My work travel season has begun, and last week I was up north in Whangarei. Besides being the location of various healthcare-sector meetings I had to attend, it’s also the easiest place to access some excellent diving in the famous Poor Knights. I have dived the Poor Knights, aaaaaaages ago, and even though the extremely long and rambly entry I wrote back then would indicate it was not a complete success, I was keen to have another go now that I have my Advanced Open Water cert. I switched my flights around to be able to stay for the weekend and off I went to Tutukaka, wondering if I would even remember how to dive (‘I think there’s like, a hose or something? Where you breathe?’).
It’s very funny to me, by the way, that I went on this whole awesome trip to Thailand last year where I actually got that cert, and yet there is hardly any evidence on this blog. No pictures, no travel stories, no nothing. I have pictures, I promise. And travel stories! I guess when I got back I had about two days to a) get over jet lag, b) adjust to another human living in my house with me, and c) sort out the impending full-time employment. Maybe one day I will go back and try to reverse engineer that trip, which seems very far away now but included, as far as I can recall, a lot of excellent food, a lot of train travel, and a lot of painful-but-in-a-good-way massages. And a lot of diving with excellent dive buddies, which wrenches us around to last weekend, when I rolled up to the boat with the biggest coffee I could purchase and got ready to get wet.
I don’t have any pictures of anything underwater, nor any of me struggling to get into my dive gear—I wore two dive suits, a short sleeveless hoodie, basically, under a 14 ml long suit, with booties. Once you wrestle into something like that, I assure you, you have very little inclination to stumble over to your dry bag–in your flippers, no less–to get out your phone for a hilarious selfie.
I promise you I did go under, though. I did remember how, after all this time. I always go with a dive master so I felt pretty comfortable in general, and we did all the weight tests and buoyancy checks and so forth. I felt very pleased to be able to use the bright orange mask I bought on Koh Tao with my dive friend Axel—I had packed it very carefully in its over-engineered case when I came home last year but didn’t know when I would use it again. All my bondage gear wetsuits fit well and I was warm enough. I remembered my hand signals and how to read my gauge and all of that, all of that. The dive master was a delightful 20-year old girl who was about a third my mass and very friendly and chilled out.
The Poor Knights is a marine reserve and so I saw many many fantastic sea buddies on both dives, including but not limited to a short-tail stingray (snoozing cutely on the bottom); little fat kina like we have at the Bait House and big velvety kina that reminded me more of the ones in Thailand; heaps of nudibranchs (including a couple with some eggs!), and a lot of encrusting life like broyozoans, sponges, corals, and gorgonians. And fish, too! Honestly my heart is given to the invertebrates, now and forever, but I did see several scorpionfish and the pleasingly gender-bending Sandager wrasse, plus lots of just, like, fish that I didn’t know what they were. Some big ones, some little ones, some sort of medium-sized ones that would swim right up to my mask. Honestly I think I would have been very happy to just hang out by one of the seawalls and just look quietly at everything–I didn’t feel the need to aggressively search for stuff. The dive master was very good at pointing stuff out though so I got to see lots of things I wouldn’t have noticed–because I’m not a good enough diver to be able to both stay alive and look around me in a meaningful way. I think I’m officially a convert to kelp diving, too–yes yes, I love coral reefs as well, but I really like not being as afraid that I’m going to kill millions of animals–which I would!–if I accidentally brush a rock with my finger.
I do think I’m getting better, though. I lost my old dive log in Koh Tao, which was very sad as it had a record of every dive I’ve ever done, but I’ve done over thirty dives now—I think it’s actually closer to forty but I don’t really remember. This is, of course, the whole reason behind not losing your dive log. Anyway, neutral buoyancy is still pretty hard for me and I definitely bounced around quite a bit on both dives, but I was able to do what I needed to do and look at what I wanted to look at. What’s really improved since Thailand, and certainly since I first started is my breath control. I got to stay down for 48 minutes on the second dive; on both dives the other people in the group ascended earlier than I was ready for, and the dive master was very cool about it. She made sure everyone else got up okay and then she came back down and we had another twenty minutes of just peacefully cruising around, looking at things.
I still find it really hard to talk about a couple of moments I have had, diving, where you look up at what you can see of the sky, all the way under the water, and you look at all the things around you that you can’t see from the top, and you float between, breathing underwater. It’s impossible to describe without sounding like a total hippie but occasionally I’ve had this strange peaceful sense that comes from being in something but not a part of something; from observing a world that you’re not part of, but then wait, you are a part of it, because all the world is one world, and you are in it.
As I said: impossible, hippie, etc.
The rest of the trip was like most dive trips I’ve been on—extreme hunger between dives, excited chatting about what everyone saw underneath, and a lot of fantasizing about ditching the day job and just diving all day every day. Sun, water, sky, happy exhaustion.
I’m so glad I went. I think I’m going to try to go up there every year from now on—it’s not the cheapest of holidays but it cost less than a flight to Southeast Asia, and…I just want to do things. I turn forty in three weeks and it’s not about coming to terms with my mortality, exactly; it’s about wanting to do things that I want to do, when and how I can.
I just want to breathe underwater, sometimes. I want to be a part of the world.