Whoa, the past week has gone by in a blur! I’ve been meaning to write this post since last Sunday afternoon, and before I realized it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday have come and gone.
Busy week aside, and this weekend being “the first weekend of Summer” here in New Zealand, it was last weekend that served as my highlight. After settling into Wellington and starting work with a dive center here just a little over a month ago, I finally went on my first dive!
As some of you may already know, I’m currently attached on part-time work/internship with Splash Gordon’s Dive Wellington, a dive shop situated in Island Bay, Wellington. I mostly work there on weekends, with the occasional weekday when the need arises. Even though I’ve been going in to work there every week since I arrived, I had not gone on any dives mainly because I’d be busy helping around in the shop itself, instead of out diving. Also, another big factor was me being quite the wuss and hesitant to get into the cold, cold water of Wellington’s surrounding seas! The past few weeks or so water temperatures were ranging between 11ºC – 13ºC… that is COLD for someone like me, who is used to diving in warm tropical waters that is 27ºC at the lowest!
Well, I was given last weekend off from work and lucky for me the weather was good with no rain and dissipating strong winds that we’d had the week prior. I decided, this was the best time as any to jump in and get my first dive! So on Saturday morning I hitched a ride to the dive shop with my workmate Bart, and finally unpacked my dive gear out of the bag I’d hauled with me all the way from Malaysia.
Unlike the typical dive operations of holiday islands such as Perhentian Island, where I was working with Turtle Bay Divers prior to coming here, Splash Gordon Dive Wellington doesn’t organize boat dives out on a daily basis. The boat trips are mainly for charters and pre-arranged group dives to nearby destinations. Our regular dives here happen on weekends via Club Dives, where we take our regular customers who sign up as Dive Club Members, and the odd walk-in customer, on shore dives every Saturday and Sunday mornings.
The Southerly winds were still blowing that morning, so we had few picks of dive spots we could go to where the seas weren’t choppy. Brandon, the dive leader that morning decided to take the group to a spot called Shelly Bay as it was somewhat protected from the winds, hence the water was less choppy. Everyone got their gears and tanks sorted, went into their cars and drove the 15-minute journey to the dive location.
The group that morning happened to consist of very experienced divers, aside from one or two newly certified ones. So we all split up into smaller buddy teams for the dive. The dive site is actually one that is good for scallop gathering, and thus my friend Bart (who didn’t go diving as he needed to man the shop) gave me his catch bag and sent me on a mission to collect my share of scallops for the dive! I have never caught or hunted anything whilst diving prior to this, so it was something new for me.
You see, most of the time, recreational dive sites are located within marine parks – hence you will notice that for divers there is a strict adherence to not touch, collect, or capture anything they encounter whilst diving. In New Zealand however, a lot of people go diving specifically for the purpose of gathering seafood. Fishing, spear-fishing, hunting & gathering form a large part of the community’s lives. The good thing is, in order to ensure that these activities are sustainable and doesn’t harm or negatively impact the marine ecosystem, the New Zealand government – the Fisheries Ministry to be exact – has set out strict guidelines as to what can or cannot be fished, along with clear specifications on the quantities and sizes of the catch. The enforcement is pretty strict, with large fines slapped on the spot to those who are caught overfishing their daily limits, or taking in catch that are undersized.
And thus, I was exposed to the ways of scallop gathering! Any divers who go under for scallops need to have a standard ruler with them on the dive, made specifically to measure the sizes of scallops we can take. Any scallops we pick up from the seabed that are smaller than the size specified on the ruler need to be put back. We are also only allowed a limit of 20 scallops per diver. I buddied up for the dive with Mike, who was also a Divemaster and he showed me around the site (which was mostly muck ;p), as well as taught me how to spot scallops in the sand. They’re pretty well camouflaged, half-buried in the murky, sandy bottom – but after about 10 minutes into the dive I got the hang of spotting them for their tell-tale shape that’s ever so slightly outlined in the sand.
Now, as for the dive itself – mainly, it was COLD. The skies were overcast when we started the dive, and the winds blowing contributed to making air temperatures colder. I toughened myself up and tried not to dwell on the cold water as I went in. I had a 7mm wetsuit on, plus gloves, which helped keep me, not warm, but comfortable enough to go through the dive. After about 25 minutes underwater however I started shivering. It was still manageable so I continued with the dive, and surprisingly made it all through the 40-minute agreed maximum dive time! Water temperature at the bottom was 15°C. When I came out of the water, I felt even more cold because of the winds, and literally could not feel the tips of my fingers and toes for a few minutes. Thankfully the sun was starting to come out, so I made sure to stand in the sun, got out of my wetsuit, gloves and booties, dried myself up and ‘thawed’ as much as possible. The other local divers took pity on me shivering away but jokingly mentioned that 15°C is probably the warmest I’d get diving around here so I better get used to it!
Aside from the cold, I had to get used to wobbling around with 9kgs of weight around my belt, to make up for the fact that I had a thicker wetsuit on. Diving with gloves on for the first time made me feel quite clumsy too, as handling things such as zippers and clips on my dive gear aren’t made easier with shivering fingers under thick gloves!
Nevertheless, I absolutely enjoyed the dive! It felt fantastic to get into the water again, having stayed on land and dry for the past two months since my last dive on Perhentian Island. My buddy Mike was a huge help and a pleasure to dive with, which I appreciate. Plus, I felt quite pleased with myself having caught 8 scallops on my first hunting dive! I actually collected 11 but three of them were slightly undersized, so we left them in the water. I pretty much stopped bothering to look for more after about 30 minutes into the dive as I was too cold, and spent it just looking around, watching Mike gather his share of scallops, and hugging myself in an effort to keep me warm 😀
Despite the cold, I decided to go for another dive on Sunday, the next day – mainly to push my body into getting used to the lower water temperatures here. It was why I came in the first place, to gain more experience diving in colder waters and to see the different marine environment here. We went to another bay near to the first site, and I was buddied up with one diver, Karen, and helped lead her on the dive. It was another muck dive site, also good for scallops but I didn’t bring a catch bag with me this time. I did bring my camera in, although visibility wasn’t great so I didn’t get that many shots.
I was much more confident and comfortable on this second dive – partly because I wore a hood this time (makes a LOT of difference in keeping you warmer on a dive), and we were also lucky the sun was out bright and shining since early morning. Navigating a dive site that I’d never been to before under limited visibility was a bit nerve-wrecking, but that’s where the whole sense of adventure and exploration comes in so I loved it still 🙂
If any of you are keen to explore diving in Wellington, do check out Splash Gordon Dive Wellington’s website for information on courses, our Dive Club dives, as well as upcoming charter trips. Or better yet, drop into our shop and come say hi to me! Hehe.
For any diver readers I have out there keen on more info, here’s what I logged for the 2 dives I did last weekend:
Dive 1 – Shelly Bay, Wellington
Dive time: 44mins
Max depth: 14.8m, with average depth at 9.2m
Water temp: 16°C at surface, 15°C at bottom
Dive 2 – Shark Bay, Wellington
Dive time: 40mins
Max depth: 15.5m, with average depth at 11.1m
Water temp: 17°C at surface, 15°C at bottom
Soundtrack: Pink Floyd – On The Turning Away
Location: Frank Kitts Park, by the Wellington waterfront
Random thought: I am wondering how those parkour guys across from me don’t end up with broken necks and bones