Quantity Leads to Quality: Revisiting Dive Sites for New Experiences

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The Poor Knights Islands

I first visited The Poor Knights as part of an Easter trip in 2015, so the date was set in stone well in advance, and having heard nothing but praise for the site, I didn’t do any research before my trip.  As it turned out, the day we’d selected was pretty windy; nothing major, fine weather for the sturdy sailor, but completely rubbish for my weak stomach.  So after about forty minutes of bobbing over each wave, I was feeling less than perky on our arrival at the islands.  And having not done much research beforehand, I hadn’t thought about the fact there was no landing on these protected islands. Therefore I would spend the rest of my afternoon bobbing.  Endlessly bobbing.  Man, I feel queasy just thinking about it…

Despite this setback and the fact that I was completely freezing and only lasted 20 minutes in the water, it was a nice experience.  The light in the water was stunning and the fish surrounded me in huge numbers, plus we had a healthy dose of local history thrown in on each trip for free (or included in the $189NZD per person cruise cost).

But honestly, I came away from the day wondering what all the fuss was about.

Cut to March of this year and endless posts about manta rays, sunfish, dolphins, orcas and some of the best sea slug pics I’ve ever seen, and I knew I’d made a mistake.  All those people can’t be wrong, I’d been ill prepared and not made the most of the incredible environment on offer.  So I planned a second visit.

I watched the weather every weekend from February to mid-March, and when I saw a boatie rating of 8 out of 10, I booked a Perfect Day cruise for March 15th.  I also messaged the team in advance to secure a hooded vest and weight belt (which they don’t normally keep on board for snorkelers).  In the weeks leading up, I scrolled through every album they uploaded, to see what was on offer lately, and tried to ascertain the depths they were seeing the nudibranchs.

The boat that day anchored at Blue Mao Mao arch, which was a new location for me, so I was already excited.  The water was wonderfully calm, I hadn’t felt seasick at all on the way over, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous, with the sun piercing the water for great visibility.  We were briefed before entry to the water and by then I was raring to go.

My partner and I headed straight for the arch and I did some dives to get shots to show the volume of fish and the surprising amount of light, despite the towering cliffs the arch is carved into. It’s a fairly narrow cave, so it’s very impressive to see the wealth of underwater life that resides there. I can see why Jacques Cousteau ranked it so highly!

Kate O'Neil

Snorkeler & fish. Credit Moana Matron Designs

After exploring the arch and its outer back wall for at least an hour, I was having a wonderful time.  Snorkeling is the only time I really relax and forget everyday life, so I was already glad I came.  But remembering the nagging feelings of last time, not making the most of my day, I returned to the boat.  I wasn’t able to dive as easily as I’d have liked; the suits were incredibly buoyant.  And since Clown Doris was the only local nudibranch I’d seen before, I had no idea what size animals I was looking for, or where I might find them.

I loaded up the weight belt and had a chat to the closest staff member about where I might locate them, what species and colours I could expect to see.  I felt confident on my swim back out, so was surprised when my partner told me he was heading back in, feeling cold and hungry.  The vest was working; I hadn’t felt cold since I first dropped in from the boat!

After only a few more minutes searching, I saw a green circular shape 2 or 3m down that appeared to be made up of two entities, about 5cm each in length.  I dived down to find two mating Tambja tenuilinieata! I was beyond thrilled and spent at least another hour diving down, finding other individuals and taking as many photos as my breath would allow.

Eventually, I started to cramp up and made a quick excursion back to the cave where I located a much larger sea hare almost immediately.  I only managed two photos before the horn sounded, indicating I should return to the boat.  I looked around and saw that I was the last one out there and began to hurry back, not wanting to inconvenience the staff that had been so helpful to me.

Kate O'Neil

Jelly. Credit Moana Matron Designs

Unfortunately for me, on my way in I swam over a gorgeous 4cm comb jelly fluttering its bright cilia.  I managed one poor dive, recording quite possibly my worst video to date.

Lesson from this trip?  Just because you find what you’re looking for doesn’t mean you should stop looking.

When do I plan to go back to improve on the errors of this adventure?  As soon as the weather will allow.

Can you ever perfect a dive site?  I doubt it, but I’m definitely willing to put in the hours to find out!

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About Author

I've always had a passion for Marine Biology and art. After finishing my degree in Marine Vertebrate Zoology, I moved to New Zealand to help with whale strandings and conservation work. I found that I was spending all my down time creating artwork, and that's how Moana Matron Designs was born. It's a creative outlet that combines my art addiction with the constant drive to protect animals and the environment. Moana means "the sea" in Maori and most of my works are either trying to inform you or trying to raise funds for organisations making a difference. I use all recycled packaging, and my business cards are printed on eco-friendly paper. All the causes I donate to I have either worked closely with or researched thoroughly to ensure their ethics and aims perfectly match up with mine.

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