Here I was, at the famous Navy Pier in the Exmouth Gulf. I was very excited! The last time I came close to diving here - in 1999 - Cyclone Vance threw a spanner in the works by passing through Exmouth a couple of months before our trip, damaging the pier and mucking up Exmouth Gulf so we couldn't dive there.
I thought the drive out to the actual pier past the Very Low Frequency radio towers - all thirteen - of them was quite interesting, especially since one of the crew members gave a bit of a background why the base was there and what the pier's actual purpose was.
The Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station is one of four similar bases around the world and together this enables communication with any submarine in any ocean. This was particularly important during the Cold War, which some of us might remember more vividly that others.
WOT? It wasn't intended as a dive site? No it wasn't... However, a combo of restricted access and no fishing has created a fantastic sanctuary for the marine life and an amazing destination for divers all over the world. The pier is T-shaped and the end of the pier runs North-to-South, so this means it is really easy to navigate.
On several web sites it is claimed to be in The Top 10 Dive Sites around Australia" and "one of the Top Ten Pier Dives in the world". I am never sure who decides these things and if they are qualified to say so, but in any case this is a dive site that is worthwhile diving, especially combined with diving and snorkelling Ningaloo Reef.
No spunky naval officers to be seen though, except for the guy at the gate who wanted to see our IDs, but he was not that hot.
Anyway, by the time we arrived at the pier it was late in the afternoon and we were waiting on the beach until the tide was just right for us to enter the water. Normally divers enter the water from the pier, but due to a refuelling ship about to arrive later in the week we had a beach entry instead. I was getting childishly impatient as I had my gear set-up and was ready to go-go-go. Once we got the go ahead from the staff I was into my wetsuit and in the water in no-time.
As soon as we reached a depth of 5 meters and we were near the end of the pier the fish life started to 'appear'. Schools of fish, including Sweetlips, Trevally and Bluestripe Seaperch, were hanging in between the pylons, eyeing me. Before I could even aim my camera several Bannerfish, a Blue-face Angelfish and a juvenile Semicircle Angelfish swam by. A Six-stripe Angelfish was fortunately more patient. On the sand to the right a large Whitetip Reefshark was having a rest, giving me plenty of time to have a good look.
I guess I initially was disappointed with the less than clear waters, but there was so much to see that that became a fleeting thought. I decided to not put on my wet wide-angle lens as the imagined shots of pylons with schools of fish were not going to be a reality.
As I swam along I noticed a lot of debris lying around such as grids, cabels, pipes and structural beams - presumably remnants of the destruction cyclone Vance had caused or maybe those Navy people are particularly messy. Now they are overgrown and form the perfect hide-away for a number of different species of moray eels, frogfish and some jet-black sail-fin catfish. Others in our group found the local Stonefish and a large octopus finding cover there.
At the end of the pier I swam to the south and crossed a sandy patch to get to the side structure in the hope to see some Grey Nurse Sharks, but no luck. Since the water was 23C it might have been too warm for them, but the next day Tim did get to see them there. When I looked up I saw the silhouettes of some large cods in the shallows. There weren't as much fish and visibility was lower here, so I decided to turn around.
On my way back I saw some shy pitch black Sailfin Catfish. They were right out in the open, but as soon as I got a little closer they hid under some dead coral and got away. Another buddy pair pointed out a small Stout Moray.
When I got back to the main structure I still had plenty of air and started inspecting the growth on the pylons as the dive brief mentioned that sometimes they are covered in different species of nudibranch. A few blennies peeked out of their hide holes and a Coral Trout was surprisingly patient with me wanting to photograph it. I found one Phyllidia elegans, which don't excite me too much these days but it was still nice! A Giant Moray living underneath the pier stuck its head out and let me come really close.
Before I knew it I had spent one hour in the water and it was time to head back. I still saw other divers in the water, so I took my time, but when I got to the five meter mark I ended up in a strong current and had to fin to stay in the same spot. You probably know the feeling: "Hmmmm, have to do safety stop, but I am finning really hard to not drift away from here…this ain't much fun!"
Still it couldn't dampen my spirit having had such a nice dive. Once I reached the surface I saw that I should have swum a little further under the water to make things a little more easy. In any case within minutes I reached the beach and walked back to the bus to pack up and enjoy the fresh fruit and some cake.
As we drove back we had to slow down a few times to let some kangaroos get off the road and we watched the sun set. As it was about 6.30 pm by then I had the hopeful thought that maybe husband would have fed and bathed the children so they would be ready for a good night kiss before I sat down with a beer to err collect my thoughts and look at the images taken. Alas…..
Added: October 19th 2012 at 4:44pm