Friday, August 27, 2010


During this developmental period of scuba exploration we set out to explore
other offshore islands too, in the hope that we might find some area that
surpassed our beloved Poor Knights: White Island, Mayor, the Mercuries,
Aldermen, Mokohinaus and Cavallis: the east coast of New Zealand's North
Island has a necklace of undersea gems, mostly remnants of volcanic activity.
The last in the chain, White Island is still a very active volcano - as Kelly and
I were to learn in I967 when it erupted while we were taking photos of its
crater lake.* *
Vol 8 No 4 'White Blew'.]
We wanted to explore them all.

Most remote are the Three Kings group,forty miles off New Zealand's 
northernmost tip: Great King, Middle King and West King, along with numerous
 islets, rocks and reefs. They lie on a vast submarine mound that rises steeply
 from an ocean depth of I3,000 feet to within 200 feet of the surface. Over this
 plateau the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet in a seething rebellion: 
there is a three-hour difference in tidal movements between the east and west
coasts of New Zealand.

In this confusion of forces the tides become unpredictable. Currents change
at random, sweeping the flanks of the steep-faced island chain with roaring
tide rips, whirlpools and huge surges. The islands themselves are rugged and
inhospitable. There are no beaches. Near vertical cliffs with enormous boulders
heaped at the base, form the coastline. Anchorages are poor.
But these were virgin waters when, in I963 Kelly Tarlton and Chris Busck
had the chance to join a scientific expedition there. They had heard there were
huge schools of groper and giant kingfish, because of the tidal convergence.
One fisherman had brought back four tons of kingfish averaging sixty pounds
in weight. At that time Kelly and Chris had no serious thoughts of the
treasure. They knew the ship was there, somewhere around the
West King, but at about 200 feet, they thought. Kelly had actually written
to Lloyds of London about it but when they saw the area concerned any search
seemed futile. They had not even bothered to take along a single scuba tank.
Chris Busck gave me an account of that expedition; 'Kelly and I went purely for 
spearfishing and photography, while the rest of the party wanted to study the 
regrowth of plants and animal life since the extermination of the goats
by cullers in I946.

'Arrived at the Great King we had to throw all our gear, piece by piece,
from the dinghy to a helper on a rock and then lug it up a 300-foot cliff to
the campsite. It just about killed us.

'The camp site was in a shady nook near running water in a saddle about
400 feet above sea level. Bellbirds and parakeets flew around us all day and
large brown lizards scuttled everywhere, eating from our hands and pinching
any uncovered food. Hundreds of blowflies which normally live on corpses
in the large seagull colonies decided to try us instead. They swarmed all over
us and made mealtimes quite a trial. Most of the party of eight suffered from
a twenty- four-hour dysentery which we blamed on the flies. The silence of
the night was broken by large crashings in the undergrowth and the appropriate
noises as bug collectors lost their dinner each night!
'Each day the nature study boys clambered about the island, pouncing on
unsuspecting beetles and other insects and promptly bottling them. Skin diving
commenced when Kelly and I clambered down the cliff and changed into our
wet suits ready to dive in waters as yet untouched by man. We dived into
cold water with visibility of eighty feet and more. Hundreds of jellyfish with
eight-foot stinging tentacles floated in the sea and we had to dodge these as
we swam. A forty-pound kingfish swam up to a yard from Kelly's face, when
he was looking the other way. He was so startled he almost forgot to pull
the trigger. We decided to swim back to our base rock in case of sharks and
as we neared it I speared another forty-pound kingfish.
'Despite the northern latitude the water was much colder than at the
mainland and our feet were getting numb but we went for a short swim again
before dusk. Schools of large trevally were everywhere. There were no crays
or snapper in snorkel depth. Cutting the steaks from the kingies we wearily
climbed the cliff again and started to prepare a dinner of bullybeef and
potatoes. We spent the next three days exploring the main bay below the camp.
As we had no dinghy we did not venture out into the currents. From the cliff
tops the current patterns could be seen for miles out to sea and we had no
intention of swimming to South America!

'On the last day, however, the boat returned to take us to the Middle King
where two of the scientists wanted to look for snails. While they went ashore
Kelly and I asked Peter Sheehan, the skipper, if he would watch us while we
swam in the rip swirling around the island. He agreed so we donned our gear
and plunged in. With no jellyfish the water was sky blue and it was as clear
as any we had seen. No sooner had we broken the surface, than several small
kingies of thirty or forty pounds circled us. We ignored them, deciding to
wait for a monster, or get nothing at all, so we swam furiously to beat the
current to the shelter of the rocks.

'Maomao by the hundred and trevally swarmed round us with kingies
manoeuvring amongst them as we swam along the cliff base where the current
was least. As we rounded a small point some bigger kingfish of fifty pounds
or so came to meet us and Kelly raised his gun to fire at the biggest. I tried
to signal to wait a while, but he took no chances and let fly. The spear hit the
 gill plate at an angle and skidded off. I then returned my attention to the 
school and saw circling up from the deep two large hapuku (groper to
Southerners). One swam right up to me and I fired at point-blank range, the
spear going through his skull between the eyes and nearly out the other side.
'I looked over to Kelly who was still trying to load his gun. The other groper
swam round him while he frantically tried to free the ferrule which had jammed
on the end of the spear. Smothered obscenities poured through the end of
his snorkel as he swam to the rocks and climbed out. I hauled my fish out,
hardly believing my eyes, and laid it on a crevice. Kelly having freed the ferrule,
we reloaded and jumped back in.
'A small groper swam over a shallow reef but shied off as Kelly approached
it. We followed it into a natural gut about a hundred feet deep, and quite
dark due to the overhanging cliffs. Far below us I could see a white shape
catching the light as it moved. I looked again and saw it was another groper.
I yelled to Kelly and pointed. He dived towards it but the line to his float
pulled taut at fifty feet and he surfaced to frantically unwind more line.
Looking down again we saw not one but twenty or more white underbellies
glinting in the light, and a school of groper rose slowly towards us, circling
and twisting like trout at Rotorua.

'This was too good to be true; Kelly swam down to the biggest and slammed
a spear through it, just behind the gills. Releasing his gun he surfaced and
the fish headed for the bottom, fighting nearly as well as a kingie. Kelly tried
to stop it from getting into the seaweed, but it caught the 300-pound breaking
strain line round a rock and snapped it. Kelly was quite ropable by now -the
fish appeared to be bigger than mine which weighed in at fifty-four pounds.
We took off for the boat for a new spear. Much to our dismay the skipper
decided it was time to pick up the 'snail men' and we regretfully shed our gear.
A while later we headed back to New Zealand after a fabulous week.'

Chris and Kelly organised a return voyage the following year but bad weather
cancelled it. Abel Tasman discovered the Three Kings Islands in midsummer
(4 January I643) and this is the best time to plan a trip there. To be caught
up in the area in a storm is much more risky than in the open ocean. Vast
sandbanks shift and alter with storms. The combination of tide and storm
has kept a trawler steaming for thirty-six hours trying to make headway across
the forty-mile stretch of sea. In I966 the collier
was lost with all hands
when she tried to round the cape in the teeth of a north-easterly. We were
to learn just how tricky these waters can be and especially to fear the north-
easterly, from which there is no shelter.

The glowing tales that Chris and Kelly told us made it easy to raise
enthusiasm for another expedition. Chris arranged the food supplies and
chartered the
the same fishing boat they had taken on their first trip.
In those days few men had knowledge of the area to match that of Peter
Sheehan. Fishing boats seldom visited those waters when there were plenty
of fish on the mainland coast."
The Elingamite and its Treasure 
available on disc or download per


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