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Coffs Harbour
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The five islands located within the Solitary islands Marine park boast excellent subtropical diving, with hard and soft corals, abundant tropical and pelagic fish life. In summer they have Manta Rays and Spotted Eagle Rays, and in winter Grey Nurse Sharks and Giant Cuttlefish.  A spectacular feature of North Solitary Island is its extensive Clown Fish Colonies and Anemone Beds which carpet the seabed around a full third of the island. From June to November each year Humpback Wales can be seen on the boat ride out. 

Dive Sites

North West Rock – Fish Soup

Depth (18m | 59ft) |
Famous for the thousands of schooling and solitary pelagic fish species sheltering along a split in the rock.
Fish Soup

From the mooring line, divers head towards the rock where a swim though into a split in the rock ("the Slot") leads to an enclosed rock arena, full of hundreds of schooling and solitary pelagics.  Continuing along the slot there are many more swim throughs and more schools of fish.  The depth ranges from 5 to 24 meters.

Fish species found at this dive site include bream, tarwhine, morwong, mangrove jacks, spangled emperors, mosses perch, black cod, trevally, blue groper, flute-mouths and sweetlips

This dive site is exposed to swell and in the line of the East Australian Current, but well worth the effort for the most diverse, and densest population of schooling fish to be seen in NSW.

North Solitary Island

Depth (18m | 59ft) |
Amazingly dense carpet of anemone growth, fascinating underwater terrain, and plenty of macro and big critters.
Anemone Bay

Located on the northern tip of the island, Anemone Bay is a rock arena ranging from 5 to 25 meters depth.  The area takes its name from the dense anemone growth that covers the entire bay.  As you head out from the island there is a rocky drop off patrolled by black cod, bull rays, eagle rays, turtles and grey nurse sharks.

In the shallower light zone, there is a dense growth of hard and soft corals interspersed with many anemones.  The anemones shelter large numbers of anemone fish and porcelain crabs.

Closer to shore, at around the 5 meter depth range, boulders encrusted with coral and anemones make for excellent photographic scenery for model diver shots.

Mackerel Run, Canyons, Gullies and Montery

The north-western sector of the island, including these four dive sites, is one of the jewels of NSW diving.  The density of anemone growth in Anemone Bay is impressive, but has nothing on the dense unbroken carpet of anemones covering every surface in this entire sector.

Particularly as you get closer to the island, while still covered in a dense carpet of anemones, there are a number of potato cod and black cod to be found.  Further out you can often spot eagle rays.

Bubble Cave

Following the rocky outcrops north towards the island will funnel you into the Bubble Cave at 8 meters depth.  The Bubble Cave runs 20 meters into the island and is a favourite spot for wobbygongs, lobsters and giant black cod.

As with all shallow island caves, this dive site is hugely weather dependent and requires virtually flat seas to be dived safely.

The Gutters

Located in the south-western sector of the island, the Gutters is a submerged rock with plenty of interesting features.  A large overhang dominates the northern corner of the rock, and continues for a significant distance towards the west. 

As you continue to follow the edge of the rock around the edge furthers from the island, a number of parallel gutters open up.  Follow each gutter back to its source.  The rock walls and frequent overhangs of the gutters attract some huge black cod, plenty of shrimp, wobbygongs, big eye, and lobsters.

In some areas of the gutters the shifting sands reveal piles of smooth rocks and shell fragments. 

Some gutters end in vertical walls, others taper out into cracks that are a popular hiding place for large black cod.  There are some cracks that make for a challenging squeeze, however the risk of damage to the encrusted growth in these low spaces means only the most experienced divers should attempt to penetrate these areas.

Closer to the island there are some great swim throughs in the 8 to 5 meter depth range, however these are vulnerable to all but the lightest swell.

Towards the end of the dive, you can ascend and explore the tops of the expansive ridges between the gutters, which are themselves encrusted with hard and soft corals and shelter a large number of reef species. 

Elbow Cave

Very swell dependent, Elbow Cave is a series of three connected chambers moving back into the island.  The final chamber is a large cylindrical area with a rock pile floor.  Elbow Cave is a fascinating geological feature and well worth a look on a calm day.

Eastern Sectors

There are a number of dive sites along the eastern edge of the island.  This eastern edge is characterised by sheer walls reaching down to 42 meters depth.  There are some great wall dives, however these areas are very exposed to swell and should only be attempted on calm days.

North West Solitary Island

Depth (18m | 59ft) |
There are some good reefs and rock pile areas along the eastern edge of the island that attract a mix of tropical and temperate species. Of particular note are the thousands of dollar anemones, being small, round anemones up to 4cm in diameter. This area attracts lion fish and turtles.

South Solitary Island

Depth (18m | 59ft) |
Stunning underwater arch and gutters attract grey nurse sharks all year. Anemone gardens, hard and soft coral gardens, lots of macro and schooling fish species.
 South Solitary Island is a grey nurse shark aggregation site all year, and attracts particularly large numbers in winter when the east coast population tends to move north. 

 

The island attracts shovelnose rays, bull rays, eagle rays, wobbygongs, turtles, cuttlefish, moray eels, black cod, jewfish and kingfish.  There are also prolific macro species such as crabs, shrimp and nudibranchs as well as reef species hiding amongst the anemones, hard and soft coral.

 

The features commonly referred to as South Solitary Island are actually three islands and a rock: Birdie Island (north west), Little Birdie Rock (north east), South Solitary Island (largest) and Archie Island (south east).

 

Manta Arch

 

Nestled between Birdie Island and Little Birdie Rock (the two northern rocks) is a stunning underwater arch surrounded by rock pile.  A narrow channel leads straight to and under the arch at 15 meters depth.  From the arch there are gutters running down to the sand at 30 meters depth. 

 

The arch and shallower ends of the gutters are perfect sites for large numbers of grey nurse sharks.  During winter the shiver of grey nurse sharks here can be as large as 60 individuals.

 

The area is covered in anemones, plus hard and soft corals with all the associated macro life such as crabs and nudibranches.  The arch attracts large schools of pelagic fish and makes for great underwater photography.

 

Cleaner Station

 

Just off the northern point of Little Birdie Rock (the northernmost rock) is the Cleaner Station, an unusual and discrete feature of the island terrain where a blocked gutters runs into a cave, providing a safe zone for grey nurse sharks (in winter), game fish and other pelagics to rest and let resident cleaner wrasse remove any parasites.  At around 20 meters depth is a boulder blocking a gutter which runs back into a cave leading a short distance under the island at around 8 meters depth.

 

Shark Gutters

 

The split between Birdie Island and Little Birdie Rock runs off into a number of gutters radiating out from the island down to the sand at 18 meters depth.  The area is known for grey nurse sharks, rays and turtles.  Scattered boulders shelter a huge variety of macro and reef species.

 

Boulder Wall

 

At the northwestern edge of Birdie Island is a boulder pile running at a consistent 8 to 12 meters depth before dropping off sharply down to 18 meters.

 

This is a great area with plenty of rock holes, anemones, hard and soft coral to attract cuttlefish, eastern blue devil fish, lobsters, moray eels, nudibranchs, shrimp and crabs.

 

The Boulder Wall attracts schooling pelagics and turtles.  There are also plenty of kingfish, black cod, eagle rays and bull rays that can be seen patrolling or passing the wall.

 

Gantry

 

South Solitary Island is encircled by steeply sloping rock cliffs, with no beaches or natural landing points. It was difficult, slow, expensive and risky to supply the lighthouse facility in the days when it was operational. 

 

The lighthouse was linked to a high jetty. When seas were calm, food and supplies were delivered using the jetty and basket lifts.

 

Several cranes and gantries were constructed to facilitate resupply, each of which eventually collapsed or was swept away.  The wreckage of some of these cranes and their unloading efforts can be seen at 12 to 15 meters depth around the midpoint of the east shore of South Solitary Island.

 

The wreckage is amidst a boulder pile.  Being in the shallower light zone,  the area is encrusted with anemones, hard and soft corals and is very active for macro life and turtles.

 

Buchanan's Wall

 

Heading towards the southern point of South Solitary Island is a 1 to 3 meter high wall that starts in 12 meters depth and runs down to the sand at 30 meters depth.  The wall attracts a lot of big and small marine life.

 

As you move south from the wall you come to another boulder pile.  An interesting feature is the remains of an old trawler cable snagged and draped over a large area of boulders.

 

History of Lighthouse and Living Quarters

 

The first group of workmen arrived on the island on 11 July 1878 and this is the first known habitation of the island.  The lighthouse and its cottages were built of concrete in 1880. 

 

The tower was built of mass concrete using cement and sand conveyed to the island and broken stone from the conglomerate rock of the island. Three large stone cottages were erected for the keepers and due to the extreme weather conditions are surrounded by high stone walls. A wall also runs from the cottages to the lighthouse.

 

The light commenced operating on 18 March 1880, and appears to be the first in NSW to use kerosene instead of colza oil. The mechanism was not converted to automatic electric until 1975 when the lighthouse was demanned. Therefore the South Solitary Lighthouse was also the last kerosene operated light in NSW.

 

In the early days supplies arrived by steamer from Sydney every fortnight and eventually weekly or fortnightly supplies were launched from Coffs Harbour, weather permitting.

 

Due to the steep rock slope of the island, everything including supplies and people had to be lifted in a crane lowered basket from the steamer's launch. Supplies, including drums of kerosene, then had to be carried up the steep concrete path to the lighthouse or cottages.

 

There is a little school house, a room, near the head-keeper's residence on the island. In 1909 the keepers hired a school-teacher for a year using a government subsidy.  Later a governess was engaged, then later children received their education through correspondence.

 

There was no electricity until the 1950’s with the light and living quarters being lit by kerosene. Coal was used for household cooking and heating. Pedal radio was established in 1937 so the keepers could communicate with Norah Head. This was later replaced by a Bendix radio. Previously the only communication with the mainland was by signalling lamp or heliograph.

South West Solitary Island

Depth (18m | 59ft)
To the east of the island are a number of gravel bottomed gutters which attract schools of small pelagics. Plenty of overhangs in the gutter attract wobbygongs, moray eels, cuttlefish and turtles. To the west the rock runs down a gradual slope to the sand. Good macro in the light zone.

Split Solitary Island

Depth (20m | 66ft) |
Interesting area of underwater bays and headlands with a mix of kelp beds, hard and soft corals. Great for photography.
 Just off the north face are a series of u-shaped rock bays approximately 15m depth, separated by rock headlands rising to 10m depth.  The bays are encrusted with hard and soft coral, attracting plenty of crabs, shrimp, nudibranchs and reef fish.  The headlands are bare but attract schooling pelagics and rays.  The walls around the edges include overhangs where you may find eastern blue devil fish, cuttlefish, and wobbygongs.

 

As you head north away from the island, the bays and headlands, there are kelp beds between 15 and 20 meters depth which are very popular with turtles and blue spotted rays.  Eagle rays and bull rays may be seen cruising past the kelp beds. 

 

Off the south-western corner of the island is a long gutter running along the edge of the island that attracts some large critters, then areas of plate coral can be found down to 18 meters depth.

 

Heading south west from the gutter, there is a large bombora sitting at between 14 to 21 meters depth.  Black cod and eastern blue devil fish can be found in and around the overhangs.

There are many more dive sites in this area that can be arranged on request either to the skipper on the day of this event for normal dives,
or by Contacting Us for specialist technical dives.
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