Hooked on Julian Rocks, Byron Bay
Contributed by John Natoli
July 2003 .... that is the first time I drove down from the Gold Coast to Byron
Bay and arrived at Sundive, jumped on one of their boats and set out to dive
Julian Rocks - and I have been addicted ever since. For nearly four years I
have now dived with Sundive every Friday (weather permitting). 2 dives each
Friday and sometimes 3 when conditions are superb .... averaging approx 100
dives per year.
I have now dived extensively up the east coast of Australia including the Barrier
Reef, Heron Island, Osprey Reef, Raine Island, the reefs off Townsville including
the Yongala, the reefs off the Sunshine Coast including the HMAS Brisbane and
more and I would rate Julian Rocks as one of the very best dive locations along
the east coast of Oz.
My attraction to Julian Rocks began with my desire to dive with Grey Nurse
sharks ... and now I am hooked on sharks. I am constantly amazed at the diversity
of marine life at Julian Rocks. From the sharks, to pelagics and various species
of anemone fish ... through to the numerous species of nudibranchs, Julian Rocks
provides a prolific concentration of marine life - big and small, all in one
location. This makes every dive at Julian a different diving experience. Capturing
the images of my experiences extends the thrill of diving into my home and allows
me to share these moments with my family and friends. I use a rule of thumb
that generally works well for me in as far as on days where the viz is under
15 mtrs I will always use a 105mm macro lens and spend most of my time scouting
for little critters. It is amazing what life you will find when you slow your
dive down and take the time to spot the little wonders of the ocean - nudibranchs,
crabs, little eyes of an octopus hiding in their holes, blue ring octopus, mantis
shrimp, a variety of gobies and blennies and more. And then, when the viz picks
up over 20 mtrs, particularly when the Grey Nurse or Leopard sharks are about,
out comes the wide angle 18 - 70mm zoom lens.
And yet, as much as I enjoy my underwater photography, I will
never forget the dive on the last Friday of March this year (2007). The marine
life in the Needles was so intense that after the first dive, I left my camera
on the boat so I would not be distracted on the second dive from observing all
that was happening around me. I deflated my BCD and knelt down on the sand and
just watched in amazement. There was more concentrated activity here on the
west side of Julian Rocks than what you would expect to find in an aquarium.
12 or 13 Leopard sharks continually circling, 3 large bull rays, turtles, schools
of kingfish, mulloway, large snapper, schools of sweetlips, Queensland Blue
groper, surgeonfish, red morwong and literally hundreds of bullseye and eastern
pomfret .... not to mention the usual hoard of small fish including angelfish,
stripeys, butterfly fish, bream, anemone fish, goatfish, white trevally, old
wives, southern fusilier, black tipped fusilier, moray eels, octopus and a very
large school of cow-nose rays above us. I have never seen concentrated marine
life like this anywhere else.
With approx 450 dives around Julian Rocks, this day was one of my most memorable.
It was absolutely awesome. Every diver that got back onto the boat after that
experience was overcome with excitement of what we had just experienced - it
was diver heaven!! I would rank that dive my 3rd best at Julian Rocks.
then 3 weeks later I experienced my 2nd best dive at Julian Rocks when I had
the absolute pleasure to spend 21 minutes hovering with a manta ray. Again in
the Needles, the manta, which spanned approx 2.5 mtrs across it's gracious body,
kept circling around us and over us .... and often just hung in the slight current
allowing me to hover around it and over it. I could have sworn it was there
to check me out just as much as I was checking it out.
My all time favourite dive at Julian Rocks was one Friday in June 2004. As
the water was cooling down and we were anticipating the return of Grey Nurse
sharks to Julian Rocks, we had asked Rod, our skipper, to drop us off directly
over the Cod Hole so we could get in amongst the trenches to do a little Grey
Nurse spotting .... i.e. if they were about. The viz was great that day, maybe
30 mtrs or so!
We were only 15 to 20 seconds into our descent when we realised what we were
in for. As
we were descending, we starting counting .... 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 Grey Nurse
sharks beneath us .... and more. Not bothered by our presence in any way (maybe
because there were more of them than the two of us), these magnificent creatures
just leisurely hovered around us as they swam up and down the large sand trench
of the Cod Hole. What an incredible experience!!
Obviously, it is without question or doubt that I would strongly recommend
Julian Rocks as a superb destination not only for divers but snorkellers as
well. On days of good visibility, snorkellers will experience as much marine
life from the surface as the divers do down below. The 3 km journey from the
beach out to Julian Rocks can be a fabulous experience in itself with the regular
spotting of dolphins and turtles on the surface. Countless whales are spotted
during the winter months and I remember on one occasion when we spotted a large
sunfish (Mola Mola) on the surface.
And more importantly, I have no hesitation in recommending Sundive as my preferred
dive operation. Professional, highly skilled and safety conscious staff led
by Sundive's owner Giac. Great boat skippers in Rod and Jeff, a walking encyclopedia
in Dr. Dave and numerous skilled and knowledgeable instructors and guides.
I imagine I will be continuing to dive at Julian Rocks for the next 4 years
.... after all, how would the fish know it's Friday if I don't show up??