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Skip's Underwater Image Gallery > Three Kings Adventure
Of all the diving locations in New Zealand, the Three Kings Islands are often regarded as the best.

Situated approximately 55 kilometres north west of the northern most tip of New Zealand's North Island, they provide an opportunity to experience New Zealand's marine environment at it's most raw and beautiful.

Around the islands oceanic currents
held apart for hundreds of kilometres meet eachother and mix in a cauldron of concentrated marine life. Here the tides are unpredictable, the currents extreme and the sea conditions often unforgiving.

Skip's Underwater Image Gallery > Three Kings Adventure
A diver digs for coins amidst the wreckage and rubble of the Elingamite wreck site.

Dive charters to the Three Kings are expensive and demanding of vessel, crew and divers. Most New Zealand divers never get there but for those that do, what must be some of the best temperate water diving on the planet awaits.

Of Skip's five trips to "The Kings" each has fond memories. The following is based on the 1999 trip between 19th and 23rd April.

In the days leading up to our trip the whole country experienced miserable weather which resulted in some fairly unfriendly seas being generated.

Off the top end of New Zealand, these seas were coming from the south west and by the time our trip was ready to depart on the Sunday afternoon, the wind had dropped to almost nothing but had left a substantial south west swell of about 4 metres.

Our departure from Whangaroa was delayed until early Monday morning in order to give the sea a few extra hours to settle. We arrived at the Kings early on Monday afternoon and headed straight for the site of the wreck of the Elingamite. This is located on one of the most exposed corners of the Kings and was still fairly sloppy due to the substantial south west swell. Because of conditions, we elected to give the wreck site a miss until the following morning and had a less adventurous dive nearby.

Over the next fours days the weather was magnificent with scarcely any wind at all and blue, sunny skies. Over this period the south west swell abated to insignificance and diving conditions on the wreck site steadily improved.

Skip's Underwater Image Gallery > Three Kings Adventure
Divers work another hole on the Elingamite wreck site

For me the focus of all diving at the Kings is the wreck of the Elingamite. Whenever conditions permit, it is my preferred dive site. As mentioned previously, sea conditions here are often not kind. Apart from the ravages of wind and waves, the current here is often fierce. During periods of strong current the diver in the water is helpless to swim against it in any meaningful way.

Dives to the wreck itself therefore employ a shot line which divers use to guide themselves from the surface to the wreck and to hold themselves against the current.

The commonly worked areas of the wreck are at a depth of 37 to 39 metres and in order to give an extended time there it is normal to plan decompression stops on the shot line at 3 to 5 metres depth. When the current is running strongly, divers are hung out on the shot line doing their decompression stops like socks to dry on a Wellington clothes line.

To hang on the shot line like this for periods of up to half an hour under these conditions isn't too bad but there is always a little apprehension under such circumstances. As you gaze into the blue, little questions like "what if I let go and get swept away in the current", "what if the shot line breaks" or, "what if the buoys get dragged under" lurk in the back of your mind.

Skip's Underwater Image Gallery > Three Kings Adventure
Divers decompress on the shot line in good conditions with little or no current.

Substantial flotation is required at the top of the shot line in order to ensure that the line to the surface is maintained under conditions of strong current with as many as 6 or 8 divers creating drag on it. On a previous trip, I had experienced the uncomfortable sight of the buoys being dragged under to a depth of perhaps 8 metres but fortunately they eventually rose back to the surface.

On one of our dives on this trip the current was particularly fierce and the flotation provided by the buoys was not sufficient to keep them on the surface with 6 or 7 seven divers on the line. This resulted in a very unpleasant predicament for Neil, Simon and myself as we found ourselves being dragged deeper and deeper as the buoys were dragged further and further down. We already had an obligation to spend time decompressing, had a limited amount of air left, and were being dragged down to over 20 metres depth where our decompression obligations were getting worse and our air supplies were fast running out.

We quickly realised that we had no alternative but to let go of the shot line and rise slowly to the depth where we should be decompressing. That part was good but we were now being swept out into open water at 3 or 4 knots and now had no ability to breathe off the spare air supply tied to the top of the shot line. While we drifted along, Neil released his tethered safety sausage which rose to the surface and provided hope that the boat would be aware of our location and predicament. While all this was happening, anxiety levels were up a notch or two and air consumption rates had increased accordingly. Almost immediately after my dive computer indicated that I had spent the necessary time decompressing, Neil signaled that he was out of air and wanted to buddy breathe.

Skip's Underwater Image Gallery > Three Kings Adventure
View of the Elingamite wreck site at West King Island. The yellow buoys mark the top of the shot line tethered to wreckage 38 metres below.

I hate buddy breathing! The first few breaths are OK but subsequent ones seem to have more and more water entrained in them. I had only enough air left for a few minutes of safety but this was quickly depleted during the buddy breathing and we were soon forced to surface. Unlike me, Neil and Simon still had decompression time to do and needed to quickly get back down to decompression depth. Fortunately, the boat had seen Neil's safety sausage and were able to pick us up quickly and rig up a fresh tank for Neil and Simon to continue their decompression in mid water. While they were doing this, the boat whizzed back to the shot line and dropped me in on it for a safety stop. After about half an hour hanging on in the current, the boat had retrieved Neil and Simon and came back to pick me up. During that dive I got two lousy silver coins.

In between dives on the wreck, we had a morning out on the King Bank. This is located about 14 nautical miles north east of the Kings and is perhaps the most isolated dive spot in New Zealand. Here, an underwater sea mount rises from abyssal depths to within diveable limits. On this day, as on the two previous dives I have done there, the current was strong and there was little option but to drift with the flow. The bank rises to a peak of 28 metres but you are quickly swept over this and can expect to spend most of the dive in over 40 metres depth. The bottom is fairly flat reef covered sparsely with Eklonia kelp. Some might call it a boring dive but for me, it's exhilarating. The fact that you're diving in the middle of nowhere in an area proven as one of the world's most productive game fishing grounds is enough to make it special. I've only ever seen reef fish and kingfish here but the real possibility of swimming with tuna, sharks or marlin would keep me coming back.

Skip's Underwater Image Gallery > Three Kings Adventure
While decompressing in little current a diver displays a silver half crown.

Other classic Kings dives including the Dentist's Cavity, home of a school of the rare and protected black spotted groper, and Dury's Dream Pipe, an underwater tunnel lined with gorgonian fans and the special ivory coral, Oculina virgosa, gave all on board further tastes of the very special diving that only the Kings can provide.

On our last day at the Kings the wreck site was wonderfully calm. On previous wreck dives, I had concentrated almost exclusively on excavating one small hole. From this I had extracted no more than a few silver coins on each dive. On this last dive I took down my camera fitted with 16mm fisheye lens with the intention of taking photos of the wreck site with divers working on it.

On first hitting the bottom, I stuck with the plan and took about half a dozen shots of Neil working a hole located close to the bottom of the shot line. After taking a few snaps, I put the camera aside and started to do a little digging myself. Almost immediately, the milled edges of silver half crown coins were plainly visible amongst the encrusted lumps of debris and rock and we soon became almost frenzied in our attempts is dislodge more and more coins.

A few minutes later, I seized a small pebble of encrusted debris and on glancing at it, immediately realized I had secured a great prize ; a gold half sovereign. Ecstatic, I showed Neil and stuffed it up my drysuit wrist seal for safe keeping. Most divers got plenty of silver coins but this was to be the only gold coin retrieved during the trip.

Skip's Underwater Image Gallery > Three Kings Adventure
A 1902 half soverign in mint condition after 96 years underwater.

Neil and I stretched our bottom time beyond safe limits but frustratingly, had to begin our ascent to the surface and leave behind several partially exposed half crowns which we were unable to dislodge. This was to be our last dive of the trip but others going down after us were given good instructions and were able to secure those remaining coins.

We departed the Kings at 3 pm on Friday afternoon as the wind from the east, forecast to arrive at least a day earlier, finally began to build in strength. As we approached North Cape, darkness descended and the boat began to take more and more of a pounding.

The wind and seas built further and for the next few hours I moved constantly about the boat, trying to find a spot where it felt safe, where it felt like the boat wasn't about to fall apart. Eventually, eight hours after departing West King Island we finally made the lee of Stephenson Island and soon crept back into the haven of Whangaroa harbour.


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