Demand spurs dive shop to double space

HAMISH MCNICOL
Last updated 06:40 13/01/2014

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Dive Wellington has put another tank on its back, expanding its premises as it goggles an increasingly buoyant diving and spear-fishing industry.

The Island Bay dive shop, established in 1998 and formerly called Splash Gordon, has recently doubled its retail space as its online database of divers in Wellington bubbles up to more than 2000 people.

Director Dave Drane said the renovations were necessary as people increasingly looked online to buy diving and spear fishing gear.

The option to go bigger meant the store could offer more stock and greater choice, he said. "We wanted to have a specialist spear-fishing shop in Wellington so people don't go directly online and wholesale, they'll come here and have a look first. All the other dive shops seem to be hunkering down and going smaller, if anything, so we want to go the opposite way."

Drane has been with the company for about 12 years, and said the popularity of diving in Wellington had increased markedly.

The company's weekly emails had grown from a small number of recipients to about 2000 divers, from which its trips were filled each week.

Dives were held during weekends and Tuesday evenings, with about 80 people diving in the course of a busy weekend.

Two dives would cost about $75, or $100 for gear hire as well, he said.

"We've got our own charter boat which does dive charters most weekends, we've got equipment servicing and retail.

"There's lots of fingers in lots of pies to make it work."

Drane said weekends were "mental", and at its busiest there had been 65 people shopping at the retail store at once.

"We're a small retail shop; it's a lot of traffic going through."

Drane has dived at locations around the world, including Tahiti, Thailand, Malaysia, Fiji and most of New Zealand.

He said Wellington's "accessibility" made it a popular diving destination, with marine reserves, wrecks and spear-fishing destinations all just five minutes away.

Diving had become part of a "natural weekend" for many, he said, with most Dive Club members coming at least once a fortnight.

Diving was more popular in summer but the water visibility improved during winter, which countered the obvious drop in temperature, he said.

"There's stuff here that you don't see anywhere else I think, because you can jump in the water and there's seals and orcas, you never know what's going to come have a look at you.

"For the colour and the life, I think parts of Wellington are as good as anywhere in New Zealand."

Drane was a fan of hunting on his dives, but for many exploring shipwrecks, specifically the F69 Frigate Wellington, was of greater appeal.

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"I've done dives where you'll see 2000 crayfish in one dive.

"With the shape of our coastline you can get out most days of the year … worst case you can get out in the harbour and there's scallops and seahorses, there's lots to see in Wellington."

The growing number of cruise ship visitors was also good for business, he said, because Dive Wellington would pick up tourists when a ship arrived for a day-long experience.

Cruise ship passenger arrivals to Wellington increased by a third in the past year, to 172,015. The typical passenger spends about $100 a day.

But on the flipside, Drane said the company also organised regular overseas trips for its divers, providing opportunities for New Zealanders to experience international dive tourism.

A trip to the Galapagos Islands was scheduled for next year, with 14 divers securing $11,000 spots on the trip within a couple of days.

The company had been organising the overseas trips for more than 10 years, and there was a core of customers who travelled every year.

"People still spend money on what they want to spend it on, if it's something they enjoy," Drane said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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