Gerry Reagan


Dedicated to the memory of Fernando Pereira.


By Gerry Regan

As final resting places go, Matauri Bay , near the Cavalli Islands New Zealand, would be hard to surpass. And it is here that the remains of the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior can be found. Built in 1955 by Hall, Russell & company for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, she was launched as the Sir William Hardy and was renamed as the Rainbow Warrior when purchased by the environmental organisation Greenpeace UK in 1977. Throughout the early 1980s, she found herself in the Pacific campaigning against nuclear weapon testing. When she travelled to New Zealand, to lead a flotilla of small boats to protest against French testing at Moruroa Atoll, the French secret service (DGSE) decided to intervene.

As covert missions go, Operation Satanic was the epitome of incompetence and French nationalistic hubris. Incomprehensibly, this Clouseau like plan Led to the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour on the evening of the 10th of July 1985. This act of terror, resulted in the sinking of the vessel, and the tragic death of Fernando Pereira, the ships photographer.

For forensic reasons the ship was refloated, and kept in dry dock as the two nations locked horns over compensation terms. The affair backfired very badly on the French as world public opinion and contributions provided Greenpeace with goodwill and the finance to rebuild its fleet.

During this time, in discussions with the Maori Elders it was planned to re- sink the vessel at a place that was both environmentally, and culturally sensitive. Having spent 3 years working on the project, the ship was sunk as an artificial reef and memorial, in Matauri Bay.

The small tourist town of Paihia , hosts a very well run, friendly dive shop that offers a day’s diving on the wreck of the Rainbow Warrior and a scenic dive on a nearby reef. It was with this outfit, that I found myself at the bottom of the shot line, marvelling at the sight of the ship born in Aberdeen now a wreck lying upright on its keel in 28 m of water. With good visibility, and a water temperature of 17 degrees I set off along the starboard hull. Half way along, a small tear in the metal beautifully framed a Green Moray eel. Anxious to get a decent shot I moved in closer. Accessing his inner Glaswegian the eel shot forward and in the blink of an eye it was Mano a Mano at 28 m. Utilising a manoeuvre akin to a wasp let loose in your spacesuit, I was relieved to see my assailant retreat before his appalling arsenal of teeth could find purchase in anything that belonged to me.

Shaken and stirred, we made our way forward, and spent some time taking photos around the iconic bow of the wreck. In the 30 years that the wreck has lain in the bay she has been heavily populated by all manner of life. The New Zealand Leatherjacket was the most numerous fish, alongside Blue Moki, Tarakihi, Porae, and Travally. Every crevice was inhabited with various Crustacea and invertebrate life. Notable among them were several large Nudibranchs and huge Pacific Crayfish.

In no time, we found ourselves adjacent to the wheelhouse and the chance to transit through a large portion of the superstructure. Most of the other divers bypassed the route, however I followed the guide through the tangle of the wheelhouse and crew quarters. I was rewarded with a view into the cabins, now used by myriad juvenile fish as their nurseries. It was also quite emotional to consider the history of the boat and her crew at this point.

Back out onto the main deck area, we continued to explore the wreck until after 40 minutes it was time to find the shot line and the safety of the Paihia rib. We then powered off to a nearby island for our lunch and some lazy snorkelling. The second dive consisted of a guided tour of the reef adjoining the island. The general topography reminded me of the St Abbs region. Numerous shoals of fish, giant crayfish, and large scorpion fish were the standout features of this dive.


A short 10minute cruise took us back to the beach and the luxury of a hot shower. One hour later, after a drive back to Paihia it was all over, one of the world’s top ten dives consigned to the log book. Paihia is found at the heart of the Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand.

It cost 250 NZ Dollars (£125) for equipment rental and 2 dives Paihia Dive - 7 Williams St Paihia