Nothing is more Kiwi than a summer camping holiday.
I learned to dive as a youngster on my family’s annual summer camp. I vividly remember catching my first crays when I was around ten years old with my father. We were out every day at low tide chasing bugs around while trying to think of new ways to eat them without getting ill.
Our meal times were straight out of Forrest Gump with many forms of crayfish: boiled, barbequed, fritters, sandwiches and salads. An insulated fish bag kept our catch cold and bags of salt ice stay frozen in it for a couple of days.
Recently, my diving has returned to its roots and Iím focussing my attention on coastal waters accessed by a small boat and staying in nearby campgrounds or sleeping on idyllic beaches. Throughout the last year, I have been trying to create the perfect set-up to access the miles of fantastic diving along our coastline and camp among the best scenery in the world.
Buying my boat
My first purchase was a Mac 380 with an 18hp outboard on the back. It is robust, virtually unsinkable and relatively heavy so rides well for a small boat. Its size provides easy launching, which is important as I mostly launch from beaches. With 18 horsepower, I suspect it is slightly under gunned, but it runs on the smell of an oily rag and never lets me down.
Deciding what gear to take is critical with a small boat; the most difficult part is deciding what to leave behind. I fit a vinyl pouch on a pontoon or gunwhale of boats and keep a dry box there (for phones, knives etc.). Emergency gear (including survival blankets and a fire lighting kit to deal with the cold) is stored in a dry hatch in the bow and spearguns and fins lie comfortably on the bottom of the boat.
I keep my wetsuit on all day and in the winter, I wear a PVC jacket on top to protect myself from the wind. As long as your wetsuit is at least 5mm you have enough buoyancy not to need life jackets as well.
When choosing your gear you need to think hard about what scenarios youíre most likely to encounter and then prepare for those rather than trying to cover everything. There are a few tools onboard to deal with the very small number of mechanical issues I would be able to fix with the motor. The boat travels large distances but is always close to shore if the motor does not start and there are paddles to get to shore. There is the equipment to signal help and stay warm until help arrives; rocket and orange smoke flares are signals to passing boats. I always carry a PLB.
PLBs are essentially a miniature Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and in my opinion they are minimum equipment for anyone who is going to be far enough from the shore not to be able to shout for help. They are around the size of a cell phone and cheap at $500.
The hatch also holds a good dive torch and a small first aid kit. You donít need to be set up to diagnose heart problems or perform an emergency appendectomy, but being able to stop bleeding from an equipment injury or shark bite, or dig kina spikes out of fingers is useful. The hatch is also where there is a box for your weight belts.
One of the simplest and most important additions to the boat I have made is a small lanyard, tying the outboard to the boat in case it comes off the transom. This little bit of rope has already saved my bacon when a major storm hit suddenly, turning a
ten-minute swim in the calm, into a 30-minute slog to get back to the boat. By the time I got back the boat had taken such a battering we had almost lost the outboard ñ save for the addition we made.
It’s not just about the boat
After purchasing the ideal boat, I needed to find the correct vehicle to tow it. I picked up a relatively cheap four wheel drive Delica van and have very slowly been turning it into the off-road camper I always dreamed of. Delicas are fantastic vehicles if you get a reliable one and are surprisingly good off road.
The first step for me was converting the back into a camper. I gnashed around back and forth with all sorts of strange designs and researched others online. When it actually came to constructing it, I realised that my imagination was totally and hopelessly ahead of my carpentry skills and I was forced back to the traditional, raised plywood platform with a mattress. The platform is just high enough to get fish bins underneath it to organise my gear.
My next project is new suspension with a slight lift and bigger wheels.
Take a tent
The final piece of my spearfishing puzzle is my new Oztent. My van is great for sleeping in the odd night but for longer trips, I needed something more sophisticated. I originally wanted to get an awning to come off the van and give some shelter when it rains for the gear I leave outside. An awning on its own would not really be the shelter I was hoping for and because I need to drive to launch the boat each time, Iíd be constantly packing up. There are several drive-in awning arrangements available and as I started researching, I found the best one for my needs when I stumbled upon the Oztent range.
Oztent have a solid two-man tent that comes with two metres of awning that can be set up with poles or tied to the van. They market this as a tent that pitches in thirty seconds and that thankfully, is as long as it takes me. The tent is used as storage for gear to keep the bed in the van clear. The awning between the van and tent offers the perfect amount of shelter required. The best aspect is being able to drive in without having to pack all the gear up
The quality of the tent is superb and I predict the tent is going to outlast the van. Organising the gear into fish bins means the van is unloaded quickly and everything is still easily accessible.
Most of my time is spent exploring the coastline around Cape Brett and I find the best bases are Bland Bay, Oakura or Rawhiti. These are dependent on weather and sea conditions. It is on these trips where the light and fast camping system really comes into its own as it is possible to quickly set up and break down camp if I chose to move from one side of the peninsula to the other.
On a recent trip, I planned to spend three days at the Oakura campground. I pulled up late afternoon and, after quickly setting camp, I set off to Home Point to find some snapper. Unfortunately, the surge on that side was much greater than expected, dashing any hopes of successful snapper snooping. I had a good dive inside the Whangaruru Harbour itself and was surprised to find good numbers of crayfish so close to shore. The next morning I packed up early and moved to the Rawhiti side of Cape Brett. After setting up camp at the Kaingaroa Marae I was enjoying perfect, calm snooping conditions half an hour later.
The freedom that small boat diving and camping allows me cannot be beaten and I am excited to explore more of the amazing Northland coastline in this self sufficient and economical manner over the coming months.
Matt Lind’s summer spearfishing spots
1. Cape Brett Another spot I would only recommend in light winds. The action tends to happen pretty deep but there’s always great visibility here.
2. Bird Rock This spot will catch weather from any direction so only go in light winds.It’s and awesome spot for pelagics and pink mao mao.
3. Oke Bay This spot offers shelter from anything except north westerly’s. Visibility isn’t the best here but I’ve still caught some superb snapper and kingies here. This spot can be shore dived if you don’t mind swimming.
4. Kaingahoa Marae Awesome tent sites with toilets, hot showers and kitchen facilities.Boat launching right off the beach in front of the camp or use the concrete ramp five minutes drive away.
5. Waiwiri Rock Reasonably sheltered from the west but will catch weather from any other direction. There’s excellent pelagic fishing here with very good visibility. It’s a very long way from any boat launching spots, so only attempt in perfect conditions.
6. Whangamumu Whangamumu Harbour is sheltered from anything except easterly. You’ll find some of the best snapper snooping around here. On a downside, it’s a long way from any boat launching location so only go in good conditions with a clear forecast.
7. Home Point An awesome spots when it’s blowing in from the west. This spot has exceptional visibility and is excellent for hunting snapper and pelagic fish.
8. Cape Home With great rocky coastlines, Cape Home is excellent for snapper snooping. Very easy to get to from either Whangaruru or Bland Bay, Cape Home is a good choice in marginal conditions.
9. Whangaruru Harbour This spot offers good shelter in easterlies and north easterlies. There are limited rocky reef spots, but there are a few crays around if you don’t mind a good treasure hunt. I’ve been pretty lucky with snapper, kingfish and John dory here too.
10. Puriri Bay Campsite This DOC campsite may not offer some of the luxuries of Whangaruru, but it does offer excellent off the beach boat launching and close proximity to Bland Bay and the northern dive sites.
11. Whangaruru Beachfront Camp Full campground facilities including toilets and hot showers, plus full kitchen and fish filleting facilities. You can launch straight off the beach in front of the camp with good access to inner Whangaruru Harbour and Cape Home but a is quite far from Northern dive sites.