Mid North Coast, New South Wales
Type of dive: Reef
Access: Boat only (20-60 minutes)
Minimum qualification: Open Water
Depth: 6-40 metres (20-130’)
Visibility: 15-30 metres (50-100’)
Water temperature: 21°C (69°F) – 26°C (79°F)
Best time to visit: All year
Snorkelling: Yes, great!
The Solitary Islands, a group of five off-shore islands, are just off the east coast of Australia half way between Sydney and Brisbane. They stretch north and south for around 75 kilometres (47 miles).
Locally they are referred to as the North Solitary or South Solitary Islands.
In 1998 the Solitary Islands Marine Park was the first marine park declared by the New South Wales Government. The marine park protects the five islands in the group and they are referred to as the Solitary Islands Marine Reserve under Commonwealth Waters.
The diverse marine life around the islands is a unique blend of tropical, sub-tropical and temperature species due to the mixing of the south flowing East Australia Current and the north flowing nutrient-rich southern currents. Researchers have identified over 550 reef fish species, 90 hard coral species and 600 mollusc (shellfish) species around the islands.
The northern islands are much more tropical than the south islands and have a large and diverse collection of hard tropical hard coral whereas as the more temperate southern group has a diverse array of more temperate plant life. Quite a contrast!
Some claim the Solitary Islands boast the world’s most dense population of anemone fish.
The islands are a source of dozens of great dives sites all well serviced by dive operators located in Coffs Harbour in the south, north at Wooli and Mulloway in the middle.
To protect the underwater environment there are public moorings and some sites, such as Pimpernel Rock, require a permit.
The underwater terrain is spectacular; there are caves, walls and canyons where the rock faces are just covered in marine life.
Divers can mix with large schools of pelagic fish including vortexes of yellowtail kingfish, Spanish mackerel and mulloway in summer and experience grey nurse sharks and giant cuttlefish in the cooler winter water.
The list of potential underwater encounters is huge and includes turtles, manta rays, bull rays, batfish and Spanish dancers – just to mention a few!
During the boat trip out, pods of bottlenose dolphins are a common encounter and over the winter months majestic humpback whales can be seen on their winter migration to and from Antarctica.
The pick of the dives sites is Pimpernel Rock, an isolated underwater pyramid in the north of the island chain. This huge rock ascends from a sandy bottom at around 40 metres (130’) to 10 metres (30’) at the top of the pinnacle. There are swim-throughs, large boulders, tunnels, overhangs and gorges with steep walls all teeming with life. Fishlife here is extraordinary because of its exposure to the ocean currents.
Copyright C 2015 Steve Sinclair
Great dive sites to visit while you are there:
Anemone Bay, The Step, Bubble Cave, Split Bommie and Bullocky Reef.