Chilling at the lake

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A group from all over the country descended on Queenstown to get up The Remarkables skifield on Saturday – but not for the snow.

The hearty bunch of 23 dive enthusiasts were more interested in the icy depths of a frozen-over Lake Alta, high up the mountain.
Conditions were perfect – the water was a tropical one degree and visibility under water ran to about 60 metres.

“It was really crystal clear,” says Andrew Bass, who travelled from Christchurch for the dive.

He went to the bottom – 13m down – and says the view to the entry hole in the one metre-thick ice was spectacular.

“It’s quite dark around you and you can just see the sun coming in through the hole. It’s quite epic.

“You can also see your own air bubbles cruising around on the ice – it’s like mercury.”

The water temperature wasn’t quite as much fun – “You notice it pretty much straight away.”

Bavis says the ice dive tests the boundaries but isn’t scary.

“It’s exhilarating, quite exciting. It’s one of those things you have to have a go at and knock off the list.”

A day earlier, organiser Steve Bell of the Cromwell Underwater Club spent four hours with two helpers cutting out the dive hole with an oil-free chainsaw.

It’s the 22nd year in a row he’s organised the chilly polar plunge.

“We wanted to do something other clubs couldn’t do and came up with this.

“Originally, five or six divers came up and had a go – it was a beautiful day, drinking port in the snow.”

Bell says doing an ice dive tends to be a one-off thing for most people but he’s had one diver return three times and this year a woman came down especially from Auckland.

He’s also hosted divers going to Antarctica who’re looking to try out gear in similar conditions and has done the set-up for an episode of Australian TV show Who Dares Wins filmed at Lake Alta.

Bell’s even had a couple of divers do skinny dips to finish off.

“They don’t stay in very long.”