Guest Post: POOR KNIGHTS RESERVE REVISITED by WADE DOAK

We are very lucky to have a Guest Post from Wade Doak, Wade has published numerous books on his great passion, the underwater world. He has also worked on the television natural history series ‘Wild South’ and ‘Deep Blue’. His titles include Beneath New Zealand Seas (1971), Encounters with Whales and Dolphins (1988), and his diving autobiography, Ocean Planet (1989). Most of Doak’s books are lavishly illustrated with his own photographs.  Please go to www.wadedoak.com for more information.

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Jan and I made a trip to the Poor Knights last Monday: a weird day of mists, dense sea fog and scorching sunshine. Although it was howling from the norwest, El Tigre found a series of flat calm anchorages on the east side. And I thought I did not need to take my hat.

We had guests from Canada and Oz who had booked with Dive! Tutukaka and when I inquired when they were due back in port in order to meet them, we were invited to join them for the day.

As has always been our experience on these modern dive boats, the staff are just so utterly exceptional; so obliging to all on board.  Sam, the skipper, did a fantastic job explaining Poor Knights history and what was to be expected at each dive site and with overseas visitors on board, he made us very proud to be kiwis. I was impressed with the hands on, fine tuned details he gave, such as the packhorse crays crawling in the open and the eight lounging stingrays the crew had seen at Frazer’s Landing a few days before. These days people are helped as if on a flight in the first class cabin by all those young folk in the crew.  But running a safe and enjoyable dive operation for so many people is a damned sight harder than caring for a bunch of airline passengers.  Our guests were elderly and received superb attention. For Ling, the Chinese lady, her dearest dream was to go into the vastness of Rikoriko Cave. Despite the jobbly N.W. situation, El Tigre fulfilled that and dozens of cameras clicked, capturing frames of that dream. For a woman in her mid-seventies, taking a kayak trip under those immense towering cliffs just north of Hope Point, helped by dive guide Kieran so sweetly and unobtrusively, was a high.  He even gave her a tow with his kayak on the way back and Sam hauled her aboard with immense strength: clean and jerk. I guess he has done that before.

As we cruised in from the east towards the tunnel through Aorangaia with its window into South Harbour, first comers to the Poor Knights voice admiration and then rising amazement: “We’re going right through!’ I have often thought how much more the Knights offer the public in terms of awesome spectacle than the Bay of Islands and its single tunnel through Piercy Island.

We were bowled over at seeing silvery snapper schooling in the great Southern Archway, on the surface alongside, but just ahead of, electric blue maomaos; something special that the no-take reserve has enabled. We never saw that in the past. They were herding tiny pink euphausid shrimps or krill up against the wall where there was no escape. Nearby in South Harbour masses of trevally had schools of shrimp under similar attack, assisted by shearwaters and gulls, which need the fish herders to obtain dinner. And the canopy of red pohutukawas on the island slopes was testimony to the cycle whereby fish and nesting sea birds provide nutrients to a lush rain forest.

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Sam told us that the newcomer to the Knights: the tropical cleaner shrimp called the saron shrimp, a really fancy creature, is now living at almost all dive sites. But it is usually pretty hard to see, inhabiting dark, narrow crevices. I once filmed one cleaning a grey moray near Blue Maomao Arch. With their boldly striped legs they do a weird dance from side to side to attract customers to their nit removal services. A bit like street buskers. Sam told me that one had tried to clean his fingernails! The other species of cleaner, the red and white striped coral shrimp, has been known to clean diver’s teeth!

Another of Sam’s stories made my old eyes bug: he has seen the exotic and lovely Lord Howe coral fishes in some sort of mating duel: a trio of golden yellow and jet black, tall-finned angelfishes: one to the side [the girl?]; and a pair close by in a tail-to head rotating fury after which the dominant one bunted the other against the cliff with its protuberant beak-like mouth. Not altogether angelic. P- of and leave her to ME!

Sam also told us that scientists have recently been studying the rare geckoes and skinks in the island forests. To their utter surprise they found one of their study animals, the egg-laying skink, escaped them by taking refuge in a tide-pool, diving below and hiding. I recalled earlier research discovering how crabs come up out of the sea at night and feed on flax snails topside. So we are learning more and more how each world supports the other.

Today Jan and I feel really buoyed up; knowing one part of this poor old planet is really doing well. It convinces us humans can make a difference. Forgive me for raving on but that is what the trip has induced in us old knight timers.