There was a birthday party last night and I mentioned it in a chat with a friend The previous weekend I was in Bluff, the southernmost city in New Zealand.
“Why are you going there?” They asked.
So I thought about it. Three reasons.
Oysters, sharks and geographical extremities.
Let’s deal with extremism first.
Many travelers visit Bluff because Sterling Point, located on the southern edge of the village, is often considered the southernmost point in the country.
It certainly isn’t, but it hasn’t stopped the country’s most photographed road-signed signpost.
It’s an interesting debate that, in fact, is the southernmost point, and it depends on which definition of “New Zealand” you choose. Stuart Island, further south across the Fowax Strait is certainly part of “New Zealand” and so the southern cape of the island can claim the southernmost respect with some legitimacy.
But the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island could make the same claim by that argument.
And let’s not get into the constitutional debate about the state of Antarctica’s juice dependence.
Sterling Point is not even the southernmost tip of the South Island. Slope Point in the nearby Catalins region took that award. A drive through Catalins to visit Slope Point is one of the best road trips in the country. Good time value.
What will happen to the oysters then?
One of the things that surprised me was how sadly the city promoted this delicious food. In fact, it’s hard to find a feed for them. The two restaurants in the village are naturally on their menus but no great features have been created from them.
Oyster Cove, the brightest of the pair, offered “Natural” with two or three versions of them, but they came with coal and chips. Chips ?! With natural oysters? What are they thinking?
I asked the waitress if I could have half a dozen without chips and slow.
Seeing the thought, he felt a little upset.
“It won’t change the price,” he replied.
“I am not worried about the price. I don’t want the oysters to be surrounded by chips, ”I said.
When they arrived they were perfectly fine. Serve with lemon slices on a plate.
But how spectacular that could be.
First, dig out the bloody chips. And slaves.
Serve them on a shaved ice dish.
Show one of these. Turn it into a performance.
After all, this is one of the only three reasons to stay here.
And, by the way, they weren’t cheap. $ 34 for half a dozen. It would exceed Auckland’s Ponsonby RD prices unless I was very wrong.
And so for sharks.
There are only five places in the world where you can dive to see the Great White Shark and here is one of them from Bluff.
Thus it was a cold Saturday morning when the sun rose over the sea, I was on a good ship (boat?) Crossing the South Isle of Fox Strait and elevating our way to Stuart Island.
Anchored in one of the smaller islands off the coast of the mainland, we were fit for heavy wet-suits and trained to use air-supply face-pieces.
Then came the wait. The captain and Mecca, his dive master, pulled out pieces of barley and chamomile to attract sharks.
Mike Haynes, captain and owner of The Shark Experience, explains that a colony of young men gathers here every year. Eventually the women arrive, but the older boys, the alpha men, are looking for some house-to-father. When the reunion season is over they spread to points across the Pacific Ocean, only to return again the following year.
This is the pack we hope to entice next to the boat.
“Barley will attract them,” Mike said, “and curiously they’ll wander around for a while but they’ll get bored quickly so we have to increase their interest. Divers do that – they’re blowing bubbles, hitting around cages and even small electrical signals.” Giving what sharks can understand. “
So we wait. And wait. And wait.
Are we going to have unfortunate trips this season that don’t see them?
Suddenly a scream. Shark! Shark!
Surely if you walk down one meter you will see the grayish gray opacity of a big fish. Showtime, and entertainers coming.
Mike leads a crowd of about 15 divers into position.
“Go down and get a quick look then come again. That way everyone can see it.”
What he actually means is that if it were, we could all claim to have seen at least one great white. Satisfied with the deal.
He doesn’t need to worry. Within minutes a second animal was seen.
From there we could get out of the cage of our choice.
And we liked it. Liked it, liked it a lot.
Eventually the four sharks were up to 4..8 m long and weighed more than a ton.
For the next three hours we went up and down the cage to get seriously close with this great beast. So close that I could put my hand in the head of someone coming straight at me, stopping only when his point hit the steel of the nose cage.
She looked at me and almost smiled.
For a moment I could see the black emptiness in his eyes and we were careful (in my case) Extremely carefully) He slid to the side before measuring each other and moved away.
On the deck, shivering slightly with the cold, I was asked if I wanted to go down again. Okay I, not cold or cold.
Eventually we all got a chance to see our shark so it was in the pie, sandwich and hot soup for lunch as the crew raised the anchor and we pushed back on our way to our bluff.
Summary: It was the most exciting nature encounter I have ever had. Was I scared, as many think it should be? Not at all.
In addition to the protection provided by a well-designed, precise steel cage, I got the idea that the animals weren’t really as interested in our food.
Obviously most shark attacks are a mistake. The fish, perhaps they may think they are a seal, take a bite, do not like the taste and spit on the prey.
Unfortunately for the victim that can happen without an arm or leg.
No, I’m not scared. Fascinated, yes .. exuberant, of course. Curious, absolutely. Ultimately the feeling of the highest appreciation for these beautiful animals. Dangerous, of course. But ultimately, perfection in evolution.
Will I do it again?
Sign me up, Mike.
Learn more at https://www.sharkexperience.co.nz/