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The harbour is ideal for sheltered, low stress dives and is good for training or night dives where there are no swells or significant currents to be concerned with. The only exception is the harbour entrance channel which has a steady, predictable current flowing in or out, which is easily adjusted to. Because of the harbour's sheltered nature any silts carried into it are readily precipitated out, so there tends to be a lot of fine sediment on the bottom or collected on weeds.
A major silt source is the Hutt River, and there are smaller flows from the Korokoro Stream, and Ngaio Stream. There are stormwater outlets around the harbour edge and some pollution is noticeable near the Inter-Island Ferry Terminal and Overseas Shipping Terminal.
Depth: Rapid drop-off, shelving at 18m (60 ft) in Evans Bay.
Visibility: 1-5m, usually affected by harbour silt.
Point Jerningham is on the west side of Evans Bay and it protrudes into the harbour. Driving from Oriental Bay, it is at the sharp right-hand corner where you start back towards the airport. There is a white triangular marker on a post on the rocks. Parking is on the cross-hatched white lines nearest the sea wall.
This is a dive for fossickers, rather than for marine life. Villains departing the scene of the crime seems to find this a good spot to get rid of the evidence. Also, the yacht club, who have their race starting box here, have contributed many champagne bottles to the bottom collection. On this dive we found an empty safe deposit box, car number plates, a TV set, boots, shoes, and many bottles.
Clamber under the fence at the triangle marker and across the rocks at the point. Enter the bay to the east. There are no current flows and there is safe diving.
The visibility can be good, but the site is usually dived when the south coast is out of action, so visibility here will be down at such times. The point is exposed to both northerly and southerly winds and there is a silty bottom. Try for good buoyancy control to keep the vis' up.
Fish species were mainly schools of juvenile spottys, though a mini-stingray (100 mm) was seen.
Depth: Rapid drop-off, shelving at 15m (50 ft) in Evans Bay.
Visibility: 1-5m, usually affected by harbour silt.
Greta Point is halfway down the western side of Evans Bay and protrudes slightly into it. Driving from Oriental Bay, continue around past Point Jerningham and down the side of Evans Bay towards the airport. Stop on the side of the road when buildings first appear between the bay and the road. The buildings belong to NIWA, the National Institute of Water and Atmospherics and house their marine research and regulatory functions. Park on the road beside where the walkway diverts onto the harbour side of the buildings.
From the northern end of the walkway to the southern end of the NIWA property, a sea wall has been constructed of large boulders. The wall tends to head steeply down, and is full of large nooks and cranny's. The wall is used a lot by fisherman, and there are plenty of lost lines, lures and hooks. I normally try and remove some of these on each dive.
At the northern end beside the car park are stone steps leading down to a sheltered bay. Use the bay as your entry and exit point. There are no current flows and there is safe diving.
Visibility can be good but there is a lot of silt on the harbour bottom, so again, good buoyancy control will help maintain the visibility level. The entry bay is exposed to northerly winds.
On a night dive along the wall we found many sleeping triggerfish, spottys and large banded wrasse. The active animals were shield shells showing long black horns, and sea cucumber which were weaving and winding all around the place. I mentioned the NIWA Marine Regulatory folk. They need somewhere to return those undersized cray's which they have confiscated, so keep your eyes open. As with all filter feeder's in the harbour, any that you find are not recommended for eating.
Depth: 2-6m under wharf, to 19m (63 ft) in the bay.
Visibility: Usually clear.
Burnham Wharf is used by vessels discharging aviation fuel to tanks inside the Miramar cutting. It is adjacent to, but north of Miramar Wharf. From the roundabout at the north end of Wellington Airport runway, turn north in the Miramar direction. Follow the road sharp right towards the cutting, but immediately turn left onto the harbour road. Burnham Wharf is signposted about 100 meters on the left. There is a large parking area beside the wharf.
The wharf is of concrete construction and is supported on the seaward side by crossed concrete pillars, and on the landward side by a sheer concrete face with vertical cracks, small channels, and windows. Many small sea creatures make their home in these sheltered areas. Because of its protected location within Evans Bay it is well suited for diving when other locations have reduced visibility. It makes a great night dive. Take a torch during day dives anyway, as the light level is fairly low.
Entry and exit points are immediately in front of the car park down a rocky sea wall. There are no current flows and there is safe diving, however check for folk fishing off either wharf and avoid their lines. Swim from in front of the car park northwards under the wharf. There is a tangle of twisted metal to be aware of at the far northern end, in relatively shallow water.
The visibility is normally good. Because there is no current flow in the area, silt settles as fine sediment and is easy to kick up. Consequently, better diving will be had by staying off the bottom and avoiding stirring things up.
Fish species seen include juvenile crayfish, leatherjackets with babies, sea horses, yellow-eyed mullet, schools of juvenile spottys, flounder, big crabs, mussels, kina, sea stars.
Depth: 3-7 m (8-25 ft) in bay
Visibility: Good in good weather, bad in bad. Helpful?
This site is known by the series of Pohutukawa trees lining the edge of the road, though it is sometimes known as Whale Bay by those trying to raise its profile with novice divers. Driving from Wellington Airport, travel along the peninsula road to the bay immediately before Shelly Bay. There is parking for about ten cars under the trees.
The Pohutukawas has nothing much to offer experienced divers. Its value is as a sheltered, flat bottomed dive site where training can be carried out in comfort. Because the bottom tends to be silty, navigation exercises can become a little chaotic as divers stir things up and the visibility drops off.
Tracks lead down from the car park to a gravelly beach which varies in width from about 1 to 5 metres depending on the state of the tide. There are a few small rocks near the shore, but generally the bottom is flat and sandy giving a wide choice of entry and exit points. There can be a slight tidal current flow at times.
The visibility is usually OK, better at the start of a training dive than at the end of it. The bay is exposed to northerly winds but is sheltered from the south. Visibility suffers after heavy rain because of silting caused by the outflow of stormwater drains into Evans Bay. This silt (and any carried into the harbour by the Hutt River) can take a few tide changes before the water clears.
Although I have suggested it is better as a training bay than somewhere to go for super diving, the Pohutukawas can present a few gems. Families of spottys live in a weed bank along one end of the beach and while skindiving I have come across a tubby little seahorse. My greatest thrill here was to see a family of five eagle rays snoozing in about 3 metres of water.
Depth: 3-7 m (8-25 ft) under wharf, 18 m (60 ft) in bay
Visibility: Can be marvellous, usually dived when poor.
Shelly Bay is on the east side of Evans Bay. Driving from Wellington Airport, travel along the peninsula road to a large parking area just before the Shelly Bay control gates.
Shelly Bay is the name of both the bay and the NZ Defence base which closed in 1995. It is a sheltered bay containing an 'F' shaped wharf which is so dilapidated that access to it has been closed for many years. The base may be driven through, but a no-stopping restriction applies. The lack of wharf access for fishermen has inadvertently created a marine sanctuary. Fish, shells and sea stars are abundant beneath the wharfs.
From the parking area, enter the water on the side facing the base. There is a rocky clamber down to the water, but there are no current flows and the dive across the bay to the wharfs is a good navigation exercise. i.e. Arrive somewhere different every time.
The visibility can be excellent, but is usually poor because this bay is commonly dived when weather conditions have made other areas undivable. When the visibility is good here, folk are normally diving somewhere else. The bay is exposed to northerly winds but is sheltered from the south.
Fish species include schools of juvenile spottys, leatherjackets, flounder, banded wrasse and stargazers. There are many reef star, horse mussels and sponges. There is also the usual collection of junk which tends to go over the side of a wharf. There are shellfish in the bay, however as with all harbour dwelling filter feeders, the pollution levels make them unsafe for eating.
Depth: 2-13 m (6-45 ft) in bay, sloping rapidly to 25m (84 ft) off the
Visibility: Usually good close to shore, but affected by harbour silt.
Kau Point is a rocky promontory between Kau Bay to the North and Mahanga Bay to the south. Driving from Wellington Airport, travel along the peninsula road, through Shelly Bay to Point Halswell on the tip of the Miramar Peninsula. Continue around beside the harbour entrance channel to the next rocky outcrop which is Kau Point. There is an off-road parking area amongst the rocks.
Kau Point offers good access for diving either to the north in Kau Bay or to the south in Mahanga Bay. Mahanga Bay has the NIWA research station, the TELECOM satellite earth station, and Fort Balance which dates from the 'Russian Scares' of the 1880's. Underwater are the remnants of a mussel farm and an artificial reef made of tyres.
There are good entry/exit points from the beaches on the north and south sides of the point, and there is an alternate access point on the tip of the promontory. There is a significant tidal stream north-south off the point, but little effect from it inside Mahanga Bay.
The visibility can be excellent close in to the weed banks along the shores, but further out will be reduced by any harbour silt carried on the tidal stream. Close to shore Mahanga Bay is sheltered from both southerly and northerly winds. Kau Bay is open to the north and sheltered from southerlies. The weed beds tend to be on clean sand, shell or pebble bottoms. Further out the bottom becomes silty. A dip in the sea floor directly off the point is marked as 25.5 metres (84 feet).
The tyre reef is between 8 and 10 m on a bearing of 120 degrees from the rocky promontory. Fish species include pipefish, seahorses, schools of juvenile spottys, banded wrasse, leatherjackets, flounder, juvenile crayfish, opalfish, mackerel, crabs and rock cod. There are sea stars, brittlestars, shield shells and kina.
Depth: 5-7m around rocks, to 20 m in channel.
Visibility: Usually reasonable, some harbour silt.
Point Gordon is the next rocky promontory south of Kau Point. Alternatively, drive north from Seatoun, and it is the point immediately past Scorching Bay. There is an off-road parking area on the landward side of the road for many cars, and there is space for about five cars on the point near a boatshed.
Point Gordon was used during World War II to secure one end of the harbour defence boom which protected vessels in the harbour from submarine attack. The remains of the boom, which was a wire rope net, is still in the area. Some concrete foundations among the rocks show where defence buildings were once located. Further out into the channel is evidence of shipwrecks. Items found include a bollard, twisted metal piping, flat sheets of plastic, and an anchor rope and chain. Some cups found on the boom were marked USSCo and were sturdy with thick walls, recalling the days when the Union Steamship Company had cruise ships berthing in Wellington.
Two small beaches provide good entry/exit points. The beach near the rocky point gives access towards Ward Island and the submarine boom. The beach facing the harbour entrance is more suitable when exploring the kelp forests and gravel beds to the south. There is a significant tidal stream north-south off the point, but little effect from it closer in to the rocks.
The visibility can be good close in to the weed banks along the shores, but further out will be reduced by any harbour silt carried on the tidal stream. The beaches are relatively protected from swells from the north, however the southerly beach is exposed to swells from the south.
When searching for the submarine boom, be aware that some of the deeper parts of the harbour are close to shore. The harbour map show the 20 metre (66 feet) depth contour just off the point. I have found fragments of the boom directly off the point at 17m and deeper. After following a few scattered bits we came across an old rope which we followed to a snagged anchor. In amongst the silt the anchor had caught on bits of metal from the boom. We found large metal circles, each about 300 mm across, interlinked like chain mail. As expected after 50+ years in the water, the metal now crumbles to the touch. I had also heard that fishermen choose this area because of an increase in fish numbers over the boom, hence its tendency to collect anchors. If you find interesting bits of boom, please e-mail me and share your knowledge. Closer to shore are kelp forests and shelfs of gravel and shells. Fish species include schools of juvenile spottys, banded wrasse, crabs, sea stars, brittlestars, shield shells and kina. A resident stingray has been seen around this area.
Depth: Gently sloping to 13m in bay.
Visibility: Usually good.
Scorching Bay is a wide sandy beach, popular with bathers in summer. It is at the last group of houses on the east side of the peninsular when you travel north from Seatoun. There are parking spaces, changing rooms, and a large grassy lawn. Very pleasant.
Scorching Bay is a clean, open bay, ideal for training sessions or night dives. It is bounded by rocks on both sides with Point Gordon being on the north edge of the bay.
The bay is one marvellous entry/exit point. It is relatively sheltered from the tidal stream, though this will be noticeable further out.
The visibility is good closer in, but further out will be reduced by any harbour silt carried on the tidal stream. Close to shore Scorching Bay is sheltered from northerlies, but is exposed to the south. It has a clean sandy bottom.
On a night dive, fish species included flounder, opalfish, sleeping spottys, leatherjackets, and many large mating paddle crabs hiding in the sand at the beach edge. Some very large wandering sea anemone open and feeding.
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