Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Weekend Dive Trip (DAY ONE)

Ju's Little Sister's Mum is going to have a heart attack at this one...

On the evening of Friday Feb 2 I jumped in the car with good friend 'Sarge' and we drove through the night (okay, two hours but it was the last two hours of the 2nd) to Hamilton City. If only it had been a weekday and we could have invaded Hamilton City Council Planning Department and tried to get a visual on this BillyBob fellow, bt alas it was not to be.
The next day was a Saturday and we were up early to collect a couple more friends and their boat to begin the trip back up north to the coromandel. Sarge and Tommy used to work in the same dive shop together and I understand they still get out in the water as often as they can, though I also have the suspicion that this is sadly not too often at all. Nevertheless, with the boat on the roof of Tommy's ute, the cat caught, caged and dropped off to the cat-sitter, and plenty of dive gear to see us through we made our way out of Hamilton and North.

It was a gorgeous day and looked like it would be great weather for diving in, and so it proved to be. I had not intended to write up this weekend and so I don't have phuoto's of the treacherous 'Port Jackson Rd' which winds its way only feet from cliffs and bush covered hills on one side and a sharp drop to the water on the other. It was very picturesque however and our quiet speed kept me feeling comfortable as a passenger.
Finally, after a few hours travel we made it to the camp ground and backpackers at Fletcher Bay.
Camping ground at Fletcher Bay

Backpackers at the top of the hill,
looks over camping ground and bay

It took only a few minutes to settle in and pick out our bunk beds before we were hauling dive gear out of the ute and setting it all up. Since I haven't been diving more than a few times and Sarge is an instructor he talked me through it while I yelled at him for babying me. Of course, after he obliged by walking off I had to call him back to help. It's just as well my pride is marginal at best ;-)

Setting up the gear

Once set up and happy again we all piled into the ute with the 12' tinny on top and drove through some farmland to get over to the next bay. I found out this was allowed because Tommy knows the owners of the farm which is always a bonus. Tommy's lady Shaz was pretty good on the gates too and as an ex-farm girl I was impressed. About ten minutes and four gates later we were into the next bay. Unlike Fletchers, this one was deserted.
You can see Fletcher Bay is at the very top of the peninsula, and the bay we went diving in is one more to the East.

Once down on the beach we got changed into our wetsuits and kitted up with all the gear. The tide was almost completely out and we walked along a stretch of rocks that led out into the water. When the tide is in, these rocks are amost completely covered, and the last time Sarge was diving in this bay, he was swimming amongst the very rocks we were labouring to reach the end of. I made the foolsish mistake of asking how much my gear weighed and was given the answer it was probably somewhere between 30 and 40 kilos. (66-88lbs) That's another 2-thirds my body weight I was carrying! I was in a double layer wetsuit which was still dry and working hard in the hot summer sun, and it was HOT work. But finally we made it to the end and got into the beautiful cool water in order to swim a little further still before going under.
I am a little bit paranoid about the water and drowing, so the first attempt at descending was a little bit of a mess, but after a couple of minutes on the surface to collect myself and we were off with a hiss and a roar!
We were only about 4m down at the lowest, but playing around in the rocks and kelp was lots of fun. Sarge forgot to bring his underwater camera so I don't have photos for you, but we broke up some kinna and fed it to the cod, who refused to be caught in Sarge's noose. After more wanderings we came to the sandy part of the bay floor and started in on our mission.
We were on this dive because MoF had asked Tommy and Sarge to bring them evidence (if they found it) of the Northern Pacific Sea Star. (I think that's what it's called and I'm sorry if I've got it wrong.) This is a Japanese starfish which has come south on boats and is already taking over the waters of Australia and we DON'T WANT IT HERE!
MoF know in their hearts that it is in New Zealand's waters, but they haven't been able to prove it and don't have the resources to go dicing to find it. Tommy and Sarge found some on their last dive, but since they didn't have them to show the ministry they were no good as proof. So the boys were back to help out by finding more of these star fish.
Tommy was off doing his thing on his own, hunting starfish and crays alike, and with Sarge going to the surface every now and again to check on him, we stuck together, scanning the sands for five-fingered depressions in the floor. We found a little bit of evidence, and I found the only starfish sitll in residence, but it was too young to tell if it was the invader or not, so we kept scanning and made our way home empty handed.
At one point Sarge stopped our progress to point out a strange purple lump wrapped about a coiled seashell. With my face mask on I couldn't wear my glasses so I was squinting furiously to try and make out what the creature was. Sarge gave him the tiniest nudge with the noose and the lump started on it's lumbering journey back to it's little home - a couple of rocks in a depression in the sand. Scattered all about it were more shells. When it was two-thirds the way back home it revealed itself by pushing out three tenticles - it was an octopus!!! The first real-live one I have ever seen! Now I know why Sarge was being so gentle, he didn't want it to come for him! Once back in its house Sarge picked the shell up with the noose and gave it back and with all the dignity of an offended gentleman the octy reached out without looking and drew the shell close. Then we made our casual and uneventful way back to shore.

Once we caught up with Tommy again he and Shaz decided they wanted to do a spot of fishing so we took the dinghy off the truck and helped them onto the water. We took the truck back to the backpackers and washed down the gear.
Dive gear all washed and drying

About this time I was feeling very ill, mostly in the stomach so I went for a lie-down while Sarge waited about until it was nearly six o'clock. Then he took the ute back to the beach to pick up Tommy, Shaz and the boat. I heard them arrive but didn't emerge from my bunk bed as I was still not one hundred percent. After a while I heard chatting and laughter and realised there were some more people up at the backpackers talking to my friends. I couldn't make out most of the conversation but it certainly sounded very jovial. Only later did I find out the truth!

The visiters we warden's who had been 'tipped off' about some poachers in the area. Poachers who had driven over the hill, through farmland with a boat on the truck, and had returned a couple of hours later without the boat. Then the boat was collected much later in the evening. UH OH!!! The warden's had the backpackers surrounded, one out the back and a couple at the front to catch the poachers with their goods. Hang on, I'm talking about my own friends here! Yes that's right, just as well there are some really on to it people in the camping ground, because it was obvious we were stealing paua! Ha! Whatever Trevor, we were innocent and what's more - we were there to help MoF out!!! Fortunately it was obvious we had no paua, and all the crays where within limits and we had not exceeded the daily limit either. What a pity I missed out on the action!

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