When I knew there was the opportunity to start exploring a new part of the country, I didn’t think about it twice, it was an absolute YES, I’M IN! Even louder than my usual “I’m IN” for all water related activities.
We had one objective this time: explore the less-dived sites around Whale Island, in Whakatane coast, and try to get as much information as we could: possible dive plans/strategies, depths, marine life, currents, visibility, reference points,… Summarizing: all that you need to call it a proper dive site with a good briefing. An additional task to consider was to take as much footage of the area as possible, so we could document the dive afterwards and establish some baselines for possible future projects.
We paired up in teams of two divers, based on configurations, being Rob and Selina in one and Nicole and Belen on the other. We jumped on Deep Spirit, Oceans Alive Whakatane boat, with James Croker as captain and master of ceremonies.
He already had in mind some points with a lot of potential on them, mainly on the North side of the island, so the first step was to check the surface conditions there. Unfortunately, there was a non-negligible current, so we all decided to explore some other points; we had the whole island for us!
We anchored on the Eastern side, where the first team jumped in the water, followed by the second, around 5 minutes apart. It looked like a calm easy spot, and all that we knew is that we had 18m of water under our bodies and a bouldery sea floor. We planned the dive to go back into the boat, drawing a circle, going first East, then North, and ending by a West and South approach. We kept in mind that we were on a big bay, navigation wise, so it would not be difficult to come back to the boat anyway.
We found an sandy bottom with big rocks around, and those covered in a very healthy kelp. There were a couple of schools of yellowtail and koherus around, goatfish, blue cod and snappers not to forget the big school of Blue Maomao, which reminded me of Blue Maomao arch, in the Poor Knight Islands.
Keeping on exploring around, we found a big rock covered in white striped anemones and with green finger sponges on it: the spring has come underwater! So we named this dive site: Spring boulders.
We found some clown and jewel nudibranchs, and I’m sure some other experts would have found more! As a bonus, I photographed something that I had never seen before: a snake eel; it’s head is similar to a moray eel, but it’s hidden on the sand, rather than in a rock hole, and it has a more pointed nose, which grabbed my attention. We had some help from the locals to identify it!
We spent our surface interval on that same spot, delighted by home cooked brownies, gingerbread and orange and chocolate chip cookies, and of course including a lot of laughs, we were all very happy divers!! That was a good trick from our skipper and host!
We continued along Whale Island coast, clockwise, until we saw the arches. They were so beautiful on the surface that we all agreed on exploring more the underwater world! An arch can never be bad, and it looked quite promising with the visit of some seals around. As before, one team after the other.
We splashed down completely synchronized, from each side of the boat, which was an indication of what was going to happen. The dive plan was to explore the different arches along the coast, take reference points to guide some dives and explore the fauna and flora underwater, as per the first dive. The topography of the site is a bouldery bottom, decreasing depth smoothly as you approach to the wall, with a depth at the arches between 3 and 5 meters. The diver can choose its desired depth according to the phase of the dive, or the dive profile itself.
The entire dive run smoothly, under the arch, we just playing with the seal and the seal playing with the school of Jack mackerels. We spent around 30 minutes under the arch, with a maximum depth of 5m, only admiring the light coming through them, and the marine life players.
The rest of the dive run exploring the boulders and the little cracks between them, where crabs, nudibranchs and some other various critters were hiding, including shrimps and moray eels, with kelp and nudibranchs, more schools of koherus as a bonus, red mokis, two spot demoiselles, parores, etc.
Dive 1 tech parameters:
- Maximum depth: 18.9 m
- Average depth: 13.4 m
- Dive time: 59 min
- Water temperature: 18 ºC
Dive 2 tech parameters:
- Maximum depth: 12.2 m
- Average depth: 5.5 m
- Dive time: 59 min
- Water temperature:18 ºC
There is definitely more room to explore, as it is a huge area, with plenty of potential dive sites, including those which are deeper and have never been dived before. Stay tuned for more!
If you are interested on seeing more about this site, the videos edited by Nicole Miller, from Wellington Underwater club can be found in: https://vimeo.com/198747233
An additional comment: Why do I only see a hammerhead in Whale island satellite photo, rather than a whale?