Per my previous dive report, I am still in New Zealand traveling, taking photos, meeting people, and fully enjoying myself. For this report I have moved to a new region of the country, Northland, I am staying in the town Paihia along the coast of the Bay of Islands. This was the first region colonized by Europeans and as when Captain Cook first arrived he counted 133 islands in just this bay alone. The scenery is absolutely spectacular, the water is warm, and the people that live here are genuinely friendly and helpful. Throughout my travels on the North Island I have been blown away with the beauty of this country and the outgoing generosity of New Zealanders.
Once again I posted up on the local forum and in no time Kent posted his number and told me to give him a ring with the promise that he would get me out. When I got into town I called Kent, he lives an hour back down the main highway so I headed back down to Wangerei to meet Kent at his house. Waking up early and driving on the left-hand side down the rural state highway through subtropical rainforest was just so much more enjoyable than the routine commute through busy Bay Area traffic either North or South. When I got to Kent’s place he introduced me to Leo, a French National, who had previously lived on the South Island for a few years and had returned to visit his buddy Kent and get some diving in. Kent had taken a holiday of several weeks from his work and used that time to go out day after day. Both Kent and Leo were extremely knowledgeable regarding the local species, tactics, and geography and I was glad for the lesson. They had both been out the day before and worked over a wash rock some distance offshore crushing Kingfish (yellowtail). Kent did his damndest to undersell his previous day’s catch and pretend it was no big deal, but he didn’t fool me for a minute and I knew he was dying to show off his catch. It was a beautiful photo of himself and his 40+ kilo (88+ pounds) Kingfish, Kent is a dead ringer for my buddy Adam about 6’2 with a solid build this fish made him look like a light skinned Gary Coleman.
Kent pulled his small aluminum skiff out of the garage, we loaded the boat with gear, hopped into his truck, and drove the 20 minutes or so to a nearby beach with a sturdy sand pack. The three of us suited up and then proceeded to develop spinal problems while we slammed down between sets on the tiny three man skiff for the hour or so it took to reach Kent’s crayfish spot. Wow, this coastline was BEAUTIFUL!!! Islands covered in tree ferns 20′ tall, twisted and burled Pahutakawa trees lining a coastline formed from ancient lava flows, steep cliffs and peaks jutting straight up and dense with vegetation, and all that green contrasted with turquoise blue water. We passed many islands and as we neared the island predetermined a beautiful blue fish over a foot long took flight, gliding a few feet above the water for a distance of some 60′ before submerging. Kent and Leo told me it was nothing and these fish often glide much farther distances, I disagreed, it was breath taking to watch and certainly not “nothing”.
We reached the cove and I was so amped I was in the water before the other guys had found their weight belts, 40′ viz, circling packs of fat drummer fish, swarms of tiny snapper, dramatic lava rock structure, and low growing kelp cover. The guys moved in shallow to hunt crays and I stayed mid range to explore and see what I could see. I grabbed a couple bugs, measured them to be a millimeter or two short (I would learn later I had missed a key feature on my multi-gauge and that it was highly likely at least one cray had been legal). The most memorable grab being at almost 40′ where I had found a large flat boulder with a cavern below. At the very back and fully enclosed in this crawl space I found a one of my bugs and in the dark with no light I was able to snatch him straight on. Mistaking him for short I let him swim free and moved on to deeper water to look for Snapper. With warm clear water and no signs of aggressive bronze whalers trying to rip fish off my belt I was able to calm down, work on my aspettos, and achieve some down times I was very happy with. While floating on the surface above some 40-50′ of water my head gently bumped on something. My heart rate jumped and I stayed looking down telling myself it was a log or something inanimate. When I finally looked up the guys were in the boat telling me to get in, they had found a few crays, and were ready to go look for kingfish, at a spot they knew of another 30 minutes drive away to a different island.
We made the crossing and hopped in only to find the current was dead and although there were schools of brightly colored fish we saw no kings after covering the area. To my satisfaction, solid downtimes at good depth continued. We moved a very short distance and hopped in to check the surging water along a porous rock wall. Right away we saw two kingfish, then we saw schools of baitfish, schools of meaty Kahwai moved in and then the rest of the Kingfish came over to offer themselves up. Maybe 10-20 Kingfish swarmed the area cruising through and curiously evaluating us. The challenge was only in picking the biggest ones, fighting them back to the boat, and straightening out the shaft they bent so I could continue hunting. I shot one thinking it fairly small, it was approximately 25-30#. When I got back in to harvest a second I saw one that seemed a bit smaller and put one through the gill plate. It turned out to be a few pounds short of 40. Judging the size of these mesmerizing and iridescent fish is to me an impossibility. I got in the boat to secure the fish and sort out my line, Leo and Kent joined me on-board and asked if I was going to take a third. Neither of them had decided to shoot anything, they had no need for meat and were only interested in hunting monsters. I declined to take a third, I would be well underwater managing the meat from the two I had just taken. Both fish were the biggest fish I have shot to date.
We motored around to calm water so I could clean the fish free from the churning surge and urge to vomit. Once bled and gutted we headed back, the water had calmed and the drive back was far smoother and much quicker. Back on shore we snapped some quick photos of my catch and then took the crays back to Kent’s for a BBQ with his flatmates. A spread of fish smoked by Leo, grilled lobster, and Kingfish steaks in mustard sauce, washed down with local NZ craft brew satiated the 8-10 people that attended. Excellent hospitality is an understatement! Kent and I discussed phtography, regional dive comps, he knew of and dove with some of the Kina divers, lent me the DVD I was unaware that the Kina divers produced, and told me about their status at all the national dive comps, its very high. Leo as it turns out has spent a considerable amount of time spearfishing/living throughout the world, including a year in Madagascar. We talked about our experiences there, the diving and the culture. Many of Kent’s flatmates have traveled to SF and were happy to talk about our craft beers as well as share their enthusiasm for the brews of NZ. At the end of the night I was sad to leave. Truly generous and kind hearted people living in a stunningly beautiful country. We exchanged info and I can only hope to one day offer them such an experience should Kent or Leo ever wish to dive in California.
The following day, I took the fish to the local smokehouse, gifted some to the friendly Maori hotelier with whom I was staying (Very welcoming he lent us some DVDs of Maori directed films to watch during our stay, particularly good was “Boy”).