It was trundler time.. at Blue Creek..
Last year I was lucky enough to have been invited on a trip to Blue Creek with GUE New Zealand and expedition leader Jamie Obern.The trip last year was quite an expedition as we had to carry a lot of heavy equipment over terrain that wasn't lovely flat surfaces.Getting to the Blue Creek resurgence on a daily basis for the diving required ~22kms of dirt road driving to Courthouse Flat (Named in memory of the old Courthouse that once was there) and from Courthouse flat to the actual dive site another 1.7km one way winding uphill via rough foot track.
(4 runs out and back in a day were not unheard of on last years trip...!)
On the subject of Courthouse flat, the current residing judges, juries and executioners are the New Zealand Sandflies, so, when we strap the tanks to the trolleys and gear up the equipment, its more like a Military drop.. we form an all round defence and then head off in rapid patrol formation to safe ground beyond the flat.
Thankfully this is really the only area they exist in this incredibly beautiful spot of New Zealand bush.
Firstly, here is the definition of "Cave Diving" -
Cave Diving according to Wikipedia -
"Cave diving is underwater diving in caves which are at least partially filled with water. The equipment used varies depending on the circumstances, and ranges from breath hold to surface supplied, but almost all cave diving is done using scuba equipment, often in specialised configurations. Cave diving is generally considered to be a type of technical diving due to the lack of a free surface during large parts of the dive, and often involves decompression.
In the United Kingdom it is an extension of the more common sport of caving, and in the United States an extension of the more common sport of scuba diving. Compared to caving and scuba diving, there are relatively few practitioners of cave diving. This is due in part to the specialized equipment (such as rebreathers, diver propulsion vehicles and dry suits) and skill sets required, and in part because of the high potential risks, including decompression sickness and drowning.
Despite these risks, water-filled caves attract scuba divers, cavers, and speleologists due to their often unexplored nature, and present divers with a technical diving challenge. Underwater caves have a wide range of physical features, and can contain fauna not found elsewhere."
We piled the dive gear and photography equipment into the Landcruiser and had a bit of surplus space until Nicole arrived with enough bags to start an Indian market..Now we had the trucks rear loading area stacked to the roof and bags between the two passengers in the rear seats and also some gear on laps.. ha ha ha.. (Classic stuff)
But either way the truck was ready for some action with fresh oil and lovely clean glycol and even fresh diff oils thanks to "Oilchangers" in Lower Hutt.. (Great work at a super cheap price).
The Bluebridge Ferry was our first port of call and, after an eyebrow raising arrival, (Roaring laughter from inside the truck as well.) my truck thundered up the ramp and into the belly of the iron barque. We were ready for the 4hr wait as we crossed to the Southern island of New Zealand.
Actually I had the "Fish of the day" in the Tapawera Tavern and expected it to be "Fish of the year" but actually it was really very good,in fact all the meals there seemed very good.. Brendon's inch thick "Meat-lovers Pizza" looked a little over the top though.. (Inch thick before the layers of meat).
Anyway,at Blue Creek we must literally hit the ground running. Day #1 had Jamie showing Colin, Nicole and I how to set up the zip line which we use to get the double tanks , stage bottles and gear into the cave.
Next day we were straight into loading the gear into the cave.
We were Team #1 (Jamie,Rob (me),James,Brendon,Nicole,Colin) and we all carried the gear in with not too much bother.
It's always a bit of a shock to the system pulling tanks on a trolley.
There is an old Quartz battery still standing strong close to the resurgence where the gold was processed.
Next question I guess is after the quartz was mined how was it processed..?
From here I will hand you over briefly to our resident historian Colin.
"The extracted quartz was paced in a stamper battery and pounded to a fine paste where it was added to a berdan with large metal balls and ground to a fine paste from there Mercury was added to the mix. Gold and Mercury stuck together was then added to a retort and heated . The mercury boiled off at a different temperature leaving the gold ready for refining into ingots" - Colin Davison
Sounds easy.. I cannot even begin to image the difficulties involved at that time with this sort of processing.
Incredible stuff.And managing drills and all manner of heavy pressure operated tools alone could be health hazardous without the likes of Mercury.
This years team was made up of a few of the veterans of Blue Creek and a couple of newcomers.
New to the team was a gentleman by the name of Axel Busch and, when I say gentleman, I mean it. Axel has some of the most incredible video and camera equipment I have ever seen.
On top of that equipment he has the skills and intelligence to really get some amazing footage. ( trust me, he did just that.)
Axel and I fought with our Si-Tech wrist seals until we both conceded and read the manual and found out it really wasn't that difficult to get the Dry Gloves off the suit ha ha ha..!
Axel was the driving force in the team to get some video and stills both above and below the surface.
Watching Axel in action on location, really motivated us all,myself included.
Now in the world there are some good characters and he is one of them.
Colin is not your average person, he has a mind wired quite like few others.
Think "Anchorman" meets "Rain Man". His knowledge of WWII tanks and some of the most obscure facts was bordering on the ridiculous.
In a close knit situation stress rises day by day as does the tiredness of lugging gear 3.4kms over rough ground everyday.
(Lets just say people get a little tense)
Colin was always there with some quote or snippet of information that would either raise an eyebrow or a bunch of nodding heads or roars of laughter.
People like Colin are an essential part of the whole machine,laughing and joking and having a bit of fun is an incredible stress relief.
Colin himself had a decent fall in the slippery riverbed and had to manage that on top of all the other stresses involved in such a journey.
Well done man, you did yourself proud.
Russ wasn't scared of hard work either, lugging a great deal of heavy dive equipment on a daily basis while some others mysteriously disappeared when the tanks appeared ha ha ha..!!
Lou' and Russ' gave me some great laughs during their stay at Blue Creek and both were incredibly capable divers.
Russ, apart from being a crack up dude and a great diver, is also a killer in the kitchen. Some of the food he prepared was just amazing. (Hell, I even ate Shepard's Pie for the first time,actually Scots Pie as it was beef mince.. and he even made a special no onions version for me..!! LEGEND)
Lou' also had hidden talents. Initially, after her saying that she doesn't know how to play poker or cards, we were soon to find out she knew exactly what she was up too... ha ha ha..
Really great to have met you guys and look forward to meeting you again.
Brendon as a Chef took over the cooking on a daily basis and did a sterling job.We never went hungry on this trip as there was always food and plenty of it. You burn a lot of calories walking and dragging gear.
Diving in the sheer cold of the Blue Creek resurgence at 6 degrees also saps a lot of energy and calories.
Brendon and I did our dive in style. We planned it and executed it well within safe boundaries for our skill and training level.
Brendon and I did two dives in the resurgence and both dives went very well and to plan. On the second dive we did, we were tasked to drop some deco bottles at 21m for some the bigger dives going on that day. The vis at 6m, where the habitat was,was very very poor so pushing down to 21m in a 45 degree angled tunnel in total darkness in very cold water was difficult, to say the least.
But Brendon did it in style.. great work man. Would dive with you anywhere.
Maybe even Mexico..
(I think the big guy is off adventuring somewhere,missed you bro..)
Courtney was on form, as usual, getting the lunches sorted as she did last year.
Any member with a sense of humour like Courtney is going to get on with a nut case like me.
Alan Jeavons (See below) was there again and it was great to catch up with him. I always enjoy his sense of humour, a real classic is Alan.He didn't hit it big this year on the cards,but I know he will be back for round two next year.
Nicole Miller was with us again for almost the whole duration and did everything from diving to dishes in her typical efficient manner. Never saw a camera in her hand this year but I know she was helping Axel with his gear and also doing some survey work for GUE NZ chief Jamie Obern.
These guys do dives that I can only dream of.
For these guys, the work starts long before Blue Creek and ends long after it has passed.
Doing accounts at the end, blending gas and making some of the best beef curry I have tasted, Jamie and James deserve a great deal of the credit in keeping the oil of the machine cogs rolling.
And it's amazing how suddenly that machine jolts to a halt in their absence...!!!! (Rock on guys).
I have focused more on the people than the actual diving. Is there rhyme to the reason? Yes of course.
Its all about "Teamwork" - its the people who make expeditions happen ,it's people who make the cams lift so that the engine can gain speed.They say there is no "I" in "Team" and its a bit of a well worn phrase, but, in reality, its true.
( We all had a reminder here and there to shift up a gear and pull our weight,,some realized it without being told and others, well, some do need some subtle encouragement.
If you are coming to Blue Creek be prepared, it's not a holiday camp. Stuff needs to be done, the wheels need to turn and the Captain needs to steer the ship and crew to its destination.
Not all dives are fun... the habitat for one, is not a particularly fun job yet the guys who went in there and did the job came out smiling. They got out what they put in. The rewards are different, but just as good.
Its been an amazing journey and this is just a few facets of the actual trip, and only a few slices of credit to those who deserve it.
I still don't know who was magically doing my washing...!!!?? (Just for one example)
Below is the team at the almost closing point as we sadly separate and go our own different ways.
I thank everybody for their participation in the Blue Creek experience.
But as usual I would like to thank Jamie Obern for making the entire trip possible.
( How the guys knows what cards you are holding is still a mystery to me "Rob I know you have the two of spades" ha ha ha - good times)
Thanks all - Rob Wilson "Frontline Photography"