Great Barrier Island is just 90km from downtown Auckland but it may as well be a world away. It’s a little like the land that time forgot, not in a dinosaur movie kind of way but more the fact that everyone waves as they pass by, and rush hour traffic consists of four cars leaving the aerodrome at the same time.
More than 60 per cent of Great Barrier Island is administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC). This makes it one of the Auckland region’s richest plant and wildlife areas and that extends to the marine life as the island lies on the outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Unsurprisingly then, Great Barrier Island is a real mecca for divers, offering a vast array of dive sites suitable for all skill levels. Here are two sites that we’ve had the opportunity to experience for ourselves.
SS Wairarapa Wreck Dive
The Wairarapa was a 1786 tonnes, 87m steamship that sailed the route between Auckland and Sydney in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, on a foggy night in late October 1894, an error in judgement lead to the ship steaming at almost full speed into Miners Head near the northern tip of Great Barrier Island. This tragedy claimed the lives of 121 passengers and crew and left the survivors stranded for almost 30 hours, huddled on the rocks at the foot of the sheer cliffs of Miners Head. You can read more about this tragic event on the DOC website.
Today, the remains of the Wairarapa lie in shallow waters from 4 to 15 meters. Over decades, the vessel has broken up considerably so you can’t swim in or through the wreck as such, making it a safe dive for all levels. The kelp-covered wreck is now well integrated into the surrounding environment, and at first glance there doesn’t appear to be much to see. But if you take the time to explore you’ll discover interesting little nooks and crannies that are full of life, with demoiselle, colourful wrasse and even the odd nudibranch.
Miners Head Copper Bay
Situated on the northwestern tip of Great Barrier Island, Miners Head was the site of New Zealand’s first copper mine. Established in 1841, it’s estimated that over 2000 tonnes of copper ore was extracted out of the mine by hand and through blasting up until 1867 when the copper eventually ran out. Today, all that remains are the entrances to the old mining tunnels scattered around the high cliffs along with the unmistakeable green tinge of copper. You can read more about the mining operation on the DOC website.
After diving the SS Wairarapa, we headed around to a small sheltered bay on the western side of Miners Head where we had lunch before taking a gentle bimble around the bay. There are some interesting rock outcrops and gullies to explore at around 12 to 15 meters with a good assortment of sea life to keep you company.
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