Cavalli Coast                                                          28 February 2014

Yesterday we spent the day and the night in Whangaihe Bay, after leaving Whangaroa Harbour. We had intended to stay in Mahinepua Bay (2 miles to the east) as we had heard it is a great spot, however a moderate easterly wind made that site too windy. There are extensive shallow reefs just northeast of Mahinepua, which we thought looked good for snorkelling, but again not under an easterly wind. Whangaihe Bay gave us a good anchorage, and good snorkelling. The land above high tide level is owned by a forestry company, who run small and low-key tourist shacks in a sheltered corner of the bay. There's a huge tree shadowing part of the beach, with a swing from one of its branches made big enough for two people! so of course Alice and I tried it out. There was a wild goose on the beach, it looked very much like Australia's Cape Barren Goose. And a small penguin in the water just off the beach.

By 10:30am this morning we had reached Tokananohia Reef, just northwest of Motutapere Island, where small bronze whaler sharks have been seen in previous years. But there wasn't much happening, so we checked some of the shallower areas. We watched as a gannet dived (from a height of about 50cm) for a fish only 100m from Ocean Child. It used this technique of almost horizontal diving again and again... I got some video footage - I just wish I had slow motion in the camera.

It's very hard to find a temperate kelp reef ecosystem in Australia which hasn't been trashed by the removal of lobster, abalone, large fish and medium fish. Even remote reefs are generally badly degraded - such is the impact of commercial and recreational fishing. The few marine reserves covering these ecosystems are precious, like Pope's Eye in Port Phillip Bay, or the small protected area near Wilson's Prom, Victoria, or the Maria Island marine reserve in Tasmania.

While natural populations of tasty invertebrates and large fish are missing from the Cavalli reefs, I was overjoyed to find good numbers of small and medium fish here. Snorkelling these reefs is a bit lonely and sad without these animals. When we entered the water there was a queue of small Luderick filing past the boat; I estimated about 2-3 per second. When we returned an hour later, the queue was still moving past... that's thousands of fish. Alice suggested the queue was all the same fish, just swimming in a circle... Alice and I did our own circle by swimming around Motutapere Island, and that's a swim which I would not recommend. On the east of the island the bottom is out of site in quite deep water, and visibility comes right down with the water full of fine bubbles from waves smashing against the almost shear walls of the island's eastern cliffs. However there was a large and exciting cave, in deep shadow, so that was some compensation. Alice as usual wanted to swim right to the end in spite of the surge, but common sense prevailed... At the northeast side of the island a school of bright blue fish were hanging in a gutter, just chilling out. Farther on we swam through warm shallows, with golden kelp swinging to and fro in the brilliant sunshine. Colourful wrasse came up to us, nibbling our fingers. I figured they were hungry, poor things... so I broke open one of the thousands of sea urchins nearby. The fish were delighted! At 9pm we went back to the gutter to check on the blue fish, but they had gone - where did they go?

We searched in vain for a sand patch to place our anchor... all rock in 6m of water.


Motutapere Island: a rocky and bumpy anchorage; at least we didn't have far to swim.


A very small part of a larger school, which seemed pretty much fixed in a gully between two rocky outcrops, moving backwards and forwards with the swell.


Hamaruru Island, with Alice in the tunnel


Panaki Island