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.
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 planet awaits.
five trips to "The Kings" each has fond memories.
The following is based on the 1999 trip between 19th and 23rd
days leading up to our trip the whole country experienced
miserable weather which resulted in some fairly unfriendly
seas being generated.
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
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.
work another hole on the Elingamite wreck site
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 ravanges 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
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.
decompress 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 suffficient
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 signalled
that he was out of air and wanted to buddy breathe.
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.
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
decompressing in little current a diver displays a silver
classic Kings dives including the Densist'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 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 soverign. 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.
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 unabable 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.
© 1999-2000 Skip's
underwater Image Gallery