Near Dunedin a collection of old ships purposely sunk over a 30 year period to protect a coastal breakwater now provide a shallow, pretty dive that will give you as many wrecks on one dive as you’ll ever want to see in a day. It’s only half an hour from the central city and you can walk to the dive site from the designated car park.
Cargill Pier at Aramoana is known locally as the Mole. Begun in 1884, it was designed to re-direct the tidal flow into Otago Harbour to improve the shipping lane. By 1888 417 metres of stone wall had been laid and 467 metres of piles had been driven. Later, to protect the Mole from ongoing erosion a retired ship, the Priestman, was sunk some time before 1920. By 1926 the Mole was suffering severe erosion and it was decided to scuttle more ships. In 1933 construction of the Mole was completed.
Photos taken back in the 1930s show large pieces of the various ships standing well above the waterline, but over the years these have broken down until all that is showing above water now is a solitary sternpost. Underwater is a different story though with almost a kilometre of wrecked boats to swim through. None of the wrecks we visited were deeper than about 10 metres so the site was well lit in a very turquoise kind of way.
In the shallow water we easily got an hour out of a tank of air. Although it was hard to tell where one wreck ended and another started we found that each hulk was different. Some had retained their vertical structure while others had collapsed down to a central portion. Some parts were completely unrecognisable while others looked like something from a sci-fi movie. But throughout the dive we were surprised by the number of fish cruising through. From flat silver flounder lying on the sandy seafloor to bigger terakihi and scarlet wrasse, trumpeters, butterfly perch, conger eels lurking darkly, blue and copper moki, banded wrasse, red cod and blue cod. Brightly coloured nudibranchs hid in quiet corners and paua sat squarely on silty surfaces.