After weathering a small low pressure system, we proceeded to the Poor Knights Islands. The islands were inhabited by a sub tribe of the Ngatiwai people. Around 1808 the sub tribe refused to let the Hikutu tribe, who had paddled 320 kilometers, to land for trading purposes. Twelve years later the Hikutu attacked, after being informed that the warriors were fighting on the mainland. Three to four hundred people were massacred or taken as slaves. A few hid in the caves and survived to tell the warriors what had happened. They buried the dead and left for the mainland, never to come back. To this day there are remnants, such as old pa sites and stone terraces for houses, of the Ngatiwai people on the islands. In 1977 the islands were declared a Nature reserve.
When we arrived on Saturday the 20th the anchorage was empty and rolly, but the dramatic beauty of sheer cliffs topped with green forests, dropping away into blue, fish filled waters ensnared us, and we looked forward to the exploration the next day.
On Sunday we set out in the dinghy to explore the biggest sea cave in the world, Rikoriko, on the west side of Aorangi Island. The cave was formed by a volcanic bubble of air that was opened up by erosion from the sea. The entrance was a big, gaping maw that grew into a large dome as we went further in. When the swell washed through, it hit the edges of the cave, in some spots making small waterfalls and fountaining out of holes in the rock. Blue, green, red, and gold algae covered the cave walls, illuminated by the brilliant light coming from the mouth. There is only so much you can do in a cave, so soon we set out to find a diving spot.
The snorkeling was amazing! The bottom was rocky with patches of sand and a forest of palm kelp covering the sea floor. With each wave the kelp was gently swept to one side, showing new fish, rocks and sponges. Millions of small, translucent zoo plankton were covering the top meter of the surface. They clouded the water and were impossible to not hit. In particularly dense areas I would dive underneath them, and, before coming up, let all my air out, making the bubbles clear the plankton away. The fish were almost as plentiful as the plankton. Huge schools of bait fish swarmed and bigger fish were common, some of them would even come up to us, hanging around as if they were saying, “Feed me, feed me.” We saw Northern Scorpion fish, Groupers, Snappers, Perch, Trevally, Mado, Goat fish, Blue fish, Maomao, Demoiselle, Black Angelfish, Red Pigfish, Wrasse, and Stingrays. Each fish was unique and beautiful, some fat and short, others big with gaping mouths, and lots small and spotted. Together, Anson and I dove through the underwater forest. We sat on the sea bed, followed fish over rocks and around kelp and videoed stingrays gliding. The underwater life was like a dream, and all of us were sad to leave the majestic place the following day. Now we are at Tutukaka to drop Anson off for race week before sailing back out to the islands.
January 23, 2018