Early morning sees me in the dive shop arranging heavy-duty layers of neoprene cold-proofing. (Stop heckling. It's heavy-duty for someone who dives in Saudi Arabia.)
There's a good thorough briefing including such nuggets as:
If you hear the engines start, that means return to the boat immediately. If you hear the engines driving away, that means you're too late. (Only joking. We don't do that. We're not Australians).
All too soon, I've succeeded in climbing into the hooded wetsuit and I'm ready to jump into the unnecessarily cold water. The entry's fairly comfortable, my buoyancy test in the chilly water less so. It turns out I need 12 kg with the two-part 7mm wetsuit on board, and I can still only just get underwater.
The first dive site is Brady's Corner. It's fairly comfortable once I'm down, although the temperature leaves me unable to fully calm my breathing rate down. The water's crisp and clear past the layer of floaties on the surface. I'm down at 20m before I realise it. The bottom is kelp forest, sloping off to light sand at about 25m (with a ray basking on the bottom in the distance).
The divemaster takes us for a little romp in the kelp with a couple of traverses through the crevices and under the kelp canopy. This one's relatively short on creatures, but made up for by the novelty of playing in the kelp. The plants are hardy and can grow to full size from being uprooted in a matter of weeks. A far cry from the idle coral I'm used to.
While it turns out that I'm among the lighter breathers, it's still one of my shorter dives at 53m. During the Extra Bit for Light Breathers, the divemaster finds a morey and pokes it from behind to make it give up its crevice for a better photo.
During the lunch and warming up period, we drive into what is apparently the world's largest sea cave. It's full of filter feeders so the water's extremely clear. Visibility is supposedly up to 40m.
Dive two is just a little further on, and it takes me way too long to notice that the boat's parked right next to a seal colony. The snorklers are straight in the water, and the divers don't take much longer. The seals are all around, having a nose if they think we need more investigation, and just generally frolicing if we don't.
The bottom here is shallower, no more than 15m. There are some good nudibranch finds, but really we're all about enjoying being with the seals.
The cold takes its toll, and it's time to come up after 40 minutes. More seal fun presents itself on the surface, as we slowly make our way back to the boat for tea and medals.
I'm heading for Waitomo for tomorrow, so it's time to get some driving in. I force the poor gutless vehicle up and down the contours infesting the highway north of Auckland until I finally get close enough to the city to get motorway, and with it traffic. About four hours later, I finally give up and crash in the Park Lodge motel in Te Awamutu.
I should have kept driving.