Anytime you ask a working dive professional about his or her favorite dive it seems like you always get one of two cliché replies-“The next one!” or “all of them!.” I can’t claim that, I’ve had bad dives. Fortunately, my bad dives have been few and far between and often a valuable learning experience. I have no intention of discussing my worst dives in this particular forum; however, I have narrowed down my favorites to just one or two dives that I would like to tell you about.
I originally began diving in Spring of 2002. I had planned a trip to New Zealand and Australia to visit one of my best friends while he was studying abroad in college. Several weeks before the trip Matt called and suggested that I learn to dive before the trip and that it would be worth it. I had been adventuring with Matt for several years already rock climbing, camping, and backpacking and such so I went with this too. I was trained in an executive style weekend class and did private check out dives in Stockton Lake, MO with February. It was cold and I kept reminding myself that it had better be worth it. Well the trip came and after a week of backpacking in the South Island, New Zealand, Matt and I and two American friends he was studying with were traveling around by bus and stopped in a town called Te Anu. Tawaki Dive was a local dive operator running boat trips into Milford Sound. Finally! My first open water experience beyond Midwest lake diving! Now before going any further you need a quick geography lesson. Milford Sound is surrounded by rainforest and gets about 30 feet of rainfall a year, also important is that all of the trees grow their roots into thick layers of moss growing on the mountains surrounding Milford Sound. This means that the 30 feet of annual rain filters through the moss and roots giving it a freshwater tea-like appearance and because it is less dense it layers on top of the salt water of the Sound. The effected created is much of the light spectrum is filtered out in the darker 3-9 feet of freshwater allowing much of the flora and fauna from deeper ocean regions to live much shallower within recreation dive limits here.
These being my first few dives beyond my initial training dives I blew through my 80 cuft tank very quickly, in about 25 minutes near 60 feet. Fortunately, I was well prepared for the cold temperatures encountered here after my lake diving, Matt was not so lucky learning to dive in Fiji. Like many cooler dive environments there was a heavy presence of invertebrates here. I remember seeing quite a few lobsters and crabs hanging around, I think they knew they were in a protected sanctuary the way the so brazenly hung around. Our Divemaster pointed out nudibranchs (I didn’t know what these were until later) and serpent stars hanging out wrapped around black coral. Black coral is actually stark white and the serpent stars hanging out on it I believe can only be found in this unique dive site for recreational diving as it lives hundreds of feet deeper in the open ocean. The most intriguing part of this dive was the Lady of the Sound. During the dive briefing we we’re told about the Lady of Sound but were given no other descriptors or clues about where or what this so called Lady was; we were simply told “we would know her when we saw her.” Fair enough. So as we are descending foot after foot into the dark clear water of the sound and we are swimming past these lobsters, crabs, nudibranchs, we even caught very brief glimpses of a dog shark and a seal, but still no Lady! Coming near the end of our dive I was led back into a crevice into the rock face and there under the beams of our dive lights was the Lady of the Sound! She was a Barbie doll dressed in scuba gear hiding inside a miniature shark cage appropriately being guarded by a very large lobster (I’m pretty sure that was a conincidence.)
After surfacing from the dive we were treated to a very beautiful and scenic boat ride around the Sound before the long (and just as scenic) van ride back to Te Anu. After this first amazing dive experience I bought my Adventures in Diving book and began planning my Advanced Open Water diving and Nitrox classes for my return to the States. I was hooked.