Wellington Harbour Home North Coast
The South Coast is the jewel in the crown of Wellington shore diving. It is a series of rocky shores interspersed with mainly sandy, but some pebbly beaches. Rocky reefs and abundant marine growths make attractive feeding and breeding grounds for a wide variety of fish-life. Snorkel and SCUBA divers, along with shore and boat fishermen, all enjoy this coast.
Vehicle access is easy from Sinclair Head in the west to Breaker Bay at the harbour entrance in the east. Four-wheel drive owners, tour operators and boat owners can gain access to the coast between Karori Light and Sinclair Head, a wild and rugged coastline which protects some beautiful bays. The South Coast has also been called 'The Shipwreck Coast' for good reason. Many of the vessels mentioned in the shipwreck section of the guide are to be found along here.
Depth: Steady drop-off, shelving at 11m (36 ft) in the Bay.
Visibility: 2-5m, affected by southerly swells.
Breaker Bay is the northern bay on the western side of Wellington Harbour entrance. There are many bays on Breaker Bay Road, which extends from the Pass of Branda in the north to Gibraltar Rock in the south. This description is for diving at Butterfish Rock at the north end of Breaker Bay. From Kilbirnie drive to Lyall Bay and follow the coast road east around the bays. On Breaker Bay Road drive north to a parking area in front of house number 65.
Butterfish Rock (which might be a local name) is a magic spot about 100m off shore. It is the only rock in the area above water level, and it has a crack north/south down its length which makes a great swim-through. It is decorated with colourful sponges, anemones and growths. There are lots of little fish, occasional nudibranchs, and bigger fish feeding in the crannies.
Choose an entry point in front of the car park and snorkel across to the northern end of the rock. Descending at this point will put you at the start of the crack. Try a clockwise circular tour through the crack and back up the western side of the rock.
On a January 96 dive the visibility had dropped off to 2-3m because a southerly had brought up some swells and stirred the sediment. In northerly conditions the bay is sheltered and visibility is much better.
Generally, diving in this area includes kelp forests nearer shore, gravel flats at around 8-10m, and scattered rocky reefs. I enjoy teasing the blue cod and spottys by lying on the bottom and stirring up the gravel with a finger. The line-up of cod, all sitting on their front (leg-like) fins, can make for impressive photos.
Depth: Shelving to 15m (50ft) in Chaffers Passage.
Visibility: 2-5m. affected by southerly winds and swells.
Gibraltar Rock is a large rock at the southern end of Breaker Bay Road, between the road and the sea. Just south of it on the corner with Moa Point Road is Wahine Park. It has similar diving conditions. Park either just north of the rock, or in the Wahine Park car parking area.
Diving includes kelp forests nearer shore and many rocky reefs. And yes, this is crayfish country! I recommend you don't get tempted to dive on the west side of Wahine Park as that bay is exposed to the sewerage outfall from Moa Point.
Enter over the rocks north of Gibraltar Rock and fossick out in front. The entry points in Wahine Park are over shallow rocky reefs which may give problems at low tide levels. The water along this shore is affected to some degree by the tidal flow into and out of the harbour via Chaffers passage. There is current flows with clearer water apparent after low tide when fresh water is flowing into the harbour.
Fish species seen include crayfish, spottys, wrasse, butterfish, octopus, kina and sea stars. The wreck of the Subraon is reported to be at the southern end of Breaker Bay. All I am aware of is an anchor in the kelp forests to the north of Gibraltar Rock, approximately half-way to the Butterfish Rock site.
Depth: Sloping to level at 10-12 m in bay
Visibility: 2-10m. Better visibility occurs during/after northerlies.
Princess Bay has large sandy beaches, a large car parking area and toilet/changing facilities. From Island Bay drive east along the coast past Houghton Bay Road. The access road is next on the right, a sharp cut-back to the right and down to the parking area.
Princess Bay is the eastern sandy beach on the side of Houghton Bay. This entry and exit point is sheltered from direct swells, but is subject to silting from waves coming into Houghton Bay, or from outfall from the Houghton Bay stormwater pipe. Alternatively, to the south of the car park near the changing rooms are two channels providing good entry points into a bay facing Cook Straight. Towards the eastern end of the car park is another wide entry area into that bay.
The visibility can be excellent following steady northerlies. Southerly waves and swells make diving impractical. The bottom area in Princess Bay is weedy close to rocks on the left hand side, and a mix of gravel and sand in the bay. A nice reef extends out across the entrance to Houghton Bay. Diving south from the car park entry points, there are beautiful rocky reefs and large open gravel plains.
Fish species include crayfish, blue moki, terakihi, spottys, blue cod, banded and scarlet wrasse, and an occasional octopus. There are reef sea stars, white or brown nudibranchs, and as a pleasant surprise, some sea hares. These look like oversized snails which have swapped their shells for loose, baggy coats. This site must rate close to 'Number 1' for facilities, access, and fish life.
Depth: Gradual slope to around 15 m.
Visibility: 2 - 12 m, visibility reduced by southerlies.
Elsdon Point Pipe is a closed sewerage outfall. The pipe makes a good walkway out through the rocks to one of the entry points. From Island Bay, drive east around the bay and past the first point. Look for a track leading down to the right onto a flat area which provides off-road parking.
Two entry points are close to the car park. Immediately to the east is a gravel beach and a sheltered entry channel into Houghton Bay. The second entry point is found by walking the length of the pipe to a flat concrete platform. Entry is by giant stride into a deep channel beside the platform. Time your entry so that any swell will carry you straight out into open water.
Both dive areas have gravel plains, rocky reefs, and abundant weed, moss (sorry, I meant sponge) and anemone growths. Fish species sighted include schools of jack mackerel and spottys, terakihi, blue moki, banded wrasse, and blue cod. There are sea stars, brittlestars, nudibranchs, shield shells, paua and kina.
F69 is some 400m off shore in 26m of water. It is a bit far out to access as a shore dive. However, if diving the ship is your interest then the local dive ships will be able to help you with a boat dive.
Depth: 10m under the boats.
Visibility: 2-5m affected by southerlies and a stormwater discharge near the baithouse.
Island Bay is a coastal community based around a sheltered bay which has Taputeranga Island sheltering it from direct southerlies. Entry points are either from the foreshore of the sandy beach, or at a small promontory, next point beyond the bait house where the boaties enter, on the eastern side of the bay. There is parking here for around 20 cars.
A fishing fleet is based in the bay and a boat ramp is beside a disused bait shed. Because of rocks near the ramp it is not practical for bigger boats near low-tide.
From the foreshore the beach is wide, flat and very easy for access. The bottom is flat and sandy, and there are isolated bunch's of kelp. Fish scraps are sometimes thrown overboard from the boats, and these attract some of the slightly larger predators, such as octopus or conger eel. The gem of night diving here is the sea-horses which wrap their tails around stalks of seaweed.
From the promontory, enter either at bays on the seaward or landward sides of the point. Near the promontory the bottom is rocky and covered with weed, sponge and anemone. This area is commonly used for dive training. There is a current flow on either side of Taputeranga Island depending on the state of the tide.
Visibility can be good for night dives, but because of the relatively sheltered nature of the bay, this is one of those places to dive when conditions are deteriorating elsewhere, hence low visibility is common.
Fish species observed include flounder, octopus, conger eel, small spottys and banded wrasse.
Depth: Gently sloping to 13m + into Cook Strait.
Visibility: Usually low, dived when good. 2 - 10m.
The Sirens is an area of rocky coastline between the road and the sea, immediately west of Island Bay. There are parking spaces on the seaward side of the road in front of the Island Bay Marine Laboratory (No. 396, The Esplanade) and the Brass Monkey Cafe which is slightly further west. This site rates as 'Rex's Choice'.
The Sirens are more than the rocks you see from the shore. Below the water, long rocky reefs extend out to sea with small and large channels between them. There are sheltered little holes, wide gravel flats, narrow swim throughs, fish, plants, crawlies - the lot! If conditions permit, this is where to go for some great eco-diving.
Entry/exit points are:
From the Marine Lab car park, look for a long narrow rocky gut just on the eastern side, where the lab's little pumphouse gets its water. This gut has an easy gravel entry point and provides an unobstructed route out to sea.
From the Brass Monkey car park, enter towards the western end of the park, in the western side of a large bay in the rocks. There is a gravel beach and some obstructions to negotiate at low tide. Otherwise, it is a straight swim out to sea. From either of these points you should not notice any current unless you plan on going out a long way. That said, it is always prudent to carry a blow-up safety sausage as an emergency indication when swimming around Cook Strait.
The whole of the south coast is exposed to southerly winds, and these affect this site along with the others. Any swell tends to cause surge below the surface, stirring up silt particles and reducing visibility. Look here first if northerly winds have been blowing for a day or so.
Fish seen include blue moki, red moki, terakihi, banded wrasse, blue cod, spottys, jack mackerel, sea perch, butterfish, marblefish and maori chief. There are sea stars, sea cucumber, crayfish, octopus, multitudes of anemone, and many nudibranch. In January 1996, the warm currents had brought in many purple jellyfish and an occasional white monster jellyfish stranded on the reefs.
Depth: Gently sloping to 13m+ in Cook Strait.
Visibility: Usually low, dived when good. 2 - 10m.
Parking is on a wide flat gravel area on the eastern side of Owhiro Bay which is best approached from the Island Bay direction. Where the coast road takes a sharp right-hand turn to go around the side of Owhiro Bay, turn left up over the footpath and down onto the gravel.
The Owhiro Bay pipe is a stormwater drain and emergency sewerage outlet. That means it can get a bit niffy around here at times, which is a pity because there are the same great diving conditions as at the Sirens. There are two entry points, either from open guts into Owhiro Bay, or along the line of the pipe, entering over the opening of the pipe and swimming straight out to sea.
In the seaward direction many of the long narrow reefs, as described for The Sirens, extend out to sea. From the Owhiro Bay side, diving across the bay tends to have low visibility as the bottom of the bay is silty, any surge stirs it up. There are nice marine gardens along the eastern side of the bay. The bay makes a safe, pretty, night dive site.
Both areas are prone to low visibility from southerlies, and a stream flows into the head of the bay. Following rain, the bay rapidly becomes discoloured.
Out from the pipe is the same great fish life as noted for The Sirens.
Depth: Gently sloping to 13m+ into Cook Strait.
Visibility: 2 - 10m depending on southerlies.
There are four shipwrecks accessible from this site, and a good variety of fish life and growths. The Owhiro Bay shipwreck dive site is on the point on the western side of Owhiro Bay. Park on the flat areas on the sea side of the road either just before, or just after, the corner at the point. Note that there is more parking about 100m west of the corner outside the Owhiro Bay Quarry gates. This area also has a good entry/exit point, nice rocky reefs, and plenty of fish life.
The entry and exit point is a concrete boat ramp which leads down into a sheltered bay. The bay has a gravel bottom and leads around to the right to a channel heading out to sea. The remains of the Yung Pen are in this channel. It has barely a metre of water over it at low tide. 50m to the west is the wreck site of the Cyrus, for which there is no obvious remains. A further 50m to the west is the site of the Wellington where there is a donkey boiler and two anchors. To the south-east of the Yung Pen 50m is the remains of the Progress. There is a boiler, drive shafts and bottom ribs visible. There are other bits and pieces, probably from any of these wrecks, in the sheltered bay to the east of the Yung Pen.
The wreck sites are relatively sheltered from the tidal stream, though this will be noticeable further out. It is advisable to carry an inflatable safety sausage with you.
The visibility is reduced by southerly winds and by swells causing surge to stir up silt. Better diving is had following steady northerlies.
While this site is mainly of historic and fossicking value, there is plenty of fish life, as described for The Sirens. The inner bays are very sheltered, though there can be currents flowing in the channels. The area is occasionally used for training dives.
Depth: Fairly flat area, about 8m maximum unless heading a long way out.
Visibility: Good when not affected by southerlies.
Beyond the Owhiro Bay Quarry is a large open bay with a relatively flat bottom in the 5 - 8m range. The quarry gates are open all the time except for Sundays (Saturday night to Monday morning?) however at other times this is the access route along the south coast to Sinclair Head and by 4 wheel drive vehicle to Karori Light. I have dived from two entry points into the bay, the first being a night dive from the eastern side of the bay, and the second from beside the first bach (home) on the right of the road.
Parking for the first site was in the middle of the quarry operations. As my dive was just after midnight we didn't disturb anyone, but this is obviously not practical during the day. We parked near a gravel bank, over which was the start of the bay, accessible from a gravely beach. Parking for the second site was on the side of the road (track) below the bach. There is a wide gravelly beach with many entry points to choose from.
The bay is relatively shallow, and is a marvellous eco-garden. It has a great deal of plant and fish life, and is sheltered from passing tidal streams, though this will be noticeable further out.
Visibility on the night dive was 5m, and during the day dive was out to 8m. Because it is exposed to the south, the bay is best dived in northerly conditions.
Animal life observed include blue cod, banded wrasse, crabs, and a large blue moki who was munching away at the gravel on the bottom. A very pretty dive site.
Between Owhiro Bay and Karori Light is a truly great piece of rugged
coastline. Inhospitable in southerly storms, a sparkling gem on calm days. This is real
diving country, except that, to my regret, I have driven past it to get to my 'dive of the
day'. I would welcome any contributions from folk who have dived in this area and would
like to share their experience with other divers. I am particularly interested in any
shipwreck remnants that folk may have come across.
Depth: Shallow bay, shelving at 6m.
Visibility: Good in northerly conditions.
Karori Light is an automated light on a rock pinnacle (Karori Rock) sticking out of the water off a rocky point. The water in the area has many shallow rocky reefs which have accounted for a few shipwrecks. I have dived in bays on the east and west side of the light, and both are a similar depth and bottom type. Access is by four wheel drive vehicle around the coast from the end of the sealed road at Owhiro Bay Quarry. The quarry gates are closed on Sunday, or more correctly, from Saturday night to Monday morning.
The bay on the eastern side is wide and easy of access over a large area. On the western side of the point is a similar bay with the same wide choice of access. However, we chose to dive the wreck of the Woollahra, which is about 50m from the point side of the bay and the same distance out into the bay. You should park where the land flattens out again after rounding the point. The wreck is fairly shallow and at low tide the bow (?) sticks out of the water. It was a big boat some 60 metres long and makes for interesting fossicking.
Both bays are relatively sheltered from northerly winds, the eastern (first) bay more so than the other. They are both exposed to swells and wind from the south which makes diving impractical. When we dived the Woollahra there was a 20 Kt north-westerly blowing, but the water visibility was still out to about 5m.
In both bays are many fish, very pretty growths in the sheltered area of rocks, and I saw a lot of nudibranchs. Around the Woollahra I saw two giant conger eels hiding in or under sections of the boat. They were about 300mm in diameter, plus or minus a whisker to allow for shock at the sight of them. This dive was in December 1996 and warm current had brought in purple jellyfish along the coast. A large white jellyfish some 500mm across and 1000mm deep was stranded in the reefs. It had long ropy tentacles and a frill around the top edge.
Wellington Harbour Home North Coast