Tutukaka and the Poor Knights

We woke up in our anchorage in Tutukaka (ahhaha), with Jazz feeling less than her best. We called the shop about rescheduling until tomorrow, but they were fully booked, so we gritted our teeth and got ready to go diving. That meant dropping the dinghy, and weaving through the unoccupied mooring balls to get to the marina where the dive boats live. It’s been surprising to us how much of New Zealand’s prime anchoring space is occupied by moorings, themselves usually unoccupied. They’re all private; there’s no system for reserving or paying the owner, or even finding out who the owner is. Much less verifying that any particular ball meets any particular standard. So it’s a big land grab, essentially, and if you’re a cruiser, you’re literally squeezed to the margins. Fortunately Villa has shallow draft and fits in the margins just fine.

Anyway we got our gear together, checked in with the dive shop, and loaded ourselves onto Somebody Else’s Boat for a much faster motor out to the Poor Knights.

We got suited up, Jazz in both her custom 7mm suits and Andrew in a rented one, and got into the frigid water. Frigid by our standards, at least: we were informed that this was a warm spell, and that the water might be as high as 21C/70F (it was not.) We had last been diving in Fiji’s 27C/80F water, and boy did we feel the difference. We both wore hoods, Jazz’s first time, and Andrew’s first time since his certification in Monterrey, and we were nervous about the constrained head motion… that turned out to be fine, though it also turned out that we couldn’t hear each others’ shakers.

It was also the first time in a while that we’ve dove in a group, which was interesting. We got some teasing for being the cold-water wusses that we admittedly are. We got put in the “advanced” group, and (we assume because we told them our average dive time), the group got a warning against trying to be a “90 minute hero” by hanging out at 3m just to get the numbers up… and then we waited around for the other divers to get their weights sorted out, then ignore the guide’s directions, accidentally kick us repeatedly in the faces…. and we came up fifteen minutes after the rest of the group was out of air, with Jazz’s tank still half full. Advanced seems to mean different things to different people, and that’s fine, but it’s frustrating to pay a ton for guided dives and then have them planned around the least capable person.

Anyway we got in the water at the first site and were immediately greeted by a big school of threespot damselfish. Andrew has been writing a new tool for color-correcting scuba photos, so here we’ll subject you to some of the rather intense results.

We get slightly less intense colors with a busier background. Look at all this neoprene!

The highlight of the dive was all the nudibranchs. We saw more individuals than we could count, from at least four different species, and found at least three mating pairs in various stages of egg-laying or… we’ll call it “negotiation”… Anyway the last four pictures are pairs in active egg-laying.

We also saw a ton of morays, also in several species. The first individual here is notable for having spots in its mouth; would you like to get closer and take a look? One especially interesting behavior we saw was a big moray just kind of… hanging out in a kelp field, pretending to be foliage.

There were also a ton of scorpion fish, which are almost invisible in the many photos we threw away of them. Ugly fish, always looking very salty, we love them very much.

Our second dive took us through an archway, where the current is apparently very hard to predict so he swam ahead and then gave us the all clear to proceed into the gap. There were a bunch of fish hanging out in there, including an (apparently locally-famous) golden snapper, and a number of bronze whaler sharks (which were super shy and therefore only appear in fuzzy silhouette). We were coming back out of the gap when we were passed by a shorttail stingray.

There were also a lot of familiar tropical fish, supposedly having ridden the prevailing currents south and ended up here. (Some of these pictured may be native; what do we know.) Blennies and filefish and jacks, oh my!

Probably the most novel thing for us, in these dives, was the big kelp fields, which rolled and twisted mesmerizingly in the surge.

Up on the surface, we got a view of the arch we had just swum through, which looks oddly both bigger and smaller from the surface

The boat took us on a brief tour of the Poor Knights, including a trip into a little cave. Our guides told us that the acoustics were good, and coaxed Andrew into singing into the big open space; it was hard to hear any reverberation, honestly, but Andrew is always a little happy to get a chance to sing in a cave.

The most striking thing about the Poor Knights (since we weren’t allowed to land and see the protected wildlife) was the number of arches.

When we got back to shore, we asked the dive shop about showers, and were told that we could find them at the yacht club. After some negotiation with a bartender to buy tokens, we obtained access to the marina’s somewhat bleak shower facilities.

We headed back to the boat and picked up Captain, and our recycling. Our recycling, it turned out, was not welcome, but Captain was, and we had a lovely little walk up a hill marked as a tsunami emergency escape route.

We dropped the now-exhausted cat back at the boat, and came in again. We noted the sign on the door with amusement, and then Jazz started getting ads for colorful boots; coincidence? (Yes, but a funny one.)

The reason we’d opted to come back to shore was that we’d glimpsed an event warming up. This turned out to be a ladies fishing competition, and we watched with amusement as an announcer with an incomprehensible accent gave out awards and various groups of women in varying states of intoxication accepted their prizes. Then the band started up, and played a mix of covers spanning the last 40 years, as is Tradition. The oddest moment for us was when the singer, having announced zero of his songs to this point, came to the microphone and dramatically said “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Wagon Wheel”. The crowd went wild. The stage was rushed; metaphorical panties flew. American reader, are you familiar with this Darius Rucker song? Are you confused as to why this is a New Zealand phenomenon? We heard this, and watched this, and thought back to our first evening in New Zealand, when the singer in our tiny Opua cafe had said “I’ll take requests, but I don’t do Wagon Wheel”, and we thought “well that’s oddly specific.” It turns out that somehow this has become a south island university Thing, and is a Point of Pride for south islanders, and so, despite us being in the north island, the singer was compelled to give an encore of the chorus. What a world we live in.

We made it back to the boat, and in the morning, we took off early to continue down the coast. We were far from the first ones up, though: here are all the boats we passed before even getting our sails up. There’s a pair of guys fishing off of a jetski! And two dinghies! In the rain! What a world.

As we sailed away, we got a message from our friend in Opua who had kindly agreed to pass our surf board on to a buyer. We’d carried this thing from Florida, nearly five years earlier, and used it zero times, because surfing spots and anchorages tend not to be the same places. We offered this guy a discount to pick it up that day, and Katie was writing to tell us that he had bailed, leaving her holding onto an eight foot long space-waster. To get it off her hands, we re-posted it at a fire-sale price to get it off her boat, and of course who comes calling but the same motherfucker, who will of course buy the board at that price. It’s a little hard to explain but it feels like this is so much of our experience of New Zealand: people trying to get an angle and see how much they can get away with. The icing on the cake is that once we arrived in Auckland, we found ourselves within a short drive of some great beginner surf breaks, where this would have been just the thing. Sigh.

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