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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


By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose


Mention Bundaberg to most Aussie divers and they will think of Lady Elliot Island or rum, or possibly both! However, for divers in the know they will automatically think about the wonderful and easy shore diving to be found off this sugar town.


Bundaberg, located four and half hours dive north of Brisbane, is a busy country town known as the sugar capital of Australia. Surrounded by sugar cane fields, that go into producing the town’s most famous export – rum, the town is also the gateway to the Southern Great Barrier Reef but also has some of its own local dive sites that are well worth a look. Located off the coast are brilliant boat dives on rocky reefs, shipwrecks and an amazing artificial reef, but the town also has Queensland’s best shore diving sites.


The coastline off Bundaberg is mostly rocky, formed over a million years ago by volcanic eruptions. Known as the Woongara Coast, these rocks continue underwater and have allowed corals to establish and flourish in shallow water.


We first dived this area ten years ago and wondered why it had taken us so long to discover this site as we were instantly impressed by the abundant marine life we found. But we also quickly discovered that the visibility here is very unreliable, best when the winds are light and more importantly when there has been little rain for a few weeks. On a number of occasions we have arrived in Bundaberg only to discover that recent heavy rain had turned the inshore waters brown! Fortunately on our most recent visit in February there had been no rain for a month so our hopes were high for some good diving.


Arriving in Bundaberg our first stop was the local dive shop, Aqua Scuba, to ask owner Julian Negri what the conditions were like (with the unreliable visibility it is always a good idea to contact the dive shop for updates on the conditions and always have a backup plan, like a day trip to dive Lady Musgrave Island). Aqua Scuba offer guided shore dives for those new to the area, and also offer local boat dives. Julian informed us that conditions were looking good and that they had just returned from a nice snorkel at Kelly’s Beach.


While you can jump in the water just about anywhere from Burnett Heads in the north to Elliot Heads in the south, the three most popular dive sites here are Barolin Rocks, Hoffman’s Rocks and Burkitt’s Reef. For our first dive we rock hopped in at Barolin Rocks, an easy entry in the calm conditions, and were amazed to find the visibility 15m, the best visibility we have ever seen here (good visibility is generally six to 10m, and mostly over the winter months).


The rocky reef at Barolin Rocks reaches a maximum depth of 8m, meaning plenty of bottom time to explore. The corals here are just brilliant; soft corals, hard corals, gorgonians, sponges and ascidians. We were interested to see how much silt there was on the corals, after two summers of dramatic flooding, but were surprised to find little silt, but we did notice some dead hard corals. We quickly encountered some of the typical reef fish – globefish, pufferfish, wrasse, butterflyfish, damsels, hawkfish, boxfish, tuskfish and the signature fish of the area the lovely scribbled angelfish.


Exploring the coral gardens for an hour and a half we found crabs, sea stars, feather stars, crayfish, blue spotted stingrays, several ornate wobbegongs, including a baby only 10cm long, an eastern shovelnose ray and an olive sea snake, another common resident. There were also plenty of nudibranchs to be seen, another feature of these shallow reefs.


Towards the end of the dive we headed into the shallows to explore the crevasses and ledges and found sea hares, gropers, moray eels, crayfish and a surprising number of very cute blennies.


Our next dive took us to Hoffman’s Rocks. The visibility was just as good here as we explored the coral gardens and numerous small bommies found at this site in depths to 10m. We saw pretty much the same reef fish and invertebrate species, but also found several allied cowries on the gorgonians.


This spot is more exposed to current, which are very gentle, but this current does bring in larger species and pelagic visitors. In previous dives here we have seen turtles, sea snakes and Queensland gropers, but today it was Spanish mackerel, golden trevally, batfish, snapper, sweetlips and a squadron of six spotted eagle rays.


The following day the wind and swell had started to rise. We returned to Barolin Rocks and found it even better, finding even more fish and nudibranchs, but the entry and exit was a little tricky in the choppy conditions. With the swell rising we decided to do our final dive at Burkitt’s Reef, which is located right in front of the town of Bargara. The entry and exit is a lot easier here, from a sandy beach as opposed to scrambling over slippery rocks, but it does involve a five minute swim to reach the reef.


Descending on the rocky reef we found the visibility was a little stirred up by the rising swell, only about 10m. There are some lovely corals on this reef, which reaches a maximum depth of 9m, but we also saw sections of dead hard coral. During this dive we found a large olive sea snake, another eastern shovelnose ray and quite a number of crayfish and reef fish. But the highlight was the enormous number of nudibranchs, which covered the bottom in places.


After four of the best shore dives we have ever had at Bundaberg it was time to head home, and pray for a repeat of these brilliant conditions for our next visit.



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