Note: This was originally a separate page, I moved it to blog. The article was published in DiveNZ a couple of years ago.
All the local divers know that, Auckland is a great city with nice beaches but not very good for scuba diving. Especially if you want to dive from the shore. Murky waters, muddy bottom, mostly very flat reefs and a big tidal flow around its harbours. When I immigrated to New Zealand three years ago I did not know that. I came from central Europe I thought it would be so great to live in a city with an access to the sea on both the east and the west. After my family settled down and relaxed a little we started to explore the coastline in and around the city. We fell in love with the regional parks to the north – Shakespeare, Wenderholm, Mahurangi, Scandrett, Tawharanui. Also the city beaches like Long Bay, Browns Bay or Takapuna proved to be very handy. All these places were great for a family entertainment but, I thought, were unsuitable for diving. However after I had learned some new skills like watching the tide or the wind direction I realized I was too skeptical.
One day our family went for a walk along the beach at Otarawao Bay in Mahurangi Regional Park. A high number of sand starfish (Astropecten) washed out on the sand caught my eyes. I thought if there were so many of them on the beach they had to be underwater as well. I had my equipment with me, was quite used to low visibility and missed diving a lot so I decided to give it a try. The bottom was as expected, sand mixed with mud, easily stirred which could destroy the already poor visibility. There was not much life around except some snails and starfish. Then a surprising came I spotted a horse mussel with a soft coral tree growing on it. What a beauty! Such a color in the middle of the grey desert. It took a couple more minutes to realize every solid object, a rock, a big mussel, a piece of wood became an island of life supporting colorful sponges and soft corals.
I did a couple of dives at the spot in the following months. I could see a lot of juvenile reef fish, flounders (unfortunatelly they were faster than me with my camera), large stingrays resting on sea weeds in shallow water. Every time I dived there I could see colorful sponges, soft corals and nudibranchs. I also realized it was possible to experience quite a strong tidal current when diving from Otarawao Bay towards the Pudding Island. The current destroyed the visibility too so for those of you who want to try the spot I would suggest dive at a slack water if you can choose the time.
While Mahurangi Regional Park is actually not an Auckland location Browns Bay certainly is. It’s only a couple of meters from the beach to the urban area. On the southern side of the beach there is a flat rocky reef under the cliff full of holes and cracks. My children could spot lemon nudibranches in them a couple of times. On a sunny day at a low tide we walked to the edge of the reef and I was surprised how clear the water was. I could see a forest of sea weeds and kelp growing from the bottom laying in 3-4m depth of water. I knew immediatelly I wanted to dive the place.
All my dives at Browns Bay were quite funny. A group of juvenile fish, many of them snapper, usually joined me at the beginning of the dive and stayed with me for the most of the time. I peered into places among rocks and weeds or under overhangs looking for small critters. The fish were still around me waiting – I always stirred silt trying to get a decent shot – that was a great opportunity for them to find something tasty for the dinner. Sometimes I spotted a nice sized snapper at the edge of the visibility. It was very nervous just flying around. Starfish, sea urchins, crabs, sea cucumbers were quite common there. Sea fans could also be found among the weeds. Wandering anemones were my favorite at this place, once I spent around 10 minutes with one of them just admiring its colour and beauty.
There are so many similar spots in and around Auckland. They are not the best spots in New Zealand waters, not at all. However they are convenient, accessible and can be very exciting if one knows when to get there and what to look for. They are waiting to get appreciated by us.
Note on the pictures: They were taken during my first dives at New Zealand with an analog camera and no artificial light.
Orange boring sponge covers boulders that stick out of the mud on the bottom of Mahurangi Harbour.
The colours of clown nudibranch Ceratosoma amoenum are in a sharp contrast to the colour of the silt covered kelp they crawl on.
Beautiful pest in New Zealand harbours … mediterranean fan worm Sabella spallanzanii.
Sea bottom vacuum cleaner … sea cucumber Stichopus mollis.
An unusual sea wanderer … wandering anemone Phlyctenactis tuberculosa.
A tiny bush of soft coral (dead-man fingers) growing on a horse mussel shell mostly buried in the silt.