The latest sport to capture the imagination is underwater hunting, with the thrill of stalking prey in a new element, and the unique discovery of a new World rich in beauty and electric with excitement which lies beneath the surface of the most innocent waters.
A shorebound spectator views the sea only as a mysterious and insatiable monster. The breaking of the waves with their smooth curving backs holds his attention, and indeed the heaving of the great marine plain does engender awe. What mystery is in and under that mass? Is it to gain the answer, or to satisfy an urge for adventure that the youth today, Maori and pakeha, has entered so wholeheartedly into the spirit of this sport? To us Maoris, the quest for sea food is as interesting as the lure to explore this new world that the sea offers. Whatever it may be, Mr Maunganui offers during a weekend, evidence enough to show by the numbers equipped with glasses, snorkels and flippers on the beach and in the water, that this is the sport of the century. The impact it has made on the people is considerable. Men from all walks of life have ‘taken the bait, hook, line, sinker and all’.
Without the gear which is available to us, I doubt very much whether this sport would be as universally popular as it has come to be. The glasses open up this underwater world to us with unbelievable clarity, without the inconvenience of smarting or bloodshot eyes as would be the case without them. The range of vision, where conditions of clarity and transparence are good, would be thirty to forty feet.
The construction of the marine glasses is straightforward. A sheet of thick glass is encased in a porthole of supple rubber, secured at the back of the neck by means of an adjustable strap. These underwater glasses are easily carried, and before long, where their use becomes more general, on one will enter the water without them.
Breathing is effected by means of a snorkel. This consists of a plastic tube about fifteen inches long fitted with a rubber mouthpiece. One end of the tube is clear of water, and the other, fitted into the mouth, allows a form of breathing to which one becomes accustomed after the discomfort of a few attempts.
The flippers, one for each foot, are web-shaped and made from supple rubber; these help the underwater hunter by increasing his swimming speed. They facilitate rapid diving and permit him to cover greater distances under water, thus helping materially in the pursuit and capture of some of the more elusive species of fish.
The type of spear most commonly used is made from a seven foot length of milk dropper tubing into one end of which is welded a metal piece to hold the catapult rubber. Into the other is welded a brass socket threaded to take a screw in head, nine to twelve inches long of five-eighths of an inch rod. On to one end is welded a barb with swivel wings. The other end of the rod is threaded to correspond with the milk dropper thread. A rubber catapult, five inches in length, powers the thrust for the kill. At first, a spear of such length seems unwieldly, but as one becomes more adept in its use, one realises it to be the most practicable, while swimming around the weed-infested rocks of the sea-bed. Schnapper, which feed more in the deeper water above sandy wastes, are better hunted with the gun, as are the blue moki.
A useful addition to a Maori's equipment is an inflated car tube to which is attached netting forming a floating basket. By means of a long weighted cord attached to the tube this net sack may be anchored to a submerged weed or rock while the fishermen are hunting and serves as a
receptacle for the kina which may be found in the course of their underwater travels.
My introduction to snorkel, flippers, etc., was not as successful as looking back, I could wish for. The ease with which adepts dive and swim instils one with a contempt apt to breed fool-hardiness and it was with this mistaken attitude that I donned equipment borrowed from my mates and made my first venture. For a beginner the snorkel is the most difficult to become accustomed to, for when the diver submerges the tube fills with water which requires to be blown out on surfacing before inhaling again. Not knowing this I gave myself a most uncomfortable few seconds when, submerged at twice my own depth. I took what I had considered a normal breath. From experience I can now suggest that it is advisable to practice with all the gear in standing depth before tackling any further depth.
It is surprising the variety of fish to be found off the shore when one invades their domain. There is the Kehe, a numerous and inquisitive fish. It is not greatly esteemed as its very inquisitiveness makes it too easy to shoot; furthermore it is fat only during March and April; otherwise it is dry and boney. The Greenbone, though plentiful, is elusive, very good eating and as its name implies its bones are tinted green. There is the red Moki, a prized fish because it is tasty and gives good hunting. The Leather Jacket has a skin rough like sandpaper. It too is good eating, though its capture is so easy as to give little sport. There if John Dory to be caught and Kingfish, if one car, creep up unawares. This also goes for Schnapper, the most elusive of all. Stingrays also are seen on occasion and treated with respect, while the occasional octopus has been caught on the spear.
The harvesting of Mussels from water fifteen to twenty feet deep presents no problems. The main Mussel beds here in Tauranga are in the harbour channel. Prior to the advent of these underwater swimming aids the beds were more readily worked from boats only. Now the swim required into the middle of the channel with the inflated tube is all that is required. Kina also are readily obtainable just off the Mount shore where they abound in all depths.
Here in Tauranga a group of Maoris, realizing the advantages to be gained through an organisation, have formed a club. Mr Charles Merriman, a past President of the New Zealand Underwater Research and Spearfishing Association explained the organisation and from that meeting emerged the appropriately named Tangaroa Underwater Club. Tangaroa being the Maori God of the