354 Days on the Road
355 days ago, we set off on a mega trip around New Zealand to do 365 Activities in 365 Days. With only 10 days to go, we are still finding awesome adventure activities. New Zealand is the country that just keeps on giving when it comes to unique experiences and insane activities. And today is just another day in the office: scuba diving in the Bay of Islands!
Scuba diving with Paiha Dive
It seems the whole group going out with Paihia Dive today are way too keen to get started. The six of us from Germany, Denmark, the US, France and UK are outside the shop before opening getting to know each other and psyching ourselves up for a day out on the water (or in the water for the most part). We’re a group of different diving abilities and qualifications, so the trip is going to be catered to all, as we find out when the shop doors open and we meet the Paihia Dive team.
Gearing up for today’s underwater adventure
Craig hands out the relevant PADI booklets to fill out and sign, then we are heading to the gear room at the back of the shop where Stu and Emeline (or according to her takeaway coffee cup “Not Craig and not Stu”) are getting us kitted out in some scuba gear. We try on some snug wetsuits to make sure they fit, pack a bag with a BCD, fins, booties, hood, mask, weight belt and regulators. Once everyone is packed, we load up the gear on a trolley and push it a short distance to Paihia Wharf. There’s no “I” in team at this point as we work together to get the endless amount of oxygen tasks and gear onto the boat. Phewwww, who needs to scuba dive after a workout like that?!
Boat safety briefing complete, we cruise out to the bay of 144 islands packed with dive sites and even a wreck dive!
Shipwreck divers descend and we get ready for a reef dive
At the ship wreck of The Canterbury, the small group of qualified divers take the plunge. Unfortunately, The Canterbury is sunk too deep for us beginners, Laura and Carla. As for Robin, he is enjoying a day of seeing bubbles on the surface thanks to his broken arm… Nevertheless, we use this time to squeeze into our wetsuits, to be reminded how to prepare dive gear with Emeline, and to go through a quick briefing with Stu. The wreck divers come back up with smiles on their faces and slight shivering of the arms (don’t judge, we are diving in winter, people!). Now, it’s Laura’s turn!
That first stride into an underwater world
The scariest thing about scuba diving as a beginner, in our opinion, is standing up on the boat with all that gear and taking that first stride into the ocean. Cold water shoots up Laura’s wetsuit but she floats up to the surface immediately feeling weightless (even if still a little clumsy). The cold passes within seconds and finds the wetsuit keeps her at a comfortable temperature. Now, one by one, we do practice some basic scuba skills a metre under the water with Stu before it’s time to descend.
Checking out the underwater life around Putahutahu Island
Exploring the kelp forests and wildlife of White Reef
We are in a dive site called White Reef, which was obvious why even when looking down into the water from the boat. Below are white rocky outcrops covered in all sorts of life including kelp forests that dance in the current. All anxiety of entering this unusual world leaves Laura when she sees how beautiful it is, not to mention the abundance of fish down here!
From the get-go, we are seeing hundreds of fish: monsterous-sized snapper, curious kelpfish, red moki, red pigfish, photobombing sandangers wrasse, leatherjacket, demoiselle, sea urchins and that’s just the ones Laura can remember! Some swim in mass schools, while others swim as lone rangers. Stu shows us various things along the way, like the remains of what look like crabs on a piece of kelp (as you can tell, Laura forgot to ask him about this later on the boat). He also shows us that tapping on a rock attracts kelpfish right onto our hands!
Attracting the fish
Another fish-attracting method is demonstrated by Craig when he comes down to take some photos of us. He breaks open a sea urchin and all the fish go nuts trying to get a piece of it. Back on the boat, Craig explains that he is able to do this because we are not diving in a marine reserve with a “no touch” policy, plus, the black spiny urchin are considered a pest in greater numbers which damage the kelp forests.
As soon as we are back on the boat, we are being helped out of our gear and given a hot drink. Then, it’s onto the next dive site should we chose to do it! There’s no question!
What lies beneath Putahataha Island
This time, we are circumventing Putahataha Island decorated in kelp forests, colourful plants, and of course, more fish! After Carla and Laura showing how badass they are during the first dive, they are able to go straight down with Stu to start exploring. This time, cracks in the island reveal various eels and crayfish poking their heads out to judge us. We also encounter large schools of small fish called koheru which dance at the sudden motion of Stu’s hand – he’s like a wizard of the underwater world!
Although we cannot enter inside one of the island’s underwater caves due to being beginner divers, we do get a sneak peek into the entrance where little blue and pink sea plants cling to the rocks.
A tasting of kina
On the way back to the boat, Stu picks up a few sea urchins called “kina”. These are a New Zealand delicacy that we have never had the chance to try until now! Back on the boat, Craig is opening up the kina for us to try, but our tasting is disrupted by a pod of leaping bottlenose dolphins a few hundred metres away from the boat! Amazing!
Distracted by the dolphin show
The dolphins get closer to us really putting on a show! Beanbags are set up at the front of the boat so we can literally sit back and watch these playful marine mammals. Eventually, we leave them to it, heading back to Paihia with conversation full of all the amazing fish we have seen today. Robin admits, he is a little green with envy, but dolphins are enough to brighten up anyone’s day, right?
After unloading the boat and the gear back at the Paihia Dive shop, we quickly look through the photos that Craig has been taking and gets everyone’s email addresses to send the photos over. We also log our dives and say goodbye to our fun and entertaining crew. Laura will definitely need some rest tonight, so her bed is welcome back at the Base Backpackers. At least there is plenty of time between now and tomorrow’s activity, which is an overnight boat cruise around the Bay of Islands. Join us then!