Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Jervis Bay General
My very first dives in Australia (I first dived in Tahiti) were at Jervis Bay. The first ten or so dives I did here were in the bay itself or just outside. In the immediate years after, I visited Jervis Bay a number of times to dive but I could honestly say that I was never really impressed with the diving. While I thought it was good, I could not understand why everyone said that the diving here was fantastic. I then decided not to dive there and instead I visited other sections of the NSW coastline. As I was to later discover, this was a big mistake.
Not owning my own boat and forced to rely on the then local operators, we had dived the same sites over and over again. While good, the sites were not fantastic and were certainly not up to the standard I had found elsewhere in NSW nor were of the quality related to me by some other divers.
However, in more recent years, I have been diving Jervis Bay on a regular basis, first with John Beddie and then in my own boat. John took me to spots that I did not even know exist. Since then, the diving I experienced has led me to re-examine my earlier thoughts on Jervis Bay.
For those of you who live outside NSW, Jervis Bay is the largest real bay on the east coast of Australia. Covering an area of more than 126 square kilometres, the bay itself is one of the most untouched parts of the coast. The southern headland stretching down to Wreck Bay is part of Booderoo (formerly Jervis Bay) National Park (and before that Jervis Bay Nature Reserve) under the control of the Federal Nature Conservation Department (at least that is their current name). The northern headland is Commonwealth land used as a naval firing range while a large proportion of the remaining shoreline has been promised many times as a NSW national park by two former Ministers for the Environment (this has now happened but it does not cover any decent areas like the northern headland). Likewise, the bay and surrounded coastal waters were announced many times as about to be proclaimed as a marine reserve but this finally happened sometime in late 1998.
The coast from Currarong to Wreck Bay covers more than 25 kilometres and represents one of the most untouched and spectacular sections of the NSW coastline, with towering cliffs rising straight out of the water. I have calculated that you could spend three months at Jervis Bay, diving twice each day, and still not dive the same spot more than once. Starting in the north at Currarong, the following is a very brief run down on some of the better dive sites at Jervis Bay.
TSS Merimbula (4-13
The TSS Merimbula was a twin screw steel steamship launched in Troon, Scotland in 1909. It was over 209 feet long and displaced 1111 tons. At 1 am on 27 March 1928, the Merimbula ran aground on Whale Point at Currarong. No lives were lost but the ship was mortally wounded. Engines, boiler, anchor, winches, propeller shafts can be found as well as sections of the hull. Although it is not yet 75 years old, it has been declared an historic wreck. A very interesting dive in calmer seas.
TSS Wandra (24-26m)
The TSS Wandra is one of the most enjoyable wreck dives in NSW. Located at the Drum and Drumsticks (south of Currarong), the Wandra was a wooden coastal cargo ship constructed at Coopernook in 1907. Only 36 metres long and with a tonnage of 164 tons, the wreck of the Wandra does not cover a large area, but it makes up for it in quality. Wrecked on 15 December 1915, the remains lie at 26 metres on a sand bottom straight next to the rocky reef. The large boiler is only metres from the reef and nearby are the twin engines, still connected to the props by the driveshafts. The load of timber carried by the vessel is
scattered about as are other pieces like winches. An excellent dive.
Drum and Drumsticks (14-30m)
The Drum and Drumsticks gets its name from the dramatic rock formation that juts up from the sea. The largest rock is the Drum and the smaller surrounding rocks are the Drumsticks. The diving all around the area is very good (eg TSS Wandra) but the best reef diving is on the northern and north-east side of the Drum. A very
large cave (14-17m) is located on the north side and there are many small swim-throughs. A unique aspect to this dive are the many remains of aircraft bombs, all dummies (I think), found in front of the cave. Apparently at one time the Drum and Drumsticks were used for target practice by the RAAF and RAN.
Smugglers Cave (12-33m)
This is a very large cave with entrances from the open sea and a more protected entrance from a small bay. Although deep away from the shore, the cave is fairly shallow, so it can only be dived in very calm seas and to travel right through requires millpond seas. The protected entrance of the cave is quite wide, extending above the waterline. It then runs in a dog-leg shape to the narrow and shallower "exit". If conditions are ideal, a memorable dive.
Crocodile Head (10-23m)
I have never been really able to see how this site got its name. Nevertheless, it is quite a good dive site. The main features, like most Jervis Bay dives, are a cave and an arch. One extremely large arch can be found here, extending from about three to seven metres below the water up to twenty or so metres above. Only in
very calm seas can you travel right through, but in slight seas you can dive right up to the rock platform (what exists). To the north, a long, narrow cave runs under the cliff in the inlet.
The Caves (12-21m)
This site is just to the west of Crocodile Head and protected from north-easterly winds. A small cave is normally home to a number of eastern blue devilfish. Further west is a very large cave. Away from the cliff there are some overhangs, swim-throughs and large boulders. A nice dive.
The Arch (10-40m)
Definitely one of the best of the Jervis Bay dive sites, The Arch is very appropriately named. Looking somewhat like a miniature Gladesville Bridge (or the West Gate Bridge for Melbournites), The Arch itself tops out at about 20 metres and reaches about 36 metres immediately below the span. You can dive deeper away
from The Arch and it is worthwhile spending time in the 15 to 20 metre area where there are many swim-throughs and very good fishlife. Around The Arch itself are some great gorgonias, sponges and prolific fishlife. Not to be missed for the more experienced diver.
The Whorehouse (Labyrinth) (13-26m)
My imagination did not fail me here, this site really does match its name. The site consists of an enormous flattish rock which rests on a number of "columns" creating a dozen or more entrances and a huge open room and central pillar. The more descriptive name is very appropriate (so I am told!), as it looks like doors are leading off a main room. The depth of The Whorehouse goes from 20 metres down to 26 metres. It is an easy swim to the cliff face from this site and the last part of your dive can be spent in the shallower water where there are more swim-throughs and overhangs. Good fishlife in and around the Whorehouse.
Point Perpendicular is the northern headland of Jervis Bay and was named, I am fairly sure, by Lieutenant James Cook in April 1770 as he sailed past. As soon as you see the cliff you can see why Cook named it (Cook gave many similar names to locations, simple they may have been but practical they certainly were for the following explorers). In northerly seas, the whole Point Perpendicular area is a very welcome site as you can normally still dive there without too much inconvenience. I have dived a couple of spots in the middle of the head and Inner Point Perpendicular (see next item) and the Sponge Gardens. This site is about half way along Point Perpendicular and is a bit deeper (sand at 34 metres) with an excellent sponge garden (as implied in the name) alongside. A five metre wall at the 30 metre level has a few swim-throughs and and a lot of overhangs.
Back up in the shallows there are numerous small caves/holes caused by giant boulders dropping off the cliff thousands of years ago. Under the rock platform (10 metres) there are heaps of caves and swim-throughs and lots of smaller fish. Again, good visibility and an excellent dive.
There are numerous other dive sites here but this is the only one I have done.
Inner Point Perpendicular (Pyramid Rock)
Some charter operators call this site by the name Pyramid Rock, which is same as the better and longer known Pyramid Rock just a short distance away at Bowen Island. I prefer the name Inner Point Perpendicular so not as to confuse as the Bowen Island Pyramid Rock is far more prominent and a more appropriate name.
This site consists of a sandy bottom at about 24 metres punctuated by smallish boulders. A wall at about 20 metres jumps up to 15 metres from where the bottom slopes up to 7 metres or so. Here there is a shear wall up to the rock platform. There are numerous small overhangs and caves along the wall area and under the rock
platform there are a number of larger caves that extend back into the cliff. The fishlife in some spots here was quite prolific, with huge schools of morwong lazing around and even bigger schools of one-spot pullers. These were very aggressive, attacking both my video camera lens as well as my hand, taking a bite or two out of the fingers. A highlight was seeing an magnificent eastern blue devilfish and quite a few species of eatherjacket.<
The Torpedo Tubes
I have never dived this site but everyone tells me they it is very good. It is very close to the above site. Protected from northerly winds and seas. However, the fishers here are very aggressive and have been known to attack divers and their boats.
The Docks (5-21m)
The Docks is probably the most popular dive site at Jervis Bay, certainly in terms of diver visits. I have dived this site numerous times but it is one you could never tire of. Like all Jervis Bay dives, there are many caves and swim-throughs, including the Double Decker Cave, the Vertical Swim-through and the Deco Rock Cave.
Fishlife is very prominent and includes some tropical species, even in mid-winter. Another memorable dive site, especially at night.
Longnose Point (5-22m)
A bit further inside the bay is Longnose Point. Not a great dive site by any means, it gets on my list as a shallower protected dive (from northerly seas) for those times when this is what you need. Some small walls and overhangs, a couple of cracks and a bit of fishlife make it worth the effort if nowhere else is available.
Bombora Reef(5 to 25m)
Off the southern end of Longnose Point the reef comes up a bit to five metres. The reef drops off in steps to 25 metres and is quite interesting, with some caves and gullies. Excellent dive location.
Darts Point(8 to 20m)
To the west of Longnose Point is Darts Point. This point runs underwater for some way with a number of parallel ridges. An easy dive, suited to when the seas are very rough outside and as a third or fourth dive of the day.
Fairey Firefly VX381 (13m)
On 27 November 1956, two Fairey Fireflies of the RAN (VX381 and WD887) collided over Jervis Bay, both crashing into the bay. The Fireflies, carrier borne anti-submarine torpedo bombers, were based at nearby HMAS Albatross. In 1983, local Charlie Pickering found VX381. It is intact, apart from some gauges stolen since then. With a wingspan of 13 metres and length of 12 metres, this is not a huge site and its shallow depth of 13 metres means that it is a dive you do using the remains of one tank. Difficult to locate, the marks are not commonly available, although the charter boats will take you there. Unique for NSW and probably Australia.
Middle Ground (24m)
This is a different sort of dive for Jervis Bay, located as it is in the middle of the bay's entrance. The reef is quite extensive, spreading for some distance in a north-west to south-east direction. However, it only rises a metre or two off the sand in most places, but it occasionally reaches three or four.
Scallop Beds (12 m)
Inside Bowen Island are the scallop beds. Although they are totally protected (the last time I checked), the area is a very interesting dive site. Great for photographers for the prolific macro life or as a night dive.
The Nursery (3-10m)
This is located inside the northern point of Bowen Island. Shallow but great dive site with heaps of fish.
Aztec Reef (5-18m)
This is located right at the north-western point of Bowen Island. Gets its name from Aztec-like "drawings" on the rocks. Very good dive site with heaps of fish.
North Bowen Island(5-28m)
This is the northern most area of Bowen Island. Normally only dived by me in rough seas but dived by the charter boats in all seas. Heaps of swim-throughs and boulders. Another spot with excellent fishlife.
Little Egypt (10-33m)
We named this site Little Egypt due to the many pyramid shaped rocks that jut out of the water (and sit above high tide) on the northern side of Bowen Island. Just anchor anywhere off the pyramids. There are some nice swim-throughs, many small overhangs, a lot of large boulders and generally, an excellent dive location. Prolific fishlife in spots, especially in the shallower water.
The Boulders (12-24m)
Anywhere off the eastern side of Bowen Island is a good dive site. This site is located about halfway along the island. The huge boulders mean that there are plenty of nooks and crannies for the fish to hide in and for you to explore. An excellent dive location for both beginners and experienced.
Pyramid Rock (20-36m)
Named after a pyramid shaped rock on the shoreline at the southern end of Bowen Island, this is a very attractive and spectacular dive site. From a sand bottom at 36 metres, a very prominent wall protrudes about six metres or so. All along the wall there are small overhangs and cracks, with beautiful gorgonias everywhere. On the sand, some very large boulders sit three or four metres high, with sponges and more gorgonias. The sand itself is home to hundreds of sea-whips, with everyone having two or more swimming anemones living on them. Swimming anemones look like a cross between an anemone and a nudibranch and are one of the most attractive animals in the ocean. Definitely the best place in NSW to see them.
Elles Cave (5-17 m)
This is a very interesting dive site. Located just to the south of Pyramid Rock but off the mainland rather than Bowen Island, Elles Cave is found at the southern head of a small bay. The cave itself is L-shaped, with the larger entrance facing the north-east open ocean. The depth here is 17 metres and it shallows to 8 metres as it exits back into the bay. Good diving can be found at the head of the bay (a small cave is here) and in the main section of the bay.
Spider Cave (6-27m)
This is a fascinating dive, with a cave extending about 80 to 100 metres back under the enormous cliff. Located only a short distance from Elles Cave, the cave has three entrances one on top of another. As you enter from the bottom one (24m) you swim for 10 metres and ascend into the middle entrance (21m) and continue towards the rear of the cave. After a short distance you encounter the top entrance (17m) and another short swim brings you to a seemingly dead end. However, ascending brings you to another section of the cave (12m) and another "dead end". Once more you ascend through a small hole and enter the far end of the cave (7m). While not as big or majestic as Fish Rock Cave, it is dive you could repeat time after time.
Stoney Creek (38-50+m)
After many attempts to dive this location, I finally dived Stoney Creek in mid-1997 and can report that it is everything (and then some) that everyone claims. The site drops from about 38 metres in a shear wall to the sea floor at over 50 metres. The wall is covered in sea whips and gorgonias as well as sponges, sea squirts and other colourful creatures. One of the best dives I have done. The currents can be fierce (that is why I took so long to dive it) but on the right day it is without peer as a deep reef dive. There is even the chance of having a seal swim around you (as I did).