North Solitary and North West Solitary Islands are 2 of the few islands belonging to the Solitary Islands Marine Park and is located around 40 kms north east of Coffs Harbour on the east coast.
Both North Solitary Island and North West Solitary Island boasts a diverse marine life and hosts several spectacular dive sites as seen in maps below (highlighted ones are the sites we dived this trip):
A few URG members (Kathy, Pat – Kathy’s mum, Denise, John V, Josh B, Janet, Michael, Deborah, Vishal) teamed up and planned this trip to North Solitary Islands. We drove and reached Korora, Coffs Harbour on the evening of 12 March. Our accommodation was booked at: Tropic Oasis Holiday Villas, 10 Tropic Lodge Place, Korora
The villa was quite spacious with enough air-conditioned rooms and bathrooms for the comfort of all of us. Facilities included kitchen, balcony, pool, and outdoor barbeque area. Car parks were located just outside the villa with plenty space for all our cars.
On the first night we had dinner at Horizons Restaurant located at Opal Cove Resort Coffs Harbour. This is one of the closest restaurants to the villas and the food was good.
Coffs Harbour CBS is between 5- and 10-minutes’ drive from the villas and we did all our grocery shopping at the Park Beach Plaza, Coffs Harbour.
The plan for the next few days was to do double boat dives with Dive Quest (30 Mullaway Dr, Mullaway) and return to the villas for the night stay.
Day 1 (13 March):
We reached Dive Quest, Mullaway at 7.30 AM, where we submitted our paperwork, kitted up and loaded our kits on the boat. We then drove to the beach where the boats were launched in the water, we got on the boat to go to the dive site. The process of launching the boat in the water was one of a kind, Dive Quest used tractors on the beach to launch the boat. Quite a unique and first-time experience for me.
Dive 1: Elbow Cave (North Solitary Island)
A beautiful sunny morning with favorable conditions for good dives. We picked this site at North Solitary for our first dive as we were informed by the dive master that the visibility was quite good that week and the conditions might deteriorate the following day. After gearing up and a short briefing by the dive master we entered the water:
Time In: 9.50 AM Approximate Time Out (last one to exit water): 11.05 AM
Depth (as recorded on Vishal’s computer): 20 m Approximate Visibility: 15 m
Dive began by descending at the entrance of the Elbow Cave, which is a small “L” shaped path through the rocks roughly around 2 to 4 meters in length. The entire cave was flooded with schools of fishes and Rock Lobsters.
After exiting the cave, we were cruising between the underwater cliffs. The star of the dive was the Leopard Shark, and we also sighted Octopus and Moray eels
Dive 2: Bubble Cave (North Solitary Island)
Time In: 12.10 PM Approximate Time Out (last one to exit water): 1.05 PM
Depth (as recorded on Vishal’s computer): 18.6 m Approximate Visibility: 20 m
A beautiful and easy dive with great visibility and water temperature. Nice underwater terrain with cliffs and valleys. Lots of soft and hard corals with plenty of anenomefish and other colorful coral fishes.
Sighted Leopard sharks, moray eels, octopus cowfish etc.
Day 2 (14 March):
Safe to say this day is the best day for me personally from the dive point of view. Sighting of Grey Nurse Sharks and Manta Rays (by some other group who dived with Dive Quest) on the previous day prompted us to zero in on the North West Solitary Islands. As for our group, the day began with the same routine as the previous day, i.e. reached Dive Quest at 7.30 AM; kitted and loaded our gears on the boat; drive to the beach where we boarded the boat to reach the dive site.
Dive 3: E Gutters (North West Solitary Island)
The winds were picking up and the waters were getting choppy, but the conditions were still suitable for the dives
Time In: 8.45 AM Approximate Time Out (last one to exit water): 9.50 AM
Depth (as recorded on Vishal’s computer): 14.4 m Approximate Visibility: 10 – 15 m
We descended (I believe) slightly to the east of the gutters to a depth of approximately 9 meters. We then swam to the entrance of the gutters in a strong surgy condition where we had to move with the surge and hang on to something when the surge was trying to drag us in opposite direction. We entered the gutters and voila – grey nurse sharks – 7 of them. We also sighted turtles, moray eels and a few other marine lives, but the show stealer was the Manta Ray
Dive 4: Snorklers Reef (North West Solitary Island)
This dive is special to me as this was my personal best in terms of my bottom time and the variety of marine life witnessed during this dive
Time In: 11.10 AM Approximate Time Out (last one to exit water): 12.15 PM
Depth (as recorded on Vishal’s computer): 9.6 m Approximate Visibility: 15 m
The wind and swells had picked up and we were warned by the skipper that we might have to stick to a bottom time of not more than 60 minutes, and that he would blast 3 horns from the boat if we need to surface. The wind was picking up on the surface but the conditions underwater was good and we exceeded the advised bottom time of 60 minutes even though the skipper blasted 2 sets of 3 horns from the boat.
We descended over a bed of hard corals and we explored under water ridges and crests for various marine life. We came across a lone Manta Ray gliding around in front with remoras attached themselves to the big Manta. The Manta graced us with his presence for around 10 minutes before disappearing in the distant blue.
Other marine life we came across during this dive are nudies, octopuses, wobbegong sharks, rays, and bull rays. A few pics from this dive:
Day 3 (15 March):
Unfortunately, the dives planned for Day 3 had to be cancelled due to the extreme weather conditions and massive swells. So, a few of us decided to explore the world above water and say hello to the locals. Few pics from Day 3:
Day 4 (16 March):
Happy Birthday Kathy!!!
The weather continued to batter the sea surface and Dive Quest had no intention of launching their boat on the water on this day as well. Kathy, being a keen diver, didn’t want to let the weather ruin her birthday so she did some research and found that Wooli Dive Center were bold enough to put their bigger boat to test the day’s conditions.
It was a very early start for us as the drive to Wooli was three times longer than the drive to Dive Quest at Mullaway, and we reached Wooli Dive Centre at 7.30 AM. We did the necessary paperwork, registered, kitted up and were on the boat in no time.
Dive 5 and Dive 6: Anemone Bay (North Solitary Island)
This dive site was chosen for both dives as this is in the bay protected by underwater walls against the hammering done by the sea from outside.
Time In: 8.59 AM Approximate Time Out (last one to exit water): 9.55 AM
Depth (as recorded on Vishal’s computer): 18.7 m Approximate Visibility: 15 – 20 m
Time In: 11.15 AM Approximate Time Out (last one to exit water): 12.25 PM
Depth (as recorded on Vishal’s computer):15.6 m Approximate Visibility: 15 – 20 m
We were told that Anemone Bay has some of the most beautiful Coral Garden south of the Great Barrier Reef and after diving the site I see why. Indeed, the most beautiful coral gardens I saw outside the Great Barrier Reef. Lots and lots of hard and soft corals everywhere. Plenty of anenomefish and other colorful coral fishes swimming everywhere. It really was a magical world in the bay
We also came across wobbegongs and big rock lobsters in the bay. Some pics from the dive:
All in all:
a. An awesome dive trip with
b. Wonderful people
c. Great accommodation
d. Beautiful location
e. And the Best Dives.
Some stunning photos by the group (thank you Denise, Kathy, and Deborah):