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By Nigel Marsh


Tweed Heads, in northern New South Wales, has dozens of wonderful dive sites on its doorstep. Most of these dive sites are hidden reefs and require calm conditions to explore, but there is one dive site that can always be dived no matter what the conditions, good old Cook Island.


Cook Island is a marine sanctuary and all round its rocky shore are brilliant dive sites in depths from 6m to 20m. Over the years I have had many incredible dives at Cook Island, even when I hadn’t planned to dive Cook Island in the first place, just like a recent dive trip in July on Ocean Dive Charters.


The plan for the day was to dive the legendary Nine Mile Reef, where grey nurse sharks and other large marine animals can be found. But arriving at the jetty at 7am, we were greeted by Chris Mair, the owner/operator of Ocean Dive Charters, who informed us that conditions looked great, calm seas and light winds, however there was one small problem, a three knot current was running out wide. If we were to attempt to dive Nine Mile Reef or any of the other exposed reefs our next stop would have been Byron Bay!


Chris has been running dive charters to the wonderful dive sites off the Gold Coast and Tweed Heads for over twenty years, and operates a 8.4m fisher mono-hull surveyed for ten divers. Chris loves to show divers the great dive sites in the area, as he discovered many of them, so it is always best to follow his advice on the best site on the day, so it looked like it would be another day at good old Cook Island.


I wasn’t too disappointed by this, as a photographer I knew I would have an endless range of subjects to photograph. After loading the boat we were off down the Tweed River and soon in the open ocean. The run to Cook Island only takes 15 to 20 minutes, and we were soon tied to the mooring at The Caves. The water looked a little green, not surprising after a 4m swell all week, so it looked like close-ups were on the cards.


The visibility was only 6m to 8m, not great, but good enough to enjoy the maze of boulders at The Caves. This site consists of a jumble of rocks in 8m to 18m that form caves, gutters and swim-thrus. Fish were everywhere; schools of bullseyes, yellowtail, surgeonfish and big blubber-lipped sweetlips. There were also plenty of crayfish, blue gropers and big wobbegongs to be seen. Over summer leopard sharks are common here, but the cooler months sees the odd grey nurse shark make an appearance. No grey nurse today, but we did run into a huge green turtle and found plenty of nudibranchs and sea stars.


For our second dive we moved closer to Cook Island and explored another section of the rocky reef at Mary’s Rock. The water was clearer here, 10m to 12m, and the fish life was just as abundant. There were lots of blue gropers, ornate wobbegongs, including a number of juveniles, plus half a dozen small green and hawksbill turtles which were resting in the caves. Also in these caves were crayfish, lionfish, moray eels and pufferfish, but the highlight for me was finding a cave full of pineapplefish. These bizarre armour-plated fish are great fun to watch, and usually difficult to photograph in small caves, but this group of a dozen were in a cave just big enough for me to squeeze into for some photos.


There was also no shortage of small critters that included sea stars, leopard blennies, shrimps, hermit crabs and some lovely nudibranchs. Towards the end of the dive we had a school of huge kingfish cruise by, these bullet-like fish are always an impressive site. After two wonderful dives we headed back to jetty. Hopefully next time we will get to explore Nine Mile Reef, but it is good to know that no matter what the conditions you can always dive good old Cook Island and see its abundant marine life.


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