SINCE MOVING TO NEW ZEALAND, I have read many newspaper stories about sharks, often showing pictures of them mouthing outboard motors, or basking off the back of the surf-line.
Having drawn a blank while diving, I trawled the Internet and stumbled on Surfit Charters, which operates out of Gisborne, on the North Island.
Skipper Boyd McGregor claimed to have a good record of shark sightings, so I booked a weekend trip in early March (the end of his summer season).
On the day, a strong easterly wind knocked out Boyds home coast, but the conditions were much nicer in the Bay of Plenty. He elected to run out of Whakatane, an hour from our home.
There was no significant swell, so the going was easy. About five miles out, we came to Motuhora, or Whale Island. Boyd had been here only a handful of times but had some marks in his plotter, which gave me confidence.
Boyd began preparing the sharks lunch, an albacore from the previous days fishing. Given the small scent trail, I was sceptical when he said that the sharks would arrive within five minutes.
I took a few photos and relaxed, in no great hurry to kit up. We had set our watches from when the bait went in, and within seven minutes we saw the first silvery fin cutting through the surface water. I was amazed.
Things became a bit hectic. The cage was sent over the side, and the surface- supplied regulators set up for the first divers. Everyone was hopping around trying to get their first look at the shark. The few who had never dived before, let alone been in a cage, looked anxious.
The water was 18°C, so I spurned the thin wetsuits offered and stuck to my own 3mm Predator drysuit. I planned to spend most of my time free-swimming, so I hoped the suit would live up to its motto, Body Armour for Divers!
Boyd had mentioned that he had already seen his first white pointer (great white) of the year, so I made a mental note of the quick getaway route through the cages side escape door.
I slipped over into the water, anxious to get my camera passed down to me. Once submerged, I was far happier.
I could watch the sharks movements, and then head over to the cage area.
At first there was only one small mako, 4-5ft long, but she came straight over to have a good look at me.
There is evidence of a pecking order in shark-feeding behaviour, and I was comfortable that, because this shark was smaller than me, it would expect me to be first to have dinner.
I kept the cage behind me, and was able to watch the shark and keep it in view. I was surprised at its turn of speed, said to be 30-40mph! We counted up to four individuals over the dive, and
I drained my cylinder fairly quickly keeping up with the drifting boat and the sharks.
During lunch, a different shape appeared off the stern, its lighter colour providing more of a contrast with the water then the navy-blue makos had. Boyd was excited - he hadnt seen a bronze whaler here before.
I swapped cylinders and slipped back into the water, bobbing up next to the cage to find not one but two bronzies circling the bait.
These sharks were bigger, 7-8ft long, and sleeker, like a reef shark. They kept their distance, and were more skittish than the makos.
As time wore on, numerous mutton birds accumulated on the surface. From below, all you could see were two feet paddling away; then a beak and two eyes would inquisitively peer down at me.
The birds were happily pecking away at the fishy bits, but they had to stay sharp, because the makos also paid them a certain amount of attention!
By mid-day the wetsuit-wearers were shivering, so we began to wrap the day up. Boyd, however, had one last treat up his sleeve. I jumped back into the cage, and he brought the bait in close to the boat. The sharks had free reign over the bait and it turned into a feeding frenzy, with around eight sharks circling.
They would come in and thrash and bite at the bait, sometimes smashing into the cage, throwing me around. This was really exciting, and I had a big smile on my face when the sharks eventually swallowed the last of the bait.
I looked down as I was getting out, and beneath the cage saw a chunk of fish dropping into the blue, two mako sharks circling it as it plummeted, sunlight glinting off their backs. It was one of those spine-tingling moments.
Now I plan to head down to Boyds home coast to catch some blue shark action - and perhaps that great white!

Surfit Charters,