Monday, April 26, 2010

Forster part II

How close? This close.

Amy and I took advantage of the recent ANZAC Day long weekend to take a group trip up to Forster to go scuba diving. It was really fun overall and the diving was cold but great.

Day 1:

Started off the day heading out to Seal Rocks, the most widely-known site in the area:

View Larger Map

The water was colder than Amy and I usually dive in. We were in full wetsuits. This helped marginally. The site itself is a set of rocks jutting out of the water about a 10 minute boat ride out from shore. Grey Nurse Sharks tend to congregate around the rocks and surrounding terrain, we had been told that around 30 were seen on a recent dive.

We plunged into the cold water and descended and were blown away. There were at least 50 sharks swimming around down there, on top of countless other fish. At one point we were holding onto a ledge, looking over the edge at a small flat area as these sharks swam around and in front of us. Behind them, against a cliff were thousands and thousands of smaller fish, presumably waiting to be eaten. It felt like we were young kids, lying at the edge of a game that older kids were playing, incapable of joining in but the rules of which were very clear.
After we dropped off that ledge to the bottom of the site, where we lied prone and looked up at a ceiling of sharks swimming between us and the surface. We crept along under the sharks like a prisoner trying to sneak across a darkened yard.

Eventually, we reached a sheer wall and we waited for a break in the sharks to swim up it, using handholds in the wall and our fins to surface.

Never in my life have I felt more like a ninja.

This was followed by a lunch interlude and then a second dive, which was also abundantly populated with sharks. On both of these dives we saw a huge diversity of wildlife. Everything from stingrays to baitfish, to many larger fish such as cobia, tuna, wobbegong sharks, and all sorts of coral and underwater flora. The only thing really missing were the eponymous seals which we were told were eradicated by local fisherman years ago.

This great day of diving was followed up by a friendly game of beach rugby, which Amy and my team won, 2 tries to 1. Go America.
Beach rugby field

We wrapped up the first day with dinner out in lovely Forster and a game of Asshole (sorry mom, that is what its called) or Presidents and Assholes, as it is apparently known internationally.

Day 2:

Day 2 was a bit more of a trial as we woke up to cooler temperatures and had to look forward to putting on a cold, wet wetsuit. For anyone who has not had the joy of doing this, it sounds bad but is actually worse in practice. I would compare its level of unpleasantness to ripping a band aide off but the band aide is over your whole body and there is no quick way of doing it. Also, you know the whole time you are doing it that you are soon going to be jumping into even colder water and staying in it for a while. In short, it completely sucks.

But, we were here to dive and after the amazingness of yesterday's dives, we steeled our grimaces and slipped in. The suckiness of the cool weather and cold wetsuits was counteracted by a good omen on the boat ride out. We had a pod of dolphins riding our wake. Everyone's mood drastically improved.

The dive sites on the 2nd day were closer to Forster and after an aborted attempt to dive a mid-ocean site called, "Pinnacle", we were diving close to shore. These sites were also great with visibility often being reduced to only a few feet due to being obscured by shoals of fish. There were also sharks around, although not as many as Seal Rocks. We saw several instances of schools of fish clumping around sharks. One would assume they were doing it for protection or perhaps they were hoping to get some scraps that would get away from the shark the next time it had a meal.
There is a shark in this cloud of fish in front of Amy. She is looking directly at it.

The highlight of the 2nd day's diving was a point in one of the dives where we were lying in a kelp bed on the edge of a bowl-shaped depression about 40 feet across. This was affectionately called, "The Shark Bowl" by our guides. Unlike Seal Rocks, this was appropriately named. There were around 15 sharks swimming around in it. It felt like we were looking through the window of a secret club. We laid in the kelp, anchoring ourselves on the tough plants for a while, watching them mill around, presumably plotting which of us they were going to eat. Apparently our ninja skills from the day before paid off as we made it out whole.
Chillin in the Shark Bowl

Day 3:

Day 3's dives were once again around Forster and our guides persevered to take us our to the Pinnacle dive site again, hoping that current would be more cooperative. We lucked out and suited up.

This was a really interesting dive site as it is the top of a sea mount, the top of which is in about 100 feet of water. I actually got really excited as I got ready to descend and started screaming the same profanity laced exclamations into my regulator as when I was about to jump out of the plane skydiving. I was pretty happy about this mental comparison. We descended along the anchor line into the darkness. It was really cool.
Looking down the anchor line into the depths

When we got to the bottom, it was a weird feeling. There is an area of near-bare rock surrounded by nothing but water, with fish swimming around. I realized later that it looked exactly like....the top of a mountain. Only, it was underwater. This may sound weird, but if you have ever climbed a mountain, when you get to the top, it is rounded off and there is nothing else around, you can see for miles, maybe to where you parked your car or started the hike but you are surrounded by the land around you. This was strange because it looked exactly like other mountaintops I have been to but there were fish floating around and beyond them was murky darkness rather than a horizon.

We swam around the peak for a bit, spotting a couple wobbegongs and a gigantic stingray. There were lots of large fish around that would usually be great for spearing but it is illegal to spear with scuba gear. We saw schools of kingfish, jewfish, and cobia. Pictures were tough down here because you lose a lot of light due to the depth.

We ascended up the anchor line and during the safety stop, the guide sat on a barrel that was floating there and fed fish out of a bag that he had brought along. There is video of this in the earlier post.

Overall, this was a great trip, both because of the fun the people that we went with and the quality of the diving. The only downside was the cold water but Amy has remedied this by vowing that the next place we go will be warm. Totally with you on that, as long as there are sharks.

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