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.
A diver digs
for coins amidst the wreckage and rubble of the Elingamite wreck site.
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
Skip's five trips to "The Kings" each has fond memories.
The following is based on the 1999 trip between 19th and 23rd April.
the days leading up to our trip the whole country experienced miserable
weather which resulted in some fairly unfriendly seas being generated.
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.
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.
another hole on the Elingamite wreck site
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.
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
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.
on the shot line in good conditions with little or no current.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
in little current a diver displays a silver half crown.
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
A 1902 half
soverign in mint condition after 96 years underwater.
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.
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