Diving the Cook Islands

Underwater Rarotonga: Diving a Cyclone in the Cook Islands

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It’s no secret: In my under two years of diving, I’ve become a dive snob. The kind who totally turns up her nose at the mere mention of snorkeling. Why would I want to see a postcard of a place when I can actually go there? That’s the analogy I abide by anyway.

When our fearless Cook Islands trip leader, Rebecca, proposed a shallow dive—like seven feet deep shallow—just off shore, I initially scoffed at the idea. I had previously been down 117 feet to a wreck off the coast of Honduras. Surely this couldn’t compare. But I went, and it did.

Rebecca and the other two, Peter and Jenny, had never strapped on a tank before, so they went through the obligatory skills seminar in the dive shop while I ogled the charts of underwater species I might encounter in the lagoon (always best to brush up, should a whale shark pop by for a visit). Conditions: Cyclone. Waters: Tempestuous. I felt sorry for the trio, that of all days, this was going to be their first dive. As turbulent as the sea had been for the previous three days, I just knew we weren’t going to see a thing. Here’s a glimpse of just how violent the swell was, even that close to shore, as seen from below:

All those bubbles? Not fun for being buoyant. But then the Cook Islands singled me out and called me a raging lunatic liar. Because even in the midst of a tropical storm? The visibility was FIFTY FEET or so. Ridiculous. I only wish I had experienced the underwater world on a clear day. Two hundred feet, can you even imagine?

We saw…well, just take a look at this and see for yourself. (As if you even had to guess what I’d set as the background music on this one.)(You all should know me better than that by now.)(But seriously, even if you’re opposed to Disney something awful, it’s worth viewing for the RUNNING OCTOPUS alone. Kind of like the “Running Man,” only not.)

(Apologies if I made you seasick from the video alone; it was so rocky up top, I had trouble holding my hand steady.) It was probably one of the best dives of my life. The next day, I was set to do two real dives with a divemaster at Pacific Divers and another tourist, Ron from Canada (yippee! you know how I love me some Canadians!). It had poured, yet again, all night long, but when the dive shop came to pick me up, the glorious sun peeked her head out. Briefly. Because by the time we got on the boat, the weather looked like this:

Remember when Forrest Gump was in Vietnam, and the rain was pounding at him from every different angle? That’s what it felt like. You can see in the video above that we were sopping wet and hadn’t even gotten in the water yet. When we did finally somersault into the ocean (we were on a tiny Zodiak, not a proper dive boat), I banged my head so hard on the tank, I feared I had a concussion. That’s how rocky the waters were. I wish I could say it was better 70 feet down, but we opted for Avaavatua Passage, a dive site I’d been dying to hit, and as we made our way through the narrow ravine, the water was so rough,  I was kicking and paddling with all my might (something you are not supposed to do when you dive), and for every foot I went forward, I was dragged two feet back. The current was so mighty, in fact, that it ripped the regulator right out of my mouth on multiple occasions, and I started to panic at 68 feet below. I have never felt like I was going to die until that day, and I sucked through my tank in no time out of fear that I couldn’t breathe. Anxiety, she’s a bitch. I had no choice, though, but to stay down there; the divemaster had warned us not to go to the surface in the passage, as we’d been slammed right up against the rocks. Awesome.

That’s when yet again a Canadian came to my rescue (they’re always doing that, our willing northern neighbors); he grabbed my hand and pulled me all the way through the passage. I’m a strong girl and was rendered helpless; it’s a terrifying feeling. But Ron was my guardian angel that day, and seeing as our divemaster couldn’t have paid us less attention, I’m glad that he was there to rescue me. When we finally reached the other side of the channel and were ready to pass out, we emerged right in this guy’s lair…

SHARK! Now, you guys know how I feel about sharks (cannotlookatpicturesofthemontheinternetevenwithoutseverelyhyperventilating) —I even get a little anxious watching that video and I took it!—but somehow I’ve become OK with being in the same vicinity of them. Don’t get me wrong, my heart did a little flutter, but I was more terrified the current was going to slam me into the shark than I was of the shark coming after me. He The three of them didn’t even seem to see us. If they did, they couldn’t have been less interested in making us their snack. (They’re white-tip reef sharks, people; they don’t eat humans. They just nibble on their toes.)

It’s probably a good thing then that I didn’t realize until we did our surface interval that I had blood streaked on my forearm and calf, thanks to scraping along the coral as I pulled myself Ron dragged me through the passage. Sharks seem to like that sort of thing, go figure. Yes, good thing I didn’t know.

After that dive, I was hesitant if I would ever enter the water again. It proved to me exactly how powerful the sea is, and perhaps I needed that. But we had planned a two-tank dive, so I had no choice. After the requisite 50 minutes on top—in which, I vomited no less than six times, thanks to our little boat being tossed about like a kernel in a popcorn popper—we were in the ocean again. And I’m glad I made myself do it, because maybe one out of every 50 dives, something scary like this will happen. But the other 49? Totally make up for that one.

  • April 8, 2009

    You have the coolest job ever.

  • April 8, 2009

    OMG, these make our Bahamas sharks look like GOLDFISH. I can’t believe you did this! And I’m now really looking forward to our diving in the South Pacific in September — poor Sean has only been to Monterey and he is going to FREAK OUT when he can see sharks for TWO HUNDRED FEET AROUND HIM! Hahahahha.

  • April 8, 2009

    You are the bravest person in the world. To me, all of that sounds… how do I put this… TERRIFYING.

  • April 8, 2009

    Your dives sound awesome! Wish I were there to dive with you.

    I am thinking of taking a couple of diving trips around Southern California in late summer/early fall. The water is cold (you’ll probably have to wear a 7mm suit) but the views are great, especially in Catalina. Let me know when you are coming down and we’ll plan accordingly.

  • April 8, 2009

    I have been wanting to go diving since forever!!!! but after readings this…..er, maybe I’ll stick with snorkeling….in my bathtub 😉

    any suggestions on good places to learn?

  • April 8, 2009

    Oh my god, that dive footage is amazing…and terrifying. I’ll be snorkeling for the first time in Australia, and I keep having to breathe through the thought of a fish touching my foot! 😉


  • April 8, 2009

    Those sharks- GULP! I’m actually planning to learn/get certified this year but what’s the best way to go about it? Should I take my local P.A.D.I lessons & certification or plan a trip somewhere and get certified on location?

  • April 8, 2009

    Speaking of the Bahamas, Mr. A is trying to make me go diving when we go in Sept. I’m thinking NO. But kudos to you.

  • April 9, 2009

    I did my first snorkel in Iceland and it made me want to get certified to actually dive but I think it’ll be a long time before I’m ready to come face to face with a shark.
    My husband wants to dive with sharks when we go to South Africa at the end of the year – I told him to have fun with that, I’ll be at the bar hoping he returns alive!

  • April 9, 2009

    OMG, i would’ve peed my wet suit if i saw that shark! big props to you for conquering that fear 🙂

  • April 9, 2009

    Oh man. I’m anxious and kinda woozy just reading that!

    I’m really want to learn to dive, I just need to get over my fear of…not water, not sharks, not boats but…the pressure! As in, the tank and in my ears. I have this crazy fear of pressurized things. Seriously. I’m weird.

  • April 9, 2009

    I just love reading your posts. They make me happy 🙂

  • April 9, 2009

    Absolutely stunning! You’ve reaffirmed my fear that I’ve done not NEARLY enough traveling in my life. Add one more to the bucket list…

  • April 9, 2009

    Umm, holy crap, Kristin, I think I would have pooped in my wet suit. And is it bad that I knew it was a whitetip reef shark before you even wrote it? Thank you, Shark Week.
    P.S. Have you ever done any diving in the Keys? We’re going in October and thinking about doing a dive while there.

  • April 10, 2009

    When I first started reading this post I thought, she really is becoming such an avid diver but I don’t know how she pulls it off being so afraid of sharks.

    Then I saw that video. Thanks GOD you didn’t find out about the blood until later.

  • April 10, 2009

    AWESOME!!! I’m so excited that despite the shitty weather you had such an incredible time. Nothing compares to the South Pacific in terms of diving. Love the video, it made me laugh. I can’t believe how much you’ve grown re: your fear of sharks. I remember in Cuba how scared you were of them!!! Let’s go diving together. 🙂

  • April 10, 2009

    Wow, that is scary. I’m chicken when it comes to the open sea. I once got pulled by a very strong undertow in Cancun and thought I was going to die. The suffocating and choking feeling is hell. Needless to say, I’ve been terrified of the sea since then. I try to keep close to shore or stick to snorkelling in shallow reefs and calm water only. Ahahaha.

  • April 12, 2009

    The Under the Sea video was so cute!! This whole entry was adorable. Makes me interested in checking out diving in the future.

  • April 12, 2009

    did I tell you yet to go to Curacao? Go to Curacao.

  • April 15, 2009

    I love that you used music from The Little Mermaid. That made my day.

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