Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Julian Rocks
The Far and Mid North Coasts of New South Wales has the best beaches of any location in the world (and I defy anyone to show me better) which cover a length of coastline from the Queensland border to around Forster, just a few hundred kilometres north of Sydney. This spectacular section of coast runs about 600 kilometres and there are fantastic headlands and islands that make the coast one of the most popular areas in Australia for tourists. Byron Bay is such an area of the coast. Named in 1770 by Lieutenant James Cook, RN, commander of HM Bark Endeavour, after Lord Byron (well, he actually named the headland Cape Byron). Cape Byron is the eastern-most point of the Australian mainland.
Located less than two kilometres north of Cape Byron and a bit further off the main Byron Bay beach, Julian Rocks is a bundle of rocks that covers a very small area. One of the first protected marine areas in NSW (and in fact, in Australia), Julian Rocks has a marine environment that is amazingly good. Despite this, very few divers from Sydney tend to visit Byron Bay as it is too far from Sydney to make it possible to be dived on a weekend (or even a long weekend for that matter). For more information, see my Byron Bay article.
After launching from the beach at Cape Byron, it is only a 10 minute run (at the most) out to Julian Rocks. For our first dive here, we are doing a drift dive from the Cod Hole to the Southern End via the Eastern side of the island. We enter the water at the mooring and drop to the bottom. The depth here is 9 to 10 metres and for a short distance the depth does not appreciably change. The rocky reef of the island slopes gently down to the sand here but on the eastern and southern side it drops vertically giving great walls.
A bit further on the water gradually deepens down to 22 to 24 metres. The current pushes us along, but not so quick that we cannot swim against it if we want to. The fishlife at first is not fantastic but it soon gets better. As we round the north-eastern corner, we see the first grey nurse shark of the dive. This is off the Cod Hole. Within a few minutes, we see a couple more. They are swimming up and down a small sand gutter. The water is not too clear, maybe seven metres at the most, so we cannot see all this dive has to offer.
The fishlife is now prolific. Leatherjackets and wrasse of many species, dozens of big bream, silver sweep, pike, some small yellowtail kingfish and other reef fish inhabit the edge of the reef. There are a lot of tropical species as well, including many species of clownfish. Firefish are seen and we see the first of many turtles. The first few are only small but along the eastern wall we see a huge one sleeping in a hole.
There are a few enormous Queensland gropers and some back cod along here but they dart off fairly quickly once they see us. Pity the visibility is not better. The depth comes up a bit and the reef is 12 to 16 metres deep (at the shallow spots). The sponge life is pretty good and there are some small gorgonias. After one hour we exit the water having really enyoyed the dive.
The next morning we again do the drift dive from the Turtle Hole to the Southern End. This time the current is a bit stronger and we whip along. As we pass the Cod Hole we see an enormous school of snapper. They are huge, old-man snappers and I count 14 but another person on the dive later swears that he sees 40!! There is a grey nurse shark just past here and them a few more as well. We go a bit deeper than we mean to, reaching 26 metres. There are some low rocks and ridges in this area and we have to swim very hard to get back to the main reef.
Once again we see some large bream, more turtles, including the big one from yesterday. Some medium sized kingfish come in and circle us before heading off to deeper water. The Queensland groper and black cod make another appearance.
As we approach the end of the dive, a magical event is about to occur. I am swimming along at eight metres, ahead of the others and about to ascend to the top of the reef. All of a sudden I spy something ahead. An eagle ray. I swim harder and then see it is not an eagle ray but a small manta ray. Things you see when you do not have your video camera!! I signal my friends and then swim even harder and soon catch the manta. I am right beside it now and the others have also got close enough to see it. I touch the "wing" of the manta and it continues on slowly. I am now beginning to tire so I drop my speed. The manta rises a bit and then turns around and swims back towards us, passing between myself and the other divers before going off into deeper water. Fantastic, the very first manta ray I have ever seen in Australian waters and only the second time I have ever seen one.
Another few minutes are spent doing a safety stop on the top of the reef. Sixty minutes after entering the water I get back on the boat after one of the best dives I have ever done.
Once again, this is an excellent dive site, one of the most enjoyable I have done. I dived with Bayside Suba and can recommend the services of Greg Murrell and his staff. Contact them on 02 6685 8333.
All in all, the three dives I have done at Julian Rocks have been of the highest quality, as good as any dive location I have visited. Make sure you get up to Byron Bay soon.