I dove a ship wreck!—and became an advanced open water diver.

While visiting the Bay of Islands, Jono and I booked a two-dive day trip in which I would experience diving down deep to explore an underwater ship wreck. It would be my first ever!

I had been itching to dive again since I received my open water diver certification in Koh Toa, Thailand. Paihia Dive offered a package in which I would learn to dive to 100 feet.

The ship wreck was eerie, beautiful, and hilarious. This plus an awesome underwater kelp forest dive and surprise visit to the famous Hole in the Rock made my Bay of Islands diving trip an unforgettable experience.

Boat ride to the Canterbury wreck

The boat ride accompanying the dive experience is half the thrill for me. As a life-long boater, I cannot get enough of the feeling of a vessel cutting through the waves, wind blowing in my hair, and sun shining on my face out on the open water.

It’s a pirate’s life for me!

Jono had brought along his free diving gear, including his catch bag. Today we would be diving the wreck which is a reserve location in addition to another non-reserve location. Jono would join me for a SCUBA dive at the wreck and then later he would go off on his own to catch whatever he could find at the other location.

As mainly oxygen-dependent divers, everyone on board was fascinated with Jono asking him tons of questions about free diving. Supposedly free divers are known for being a bit reckless. After knowing Jono, I would say that’s pretty accurate!

The boat skipper and dive master eventually sat everyone down for some instruction on the day’s dives. He told everyone a bit about the wreck and what to expect from the dive.

In operation from 1971-2005, the HMNZS Canterbury was operated by the Royal New Zealand Navy to act in support of the UN against Iraq and as a peacekeeping vessel. It had been deliberately sunk in November 2007 to serve as a dive wreck.

For nearly eight years this “Leander-class” frigate has sat at the bottom of the bay accumulating underwater wildlife.

We would be dropping along a line 14m to the beam then waiting for each other to descend into the bridge and explore around the vessel.

Exploring the wreck—and its toilet!

At this point in the post all of the underwater photos are credited to the dive master of Paihia Dive. I could not take my camera down and his photos were far superior than mine would have been anyway.

The wreck was beautiful and superbly populated with schools of fish, sea anemones, and other creatures. Jono and I were buddied up for the dive and loving every minute of it.

I dropped into the Bridge straight away and sat down on the floor comfortably. Other divers followed me down and we all stood in a circle on the bridge motioning to each other and pointing at fish swimming by.

How strange it was to be on a ship at the bottom of the sea where the fish were swimming passed our faces instead of over the sides!

We explored all over the inside and outside of the Canterbury. I held the captain’s wheel, checked out gorgeous pink sea anemones on the bow, and had a “conversation” with the sea on the ship’s telephone.

One of my favorite parts was swimming through a hallway in the ship. To the right an empty closet, to the left a room with shelves, to the right a toilet.

A toilet! I nearly spewed my mouth piece out in front of me from laughing so hard.

Of course I knew the Navy would have needed to do a number 1 or 2 on board as they sailed around the South Pacific, but somehow I had failed to think of it until it was in my face.

Who expects to go diving and see an algae-encrusted toilet looking like it hadn’t been cleaned in, well, 8 years?! I was in stitches.

A surprise ride through the Hole in the Rock

The Canterbury dive lasted for 45 minutes. We resurfaced and took off our gear for some down time before the next dive.

For an extra $12 NZD, Paihia Dive provided a lunch box. I sat on the bow, sunning myself, munching at my sandwich and chatting with one of the dive masters.

The dive boat eventually made its way toward the next dive location at Lighthouse Bay. But before we stopped there, the skipper took us to check out Piercy Island.

Piercy Island is home to the famous Hole in the Rock.

The Hole in the Rock is a popular tourist attraction and carries with it a fun legend. I had read about it back at the Paihia i-Site, which said:

“According to Maori legend, when local Maori warriors were enroute to fight other nearby tribes, they would paddle through the Hole in the Rock one at a time in their canoes. If water dripped on them, it was a sign of good luck, so they could proceed. So if you get dripped on, consider yourself lucky!

Despite big swells, our skipper drove us through the rock. I didn’t get dripped on but I count myself lucky to have had the opportunity to visit this extraordinary location.

A simple boat ride to the Hole in the Rock can cost over $100! So it was really special our dive captain took us through it and around Piercy Island as an extra to the dive experience.

10/10 would do it again!

Lighthouse Bay dive

The boat pulled into Lighthouse Bay shortly after our exploration of Piercy Island. We noticed a seal sitting on the rocks on the shore and everyone got excited.

Quickly, people started putting on their dive gear. Jono, being he was not tank diving this time, was already in the water!

As soon as he went in, the seal jumped in after him. Seals are so curious. I asked Jono later and he said seals actually tend to be annoying to dive with when you’re free diving. They’ll want to play with you and get right in your face.

It’s a little scary when you’re trying to hold your breath on the sea floor and suddenly there’s seal teeth in your face!

By the time I got in the water, the seal had followed Jono to another part of the bay and was nowhere to be found. That’s okay, though. I was about to have a great time diving through kelp forest!

Under the surface, I saw moray eels hiding from us. They seemed to hiss at us defensively like Flotsam and Jetsam from the Little Mermaid.

It’s no wonder the seal was here because there were schools of hundreds of fish everywhere!

The dive instructor fed pieces of bait to some of the fish to give us a show to watch. I didn’t really think that was necessary since there were so many to watch doing their own thing anyway.

The motion of the kelp forest

In Thailand I dove lots of coral but never a kelp forest. People travel from all over the world to dive kelp forests. The Bay of Islands has some of the shorter variety swaying in the ocean waves.

Kelp provides a home and food source to many different marine species. It’s also just really cool to look at underwater.

I wish the dive instructor had gotten better photos of it but I’ll describe it as best as I can.

Picture green truffula trees. Yes, I mean the Dr. Seuss trees from the Lorax.

Now picture them at the bottom of the ocean and small—about a meter tall—planted so the ocean floor is covered in them like a blanket of flowing green leaves raised by strong, rope-like stems.

If you dive down underneath the top layer you can actually swim in between them like you’re gliding between the trees of a forest. And it’s a forest that sways in the breeze along with you.

The ocean swells sent the kelp and everything around it swaying two meters to the right then back two meters to the left. Back and forth. Back and forth. I could hear the waves crashing on the shore above and then surging off the rocks with each sway.

Wooooossshhhhhh—swooooooossshhhhh—woooooosssshhhh—swwooooooosh.

As we swam along, I just let the ocean swing me from side to side. It was beautiful to feel so connected to the ocean’s natural movements.

Before I knew it we were resurfacing and packing up the dive gear. Everyone gathered on the back deck to relax as the boat headed back to Paihia. Jono had caught a bunch of kina which he shared with the other divers. Many of them had never tried it before so I suddenly felt like a local being able to vouch for its flavor!

Reflecting back on the day made me so happy I decided to take that dive course on Koh Tao four months earlier. And now that I was an advanced open water diver from doing the wreck dive, more dive experiences can open up to me in the future.

I can’t wait to continue to dive all around the world! Who knows…maybe I’ll get to see more submerged toilets!