Byron Bay Dive Sites
On the East Coast of Australia, about 800 kilometers north from Sydney, Byron Bay is the most easterly point of the Australian mainland. This popular subtropical holiday destination is renown for its beautiful beaches and stunning hinterland. Here, only 2.5 kilometers from the shore lies Julian Rocks Marine Reserve.
Named by Captain Cook in 1776, Julian Rocks consists of ancient metamorphic rock thrust through the earth’s crust millions of years ago. It is an extension of Cape Byron separated by the ocean and forms a unique habitat providing shelter and food for sea turtles, rays, corals, over 500 different species of fish and many more marine creatures.
With water temperatures and currents changing throughout the year there are many seasonal visitors. During cooler winter months the grey nurse sharks visit Julian Rocks. Although these sharks look fearsome they are quite shy and are perfectly safe and exciting to dive with. The docile leopard sharks can be seen on almost every dive during mid-summer when the waters are between 24 and 27 degrees Celsius. Also in summer and early autumn manta rays cruise elegantly through the waters surrounding the rock feeding on plankton completely undisturbed by inquisitive scuba divers.
Among the regulars that are seen all year around are three different turtle species, both the spotted and ornamented wobbegong sharks, eagle rays, cuttlefish and anemones with their clown fish. Four species of moray eel are common as are the banner-fish and an amazing number of golden bulls-eyes. Schools of mulloway, king fish, tuna and trevally hang patiently in the currents.
There is an abundance of sea stars, colourful sponges, both hard and soft corals spread amongst amazing rock formations. All this gives a feeling you are floating through some beautifully landscaped underwater garden.
The short trip to the rock is almost as exciting as the diving with dolphins often accompanying the dive boats. From May until September the Humpback whales pass Byron Bay on their annual migration, and can easily be spotted from the boat or be heard singing under water.
The dive sites around Julian Rocks are all impressive and they offer dives that are spectacular to the novice as well as the experienced underwater explorer.
By Wandy Brouwer, PLANULA Divers Retreat in Byron Bay.
The Cod Hole
An underwater swimthrough about 30 metres from the north eastern tip of the rocks. The Cod Hole opens up at about 15 metres with an entrance about 4 metres by 5 metres, and slopes downward and away to the open sea to a depth of 21 metres.It is the haunt of big moray eels, wobbegongs, blue groupers, grey nurse sharks and other large fish.
On the south-west tip of Julian Rocks, the Needles are large bombies that come close to the surface. Current here often brings with it schools of large and small fish, and at some times during the year, huge rays. When Julian Rocks is visited by the Leopard Sharks, they are often found at this site.
The depths here range from 10 metres to 15 metres. This site is home to many species of nudibranch. Swim along the trenches and around bombies for a very pretty and interesting dive.
The Cray Cave
The Cray Cave is located on the exposed south-east end of Julian Rocks. As the name suggests there is a small cave or swimthrough. The area is a mass of huge rock outcrops. You will encounter grey nurse sharks, cod, turtles and rays. Black coral trees line the sheer walls of Julian Rocks to the north. The site is often dived as a drift from the Nursery or Cod Hole. You will reach depths here up to 25 metres.
The depth range for this dive is from 12 metres to 18 metres. The trench actually runs all the way through the rock, however conditions would have to be perfect to attempt to swim through. The dive normally begins on the southern side of the rocks and takes you into the trench, where you have sheer walls on either side. The trench is home to wobbegongs, turtles, and schools of tarwhine and many other species. Don’t forget to look up!
On the sheltered western side of the rock, The Nursery offers a shallow dive from 5 metres to 12 metres. The reef fish here are prolific. In this general area, in about 8 metres of water, lies the anchor and chain from an old sailing ship – The Volunteer – which was wrecked off Tallow Beach, south of the lighthouse.
The Nursery is a perfect place for students to experience their first dive, the relatively shallow water, and protection provide an ideal underwater classroom. As the name suggests, here you will find many juvenile species, using this safe haven as protection while maturing.
Situated just north of the Nursery. This site offers a range of large scattered bombies, one of which appears to be split down the middle. You will find a crevice here, usually filled with bullseyes, often concealing a large wobbegong or turtle. The depth here is 15 metres but heading north-west will take you to a large trench in about 18 metres depth.