Night Dive in Taupo
by Bob Reynolds (1970)

Article in ‘DIVE - South Pacific Underwater Magazine’ Vol.9, No.4.


At the end of last year; Mel Frey and his wife Judi, my wife and myself made a preliminary trip to Motuere at Taupo to have a close look at a spectacular drop off that Mel had already dived on once before. We made two dives there during the weekend and it certainly proved to be spectacular in the extreme. The drop off itself is about 100 yards off shore and the top of the reef can be quite clearly seen from the beach. We have now made a total of six dives on this spot to a maximum depth of 170' and have dis-covered that the actual reef is about three to four hundred yards long at the most, the two ends tapering off into a steep silt slope.
As you swim out from the shore the bottom drops away to about 40' and rises sharply at the inside of the reef to about 25 yards wide and the drop off is on the outer edge. Visibility on the surface is about 60' but this decreases to about 30' at the base of the reef.
The drop off goes down in a series of huge angular ledges and massive granite blocks and one gets the eerie feeling, dropping down through the greeny water, that they were fashioned in eons past by some giant for a purpose known only to himself. The lake has an unearthly quality all of its own which I have not encountered in any sea dive. Everything is covered by at least a thin layer of silt, even the vertical faces, and native crayfish or "Koru" inhabit every recess and crack, some growing to almost 10 inches long! They do not behave like a cray, backing away from you, but will come out with their pincers, waving about their heads and will attempt if possible to have a piece of you!
We have also seen many trout which behave very much like kingies and will swim back and forth through your bubbles about 20 or 30 feet above.
The cliff terminates at between 130' and 150' and from there on the bottom slopes away at about 30° to 40° and carries on gradually drop-ping away into greater depths.

Diving at altitude
A few hints about diving in this place if the urge takes you . . . A strict buddy system and buoyancy compensators are a must. Remove at least four pounds of lead from your belt as there is much less 'lift' in fresh water. Also, and most important as far as diving in high altitude lakes is concerned, your decompression times alter and your depth gauge will read shallower than you actually are. I will not go into this in detail, except to quote an excerpt from an excellent article in the August 1967 "Skindiver" Technifacts column by master diver E. R. Cross, which I would recommend anyone contemplating any lake diving at all to read. "I believe this procedure will be adequate for most divers at high altitude: use the decompression schedule for the next greater exposure (next greater bottom time) than the actual exposure time."

This also precludes the accurate use of decompression meter, and for limit dives the tables must be used with the above proviso.
In regard to this I suspect that I suffered a marginal bend on the first visit. We had to travel back over the desert road which rises well above the lake level and about half way across I noticed a numbness in my right elbow and hand which was fairly alarming and uncomfortable but which went off as we dropped down into Waiouru. We have cut down further on our dive times since then and have had no further niggles.

Night Dive
Earlier this year the four of us went again to Motuere, this time to do a night dive. We suited up at the cabins where we were staying (much to the curiosity of all the other guests and the proprietor) and set off at about 6.30 p.m. for the beach. Arriving just on dark we got into the rest of our gear and made arrangements with my wife to remain in the car with the headlights pointed out across the lake so that when we surfaced 1 could flash our handbeam and the headlights could be turned on to guide us in. This was considered quite important as from 100 yards out at night the shore all looks pretty much the same!
Mel and his diving wife Judi and myself, armed with a Nikonos and flash and a French made handbeam set off into the depths. We swam out into about 20' or so and Judi and I posed against a big rock so that Mel could take some shots with his camera. Then we moved off down the Northern edge of the reef. The handbeam. I was carrying only lit up the water for a short distance and its intense spot seemed to end in the faintly grey water only about 10' away. All around it was utterly black outside the circle of light. At 70' the other two were flitting in and out of the edge of the light like so many phantoms.
After about 15 minutes we surfaced and had a quick conference deciding to go into the beach on the bottom. We all dived together but at about 40' Mel and I found that we had lost contact with Judi and surfaced immediately, relieved to find that our safety maxim of surfacing on loss of buddy had worked and that she was only a few yards from us. We flashed the light inshore and the lights of the car came on about 200 yards or so south of us. We homed in on them leaving the water after one of the most interest-ing dives any of us had been on. One unusual aspect of using only one light for three divers was reported by Mel and Judi. When neutrally buoyant any loss of view of the light (such as when shone directly away from you) resulted in immediate disorientation and vertigo. Alarming the first time but quite controllable with practice.

 
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