Finding the San Benito’s propeller was the high point of underwater photographer Kim Westerskov’s eight-day assignment at Mayor Island.
“Allan Jones had seen it once before, while working on the Department of Conservation underwater survey,” said Kim. “He thought he knew where it was, but on our first dive on the wreck we couldn’t find it.
“A couple of days later we went back to Tuhua Reef. Allan stopped the engine, I slipped over the side and there it was, directly under us in 30 feet of water. There’s something magical about finding a big prop.”
Other underwater highlights included finding hot water vents off Orongatea Bay (“it was like soaking in a bath”), seeing large schools of splendid perch and pink maomao, and a memorable night dive in South East Bay.
Said Kim, “It was the night before we were to come home. The weather was calm and cool, but the water felt warm, and just as well, as I was in it for nearly two hours, finishing just before midnight.
“Two previous dives in the area had given me a good idea of what I was after. Dwarf scorpionfish are reasonably common throughout New Zealand, but their small size, excellent camouflage and secretive behaviour mean they are seldom seen. But there were dozens of these small, beautifully coloured fish out on the sand/gravel bottom at night, and I spent much of the dive photographing them.
“Then I decided to photograph the brightly coloured pebbles just out from the shore. I was only in ten feet of water when I had a strange feeling that something out there in the blackness was watching me. On the previous night dive there a small shark had whizzed past at high speed, but this time the shapes were more streamlined. They sped out of range of my torchlight like quicksilver ghosts — large squid, just a couple of them.
“They didn’t return, and I went back to photographing pebbles in that clear, dark water.”
Decidedly less inspiring was the near write-off of a $4000 photographic rig through failure of a seal. “I looked at the water pouring in to my favourite wide-angle lens and could have cried,” said Kim. Fortunately, the lens was able to be repaired — “but the camera I threw away.”
Dennis Brett (Walking the Kepler Track’, Issue 1) had troubles of a different kind on the Whanganui River. He knew when he started out that this river of mystique and changing moods would be difficult to capture on film. What he didn’t count on was days of rain swelling the river to impossible levels and staining it brown for much of its course; of snow-blocked roads and slippery bush tracks. He also had to contend with the suspicion that many upriver Maori feel toward outsiders. Dennis could take some comfort, though, in the thought that he was part of a photographic tradition on the river that stretches back more than a hundred years, to the Burton brothers’ epic photographic journey in 1885.
Though not an oyster connoisseur himself, biologist John Walsby relished the experience of writing about the mollusc. Drawing its feeding mechanism was particularly stimulating.
“I realised after I had opened up a few of these shellfish that the diagrams I had seen of the oyster gill didn’t show the full story. The envelope structure of the tissues, the flow of water one way and food the other — it is a superb apparatus.”
The oyster gill is such an important part of the animal that we decided to show it using two different close-up techniques. Using a scanning electron microscope we obtained images of the cilia which cover the gill and create the water current through the oyster. Then we commissioned photographer Roger Grace (`Goat Island Revisited’, Issue 1) to “get inside” an oyster and show the gills inflated with water. The result, featured on the fold-out between pages 80 and 81, shows the gills blown up like air-beds, with the grooves down which food passes clearly visible.
One thing we all try to instil in ourselves is the need for accuracy, and nowhere is this more important than in people’s names. While preparing the Waitati story for typesetting I telephoned the writer, Kirsten Lawson, to confirm spellings, especially of the foreign names. She offered to double-check and sent me a note a few days later which read, “The names are correctly spelled, except Zachariah the cat — it does have an ‘h’. Silliest question I’ve ever asked anybody!”
Now that’s diligence!