II always get butterflies in my stomach when I'm about to travel or begin dive training of some sorts. I ask myself if it's going to live up to my expectations, will it be hard, am I going to fail, what happens after this is over? So many thoughts inundate my brain and in this very specific occasion I was killing two birds with the same stone.
After years of diving as a GUE Tech 1 diver, both Rick and I had decided to do our Tech 2 course on the breathtaking reefs of the Poor Knights, in New Zealand. It had all started when Rick flew in Jamie Obern from Tech Dive NZ in January 2016, to recommence his GUE Fundamentals Instructor course.
What is GUE, you might ask? Well, this is not the time to explain, all I can say is go to their website www.gue.com (Global Underwater Explorers) and enjoy.
Back to my story; Jamie spoke highly of this very unknown location that had these incredible landscapes and marine life. We had not really heard much of it but the videos we saw were mind blowing. We were talking of deep reefs covered in colourful coral and sponges, all types of "cold" and subtropical marine species. Why didn't we know more about this?
By November 2016 Rick had flown in Rich Walker from the UK to finish his Fundies Instructor course and he happened to mention that he would be examining Jamie in Poor Knights as a Tech 2 Instructor in April 2017. Was this fate telling us that we should be travelling to New Zealand for some diving??
Rick and I have a common way of operating, we make bold decisions and think about the planning later on. This has taken us from our birthplaces to all of these incredible locations around the world like Fiji, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Egypt and now our home in Australia. All in the name of diving.
So what exactly is Tech 2? For those that enjoy the beauty of tropical, single tank diving (which I love, don't get me wrong) lugging a set of twin tanks on your back plus three single tanks (stages) to one side and a drysuit meanwhile diving temperate waters is probably not the first item on their bucket list. But if you think of the perks, being able to do your last dive down to 75m, to explore reefs that have not been seen by many people and just the thrill of adventure and exploration... we were pretty much sold on the spot. I could not wait to shoot at the Poor Knights.
We arrived at Tututaka in April 2017 after a three hour drive from Auckland's airport. Mel Jeavons, 50% of Tech Dive NZ had secured a beautiful house for us to stay at. We would be dog sitting for Crispin and Irene's dogs, Moko and Wolfie, who stole our hearts right away (Crispin and Irene Middleton are marine biologists and awesome photographers, you can check their photos here www.seacologynz.com . In return for taking care of their furry kids we had free accommodation at a house which seemed to be in the middle of a forest with not a single human being on sight. Stargazing to the next level!
Just as we arrived, we were welcomed to a Dive Party, some of the crew that had attended OZ Tek 2017 were there, underwater photographers which we admire like Becky Kagan Schott from Liquid Productions and Peter Mesley from Lust4rust where there and many other high profile divers.
Once I had got over being star struck, it was time to get to our new home for the next week. We still had to unpack and prepare our gear.
The next day, after a small intro of what was to come in the next few days, by Jamie and Rich, it was crunch time! Classroom talk and our first dive just 5 minutes from the marina. These guys have the dream setup, a huge garage where they blend any trimix or nitrox mix, they can rent out any gear you might need; from twin tanks, singles, regulators, lights, fins, you name it. Just down the hill is Dive! Tutukaka, a big dive centre that has the largest and most varied fleet of boats I have ever seen in a small town. From fast speed boats, comfortable two storey vessels to a liveaboard.
On our first dive we were introduced to bottle rotations, it summarises in this: unclip bottom of tank, unclip leash, bring to front, unclip nose of tank, clip to leash, unclip the previous tank on leash, clip to d-ring, bring leash to back and clip it off, clip bottom of stage... you got it? Probably not, but hey, they told us it's just practice :) Lots of drills, lots of bottle rotations, lots of ascents, oh and by the way, did we mention there is a massive over friendly leopard seal around the area? If you don't find it while diving check out where you walk around the marina because it might be napping there.
On our second day we were given homework: tomorrow would be our first deep dive. I can't even explain the feeling, this was it, we would be diving to 66m and visiting the Poor Knight Islands, the moment of truth was so close.
Visiting during April was perfect timing for us, the blue water had arrived, visibility was endless and surface conditions were even better than expected. No matter what the weather is doing you can always find a sheltered spot to dive from. On the same dive you can do a deep 80m dive or just do shallow diving for newly certified divers. Once you put your head in the water, you can see these massive walls and platforms, it's easy to see the colourful sponges and big stingrays swimming around. This is paradise! And the dive did not disappoint one bit.
The landscapes of Poor Knights are truly from another world, aside from the crystal clear blue waters, the jagged structures protruding from the sandy bottoms are covered in schools of fish. The rocks and pinnacles showcase beautiful coloured sponges, hiding between them you can find moray eels, nudibranchs and all type of marine life. For a moment I thought I was looking at a tropical reef as the light travelled from the surface and slowly diminished to 60+ metres. It's easy to get distracted by all this beauty but the training from the previous days kicks in and we were able to deliver a decent Tech 2 dive to the joy of Jamie and Rich.
The travel time on the boat allows you to relax and enjoy the surroundings. There are massive pinnacles and arches that rise from the surface, some are so big you can cruise the boats through them. Our skippers tells us that even a helicopter has flown through them!
If you scan the horizon you will most likely see a pod of dolphins cruising along, very often, they come close to the bow and effortlessly race the boats. Even though I've seen them hundreds of times, I still get excited when they show up. On day five I manage to tick off another item from my bucket list... Orcas! We were privileged enough to see a pod of six individuals right next to our boat. I think I might want to stay here for ever.
We are on the right track and aside from some domestic underwater disputes between us (the perks of training with your partner) we managed to perform for the next two big dives, culminating on a dive to 75 metres with a short visit from a beautiful Whaler Shark. We are proud to say that we are newly certified GUE Tech 2 divers and the best is yet to come, we have three more days of diving which involve no training, scooters and shooting pics.
We were lucky enough to enjoy a GUE day with the crazy GUE New Zealand bunch and meet like minded people from all GUE levels. There was another couple, two Aussie expats and both crazy about cave diving, Ali Perkins and Cam. She takes incredible photos and you should check out what she does at www.inspiredtodive.com
With sadness, it's time to leave this beautiful island and head back to Sydney. We can't wait to dive our next future Tech 2 dive: The Peak