What happens when you run out of air while Scuba diving? This does.

Scuba diving is classed as an extreme sport. I find this strange, but then I'm more than happy to pootle along at 10 metres looking at pretty fish. The idea of doing tech dives to great depths really doesn't appeal to me whatsoever and I basically saw diving as a pretty risk free enterprise, in much the same way that skydiving is. Things like diving or skydiving aren't statistically dangerous at all, and most accidents and injuries happen because of someone making a mistake or behaving recklessly. I don't behave recklessly underwater and I make sure to stick to my limits. Unlike some people (my idiot boyfriend) I'm not going to dive alone and get wedged in a cave at 38 metres trying to catch a crayfish.


I went out for a two day live aboard trip for my birthday a couple of weeks ago on a  boat called Rum Runner. We did four dives on the first day and, other than terrible visibility, they all went fine. Quite strangely, other than the skipper who was an instructor I was the most experienced diver by quite a long way (this includes the three strong crew of brand new DMTs). Not that I'm a diving pro at all, but I whilst I may not have a list of qualifications I'm very comfortable under the water and, by that point, had done 64 dives.

Looking incredibly stressed out diving last year

After a very hot nights sleep we got woken up, wished Happy Birthday (me) and told to prepare for our morning dive. The equipment on the boat isn't top notch (it's a cheap trip so you can't really complain) and while I'd borrowed Mikey's gear I was using tanks and weights provided by the boat. My borrowed tank was so difficult to turn on and off that I actually got a blister on the palm of my hand; that's not just me being a wuss, even the strapping Swedish blokes had trouble with it! So feeling rather tired I went to turn on my tank and found that I couldn't. I tried again...it wouldn't budge. Checking my gauge I felt rather foolish: my tank was full of air, I'd been trying to turn on an already open tank, duh!

Once I was in my gear my buddy and I completed our 'buddy check' using my favourite acronym of 'Bruce Willis Ruins All Films' so we remembered each important item on the list. Everything looked A-OK and was working like it should - it was time to dive!

Note for non-divers: I use very little air while diving so don't often check how much I have left for the first 20 or so minutes. When diving you'll usually start with 220 bar and if I'm doing a fairly shallow dive I'll surface with about 100 even after 50 minutes underwater. It helps that I'm a girl and am very relaxed while diving.

The dive started well. We descended to about 8 metres and then swam up and over a coral bommie before descending down a wall on the other side. There was some very pretty coral and a few nice fish to have a gander at. Fifteen minutes in and the dive was going brilliantly, until...

"...oh, that breath felt a little weird." Perhaps it was my regulator, Mikey's are super duper posh scuba pro ones that I'm not used to and you can adjust the air flow. Hmm, nope. Not that. I looked at my gauge, "Shit! 60 bar left, how the hell did tha...," my brain seemed to stop and my vision turned black and white as I struggled to take another breath. The needle had shot down to 0. There was no air in my tank. I was underwater and I had no way to breathe.

At least the view would be nice while I drowned, eh?

Excuse my French, but shitbollocksfuckityfuckcockingshit.

Immediately I looked for my buddy, the lovely Kristin, who thankfully was only a few metres away. A few metres that, at the time, seemed the length of an Olympic pool. I looked at her, eyes bulging (her flattering description, not mine) and did the dreaded out of air signal - a slash across my neck. We swam towards each other and the instant she was within arms reach I grabbed the regulator out of her mouth and took two huge breaths. The two best breaths of my life. Then, sensibly, popped it back in to her mouth and helped myself to her octo.

Afterwards she said to me, "you ripped my reg right out of my mouth!" to which my response was, "of course I bloody did!"

I checked my gauge. Back to 190 bar. Tried to suck some air from my reg. Saw it shoot down to 0. What. The. Hell? My main concern was that I'd set up Mikey's gear incorrectly and had somehow managed to break it. That stuff is expensive and I'd already managed to break his camera the day before (it was one of those trips. I also got bleach on my favourite top. Totally comparable incidents).

I signaled to Kristin that I was OK and that we should surface, so we slowly started to ascend. As we swam up I started to shake from adrenaline, and wasn't unhappy as I felt wind hit my scalp. Well, I thought, that could have been a lot worse.

"What the fuck happened?" "I don't know."

We swam back to the boat, me apologising every two sentences for Kristin having to end a dive early (we buddied together because on her previous dives she had to surface early due to her buddies using their air too fast. Oh, the irony!). I said I'd get out, grab a new set of gear and hop back in so we could continue diving. I wasn't going to let a little thing like not having air underwater stop me!

Of course I kept diving! I had to find Nemo.

Well, it turned out new gear wouldn't be necessary. Everything was fine, apart from the fact that my tank...erm...wasn't actually turned on... It must have been opened slightly for pressure testing or something, no one is sure. Regardless, it was open enough to give me air until the pressure at depth got too much. So I got my tank turned on then we continued diving and saw a moray eel and a bump head parrot fish. Awesome.

I know this seems like a horror story however it just goes to show that diving isn't the dangerous thing, human error is. I absolutely should have been more thorough in checking my equipment. But it also goes to show why we should do what we're taught on our courses. If Kristin and I hadn't been sensible and kept close to one another (like so, so many dive buddies don't) things might have been very different. If I'd panicked and fled for the surface I might have hurt myself. I stayed calm and did everything we've been taught to do and here I am, telling the story.

Diving is one of my passions. I love it. One day I want it to be my job. I can think of nothing I'd rather do. So has this put me off? Not a bit. My overwhelming reaction when I had to surface was, "boo, I've missed out on a dive" not "That was awful lets never do this again". Having said that I'm glad I was the one who had that tank and not one of the really novice divers. I kept my cool but if I'd only done ten or so dives I imagine my reaction would have been rather different.

The incident taught me some valuable lessons (mostly that I'm a weak armed idiot who can't be left alone) and, really, the worst has pretty much happened now. I may as well keep going. Although I'm certainly going to exercise reasonable caution in the future, you simply can't let bad situations stop you from doing things. If you have a bump while you're driving you don't vow to never set foot in a vehicle again, that would just be silly.

Although as the modern day philosopher Karl Pilkington says: "Everyone expects the worst. Otherwise why would you wear seat-belts?"

Stay safe, kids. And keep diving!

Coral Spawning

Bom chicka wow-woooow.

Coral might look all sturdy and boring, but a few nights a year about 75% of it gets together and has a big, sexy party. You see, rather than being all proper and taking the coral next door out for dinner first like any decent marine invertebrate would, the coral that reproduce sexually have a few nights a year when they just throw out all their eggs and sperm in one big reproductive party.

And it makes for some pretty awesome diving.

No one knows for sure when the exact date will be, but it's always a few days after the last full moon in November. (Yes, I'm very behind on my blogging). All the corals get together when the sun goes down and mix all their bits to make more little coral babies (or planula, if we must be scientific) which will then settle down somewhere for the next hundred years or so and repeat the process.

I apologise now to all my friends reading this that have studied marine biology, I'm not even going to pretend that I didn't get all of my 'information' off wikipedia.

This was to be my first ever night dive, but I wasn't scared as I had the lovely Libby with me. She's basically like a diving yoda and the lady who certified me for my advanced open water! Not content with being a pro diver, she is also very talented with a camera so all credit for pictures on this post go to her. Thanks Lib!

Rather than scamper off away far away from the boat we stayed within about a 20m radius and circled around. Thankfully it didn't take us too long to spot some coral that was egging.

Rather than feeling scared and nervous in the dark water (although you are given a torch!) I found it to be one of the most relaxing dives I've done. Your world narrows down to whatever your spotlight hits. No distractions, no stress.

We took our time, stopping more than once to watch different corals releasing their eggs upwards.

Because the eggs are yummy fish food, you tend to find the reef has more hungry customers around than usual. And of course at night things behave very differently and you see the nocturnal critters running around.

Even the coral looks different, almost fluffy, as it sticks out it's tiny tentacles to catch passing food (see below piccie). Hey, coral needs to eat too! It's a reminder that coral is a living organism, not something that can be touched, prodded or stood on. It makes me cringe (and then rage) when I see people abusing coral. I once hit a Korean man underwater because he was trying to snap off part of a beautiful fan coral.

The water was warm, fish life plentiful and we kept coming across spawning coral.

It was an amazing dive, probably one of my all time favourites!

At one point we found a very strange creature. It was a translucent thin tube that spiraled around and around towards our lights. I think Libby may have got a video but if anyone has any ideas about what it might be from my dazzling description then let me know!

The below creature caught things with it's arms then curled them down towards it's 'mouth'.

Look how happy I am to night dive! I've spoken to a lot of non or novice divers who say that they would be too scared to jump in to blackness, but everyone should try it at least once. You can snorkel the spawning too, but you really need to be able to get close to coral to fully appreciate the phenomenon.

Can you guess what this fish is called....? It's a horse with a sword on it's head fish! (Props if you got that reference).

One of the things I was dying to see was a parrot fish asleep.. Now I know what you're thinking. ("A sleeping fish? Really?") but when parrot fish sleep they do something pretty awesome. 

Certain types can create a little mucus cocoon when they fall to sleep at night. They secrete the mucus from their mouths, allowing them a little safe bubble to sleep in. Not only does this prevent predators from picking up their scent, it also acts as a warning system if the bubble is disturbed.

And we spotted one!!! Isn't nature amazing?

After just under an hour my air was getting low so I had to surface and leave Libby to continue her explorations. After a hot dinner (which, given that the water was nearly 30 degrees, I didn't really need) it was time for dive number two.

Don't look at my shiny, shiny forehead. Look at my big smile!

On dive number two we saw less spawning but more critters. 

This big guy was having a snooze until we disturbed him...

And we got to see some 'smoking'. This is the 'boy' part of the reproductive process. Ahem.

Along with eager divers we also had a film crew from ABC on board to film the event. Their equipment was enormous and lit up the entire area whenever they swam past. It made my tiny torch feel very inadequate.

Sadly after another wonderful hour it was time for us to surface back to the 'real world' once more. I can't recommend not only night diving, but also seeing the coral spawning enough. It was an amazing thing to witness, and it's a strange feeling to know that not that many people around the world will ever see it.

Thanks to the crew on T6 and to my dive buddy Libby for not only making me feel at ease for the whole evening, but also for taking and letting me steal her fantastic pictures.

I'm counting down to the Coral Spawning for 2014!

New Zealand: Coromandel

Day One

After sleeping the sleep of the dead and being woken up very our very cute alarm clock jumping on our tummies (thanks Oscar!) we got ready to face the open road again.

Not a bad road, either.

We had views of Mt Te Ahora (literally meaning 'the love') for the whole drive. Certainly beats the M6...

Our destination was Mikey's old stomping ground - The Coromondel peninsular - but just had to stop off in Paeroa the birth place of my new favourite drink L&P.

Despite not being made here anymore (your friendly neighbourhood coca cola company now owns the production) they have commemorated the history of this place with a giant bottle. Yay!

Oh, and a bin shaped like a lemon.

Deciding that Paeroa didn't quite look like a place we wanted to spend hours on end we carried on with our drive.

Our journey took us up the Thames coast and it wasn't hard to see why Top Gear chose this road for Jeremy Clarkson to drive on when they filmed over here. We'd watched the episode on our flight over in preparation, and were very excited to spot locations. Check out highway 25 on google maps, it's quite incredible.

It was pretty much on the beach for the entire way, which can apparently prove quite tricky during storms! We were able to see right across the Firth of Thames and laugh at the suckers being drenched on the other side.

The camera got some serious use, with ridiculously amazing views on every corner.

Looking out over the Firth of Thames

The Coromandel is famous for it's sea food and you can spot lots of mussell farms in the ocean. We snuck in to a loading yard in the Te Kouma harbour, and saw a staggering amount being lifted off boats and in to trucks. Yum!

This is the delightfully named Sugarloaf Wharf  and each of those bags holds over a tonne of mussells.

Apparently the weather was pretty much perfect on our visit, and I was genuinely surprised at how blue the ocean was. Australia, it seems, doesn't own the monopoly on beautiful antipodean beaches. 

Our destination for the night was Coromandel Town itself, and we'd timed it perfectly to miss the public holiday crowds. It's such a teeny weeny place that I can't imagine it would be able to hold that many people anyway...

Ever since I've met Mikey he'd talked about an amazing smoked seafood shop, The Coromandel Smoking Co. He used to drive over the hill from Whitianga and eat so much he'd get a tummy ache. Well, that was lunch sorted!

Yep, I definitely understood why I'd heard so much about it. This was seriously good seafood. It's tempting to book another holiday simply so I can eat more of it. Despite how much I love Mikey there was no way I was letting him eat the last scallop.

We enjoyed our lunch on the balcony of The Anchor Lodge, our perfectly quaint hostel/hotel. It was just out of town and was just the cutest little place. It even had a heated pool and hot tub...bliss.

But before we relaxed it was time to explore the area.

And what an area!

This is the incredible Wyuna Bay. It does actually have mud flats, but we timed it right and arrived for high tide. Rather than ugly mud we were greeted with crystal water and blue skies. 

Seriously, look how clear the water is.

Mikey had bought me a lovely greenstone necklace (a very traditional Kiwi gift), but I hadn't been allowed to wear it until it had been dipped in the ocean. You are supposed to get jewellery like it blessed by a Maori elder, but unfortunately we didn't have one to hand so a quick dip in the water sufficed.

I was very happy to be allowed to wear my necklace!

The Coromandel is very famous for it's scallops and even hosts a festival for the season each year. I'm told it's not uncommon to come back up after a scuba dive with a few snacks in your BCD pocket... I found this perfect shell specimen and it's now got pride of place on our window sill.

If Wyuna wasn't already good enough, we even found a swing. How could I resist? (Both the swinging and the posing...)

Eager to feast our eyes on more gorgeous scenery, we scampered up to a look out point and absorbed the view.

Looking west over Motukopake and Waimate islands

East to Ngohitanu Bay

We drove around like pensioners on a Sunday, mostly retracing Jeremy Clarkson's steps, and then decided it was time for more Speights.

Not only did I buy Mikey Speights, I also got him some 'Sniks' (skins backwards!) port scratchings. Best girfriend ever? I think so.

We, naturally, had to have a dip in the hot tub.

Although we did regret not bringing our beers with us!

After tarting ourselves up a bit (read: having a quick shower and drinking some Speights) we were off to the Pepper Tree restaurant for some proper fancy pants food. Because by this point it was easier to just accept our alcoholism we ordered a bloody mary oyster shot each as our starter.

Now, I love Bloody Mary's. I love oysters. So it was no surprise that when someone combined the two I'd be rather keen.

Thankfully, as one oyster isn't that filling, our main turned up soon after. I think Mikey's face adequately conveys our emotions when it arrived. Need I say more? Didn't think so.

It's not hard to see why the area is so famed for it's seafood! The scallops were honestly one of the nicest things I've ever eaten. Honestly, I could just come here and eat every day until I exploded Mr Creosote style.

Thankfully Mikey and I share the same opinion on dessert (always order the cheese)...

...as we do on eating (leave no cheese behind).

Oh, and yes, that is another oyster shot...oops!

After our epic feast we were feeling rather sleepy; thankfully the temperature outside had dropped by about 13 degrees while we'd been eating so the fear of freezing to death woke us up. 

Our little room was so cosy and warm that it didn't take long for us to slip in to a deep slumber, dreaming of scallops and mussells dancing around our plate.

Day Two

Usually when my alarm goes off at 6.30am I'd be cursing every God I could think of, but the thought of more exploring had me hopping out of bed.

We were off to the eastern side of the pensinsular and Mikey had promised to take us to places a little off the beaten track. The views we got certainly didn't disappoint!

Top of the Whangapoua look out

Then it was time to get off the main road for a bit...and on to some seriously patchy unsealed roads. I felt very sorry for poor Betty the car! The beaches were all gorgeous and totally unspoilt. Despite the weather being perfect our early start meant that we had everywhere to ourselves, or would have done if we hadn't had a friendly German backpacker from the hostel invite himself along!

Opito Bay

At least we had someone to take pictures of us posing!

Matapaua Bay

This is Otama Bay and I'm 'putting my hands up' because it's one of the locations for Macklemore's video for the single Can't Hold Us. And I'm cool.

Apparently this rock really varies in height depending on how much sand has been washed on to the beach.

I think Otama Bay was my favourite! Just look at that water!

It's also the beach that Mikey officially passed his instructor course on...so of course he had to wear his Tusa t-shirt.

I could have happily spent my whole day here, but we had an appointment to make...

For a couple of hours either side of low tide people flock to Hot Water Beach to dig themselves home made hot tubs!

A hot spring emerges from under the sand and when the tide goes out you can dig your own little hole and watch as it fills up with hot mineral water.

In the picture below you can see it literally bubbling up from under the ground. The name 'hot water' is slightly misleading...the water is actually boiling and you need to put colder sea water in your little spa pool or else risk being burnt!

There was more than one occassion when we'd be digging and someone would suddenly squeal and run out in to the ocean doing a little ow-my-feet-hurt dance to cool them down.

At first our digging attempts weren't too successful and we started to get a little worried that we'd got too distracted by beautifl deserted beaches and arrived too late.

Thankfully a lovely couple let us share their pool! All the boys agreed that half the fun was DIGGING and so the girls left them to fortify the walls against the incoming tide while we soaked ourselves.

We discovered that there was a spot (just to our left!) where the hot water was coming from which made it impossible to sit by for too long.

However after a while we mastered the skill of digging around where the hot water came from to increase or decrease flow and moderate the temperature.

Eventually the waves overtook our (very impressive and well built) sand fortifications and we called it a day. I loved hot water beach! Unsurprising really given how much I love baths and beaches...what a perfect combination. Sure, it's overrun with toursits, but that's only because it's great! One day I'd like to come down in the middle of the night in the middle of winter and have the place all to myself...

After trying to get as much sand out of our swimmers as possible (quite difficult) we dropped our back packer tag-along off to hitch hike back and carried on towards the famous Cathedral Cove.

The beach is in the Te Whanganui-A-Hei marine reserve and the car park for the walk down offered some gorgeous views of the area.

Sadly, it also showed me how far down the beach was. I hadn't been anticipating any stair climbing on my holiday, however I'll do pretty much anything to bag a nice snap.

I was very excited to spot a silver fern on the way down! 

After finding about ten more silver ferns we made it to the famous cove itself! Once again another location in the 'Can't Hold Us' video... check out 1.33 for inside the 'cathedral', 3.27 for Opito bay (and the rock!) and 3.38 for the actual beach bit of Cathedral Cove.

Yes, I find stuff like this exciting.


Look at me putting my hands up/holding the ceiling up.

The beach is beautiful. So, so beautiful. 

The water is so crystal, the rocks are so white and the sky was SO blue!

I can, however, only imagine how busy it gets here during the summer. And how hot it would be to walk back up the million stairs to the top.

Although it was only after our excruciating walk to the top that Mikey let slip that you can actually get a water taxi to the cove. That was nearly the end of our relationship (just kidding, I was happy to work off a few scallops. Kinda).

On the plus side, you can go to a toilet with the world's best view.

Yup, that's a lovely beach and Mikey waiting for me to come out.

There was even a mini waterfall.

Sadly we had to begin our return journey. Mikey stopped to take a picture of this tree root. I pretended he needed to get the perfect shot so that I could have a rest and stop wheezing like a heavy smoker running a marathon.

I made it to the top and rather quickly smashed out a big bottle of L&P. For sustenance.

Our drive home took us past a famous Kauri Pine. According to Mikey this is a baby one! I was very happy to hug a tree that wasn't crawling with spiders.

Needing some proper food for the drive home we jumped in to a 'Fush and Chups' shop. Everywhere in New Zealand you can buy beautiful jewellery made from Paua shell. It's a gorgeous shimmery thing and is used in necklaces, earrings...I even bought a tiny boat ornament with sails made from the shell! You can also eat the flesh inside so imagine my excitement when I saw that the Fish shop sold paua fritters! 

Surely something that pretty must taste like unicorn steak? I demanded one and was terribly excited to try it...

...and horribly disappointed when I realised it looked like this. Deep fried troll snot. The taste wasn't too great either. The only way I can describe it is that it tasted like that horrible stale seaside smell you get around marinas.

Mikey told me that I shouldn't judge paua on this as it had almost certainly been frozen and horribly processed (I guess don't judge chicken on a McNugget?) but it took so much L&P to wash away the taste that I can say I'm excited about the next time I sit down to chow on one of these!

After munching our (tasty) battered fish it seemed prudent to work some of it off. By playing on the playground. Naturally.

Sadly we soon had to head back to Cambridge. After a lovely family evening and a very early start the next day we found ourselves back on a plane to Cairns... A week wasn't nearly enough time to explore even a teeny tiny part of New Zealand, I can actually see why people rate it above Australia as a travel destination! Don't worry, we'll be back. Even if our main incentive for coming is to eat ourselves into a sea-food-coma.