Doubtful Sound, 15-24 May

Lindsey, Ritchie, Liz, Jason, Michelle and John.

Imagine returning to the surface after a dive to see snow on the surrounding hills! Wow! Wow is probably the perfect word to describe our trip to Fiordland last month. Wow scenery, wow company and, of course, wow diving!

After a flight to Queenstown on Saturday morning, settling into the Novotel Gardens, a wood-fired pizza and a beer or two, we were definitely in holiday mode. We boarded the bus at 7am on Sunday after a failed attempt to buy bottles of water for the trip. The bus ride was full of commentary and very scenic on our way to Lake Manapouri where we boarded the ferry to West Arm. A bus then took us on another scenic and informative trip to Deep Cove over The Wilmot Pass where we boarded Sandpiper - our home for the next week.

Frank, the skipper and a commercial fisherman, who knows the Sound like the back of his hand, took us to our first dive site about an hour into the trip. The water was about 13 degrees so not too dissimilar to Wellington. The scenery however was very different and in fact was quite baron apart from the 'trees' of black coral (which is actually white - go figure) and the occasional nudibranch and curious fish & ahhhh!! beware the banded wrasse!

As the Sound is very deep (430m at its deepest), the wall we were diving just disappeared into the abyss. One of the amazing things about diving in Doubtful Sound is that there is a layer of fresh water that sits on the surface and is between 2m and 10m depending on the rainfall. This layer is colder than the sea below it and is best described as 'blurry' when diving due to the tannin run off from the hydroponics' rain forest.

We did a total of 15 dives on the trip including one dive in "The Gut" which is part of the Te Awaatu Marine Reserve. This dive was particularly special because we descended down an almost sheer wall to a 10m wide shelf at 32m, (dropping off to 50m), which was sandy and bare except for several Sea Pens scattered along its surface. These graceful creatures of the seafloor resemble plump, old-fashioned quill pens and their colors range from dark orange to yellow to white and stand about 30cm tall.

A spot of fishing was in order so Frank took us to the entrance of Doubtful Sound where he threw back the biggest blue cod we had ever seen saying that it was too small - huh! We continued to fish in quiet amazement and after just a few minutes we were pulling up seriously the biggest blue cod we had ever seen - the great-grand-daddies of all cod! I mean these fish were about 60cm in length!

So, we had fish for dinner, crayfish for lunch, fish and crayfish for dinner, more crays for lunch & bugger! Frank makes a mean crayfish fritter!

On our dives we saw a myriad of nudibranchs, sponges, fish, tube-worms, sea spiders, stars, sea cucumbers, anemones, sea dragons, crayfish, seals, dolphins and kina (hors d'oeuvres for Jason).

In fact, on one dive, at about 25m we thought we heard whales calling underwater & however it turned out to be humans calling underwater, something about having his camera and not his catch bag for the cray in his other hand!

Even though the weather was absolutely beautiful (a few of the locals were concerned about this impending 'drought') we did have to wear up to four pairs of leggings at any one time as it did get a little chilly! Sandpiper had an oil fire in the aft cabin enabling us to dry our clothes and towels and thaw out a bit in between dives. It rained on Thursday allowing the waterfalls to start again and snowed on Friday morning which made the whole place stunning.

There was plenty of entertainment on board & even though we had relatively early nights, some of us seemed to be not quite awake when gearing up - no names mentioned but you know who you are!! I think my sides have just recovered from splitting with laughter.

The trip home was best described as lengthy with a couple of us not getting back until Tuesday due to weather interrupted travel!!!

The trip was so much fun - lots of laughter (as usual), excellent company and a complete escape from the chaos of normal life! Once again, thanks to Lindsey and Ritchie for giving us the opportunity to experience some of the world's most amazing diving.

By-the-way Jason - I think you left your jandals on the bus!

Michelle van Dinther

PS. To all you divers out there who haven't experienced a Dive Spot dive trip - get off your backside and book one! There are still spaces for the Great Barrier trip (which we are also going on and will figure out how we will pay for it later!). I definitely recommend it - (especially if you are fairly new to diving as multi-day dives really get your confidence up) however we only want divers along who have a sense of humour, which counts in everyone we have met since we started diving a year ago.

© 2008 Frank and Janice Carre