N I G E L M A R S H P H O T O G R A P H Y
U N D E R W A T E R I M A G E S A N D A R T I C L E S
BLUE BAY DIVERS – SOMETHING NEW IN BYRON BAY
By Nigel Marsh & Helen Rose
Julian Rocks, off Byron Bay, is one of our favourite dive sites as it is always packed with marine life. But there are many other brilliant dive sites off Byron Bay that are rarely dived, due to being deep, exposed to current or a fair distance offshore. However, over the last year these sites have reopened to experienced divers since Blue Bay Divers opened for business in December 2011.
The owners/operators of Blue Bay Divers are hardy new to Byron Bay, as Rod and Christina Gray are well known in the area, with Rod having over 30 years experience in the Byron Bay dive scene and having discovered some of its best dive sites. Joining them is coxswain, Mark ‘Roundy’ Wraight, who brings 20 years of boating experience himself.
Blue Bay Divers are based in Brunswick Heads, a small seaside town that is a little more laid back than Byron, though only 20 minutes drive north. Being based at Brunswick Heads gives Blue Bay Divers a safe harbour to operate from and access to a very wide range of dive sites beyond the regular ones explored from Byron Bay. Keeping their overheads low, Blue Bay Divers do not have a dive shop, so are basically a charter boat operation, however they do have hire gear and also offer introduction dive courses.
We had been hoping to dive with Blue Bay Divers all year, and finally got our chance in November on an experienced divers only trip. We met up at the boat at 8am and quickly had the gear loaded on ‘Bay Warrior’ their 8.5m cougar cat. While surveyed for 12 divers plus two crew, they don’t take more than ten divers to ensure that dive trips are comfortable for all onboard. We had a quick look around and found the boat perfectly setup for diving with a dry cabin, with toilet, and plenty of room for dive and camera gear.
Rod was hoping to take us out to one of Byron Bay’s legendary dive sites, Windara Banks, which is the best place in Australia to see hammerheads and many other shark and pelagic species. But being 16km north east of Brunswick Heads, it is not one of those sites that you can run out to without knowing the conditions, especially the current, and with strong northerly winds all week no one had been out there. So it was decided to head to Julian Rocks and see what the conditions were like before deciding on dive sites.
With calm seas and light winds it took less than 30 minutes to get to Julian Rocks, as Bay Warrior has twin 225hp outboards and a cruising speed of 25 knots. It was decided to do the first dive at Julian Rocks and then try another site for the second if the current wasn’t too strong.
We descended in The Nursery to find the visibility 12m and the water temperature a pleasant 21°C, not bad as we had been expecting green water after the northerly winds. We had a wonderful dive, exploring many gutters as we headed towards Cod Hole, finding the usual prolific wobbegongs, gropers, kingfish, sweetlips, snapper, batfish and tropical fish. A huge school of trevally hid one grey nurse shark, and we spotted another one cruising over a ridge. We then swam through Cod Hole to find it packed with red morwong, snapper and sweetlips. At Cod Hole there was a very cold thermocline, the water temperature dropping to 18°C. We swam around to the north side of Julian Rocks to find more cold water and not a lot of fish; they were sensibly staying in the warm water.
Back on Bay Warrior for our surface interval we warmed up in the sunshine and enjoyed a lovely break with Christina bringing out a smorgasbord of food; sausage rolls, fruit and home made chocolate brownies that were just delicious. For our second dive the vote was to dive Spot X, a site I hadn’t dived in 20 years.
Spot X is located 800m off Julian Rocks and is dominated by two large bommies in 17m to 26m of water. With little current we descended to find the water cool and green, 18°C and 10m visibility, but with fish everywhere. Lined up on top of the main bommie was a row of spotted wobbegongs and swarming around them were schools of bullseyes, red morwong, sweetlips and mulloway. We did several circuits around the two main bommies and also checked out the surrounding gutters to find more wobbies and more fish. The concentration of marine life on this spot is just amazing. One of the divers even encountered a small hammerhead.
We had a great day of diving with Blue Bay Divers and will look forward to a return trip to explore Windara Banks and the other local dive sites they are offering; Hammerhead Wall, Black Rock, Cape Pinnacle, Mackerel Boulders and the newly discovered shipwreck Sea Rogue. Of course Blue Bay Divers don’t just cater for experienced divers and also explore the always enjoyable sites around Julian Rocks.
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