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Sun 7th May. Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand.
No less a person than that old fervent self publicist himself, Jacques Cousteau, allegedly rated the Poor Knights as 'among the 10 best sites in the world'. All the local dive operators remind you of this repeatedly, although they don't say whether it was a carefully considered opinion or a throwaway remark he made down the pub one evening after a few too many Steinlagers.
The islands are a nature reserve, and landing is doubly prohibited, not only by the department of conservation aiming to preserve the unique flora and fauna, but also by a Maori Taboo. Later in Whangerei, I ask a Maori about the brutal end of the last inhabitants - the start of the tapu - but the time isn't right for serious stories, and he just shakes his head and says - "Bad business, bad business."
Sunday is grey and blustery - the hour long ride out to the islands in three or four metre swell makes more than one person on the boat a little green. Me, I sit outside in the spray and stare fixedly at the horison! Moored in Calypso Bay, in the lee of an impressive streaked cliff the water is still - these craggy young islands have enough convolutions of coastline to offer shelter from almost any weather.
Dive 1: Calypso Bay.
Buddied with Amanda from Sydney, we swim over to the cliff face before dropping down 30 metres to where the foot meets a plain of white sand. Underwater it is a little chilly (about 18 deg.C), and the light is dull and green from the grey weather, but the water is beautifully clear. In the afternoon, Blue Maomao arch is also fine, but doesn't compare the show it puts on the next day...
Mon 8th May. Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand.
Today, the sea is calm and the sun shines, transforming the diving. Buddied with Lee, a BSAC diver from the green, green fields of home, we are encouraged to go off on our own by the divemasters, who have a group of newbies to look after, and dive in blissful buddy solitude.
Dive 3: The Rock.
The Rock is the imaginitive name given to a large pinnacle rising to near the surface in the centre of an open bay between two islands. The boat moors over the top, and we fall down the side to a crumpled surface studded with urchins. The violent volcanic topography of the Poor Knights, riddled with sea arches, continues under the water, and one of the best things about the diving is exploring the submarine ravines and outcrops and swim-throughs, softened by clumps of copper coloured kelp.
We work our way round, under and over walls, boulders and canyons scored into the flanks of the island. Life includes yellow and mottled morays lurking in crevices, sandagers wrasse yawning hugely, snapper, black angelfish, pigfish, leatherjackets, a couple of large kingfish, and a few brightly coloured nudibranchs. Back under the boat, the kelp on top of the pinnacle dances in the swell, and we do our safety stop while being investigated by a free-swimming moray.
Dive 4: Blue Maomao Arch.
A low, slender sea-arch around 30m long, at its narrowest point maybe 3m wide, rising 3m above the surface and dropping 7m below. The roof of the arch is cracked and split, sunbeams filter through to silhouette fronds of kelp and thick, quite unafraid schools of blue maomao and demoselle that you practically have to push aside as you swim.
The floor of the arch is made of huge boulders littered with giant scorpionfish changed into a variety of colours. I find one which has made a very creditable attempt at 'grey and purple rock with bright green seaweed bits' and am studying (closely) the (venomous) spines on its back when one of those newbies appears to try and sit on my head! Lee gives him the BSAC official sign for 'wanker' (use your imagination) and we swim off to reclaim our solitude.
After we loop back round the outside of the headland pierced by the arch, Lee decides he is cold and returns to the boat. But I'm not ready to leave yet - I swim back into the entrance and spend five minutes hanging a couple of metres down in a flickering shaft of light as the fish flow round me.
My favourite dive here, and remains one of my best ever dives.
All content © COPYRIGHT Huw Porter