My month with family in New Zealand was a time wonderfully rich in togetherness, fun, exploration, and adventure. The weather gods truly smiled upon us, with only one day of light rain in Auckland and another partial one on the day when we visited the Waipoua Kauri Forest (see my last two posts). CD and I had been there for Christmas two years ago, and Squiddy and Batty presented me with two wonderful presents at that time. The first was a diving mask in which they had had a lens installed that had my prescription, and the second was a promissory note for a snorkeling trip to the Poor Knights Islands, a spot well-known by many divers and snorkelers around the world, as it is New Zealand’s most famous. You may have seen an unforgettable sequence in the BBC’s Blue Planet series that shows the annual migration of hundreds (thousands?) of huge sting rays that swim through the underwater canyons of the Poor Knights. On the day that we had set aside for our outing in 2011 (January 22), the weather was foul, with strong winds driving stinging rain. Due to the poor conditions, our crew had cancelled all marine excursions for the day. We were all quite disappointed, but we made up for it somewhat by exploring the water off Goat Island, another marine reserve.
But this year when we tried again, on February 6, there was a only a light breeze, no chance of rain, and a beautiful blue sky with only a few puffy clouds. We met at the dive shop in Tutukaka at 8:00 am sharp and, along with some half-dozen other snorkelers and four scuba divers, stood in line to get the gear we needed (those of us who didn’t have our own)—fins, neoprene wet suits, etc. Ours wasn’t the only boat going out, so the proced- ures took about two hours until we were ready to launch. The trip out to the Poor Knights took the better part of an hour. There was a two-meter swell, providing for some interest- ing rocking of the boat, but only one of the passengers had a brief bout of seasickness.
Along the way we saw numerous sea birds, though none very closely; no dolphins, unfor-tunately; and several other islands in the distance, the most impressive of which were these three amazingly-craggy and sheer ones, which—I believe—are called The Pinnacles.
The Poor Knights Islands are volcanic remnants of ancient volcanoes that erupted in the Pacific Ring of Fire and, according to our crew, were named by Capt. James Cook, because, as he approached them, he thought they resembled a knight in armor laid to rest on his back on the sea surface. This took, shall we say, quite a bit of imagination—at least from the perspective of our line of approach. According to another story, they reminded him of his jam-covered Poor Knights Pudding. They are uninhabited; in fact, severe fines are levied on any unauthorized person who as much as rests on a coastal rock while swimming (the crew of the launches are duty-bound to report any such transgressors).
The water within 800 meters of their coastlines is a strictly-regulated marine reserve.
We anchored a few dozen meters off the lee shore and suited up. The water was cool, not at all uncomfortably cold (but I was happy to have the wet suit), and surprisingly clear, considering the constant motion of the waves against the rocky shore, which resulted in some slight, inevitable turbidity from the stirring-up of the sand and other materials on the sea floor and in the rock crevices. I had my little, waterproof Pentax WG-2, and using it during my two snorkeling adventures gained me—in addition to a few printable photos—a healthy respect for underwater photographers who work from and close to the surface. It is a tremendous challenge to try to keep a camera still enough for that split-second necessary to get any appreciable detail while being rocked and rolled about in the waves approaching and rebounding back from the shorelines, even in the wind-protected lee side. But it sure was fun trying!
(The little blue fish in the first underwater shot are Demoiselle, and the larger one in the second photo is a male Sandager’s wrasse.) Between my swims, warmed by a couple of cups of hot soup, I tried to capture the flight of several Australasian gannets that were soaring along the rugged cliffs and diving into the beautiful, azure water.