A new New Zealand – Diving the North Island: Part 1

by dkchittock

Leaving the Mainland for the first time had me anxious.  Feelings about the North Island are mixed down south, and with the country’s only major city taking up half the country’s population, I was ready for a different New Zealand.  My window seat took me from familiar rivers and mountain ranges to isolated volcanic cones and randomly dotted coastal islands.  An hour north of Auckland though, a friend’s home near the coast complete with diving gear, fishing rods, and two choices of beaches provided me with enough to do to forget any negative northern connotations.

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Sullivan’s Beach

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At one end…

The nearby beaches, separated by a spear-headed peninsula were open to the other parts of the bay and were a popular spot for sailboats and fishing kayaks to spend the day.  On one side, pudding rock poked out of the water at high tide and when the water receded stood as some squat pinnacle at the end of a dried reef.  Stone grey, twisted tree trunks adorned one end, holding up large elongated epiphytes that sat in constant view of the sea. When the tide was out, rock formations that resembled a close-up of elephant hide held on to the sand.  The other beach fled in and out of a small estuary.  A grassy campsite nearby made for a great weekend location and the flat beach provided room for Frisbee and soccer.

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Pudding Rock

Free Driver gouged through the calm morning swell the following day, bee-lining out to Little Barrier Island.  Blurry at first, then in focus, it sat raised out of the water like a flatly scalped mountain, trees clinging to the steep cliffs and rough coastline growing from the sea.  Greasing up an open-cell wetsuit was an unexpected way to start the morning, but with scupper tucked neatly away and weight belt secure, I was ready to drop in.  Despite my previous attempts at diving down South, today was different, today I could see.  Small jellies floated in different arrays and shapes and rubbery paddleweed swayed with the swell.  Bright blue mao mao flitted amongst the reef and marblefish cruised in and out of the plant life, disappearing upon pausing.

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As a novice, choosing a target can be a bit disconcerting, wondering one minute if something is rare and endangered and then thinking the next that you just let your dinner swim right past your face.  Fortunately, my great hosts were even better divers.  Karl Bottema and his brother, Sam, were top-ten finishers in the New Zealand Nationals and have almost a decade of experience free diving and spearfishing.  I made sure to consult with them about targets.  First up, as is the case with most beginners, was the accurately named butterfish.  A shallow water reef fish, its fins reverberated with the same speed as the edges of the weed-life and its color varied from a deep gold to larger fish that bore dark brown shades.  Learning quickly the advantages to a quiet and effective dive, I took my first fish with a shot that required no need for a knife.  A clean kill, it was amazing what an extended arm and patience can do for a hunter with little experience. Check out the video below-

First butterfish (p. Karl Bottema)

First butterfish (p. Karl Bottema)

Epiphytes

Epiphytes

Our day continued on and butterfish remained my main target, along with a few other species that I couldn’t quite get to.  To my guide’s dismay I let pass a boarfish that almost certainly would have made the dinner plate.  Next time I would know what was out there.  Luckily for me, next time was the next day, and new fish and locations were on the itinerary.

-Kendrick

Part 2 coming soon!

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