Sting rays and stone fish

Trip Start Sep 23, 2004
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Little Earth Lodge

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Friday, January 19, 2007

After Mum and Dad had boarded their plane home, and I had tackled the unpacking, Jill and I drove north to Whangarei. We stayed at the lovely Little Earth Lodge, out of the town in a peaceful little valley.

First priority was exploring what is lauded as New Zealand's best area for diving- the Poor Knights. From Tutukaka we boarded a boat which took us out to the dive sites, situated in a marine reserve studded with islands which are havens for wildlife such as the tuatara. Our wetsuits were thick, to combat the chilly waters (14 degrees C), and to compensate we needed heavy weightbelts, which threatened to squeeze us in two as we waited to get into the water. Getting neutral bouyancy was harder in the cold water; near the surface, the wetsuit held so much air that it was difficult to go under; deeper down, if I didn't add or dump air quick enough I would find myself rapidly sinking or rising towards the surface. Jill had a tricky time getting down at all; when I got under it took a while to get used to but eventually I was able to relax and enjoy my surroundings.

The scenery was very different to the tropical diving of Fiji and the Great Barrier Reef. The colours were more subtle, with huge kelp forests populated by big black damsels, moko and snapper. Large short tailed and long tailed sting rays hid around the base of the kelp, with the ugly and venomous stone fish. Corals and sponges grew on the rocky walls with tiny nudibranchs (sea slugs), which I'm getting fairly good at spotting.

During our lunch break we moved to a different site. We visited a huge sea cave with an amazing echo, and sailed through a big hole in the rock, acclaimed by all on board to be as magnificent as it's famous cousin near Paihia.

By our second dive I was a lot more confident. Striding into the water, I was delighted to see a manta ray circling beneath me. It soon shot off and encumbered by scuba gear I had no chance of following it, but it was magical; I was very lucky as they are a rare visitor to New Zealand.  

The following day we returned to the Tutukaka coast. This time we were beach hopping. We drove through to Sandy Bay, a well-known surf beach, but decided that calmer waters were more our thing, and turned back towards the glorious Whale Bay and the stunning Matapouri Beach, where we sunned ourselves, read magazines, ate ice creams and swam in the perfect blue water.  The next day we explored the Whangarei Heads. These are lovely but are sadly dominated by the unattractive oil refinery. It is possible to visit this as a tourist attraction- as are the coal-fired power station in Huntly, the hydroelectric station at Manapouri and the aluminium smetler at Bluff, amongst others. I am sure there is a travel book in there somewhere- touring the world's dullest tourist attractions (the fibreglass cave museum at Fontaine de Vacluse, Provence, would be another contender). If I get really bored I might write it one day.

Anyway, well out of site of the oil refeinery we found Ocean Beach. Another surf beach, this was a beautiful expanse of snad, bt the strong wind soon had us headed for cover. Venturing into the unknown, we came to Pataua, a lovely beach with a protective sandbar, perfect for swimming. The town is split in half by an estuary which can be crossed by a foot bridge; to drive from the north to the south of the town you have to go right into Whangarei and back again. 

Our holiday took a more adventurous tack when we visited Abbey Caves. Armed with helmets, torches and a small map, we visited the cave system by our lodge. Some of the caves had wonderful formations of stalagmites and stalagtites. The glow worm displays were beautiful, and we had the place all to ourselves. We waded our way through frigid water up to our waists, and negotiated a few tight spots and scrambles. It was a fantastic experience, and all the more satisfying for having done it ourselves. We only got lost once (in the woodland between caves) and returned to the lodge before they were considering sending out a search party.

Our final beach stop was at Pakiri Beach, on the way home. Another beautiful beach, this was calm enough to swim but had enough waves to be intereting.. The snad had a beautiful pink tinge- I imagine it would be lovely at sundet, but sadly we had to head back to Auckland and couldn't stay around that long.  
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