By Anthony Cowan
I love road trips with the dive gear in the back and the car usually headed in the direction of Queensland. You don't have to go all the way to the far northern tip of Canetoad Country to get amongst some good dives and this was going to be a 5 week extravaganza from Jervis Bay to Mission Beach and no-one was going to stop me for nuttin'.
The point this time around was to get to a couple of places I had either driven straight past before and to track down a few dives that I had only ever read about.
Despite a short detour to Adelaide in the middle of it I still got to most of the places I wanted to and only had to trim the furthest northern extent off my little jaunt.
As a word of advice I might suggest that a 1984 Mitsubishi Colt (no radio) is not the most practical vehicle for dragging dive gear and cameras around the country in but hey - it looks crusty enough to keep the car-thieves at bay.
Part 1Moreton Bay, part I - Big Cat Reality
You know you're going to be late on a Sydney-Brisbane trip when you wake up in Taree at the same time your buddies are leaving Mullaway to catch a dive boat out of Brisbane that is departing 6:30 that night. Even later when you have no idea where Redcliffe is, let alone the nearby marina where it was all supposed to start.
And sure enough here I was late, very late and lost, very lost and so far my frantic tour of downtown Redcliffe/Scarborough had taken me everywhere but a marina. But mobile phone contact was eventually established and the Beige-mobile finally joined the rest of the crew. Turned out that most of us got lost on the way as well so with much good natured jesting I was the last aboard to join 14 of my friends from DiveQuest Mullaway for a couple of days diving on the liveaboard Big Cat Reality.
A few of the party had dived in Moreton Bay previously but the majority of us had not and we were very excited at the prospect. Many of us were guilty of by-passing Brisbane completely on the way to destinations further north despite the good press that Moreton Bay and it's associated wrecks, reefs and islands receive.
Heading out 2 hours late we had to forego any chance of a night dive but considering the 'high spirits' that some managed to get into while waiting for the late ones it was no big drama. First impressions of the boat were "it's big, very big" and with only 14 divers aboard it seemed half-empty with so much room. The dive deck was huge as was the upstairs BBQ area, a couple of decent showers, table inside for the cameras, licensed bar - we were set! After setting up our gear, loading cameras and checking tanks it was time for a few beers and a few laughs before retiring for the night while we steamed across the Bay.
Early Saturday morning saw us gearing up for the first of 7 dives over the next day and a half. The first day saw us dive Cherub's Cave, Big Cat Cave (?), Henderson's Rock and a night dive on Flinders Reef. The weather was calm and except for some current the seas were agreeable - warm, clear and smooth.
Anchoring for the night the crew put on a huge BBQ and more than one completely exaggerated dive tale was spun amongst the group.
Unfortunately over night the wind picked up and early Sunday morning saw us bobbing about on fairly choppy seas with a brisk wind already up and threatening to strengthen. The only thing going for us was that the current had dropped to nothing so we decided to have a go at the wreck of the 'St. Paul', hoping that the size of the Big Cat would help provide a steady platform to dive from.
I wasn't paying attention to the history lesson given but I am sure all Brisbane divers are familiar with the wreck, certainly I was looking forward to it after the numerous mentions of it on DiveOz.
What followed was an amazing dive, finishing all too quickly. Despite the advice on DiveOz the wreck was almost completely barren of fish life. A large Cod hid near the boilers and a small wobbegong sat perched over the edge of the hull and that was about it for fish. We all commented later that the lack of fish actually added to the atmosphere of the dive. We estimated that the horizontal viz. was in excess of 30m and combined with the very choppy surface conditions above and lack of fish gave the whole scene a really 'calm' or 'tranquil' feel. It seemed we were alone with the old girl as we inspected her boilers, the remains of the engine and what was left of the portions of her hull. It was a memorable experience.
We popped back up and after breakfast and surface interval went looking for more dives. By now the surface conditions had deteriorated further so it was back to Flinders Reef for 2 more dives before we pulled the pin and headed back to port early rather than compete with a building sea.
On the way back we discussed the highlights of the trip. They included the schooling bonito over Cherub's Cave, the number of crays on the night dive (none eaten), the wreck of the 'St. Paul', and the diversity and quality of life on Flinders Reef - so close to a major city. I would have to drive at least 6 hours to get that quality of tropical/sub-tropical reef system back home. To think that reef sits right on the back door of Brisbane - well you guys are pretty lucky I reckon.
We arrived back at port much earlier than originally planned and as the rest of the team departed south back to Coffs and Mullaway, I turned north and headed up the highway.
Part 2Gladstone - M.V. 'Nautilus' and F.V. 'Bindaree'
If you spend any time diving browsing DiveOz then you will know all about Col "it's too short" Gelder. He has a habit of posting mid-week dive reports while the rest of us are at work, mainly telling us all about another great wreck dive he has just done. After contacting Col I was invited up to join the Gladstone Amateur Dive Group for a couple of wreck dives.
The Beige-mobile cruised downtown Gladstone looking for a place to crash and here I found the "Rusty Anchor" motel. Perfect I thought, and booked in. The "Rusty" was my base for the next few days and proved an interesting choice - just don't ask about the 8 midgets and the strippers, it's a long story.
Col and his good mate Owen Dyer dropped around on a sunny Wednesday morning and it was off to organise air fills, gear and prep Col and Owey's boat. "Reef Raker" is privately owned and the dive boat we would all like to own if we could afford our own private dive boats. We launched at the Gladstone Sailing Club and headed out through the Harbour past huge bulk container ships pleased that there was barely a breath of wind.
It wasn't long until Col & Owey were checking sounders and GPS's before dropping anchor on the wreck of the M.V. 'Nautilus', 150ft long / 288 ton, which sank under tow May 1928 in 30m of water. There was a fair tidal range on the days I was there and timing decreed that we were diving on the slack of the low tide. Col and Owey went in first to check the anchor was OK and 25 minutes later Dougie and I went over as well.
The dive was a blur, lemon shark, leopard shark, 3 large (totally unafraid) Qld. groper in the holds, lionfish, snapper, myriads of little pretties and all the while schools of barracuda and biiig trevally buzzing about. In 12m or so viz. it was heart pumping stuff as the bigger fish only veered away at the last moment. And the wreck itself was very interesting with certain aspects readily identifiable and other parts more haphazardly strewn about. It seemed like only a couple of minutes had passed before time and the current caught up with us and we unhitched the anchor from the stern of the wreck and began our ascent. I surfaced babbling like a fool and Col and Owey shared a look and only commented "wait until you see the Red Dolphin, the Linda Jane & the Barcoola". Bloody Hell - this was Yongala'esque stuff to me!
We headed north to the wreck of the F.V. 'Bindaree', a 55ft long timber trawler that sank in 1992 in 25m of water. With a decent surface interval under our belts we went in as before into a slightly stronger current. The 'Binda' has her outriggers and rigging still intact and this is what we first came across. Highlights were the golden snapper in the wheelhouse, the batfish in the rigging, bull rays in the sand, swirling barracuda, flowery cod, mackerel and a very friendly angelfish who found his reflection in the domeport of my housing and would not leave me. Last but not least was the big Qld. groper, we are talking Volkswagen size stuff and with the large remoras accompanying him it was great stuff. Unlike the groper on the 'Nautilus' this one wanted nothing to do with us and exited stage left across the sand. This seemed a more intense dive as the action was packed into a smaller area than the 'Nautilus'. On surfacing it was an even worse response from Col and Owey - "geez don't get too excited Anthony, this is just our standby wreck, wait 'til you see." Arrrgggh!
Thursday saw more of the same. With an even better weather forecast we headed out planning to get to the wreck of the 'Barcoola' but the wind came up and we had to turn around. With apologies from Col and Owey we anchored on the 'Nautilus' for another great dive and then headed again to the 'Bindaree' for our second. No complaints from me - they were top dives, a little quieter perhaps but I thought this was made up for with better viz. This time the 'Binda' was extra special - with all my attention focused on 3 large bull rays in the sand old Mr. Groper came in real close for a look-see. Turn to face him directly and he'd veer off, look away and concentrate on the rays and back he'd come to look over you shoulder.wicked stuff.
3 days, 4 dives and a beer or 3 later it was time to depart, new friendships made and an excellent "new " dive destination discovered. Col says it best "When it's windy you can do almost anything you want around the house but when it's not blowing you really should be diving!" With that in mind I left and started back south.
Rainbow Beach - Wolf Rock and Round Rock
I first read about Wolf Rock in 1998 and had always wanted to visit. Wolf Rock sounded awesome - rugged, exposed and deep, with half the hassle of diving it being the trip to get there. The opening of 'Wolf Rock Dive' run by Kev Phillips and partner Cheryl has lessened this hassle. Wolf Rock Dive is in the village of Rainbow Beach situated some 60-70kms off the highway from Gympie.
The Beige-mobile roared into Rainbow on Friday night, accommodation was sorted and a quick check made at the dive shop that all was OK for the following day.
Saturday saw us 4WD'ing along the beach past spectacular colored sand dunes towards Double Island Pt. where we launched the RIB and made the trip straight out to Wolf, which was visible almost from the beach. In dead flat seas we pulled up, anchored in close and drifted back a little before kitting up. Wolf is current-prone and being so exposed I didn't know what to expect so as the first in the water I was pleased that there was the barest of current, cobalt blue water and schooling batfish swirling around my legs.
Four of us descended to about 12m to a saddle before we formed up and started our circumnavigation of Wolf. If you have dived on Pimp Rock off Brooms Head then you have a fair idea of what Wolf is like.
The Rock consists of 4 joined peaks that come up steeply from 40m+ and 2 of the peaks break the surface by a metre or more. This place feels "fast & finny" and sure enough, we descended past the batfish to 16m or so straight onto the 1st & 2nd grey nurse sharks of the dive. Heading west and descending further we passed through silvery clouds of fusiliers watching eagle rays sail above. Big mackerel finned past and on the edge of the 20m viz. large shadows didn't quite give up their identity.
On the southern side we descended into a gutter for our 3rd grey nurse who came too close for my 20mm to focus, however I managed to accidentally trip my strobe at close range which had the effect of scaring the ****** out of both shark and diver. Coming back we ascended slightly and moved in between the various peaks - here and there we saw pineapple fish & large bull rays, all the while keeping our peepers cocked out into the blue for pelagics coming into and out of range. Coming around to the saddle we originally descended onto, we found our 4th grey nurse.
At this point Kev signalled that he was taking 2 divers back to the boat but that I should hang around until I wanted to return as well. Ever get the feeling you're being watched? Well for the last 10 minutes of the dive that was me with eagle rays, mackerel, barracuda and trevally constantly cruising in out of the blue as if to enquire just what the hell I was doing on their turf. It was a great dive and I was gibbering when I surfaced.
The second dive was spent at Round Rock closer in to Double Island Pt. Despite clear water, bull rays, turtles, schools of trevally, pineapple fish, half a dozen large leopard whip-rays it was a quiet dive compared to Wolf Rock - very enjoyable but you really want to come here for Wolf Rock.
Unfortunately due to time constraints and no-one booking to dive the following day I bid adieu to Rainbow Beach and Wolf Rock. However I have vowed to return - sooner rather than later - a 2nd large backpackers is due to open so I must get back before the place is totally infested and beyond hope. For Brisbanites and southern QLD'ers I suppose Wolf Rock is old news but for a visiting NSW'er this spot was a revelation and I was stoked to finally get there.
Moreton Bay, part II - Esperance Star
Finding the marina in Scarborough the second time around proved no problem. It was time for another liveaboard adventure, this one with Thierry Tomczak from DiveOz and his team from QUT. This time we were booked on the well-known liveaboard 'Esperance Star' skippered by the newly famous Capt. Trev for a couple of days.
As a fellow world record holder (Most Dive Gear Packed in a pre-1985 Hatchback) I was a tad nervous meeting Trev for the first time but upon boarding, the new world record holder for the Deepest Open Water Dive in a 3mm Wetsuit (Rebreather Assisted) greeted me warmly, took control of my case of Stella then told me to hurry up and get the rest of my ****** aboard. Thierry soon popped up from below decks, said g'day and while introducing me to everyone else Trev cranked her up and we headed out.
Thierry decided that a night dive on the first night would be the go and he was particularly interested in the wheelhouse of the wreck of the 'Kaptajn Nielsen'. The tide schedule decreed that we wouldn't be hitting the water until 11:30pm so with time on our hands we had a few snacks and listened to Trev recall the heroic tales of the rescue of the crew of the 'Kaptajn' before watching the third and final State of Origin. As the only NSW'er on board I kept below decks for most of it but back in the safety now of God's Country all I can say is that we were ROBBED! Kitting up for the night dive I was pulling on my drysuit only to be greeted by disbelieving stares and comments like "a drysuit in Qld? What for?", "wuss", "nancy" and worse ;o). Little did the non-dry-believers know that revenge would soon be mine.
The dive itself was great - viz. was down and a little current made the water 'soupy' but not too bad and with a sleeping turtle, estuary cod and heaps of snoozing 'little pretties' the time passed quickly and we headed back up the anchor chain. The wreck itself is small - just the upturned wheel house but a worthwhile dive, especially so late at night.
Trev dropped anchor off Yellow Patch and with a brilliant full moon overhead and the lights of the Sunshine Coast behind us, the cabin lights were dimmed and the beer and bullshit started. And kept going. And going. And going.
If I could choose the best way to be woken after 4 hours sleep then I think I would have to say that a 115 decibel scream of "Weeeee are DIVINK!!!!" with a French accent at a range of 1m would have to be it. So I wasn't disappointed with Thierry's assistance with waking us all up.
The first day out saw dives at Flinders Reef (x2), the wreck of the 'Cementco' and back to Flinders Reef for a night dive. Unfortunately a strong westerly wind had come up over night direct from Antarctica (it seemed) and limited Trev and Thierry's choice of sites. But I wasn't worried, oh no not me, for it was with increasing pleasure that before each dive I snuggled into PolarFleece200 dive jammies and drysuit while all around me others screamed with delight (I think) while peeling on icecold wet wetsuits in 20kt westerlies before each dive. Who's the wuss now I thought until Trev put me firmly in my place that afternoon by disappearing over the side for the better part of an hour in nothing but fleecy tracksuit pants and a red cotton singlet under his kit! It was a terrifying yet strangely hypnotic site watching the big fella come back onboard later, shake himself off, swap trakkie-dacks and go back about his business.no donning and doffing bullshit for Trev, no siree.
The time between dives was passed quietly and pretty soon the day was gone as was the night dive and it was time for more socialising.
The second day came around the same as the first, ie in French and we pulled up at Cherub's Cave. "Must have been cold yesterday," I thought as Trev went over, this time in boardshorts and nothing else even though the icy wind had strengthened. Another dive at Flinders followed before Trev and Thierry pulled the pin ahead of an extreme wind warning for the afternoon. The last dive of this trip was on Curtain Artificial Reef before everything was packed away for the long, bumpy trip back across the bay.
Back at port gear was stowed and farewells made and the majority headed back to parts around Brisbane while I pointed the Beige Beast south and made a long and boring run for my overnight destination of Taree.
Highlights of the trip were many but besides the diving a lot has to be said for the way Trev and the crew run the boat. It's a bit of a clich'e but you really feel like you are "diving at a mates place" on this boat. Combined with Thierry and the QUT crews great hospitality this trip was over much too soon. If you have been on the 'Esperance Star' you know what I'm talking about, if you haven't then you should get up there.
Part 5Nelson Bay - Fly Point.
Shore dives suck. You get sand in all the wrong places, you flap around like a goose trying to put your fins on, you get your ****** kicked getting in off rock shelves in swell, you never see anything but sand and kelp. You then have to do all of the above in reverse order getting out. That's been my experience so give me a nice comfy boat to jump off any day thanks. However, there is a spot where shore diving is not just the complete opposite of all that but probably the best reason to go. Of course that spot is Nelson Bay and the wicked shore diving at Fly Park, Halifax and the Sewer Pipe.
As a DiveOzian did you know that you can avail yourself to the usually free dive guide services of the redoubtable Dave "it's not a dive shop, it's my garage" Harasti (DaveH)? Just bowl up, call him and he'll drop what he's doing and take you diving! It's that simple, call now!
I dropped in for a dive on the way back home and wouldn't you know it - it was still freezing and it was still blowing a gale. Wading in it was soon apparent that the viz. was down to less than 2m so we went into 'macro-mode' and had a fairly interesting dive. We had a great time, in the low viz. it was a classic listening to Dave & Mel discuss each new discovery in fluent Swahili through their regs even though you could not see them in the poor visibility.
Spindle cowries, nudibranchs of all sorts, pygmy leatherjackets, sponges and soft growth all abound but go to DaveH's website and check it out for yourself, then get up there.
We surfaced to the delightful screams of divers getting out of wet wetsuits in 30 knot westerlies direct from the Antarctic and headed off to Red Neds, the best pie shop in Australia for a pie or 3 - chicken & camembert, chunky chicken satay and chilli lamb. After a coffee at Dave's place the Beige-mobile was then sadly pointed south for an uneventful trip back to Sydney for work the following day.
That's it, all over. It gets a mention every now and then on DiveOz but everyone should get out and do a diving road trip. North, South, East or West it doesn't matter. I have done one every year for the last few and not once do you get disappointed with the people you meet, the dives you do, the things you see and the places you go.
I didn't get to a few places this time around and a few others aren't mentioned as they are more or less my local spots but the sites above are the parts of S.E. Qld I hadn't been to before.
Without exception everyone mentioned here was contacted through DiveOz so it was great to track down people, put names to faces and most importantly be shown around other peoples underwater backyards.
The end of August sees me back in Qld. for a trip to 1770 with Col. He won't shut up about the wreck of the 'Barcoola' and Trev reckons there's a 30ft man-eating stingray that lives on it. I can't wait but I'm wondering how cold the water will be - I might need to take a pair of trakkies and a singlet to keep warm down there!