Wednesday was an auspicious day, being the 9th of the 9th of the 9th. We’d been offered a boat trip out to the Poor Knights Islands and Wednesday was the day. We were up early and watching the weather. It was calm and overcast, we hoped the sun might come out. We crossed the marina car park and reported by 8.15am and got sorted out for wet suits and stuff. I was keen to have a go snorkelling, Wyn thought she might and Andrew probably wouldn’t. There were 6 others, and three Dive Tutukaka staff. Four were diving and two others were prospective snorkellers. By 9am we were puttering out of the harbour and soon zooming out to sea. The Poor Knights Islands are 23km offshore, so it took about an hour to get out there. The sea was probably relatively calm and we felt fine.
The excitement on the way out was encountering a passing pod of dolphins. Having spotted them we circled and soon there were a bunch surfing in the bow wave – with us peering over watching them. A special moment.
Once at the islands they found a sheltered spot a few metres off a cliff – the water here was 6m deep and rapidly getting deeper. The sea was almost calm. A couple of the divers were off almost immediately. The rest of us were given a good run-down on the islands and their history. The Maoris had inhabited them but they’d upset another group who eventually paddled across and wiped them out. The islands were declared tapu so their status as no-landing reserve is appropriate culturally as well as environmentally.
The other divers prepared themselves and disappeared into the water. The four of us remaining got into our wetsuits to have a try snorkelling. The water was only 17 degrees – not exactly tropical. We had thick wet suits, with full leggings that were a bit like thigh waders, with a thick jacket to go over top with a hood. By the time we put boots on as well, only our hands and faces were exposed. We felt and looked like a couple of blobbies. Finally we added face masks and snorkels and flippers and had run out of excuses – it was time to get in the water.
I’d had a go snorkelling at Leigh about 10 years ago, and there had been too many fish. Then there was a go at Port Douglas about 15 years ago and that had been too murky. But at least I knew I could stick my head under and breathe. It was all new for Wyn and the advice was to hang on to the back of the boat and get used to breathing with the snorkel. I found that difficult because the back of the boat was bobbing up and down. The next advice was to float face down in a star position – limbs spread out. I let go and got used to the idea I was breathing and was OK. And WOW! I could see – under the water. The bottom was 6m away, but crystal clear. There was kelp and rocks and things growing on the rocks and lots of little fish everywhere with bigger fish doing whatever fish do. Then there were a few snapper just hanging around. One in particular seemed to adopt me, hanging a couple of metres below me. He was watching me and I was watching him. Then there was a bunch of smaller fish hanging out under the boat. About this stage I realised I had quickly drifted a few metres away – it looked like a long way. With a few flips of my flippers I was back at the back of the boat – and hooked. The water was cold, but if I maintained the same position it felt OK. So I just floated around with my arms and legs out; watching everything below. The advice to Wyn was to not let go until she felt confident; so she didn’t. She did very well for a first attempt and did get a good view of everything as well. She also got wrenched around a lot and had sore arms for days afterwards. Maybe if they’d had some short ropes to hang on to she’d have gotten free of the boat. In the end we both got cold so got back on the boat. At first we meant to have another go, but we enjoyed being warmer too much and got out of our wet suits. Soon some hot soup appeared and disappeared. We felt like we’d done enough for one day, and sat back and relaxed – which Andrew was doing quite successfully without going anywhere near the water.
The divers came and went and the sun came out a bit – that felt good. So did lunch. Eventually everyone was on board and we went to move; except the anchor was stuck. After lots of manoeuvring we were still stuck – it must have been wedged in the rocks. One of the staff had to get back into her dive gear and go down to free it – which she finally did after a few attempts. We motored into a nearby sea cave; it was huge. Apparently it is the biggest in the world. It was safe to take the boat in and cut the engines and bob about in silence. The skipper jumped a few times to show how it echoed. I tried a cooee, except my voice kept breaking on me. So I tried my morepork call with cupped hands, except I ended up with a much better sound – actual clear notes. I used to be impressed how Laura could get a tune from her hands at the Port Chalmers Pool. Now I could do it– maybe it was cold hands and lips. With the silence and the echo inside the cave it sounded haunting.
We moved a short distance to the shelter of another island and anchored beside some seals on the rocks. The divers went back in and some of the seals joined them – all seemed to enjoy that. Maybe it is boring being a seal on a rock all day. The other two snorkelers paddled around on a couple of kayaks, but the three of us were happy to sit on top of the boat watching the divers and seals.
Eventually it was 3pm and everyone was back and it was time to head back to the mainland. We were warm enough on the top deck of the boat, and watched as the Poor Knights slowly got smaller and the mainland slowly got bigger. Everyone was happy with their day out except it was over too soon. Back in Tutukaka Harbour we could pick out the places we’d walked to, then we were back at the marina and tied up and everyone went their ways.
Somehow it seemed a fitting climax to our two months in Northland. We’d seen a lot of beaches and the sea and islands. Now we’d been on the sea and out to the islands and seen into the sea. It was a wonderful experience and we were very grateful to Dive Tutukaka for the opportunity. It was a great day out with their wonderfully friendly and helpful staff. We wandered back across the marina carpark to Suzi. It was time for a cup of tea and to start to reflect on it all.