Notes from the field

Diving and 80s rock on the Coromandel – a year 13 dive trip

The roaring sound of the engines were competing with 80s rock music as the boat was skimming over the deep blue waters of the Hauraki Gulf.

Three people sitting/standing on a boat, blue sea and green foliage in the background
Paul Schneider

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We were on our way back to Whitianga after having spent the day in and around the Cathedral Cove marine reserve. The Thames High School students were beaming; they seemed to love it. The songs blaring from the skipper’s Bluetooth speaker were all from a time when these kids were not born yet, but they knew most of the lyrics. Lyrics from a different place, a different time and a different season. Guns N' Roses sounded like they truly had stood the test of time. Everyone tuned in: “[I] pray for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass me by … Woah-oh-oh! Sweet child o' mine”. This was the COVID summer of 2021. As Bryan Adams was singing in the next song on the skipper’s playlist: “Those were the best days of my life”. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was to become the students’ own “Summer of ‘69”. Isn’t it all relative? And does the year maybe matter less than the season? I am unsure; the summer of ’69 is as far in the past for me as the 80s rock songs are for these children.

The students had a summer’s day on and in the water that they are unlikely to forget any time soon. Open-water diving, swimming, jumping off the boat, basking in the early summer sun, showing off, and just being, well, maybe in the most exciting season of their lives. To quote the same Guns N’ Roses song again: “… everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky”. Swimwear fashion and shiny new tattoos were presented, the boys would try to impress the girls by wrestling each other off the boat, and the girls were keen to return home with a suntan as we were anchored in a stunning bay framed by steep cliffs, rocky outcrops and small caves.      

As much as this day in the beginning of November was a special one; for students living and growing up on the Coromandel, water is ubiquitous. And so, water is inherently linked to seasonal experience: In winter, it seems that the water from above never stops, and in summer, the sea or the countless rivers and swimming holes are the place to be. As soon as the temperatures allow, children and adults alike seek water. And this seasonality is also what Trif Sitnikoff, the outdoor education teacher at Thames High, includes in his curriculum. Summertime is being-in-water-time. And learning how to dive is one of the many things that Trif makes possible for his students.

On this day at the beginning of November 2021, the group encountered the best conditions. For a few hours it seemed that troubles could be left ashore and any lingering winter blues could be washed off. It struck me that these students seemed so carefree on this day. Not just the beginning of summer was promising a new start. The Guns N’ Roses song could not have been more fitting as the wind was blowing through the students' hair and the air was full of salt, excitement and the smell of sunscreen: “Oh, where do we go? Where do we go now? … Sweet child, sweet child o' mine”.

After returning to shore, as I was leaving Whitianga to drive back home; reflecting on the seasonal significance of the trip, I noticed the first commercial Christmas advertising of the season. Santa Claus promoting “summer savings”. And so, I felt compelled to bring up the question again: “Where do we go now? Where do we go?” … not just as individuals but also as a society, where the natural and the cultural seasonal markers are so at odds and yet blended into something that is supposed to make sense. Will the next generation maybe bring new insights?