor and walls, including some large scorpion fish. Outside and Rita spotted a kingfish swimming past us.

Firebrick starfishWhile we had lunch, Sam took us into Rikoriko cave, which is apparently the largest sea cave by volume in the world. It’s only when you get inside in the boat, that you realise just how big it is. After that, we carried on to the south and anchored near where we’d been the previous day. This time we were on Ngoio Reef, which connects Aorangi island with Ngoio Rock, and along this shallow reef are a series of pinnacles that almost break the surface. We swam along the reef and circumnavigated the rock. There was lots of kelp, plus a stingray, moray eels, blennies, triplefin, scorpion fish, and some large snapper. We also came across a small nudibranch, and a lovely firebrick starfish.

All in all, it was a great weekend and some spectacular diving. The only real drawback was that Rita has lost an ankle weight that she borrowed from Mitch, one of the BSAC New Zealand guys. So let’s hope he doesn’t read this dive report!

About Neil Hambleton

I am a British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) Advanced Diver and an Open Water Instructor. I have been diving since 1992, after joining South China Diving Club (SCDC), which is a Hong Kong-based branch of the BSAC. Having moved to New Zealand, I am now a member of BSAC New Zealand.
This entry was posted in Diving and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>