Treasure hunters solve 180-year-old mystery

Cold and shivering, Bill Day hauled himself out of the water and into an inflatable boat bobbing lightly on the incoming tide. He pulled off his diving mask and looked around the cove. It was a rare day in the Auckland Islands. Sunlight streamed into a huge archway big enough for a ship to fit through. A waterfall flowed from the middle of a cave roof, washing over hanging rocks and into the ocean below.

"Isn't it a pity that ships don't go down in places like this," Day told the boatman at the engine.

The expedition team had swum the length of the west coast of the islands, which lie like irregular dragon's teeth, 300km below New Zealand's southernmost tip.

Day, a maritime services businessman of Wellington, had just finished 50 minutes in the frigid waters before it was the turn of the next diver, Willie Bullock. He rolled in and the boatman moved the dinghy a few hundred metres to wait for him to reappear.

Underwater, everything looked the same. They were searching for shapes not found in nature – a straight line, a regular curve – anything that might betray a story lost to the sea.

Image: Over the Shipwreck, by Claudio Accheri