On the October long weekend, 7 divers and 2 partners made a long journey to Wooli on the far north NSW coast for a weekend of diving at North Solitary Island (and North West Rock). Even though we had a long drive (over 8 hours from Sydney) and despite the less than ideal weather, we had a fabulous time.
We stayed above the Wooli Dive Centre in very comfortable accommodation. The place was huge and very clean with multiple rooms. While there were nine of us staying there, we easily had room for at least another 5 people. The best part about the accommodation was that it was right across the road from the wharf so we could gear up there and walk across the road and get onto the boat each morning.
First thing on Saturday morning we boarded the boat for the 20-30 minute ride out to North West Rock. The water was a bit rough but the boat rode comfortably through swell.
The first dive was at a site called Fish Soup. The boat moored on the western side of North West Rock where we entered the water. We swam through a gap in the island to the eastern side and then swam south amongst some huge boulders. Around and between the boulders were large numbers of large fish including, fusiliers, morwong, sweetlips and blue groper. At the based of many of the boulders were beautiful bright yellow sun corals. A grey nurse shark was seen.
After pottering around the boulders for a while we headed back through the gap and back to the boat. Once everyone was back in the boat we headed over to North Solitary Island, around half a kilometre to the south east. We had intended to dive at Anemone Bay on the northern end of the island but the moorings were taken by other boats so we headed to around half way down the western side of the island to a site called Bubble Cave. After we stopped we had a cup of soup each and some banana cake while waiting for a sufficient surface interval.
For the dive at Bubble Cave we descended the mooring line and swum through a number of gutters. The bottom of some of the gutters were carpeted with thousands of anemones and the anemones hosted many anemonefish of two species: barrier reef anemonefish (Amphiprion akindynos) and blue-lip anemonefish (A. latezonatus). We eventually headed towards shallower water and towards the bubble cave itself. Colin and I didn’t go all the way to the bubble cave but those that did were rewarded with a lionfish.
After we were all back in the boat we headed back to shore – a 30-35 minute trip. The seas had already started to come up and there was a chance we’d not be able to dive on Sunday. Mick, the boat driver, said that if it was not too rough, we’d be able to do two dives at Anemone Bay. That was our plan as we got off the boat.
After cleaning our gear and ourselves, we had planned to walk up to the bowling club for some lunch. Before we left we were hit by a massive thunderstorm with strong winds, heavy rain and hail. We were lucky we weren’t caught in it. Instead we stayed in for egg and bacon sandwiches kindly cooked up by John. The storm was only short lived and the Sun came out and it was a beautiful afternoon.
For dinner we had a tasty barbecue cooked on the balcony of our accommodation by John again – he’s a pretty good cook. We had a quiet night of eating, drinking and chatting. We also had a slightly shorter night because Daylight Saving kicked in on Sunday morning and yet we still had to be ready for the dives at 7am.
Sunday morning the weather looked pretty good even though the forecast was for strong southwesterly winds and seas to 3 metres. The Sun was even out for most of the time we were diving. The conditions were such that we’d have a bit of a bumpy ride out but as Anemone Bay was on the northern tip of North Solitary Island, it would be protected from the rough weather. At 7:30am we headed out and arrived at Anemone Bay at around 8:10am and were in the water shortly after 8:20am.
Like the Bubble Cave site, The bottom of Anemone Bay is covered in anemones. We mostly saw the same two species of anemonefish, but also saw a couple of black anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus). For the first dive we mainly swam around the middle of the bay, heading towards the shallows at the end of the dive. We saw a number of nudibranchs, a couple of wobbegongs and even a turtle. In addition to the anemones, there were a lot of stony and soft corals covering many of the surfaces.
Back at the boat we had a cup of soup and banana cake while waiting for the second dive. For the second dive we headed west down a deep gutter with a vertical wall on one side. Various invertebrates were on the wall including corals, nudibranchs, Christmas tree worms and sea stars. We saw more wobbegongs and also a lionfish.
The seas had come up during the dives and the Sun had gone behind the clouds but the trip back was with the swell and not as rough as the trip out. On the way back we were lucky to see a pod of dolphins as well as 2 or 3 whales breaching. Once was so high that even its tail fluke was out of the water.
Back on shore, the weather conditions deteriorated again so the timing of the dives could not have been more fortunate. It pretty much rained for the rest of the afternoon. Lunch was take-away and dinner for most of us was at the Wooli Hotel-Motel. After a quiet evening back at the accommodation we had a good night’s rest and a fairly early start for the trip back to Sydney.
Overall the trip was fantastic. While the weather was far from perfect, the conditions were fine for diving and the diving itself was excellent. Wooli Dive Centre provided a great service with both comfortable dive boat and accommodation. I will make every effort to attend the next trip and encourage others to come as well.