Launceston and the North-East

netasThe North-East

Launceston to St Helens

Tamar River

Launceston is the state’s second largest city and is a major financial and industrial centre. It rests beside the Tamar River, one of the largest river systems in the country.  Unfortunately, this river is full of silt. The poor visibility spoils much of the Southern part of this sheltered waterway. Fortunately, the area around the mouth of the river is cleaner although subject to strong currents. On the positive side these currents have greatly improved the variety of filter feeding marine life, such as sponges. Dives such as Barrel Rock provide good diving with plenty to see and photograph. Outside the river the situation markedly improves. There are some large reefs in clear water. The main one is Hebe Reef which is littered with shipwrecks. The reef claimed its first victim, the ship “Hebe”, in 1808.

 

Asbestos Ranges

To the West of the Tamar River the coastline is usually dominated by low volcanic reefs. They offer some easy diving even though the area has been heavily over fished. The area around Port Sorell is sandy, although there are a few small reefs of interest.

North-Eastern Coast

To the East of the Tamar River there are a number of sandy beaches broken by low sandstone reefs. The major attraction here is the seal colony on Barrenjoey. Still, many Launceston divers prefer to travel away from the city to the better coastline of North-Eastern Tasmania. This coastline is fairly sandy, but there are some nice reefs around Waterhouse Island, Tomahawk and Bridport. These areas tend to be very exposed and shallow, but harbour plenty of fish and marine life.

Far North-East

On the far North-East tip of Tasmania the coastline changes to granite and the diving becomes much better. This part of the island is noted for its big wrecks and big currents.  The narrowness of Bank’s Strait causes a fast tidal stream to run in the area. Many sites are only dived at slack water. Despite the dangers, Bank’s Strait was a popular short cut for large sailing ships and mistakes in navigation usually had disastrous results. The area is noted for a number of large steel wrecks. Strong tides encourage thick growths of sponges and other invertebrates The remoteness of the area and the difficult diving conditions do not encourage diving activity. It makes the far North-East an area of adventure diving for more experienced parties.

Eddystone and Musselroe

Good diving can be found in the area from Eddystone Point to Musselroe Point. There are a number of offshore granite reefs and islands. The offshore rocks and islands are exposed, remote and are sometimes affected by a current coming out of Bank’s Strait. This offshore area is only suited to very experienced divers. The closer inshore granite reefs are less exposed to the current and are popular dive spots, especially with divers based in the north of the state.

St Helens

Surprisingly, the area around St Helen’s is dived relatively infrequently for an East Coast location. It seems just a little too far away for Hobart divers. The best diving in this region is from the Gardens to St Helen’s Island. The coastline is dominated by granite formations which are easily accessed from good ramps at Binalong Bay or St Helen’s Point. The area is also criss-crossed by roads and offers some great shore diving.

Four Mile Creek

This part of the coast seems to be shallow and sandy with some narrow reef hugging  rocky sections of the coastline. The area is often visited by cray fishermen and is exposed to heavy fishing pressure. South of Four Mile Creek snorkellers will need the co-operation of local landowners as the only public access to the coast is at the Little Beach Recreation area. There is no boat ramp.

 

Degree of exposure

All parts of the North Coasts are very exposed to northerly and westerly weather. Summer is the most appropriate time to plan a trip, but this is still no guarantee. Al the diving is on the eastern coastline is very exposed to bad easterly weather.

 

Services

The are dive shops and clubs in Launceston with some dive services also available in St Helens. Launceston is a small city with a good range of tourist services. The major service centres in the North-East are at Scottsdale, Bridport, St Helens and to a lesser extent, Derby and Gladstone. Some of these remote population centres are little more than small country towns, some well past their prime. Most parties travelling to the remoter parts of the North-East will need to be relatively self-sufficient. There is plenty of accommodation in St Helen’s and Scamander.

 

Road and Boat Access

The area around Launceston is serviced by a number of good sealed highways. The most important for divers being the A7 (West Tamar Highway) and A8 (East Tamar Highway). These highways give access to either side of the Tamar. Around Launceston the important boat ramps are at Bridport, Lulworth (poor), Low Head, Georgetown and Kelso. Rough beach launches can also be made from a number of other locations.

The far North-East is serviced by the very straight B82 which runs across the top of Tasmania following the coast for most of the distance. This road changes into gravel close to Gladstone and this can be a very unstable if towing at high speeds. A number of smaller gravel roads shoot off these main arteries and service Waterhouse and Little Musselroe Bay. Boat access in the far North-East is limited to the ramps at Tomahawk and Bridport. The Tomahawk and Little Musselroe Bay ramps can be very difficult, especially at low water. A bar has to be crossed at Little Musselroe. Rougher launches can be made at Waterhouse, Petal Point. These are basically beach launches that suit off-road vehicles.

The area north of St Helen’s is only serviced by gravel roads although the majority are of a reasonable standard. The only ramps around St Helens are inside Georges Bay, and at Binalong Bay. Rough beach launches can also be made from Musselroe Bay, Stumpy’s and Eddystone, but only with four wheel drive vehicles. Musselroe is a tractor launch at low water and the Stumpy’s ramp has some challenging soft sand.

mackerel

Mariposa Reef

Rating 5 stars  Depth: 3-9 metres     Category 2

The area around Falmouth is not renowned for good diving. Much of it is shallow, sandy and exposed. Mariposa Reef, just north of Four Mile Creek, offers a fairly easy shore dive for people holidaying in the area. This reef is already very popular with local fishermen who always seem to have pots set there. As you can imagine this area does not offer great cray diving, but it is still a fairly attractive dive.

Access is by a short walk of about 100 metres across the beach. Divers must then snorkel out into the waves towards the main island. This can be difficult in rough seas and in any case the visibility is likely to be so poor that it wouldn’t warrant the effort. Wait for a nice calm day. The best part is on the Northern side of the reef as the Southern side is very sandy and shallow. On the north-eastern side of the island there are some large boulders and this is a good area for cray hunting. The area seems to have been heavily picked over for abalone. The rest of the reef seems fairly devoid of good cray holes. The best area is within 50 metres of the island, where it usually 9 metres or less in depth. The kelp beds around the island are quite thick and attract the usual sorts of reef fish. In addition to this, the area is often visited by schools of pelagic fish such as Australian Salmon.

 

St Helen’s Island

Rating 8 stars  Depth: 15-20 metres           Category 3

If the weather is good a trip to St Helen’s island is a must. It is one of the best dives in the St Helen’s area. The closest access point is the boat ramp at St Helen’s Point, several kilometres away from the island. Because of its relative remoteness this area is not dived as frequently as other areas in St Helen’s. This small granite island at first looks uninspiring. The gently sloping sides of the island give the impression that the bottom might be shallow and lifeless. In actual fact the granite drop away abruptly and 10-15 metres of water can be found only 50 metres away from the shore. The bottom here is dotted with large bommies cut by large sand gutters. Some of these bommies are 10-15 metres high. As the visibility in the area is often very good these formations can be an impressive sight Depressions in the rock are filled by piles of large rubble, many boulders being of 2-4 metres in diameter. These boulders provide plenty of crevices for marine life. The prettiest area is on the shelf in about the 12-15 metres range a. Here there are plenty of colourful growths on the rocks as well as a few reef fish darting about the short stalks of strapweed. The area is also home to quite a few Boarfish as well as being visited by school fish such as Trumpeter. The bottom drops away abruptly onto sand in 20-25 metres only 75-100 metres from shore. Unfortunately, the seaward side between 15-40 metres has been heavily damaged by invasive NSW black urchins. The rest of the island is shallower, consisting mostly of weed covered shelf in 8-12 metres dropping onto sand in 15-20 metres. Being slightly more sheltered the Western end of the island support thick stands of weed. If divers need a shallow second dive, this area will provide easy diving opportunities although it is not quite as scenic as the seaward shore. the main hazard in this area is its remote and exposed location. experienced boat operator who is familiar with the area would be a real advantage.

 

Nobby’s Rock

Rating 7 stars  Depth: 8-24 metres   Category 3

Nobby’s Rocks is the last visible rock formation on the southern end of the Doughboys. It consists mainly of a small rounded granite rock surrounded by an extensive patch of shallow to medium depth reef. Close to the rock divers will find a large weed garden in 8-10 metres. The shallower reef garden tends to be heavily pounded by the swell and has been swept clean of more delicate marine life. This shelf stretches quite a distance away from the rock and then drops off sharply into a boulder strewn bottom in 15 metres. This area is about 75 metres away from the seaward side of the rock and is the best cray hunting area.  Many of the boulders are 4-8 metres round and provide some shelter for more delicate sponge and invertebrate growth. The area is also patrolled by Trumpeter, large Banded Morwong, and a few Butterfly Perch. About 100-150 metres out from the rock the bottom drops away again onto patchy sand in 24 metres. This is the best place to find deep water sponges and delicate hydroids and other invertebrates. Unfortunately, the seaward side between 15-40 metres has been heavily damaged by invasive NSW black urchins. This area is also patrolled by large schools of Butterfly Perch that hang near the large granite outcrops found in this area. The seaward side of the island is the most scenic area. The more sheltered and shallow Western side tends to be fairly flat and dominated by thick stands of weed growth.

 

Outer Doughboy

Rating 8 stars  Depth: 15-25 metres           Category 3

The extensive area of rocks just off St Helen’s Point is known locally as the Doughboys, but officially as St Helen’s Rocks. Much of the sheltered western side of the reef system is fairly shallow and dominated by thick stands of seaweed. These thick stands of weed tend to swamp the more delicate forms of marine life that can be found on the exposed and deeper Eastern side. The Doughboys area is relatively close to a boat ramp, but is very exposed to unfavourable weather. Some experience in boat handling and in assessing weather conditions is needed in order to dive the area safely. The point is also swept by a noticeable current at times. Someone should remain in the boat to pick up divers in the event of trouble. If the weather is good, one of the best diving area is on the seaward face of the Outer Doughboy. The site supports a wide range of invertebrate life, a healthy fish population and quite a few nice crayfish. On the western and southern sides of the rock there is a weed garden in 8-12 metres that drops away gradually into a band of large rubble in 15 metres. Further out the reef drops away quickly onto a broken sandy bottom in  25 metres. On the Eastern and Northern side the rock is virtually sheer, dropping away rapidly into 25 metres. This area is the best diving area as the rock wall is an impressive site in the usually good visibility. The face of the rock wall supports healthy growths of colourful sponge, Gorgonia, hydroid fans and other invertebrates. The boulders found on the bottom also harbour a few crayfish and sheltered rock faces support thick growths of yellow zoanthids (sea daisies). The area is also home to clouds of Butterfly Perch, Wrasse, Boarfish, Old Wife, large Banded Morwong and Trumpeter. In fact, this area contains one of the healthiest fish populations in the St Helen’s area.  Definitely worth doing if the weather is good. Unfortunately, the seaward side between 15-40 metres has been heavily damaged by invasive NSW black urchins.

 

Grant’s Point Cove

Rating 5 stars  Depth: 4 metres        Category 2

There are times when the wind will seem to stop any diving on the East Coast. If the wind is blowing parallel to the coast and the swell is low, Grant’s Point sometimes provides a sheltered entry and exit point. In good weather the cove is an easy shore dive for scuba divers and snorkellers. It is a short walk to the shore over some large granite boulders. The top of one of these boulders is a good vantage point to observe the swell and pick a safe entry and exit point. Watch the swell for some time as big ‘lifters’ can come in after a long period of calm seas Care must be taken when trying to carry gear over these difficult rocks.

At first all you will see is a barren pebbly bottom that has been blasted by the waves. This eventually gives way to a few rocks and a little weed. The best diving is around the rocky headlands at. The Lands Department have also supplied picnic facilities on the headland. Bring along some wood and cap the day off with a barbecue.

 

Skeleton Rock

Rating 7 stars  Depth: 6-15 metres   Category 2

This unusual granite formation near Binalong Bay probably gets its name from the fact that the rock is shaped like the top of a human skull. The dive itself is very scenic and sheltered from bad Southerly weather. It is not a particularly difficult dive but the steep access track makes it a tough shore dive. The site is about 200 metres away from the car park and only fit parties will want to negotiate the track in full SCUBA gear. I think that it is worth the effort as it is the best shore dive in the area.

elephant rk feb 08 008

The best entry point is right at the bottom of the track. This dive tends to defy the old rule that ‘the further you go the better it gets’. The reef here is quite steep and is covered in a wide variety of seaweed and reef animals. Sand is reached at 8-9 metres, and some interesting holes can be found along the edge of the reef. This luxuriant weed starts to give way to short weed as the point is neared. At this stage it is best to head North, straight out onto a isolated section of reef in 6 metres of water. This large collection of rocks is home to schools of fish and there are also some interesting swim-swim-throughs. The reef is covered in Butterfly Perch and visited by Australian Salmon, Herring Cale, Long-Finned Pike and Sea Sweep. There are also plenty of big Banded Morwong living among the rocks. This smaller reef is actually connected to Skeleton Rock and, if time permits, you can finish the dive along the Northern wall of the rock, in about 8 metres.

The exposed seaward side of the rock is probably easier to reach by boat. The depth close to the rock is from 6 to 8 metres while it drops away quite steeply into 15 metres. The bottom there is made up of small rocks covered in short weed. The relatively featureless bottom continues out into deeper water without marked improvement. This deeper area may yield a few crayfish, but with fairly intensive effort. The dive is still quite attractive, with plenty of fish and luxuriant growths of kelp close to the rock. There are also a few large swim-swim-throughs on the south-eastern tip of the rock. The major danger of this area is the constant boat traffic moving around the point, particularly in Summer. Please remember to show your dive flag and don’t surface until the sound of boat engines has died away.

 

Inner Sloop Reef

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 5-10 metres   Category 2

North of Binalong Bay there is a very impressive granite spire known as Sloop Rock. It is surrounded by a series of smaller rocks and a large reef. The reef is about 500 metres long and lies about 200 metres from the shore. The slopes of the reef are made up of granite rubble that has provided a few deep holes. The main diving area is in about 10 metres of water. The reef is home to the usual reef fish as well as the occasional group of school fish. There is some nice snorkelling close to the main spire. The whole reef is very photogenic as it is one of Tasmania’s most beautiful coastal formations. After the dive you may wish to head inshore for a picnic. A natural pool has been carved into the granite on the point opposite the reef. This is a great spot for sunbathing or snorkelling. The headland opposite the reef can also be reached by car and it is a great place for a barbecue. A very memorable dive as much for the coastal scenery as for the diving.

 

Eddystone Rock

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 6-15 metres   Category 3

Eddystone Rock is the visible part of a large granite reef system radiating out from the south-eastern side of Eddystone Point. The main island of rocks is about 500 metres from the shore and is visible in all weathers. In between the island and the shore there is a band of shallow reef that can be identified by three main outcrops that break or dry in most tides. The deepest part of the channel for navigation purposes is on the lighthouse side of these breakers. The main island of rocks is ringed by shallow wave swept ledges that are covered in Bull Kelp and can be very dangerous in a heavy swell. The ledge then drops onto a shallow weed garden in 6 metres. Around the main island this weed garden is relatively narrow, dropping away quickly into a more sparse bottom in 15 metres. On the shallow reef in the Western channel the weed garden is very broad and extensive. These large weed gardens support a variety of fish life including Banded Morwong, Leatherjackets, Trumpeter and large groups of Boarfish. The rocks underneath the weed harbour a few crayfish as well as some abalone. The rocks are also covered in tube worms, sponges as other small marine animals. This is a very attractive dive even though it shows signs of being heavily fished in the past. This area is very exposed to unfavourable weather, especially easterly weather. Boat access is from the gulch at Eddystone Point.

 

Eddystone Point

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 4-15 metres   Category 2-3

Eddystone Point is one of the more convenient dives in the North-East. The area is easily accessible by normal two-wheel drive vehicle and there is a camping area nearby at Deep Creek. Although there can be strong currents in the area, the currents are nothing like those on some of the dives in Bank’s Strait. However, to dive the reefs from the shore would require an exceptionally calm day. All along the shore there is a fringing granite reef about 30 metres from shore. This provides shelter for a safer beach entry, but getting over the reef into the open sea can be a chore. The reef is so shallow that it can be dangerous to cross in any sort of swell. The diving is more relaxed and safer from a boat. Someone can remain onboard to pick up divers in the event of difficulties with the surface current. Boats can be launched from a small and sheltered beach near the car park. This launch would be easier with a four-wheel drive vehicle.

The diving around the Eddystone Point shoreline is fairly typical of the smaller reef systems of the North-East Coast. Close to the shore the area is wave-swept and dominated by tougher varieties of seaweed. About 50 metres from the shore the depth is 4 to 6 metres. This area contains the nicest diving in my opinion. The rocks seem to get bigger and hide more crayfish. The seaweed also becomes very thick and attracts Banded Morwong, Herring Cale and Kelpies. The rocks are not very protected from the swell so the invertebrate life is fairly thin. There are still some ascidians and tube worms on the sheltered sides of the larger rocks. In among the rocks there are also large schools of Bullseyes and a few crabs. The rocky bottom continues out into 12-15 metres. The large rocks here tend to be fairly lifeless.

The nicest part of the shoreline that I have found so far, is the area around the long reef near the boat ‘ramp’. It is slightly deeper and the boulders are 2-3 metres high. Although there are a few small crayfish and abalone the major attraction is better fish and invertebrate life around the rocks. The outer-most rocks appear to offer the nicest scenery. The Eddystone area is accessed through a National Park. Divers may be asked to pay an admission charge. From time to time special fisheries restrictions apply in this area.

 

Eddystone Boat ‘Ramp’

Rating 5 stars  Depth: 2-6 metres     Category 1-2

This is one of the few places in the Eddystone area where inexperienced divers can have a relatively safe and relaxing shore dive. A long chain of granite rocks has created a small sheltered cove that blunts the full impact of the swell. The water here is only shallow, but is still home to a small seaweed garden. The weed attracts a few reef fish such as Leatherjackets, Banded Morwong, Herring Cale and Kelpies. Entry is from a small beach that is also used as the local boat ramp. Divers must show a dive flag and remain on the bottom if boat engines can be heard. The gulch can suffer from relatively poor visibility, especially after a period of rough weather. In addition to this the shallows seem to warm up and promote large blooms of shrimp-like plankton at various times. However, gaps in the islands tend to admit cleaner sea water making the visibility tolerable. The water is especially clear closer to the mouth of the cove. The best dive plan is to swim along the shore as far as your level of fitness allows and concentrate on trying to find new and interesting animals around the rocks.

stumpy's

Half Tide Rock

Rating 5 stars  Depth: 12-18 metres           Category 3

As this area of reef may not have an official name so I have called it the Midway Reef because of its position halfway between Eddystone Point and Picnic Rocks. It is a fairly inconspicuous reef near a small rock that is almost covered at high tide. The large area of rocky bottom that surrounds the rock provides holding points for a thin forest of Macrocystis kelp which has unfortunately disappeared in recent years. Much of this reef is flat and uninspiring and this has probably discouraged many divers. However, those who persist will come across occasional patches of more substantial bottom. The caves among these isolated bommies provide large crevices. The rest of the reef is a passably good dive in good visibility with some impressive stands of kelp in places. The kelp also attracts school fish such as Trumpeter. There are many inconspicuous reefs like it. Why not go exploring for yourself?

beach wrack

Picnic Rocks

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 6-12 metres   Category 2-3

This area can be dived as a shore dive although it would require a long surface swim to reach the better areas of the reef. Most would prefer to go by boat and enjoy the deeper outer reefs of the site. Picnic Rocks is a large area of reef that runs about 500 metres directly out from the Deep Creek camping area. The area is dotted with large granite rocks that signpost the existence of a much larger reef system under the water. Because the reef is so obvious it has attracted a lot of fishing pressure. The major attraction is the scenic quality of this very extensive group of reefs. The area is noted for medium to large granite bommies. These bommies create cracks and caves that harbour a variety of interesting marine life. The bottom is covered in thick mats of cray weed that attracts Banded Morwong, Leatherjackets, Wrasse and Boarfish. The major feature of this reef is its huge size. There is a seemingly endless maze of overhangs, cracks and caves to explore. This dive will suit most tastes and lies relatively close to the main boat access point. The area is still exposed to easterly weather although the rocks provide some limited shelter from north-easterly weather.

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Stumpy’s Ballroom

Rating 7 stars  Depth: 5-15 metres   Category 2-3

Stumpy’s Bay is a popular spot for divers because its reasonably sheltered from the strong offshore currents and the worst effects of Northerly or Southerly swells. The bay is noted for the substantial granite reefs that can be found in many places. They usually run parallel to the shore and are rarely deeper than 15 metres. Some come close to the surface, representing a danger to unwary boat operators. The granite reefs are usually quite smooth so the marine life tends to be well spread out among the few substantial cracks and boulders. The area is very scenic. The granite rock faces are home to numerous invertebrate species. Feather Duster Worms are common as well as unusual species of bryzoa and hydroids. Seaweed also grows very luxuriously. Bull Kelp dominates the first 5 metres and then gives way to more delicate crayweed. Soon divers will see numerous reef fish including Leatherjackets, Sea Sweep, Banded Morwong and large Boarfish. The area is also visited by school fish such as Australian Salmon and Mackerel.

One of the better reefs lies halfway between the boat ‘ramp’ and Boulder Point. The reef is only a metre below the surface and can easily be seen from the boat. The reef is about 100 metres long and 30-50 metres wide. On the extreme north-eastern tip of this reef there is a large bommie which lies 5 metres below the surface and drops into 15 metres of water. Underneath the rock there is a large swim-through which is very reminiscent of ‘The Ballroom’ at Bicheno. I have called it “Stumpy’s Ballroom” for want of a better name. The cave is packed with marine life and is very attractive. There is also a nice weed garden on the sheltered Western and Southern parts of the reef. There is a boat ‘ramp’ in Stumpy’s Bay which is actually a beach launch. Launching is relatively easy, but getting the boat out again can be a real chore because of soft boggy sand on the ‘ramp’ exit. A four-wheel drive (preferably 2) is essential. The next best alternative for heavier craft is the lagoon at Musselroe Bay(Poole). This is also very boggy at low water and the locals often use tractors to retrieve larger craft. The lagoon mouth can also be dangerous in unfavourable Easterly weather.

 

Musselroe Point

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 5-15 metres   Category 3

This long expanse of reef is relatively accessible from the lagoon at Musselroe Bay. The site is exposed to easterly weather and the sea near the point can be confused because of contrary winds and tide. Even so, it is a relatively short and easy boat journey in good weather. Because of its exposed position close to the rocks is fairly wave-swept and bare. Periwinkles are everywhere as they seem to love the turbulent seas. Away from the rocks the reef deepens progressively, occasionally supporting small patches of Macrocystis and some thick weed beds. Much of the bottom is low jagged reef broken by sandy gutters. About 75-100 metres away from the nearest visible rocks the reefs becomes more substantial and the bottom deeper. Here is probably the best area to go cray hunting. This is mostly a cray dive, but there is still plenty of interesting invertebrate life clinging to the rock faces, particularly tube worms and some unusual hydroids. When diving from Musselroe River be wary of the rocks near the lagoon mouth. Also use a four wheel drive vehicle for boat retrieval, especially if it is low water on the return journey.

 

Wreck of the Barque “Mayfield”

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 9 metres        Category 4

Much of the diving on Swan Island is relatively safe, except for the reefs to the North of the lighthouse. They are heavily affected by the current and should be avoided by everyone except very experienced divers. The only attraction here is the chance of finding the wreck of the barque “Mayfield”. She lies about 500 metres north of the lighthouse in nine metres of water. The wreck has been infrequently dived and they report a dangerous, almost unbearable current over the site. The wreck has badly broken up although the outline of the hull is still discernible amongst a jumble of steel plates. This area can only be dived at slack water. Low water seems to provide the longest dive times. The tide rips over the reef at an extremely dangerous velocity. When the tide is also running opposite to the direction of the wind, large standing waves result which can swamp an anchored boat. Divers should be either attached to the boat by a hookah or safety line. Otherwise a live boat and a very alert lookout is needed in order to retrieve divers. Don’t rely on being able to pull the anchor in time to pick up a wayward diver. This is the largest sailing ship wreck in Tasmania at 2285 gross tons. She is the only four masted barque wrecked in the state. She struck a rock near Little Swan Island and foundered in February 1905. She was taking a cargo of wheat to Ireland at the time.

Ship File –      “Mayfield”

Built:            Greenock, Scotland in 1903

Dimensions:   227.5 ft x 42 ft x 24.2 ft

Features:      Steel 4 masted barque

Eastern Swan Is

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 2-5 metres     Category 2-3

Much of Swan Island is made up of shallow sandy beach with few significant rocky outcrops. On the north-east side the rocks are jagged and steep and form large sand-filled gullies. Marine life clings to the walls of these rocks but tends to be fairly heavily blasted by the swell. In summer a warm current flows down the coast of Tasmania, bringing school fish . This dive is likely to be an excellent place to run into large schools of fish such as Australian Salmon or Mackerel. However, the Northern shore is very exposed to the current and swell so it may be a case of venturing only as far as is safe in the prevailing conditions.

The island is a fairly long boat ride from the ramp at Little Musselroe River. The mouth of this river is extremely shallow at low water and dangerous in rough weather. The island was formerly owned by the government as a manned light station, but has now been sold to private interests.

 

Little Swan

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 3-8 metres     Category 2-3

The channel between Swan and Cygnet Island is particularly sheltered and fairly shallow. This shelter has allowed large fronds of Macrocystis to grow and has attracted a few fish including large stingrays. The effect of the large weed garden is very pleasing to the dive and this is a relatively easy and relaxing dive. The only danger is from the weather. The crossing of Bank’s Strait can be very difficult in unfavourable weather and an experienced boat handler is required.

 

Wreck of the “General Picton”

Rating 8 stars  Depth: 5-25 metres   Category 3-4

general pictonThe “General Picton” left Melbourne on 19th of July 1888, with a valuable cargo of produce for London. With a new crew and stiff rigging from a long stay in port, she gradually began to get off course. On the 23rd of July, while attempting to pass through Bank’s Strait, she struck a submerged reef off Foster’s Island. The vessel was quickly abandoned and the hull settled on the bottom with the rigging still exposed above water. By August the 27th she had completely broken up. This wreck once contained hundreds of very large crayfish, but lately has been under intense diving pressure.  The wreck itself lies against a very dangerous reef to the North of Foster’s Island. Its bow touches the Western side of the reef in 5 metres and the stern lies in 25 metres of water. The steel plates have collapsed creating many swim-swim-throughs that shelter small marine life. This is one of the few Tasmanian wrecks that is a scenic dive in its own right. The wreck was souvenired for a while but much of the cargo still lies squashed under the steel plates. The best find was a pair of small bronze figurines that were recovered in the early 1980′s. The wreck has now been declared historic and it is illegal to remove any artefacts. Don’t be distressed to find bones lying around the wreck. None of the crew died on the wreck, these cattle bones were just part of the cargo. It is best to dive the wreck during slack water and only on a rising tide. Low water exposes the reef making the wreck easier to find. As the tide begins to flood it will run in a Westerly direction and the reef tends to shelter divers from the full force of the tidal stream. The water West of the reef tends to be heavily agitated, but over the reef it is calm and weed can be easily seen below the surface on the high point of the reef. Only about 100 metres of the high point is visible from the surface. The wreck lies about 30 metres (approx) to the south of the centre of this high point.

Ship File – “General Picton”

Built:            1883 Port Glasgow Scotland

Dimensions:   258 ft x 38 ft x 23 ft

Features:      Four masted iron sailing ship of 1660 gross tons

 

Wreck of the “Loch Finlas”

Rating 9 stars  Depth: 19-24 metres           Category 4

loch finlasA badly organised dive on this wreck will scare you into mending your ways, provided that you survive! This dive is a real test of your ability to handle diving in strong tidal streams. Even experienced divers need specific experience in tidal dives leading up to a dive on the “Loch Finlas”. The wreck must be dived at slack water. Often low water slack is more forgiving, but the tide has a tendency to change direction without a noticeable slack and start racing off again at a frightening velocity. The strength of the current can be felt even on the bottom and has swept some divers off their feet and into the wreckage. Hookah divers with too much hose fed out will have considerable difficulty when the tide begins to work against the slack air line. It is common to hear of two deckhands having difficulty pulling in one diver.

Why bother? Well the “Finlas” is relatively intact wreck with plenty to offer any recreational diver. She is covered in colourful invertebrate life including a thick growth of sponge around the stern. The wreck also boasts a fine weed garden around the bow and attracts schools of pelagic fish including huge Yellowtail Kingfish. The reef fish are also numerous and diverse including Rainbowfish and some very large Boarfish.

The wreck’s bow is canted over on its side with the anchor hanging in mid-air with the full length of the bowsprit still intact. This is a very spectacular sight in good visibility. The large counter stern is similarly photogenic and stands about 5 metres off the bottom with the large rudder still in place. The wreck is canted over on its starboard side and points roughly North West with the bow touching the Southern end of Foster’s Island Reef. She is largely intact although the wreck is broken up amidships, especially on the starboard side nearest the bow. The huge steel masts lie out on the sand on the starboard side. The wreck is very difficult to locate without a depth sounder and some local knowledge.

The Loch Finlas was a iron barque of 2170 registered tons. She was one of the well-maintained “Loch” line vessels that traded to Australia during the fading days of sail. She was apparently a very fine ship that was well-liked by her crew. On the 26th of September 1905 she was on a voyage from Port Pirie to Callao in Peru with a cargo of wheat. Early into the voyage she struck Foster’s Island Reef due to careless navigation. The old captain was on his last sea voyage before retirement. In this period good young replacement masters were hard to find and sea captains often dropped dead of old age at their posts. The fact that he was old enough to ‘retire’ might have meant that he was in an advanced state of senility. In any event he went into shock. The ship was stuck fast on the dangerous reef but rapidly filling with water and beginning to shift. It was left up to the first mate to organise the launching of lifeboats into a treacherous sea. All the boats were eventually launched although most overturned in the heavy sea. The first mate then decided to take his chances in the rigging while the captain stayed below, determined to go down with his ship.

This whole drama was being observed by a group of workers on nearby Waterhouse Station. They had watched the barque slam to a halt on the reef. The large white-painted barque was an impressive sight as she was still under full canvas. Then, as the last lifeboat got away the ship forged off the reef and dramatically slipped beneath the waves with sails set and flags still flying. She took with her the first mate and the captain.

We only know what happened to one of the boats launched that day. She was quickly capsized by standing waves, drowning many and leaving the others to cling desperately to the upturned hull. The cold sea temperatures rapidly took their toll of the survivors as they slid off the lifeboat and sank. One young Norwegian seaman named, Victor Brage tried to save his last shipmate who was dying before his eyes of exposure. Finally the crewman succumbed and slipped off the boat to join his shipmates. Alone in the cold sea Victor began to give up all hope as the lifeboat drifted past Swan Island. Then when all appeared lost the tide changed and threw him up on Little Musselroe Beach. He was the only survivor from a large crew of 24 . He had endured October sea temperatures for ..hours. He was cared for at the local station before becoming something of a curiosity for a time in Launceston. No-one knows of his fate. Most likely he signed onto another ship and continued his voyages.

Ship File – “Loch Finlas”

Built:            1885 in Southampton as the “Bactria” by Oswald and Mordaunt

Dimensions:   279 x 40.2 x 24.3 ft

Features:      iron  ship of 2170 tons

 

Foster’s Island

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 2-6 metres     Category 2-3

This island offers some pleasant and easy diving with the prospect of a few good crays. The island is fairly difficult to reach because it is ringed by dangerous tidal rips that cause standing waves to form in the passage separating it from Cape Portland. The area should be avoided when strong winds are blowing opposite to the tide. On a rising tide the eastern side of Fosters is very sheltered in good weather. The island is skirted by a shallow weed garden that is home to a fair range of fish life as well as a few crays. They tend to well spread out in a few large dens. The area is good for large abalone.

In addition to seafood there are a couple of small wrecks. Little remains of their structure, but they have a curiosity value for the keen wreck diver. The “Memento” was on a voyage to Melbourne with a cargo of coal when she struck Foster’s Island on the 3rd of November 1877. Three of the crew were drowned in the heavy seas that broke against the island that day. The captain was among the dead and he was buried on the island. The wooden barque broke up quickly and today little remains of her. A broken anchor, some timber work and a few pieces of iron are all that can be seen. The barque went ashore in the gap between the two parts of Foster’s Island, slightly towards the southern half of the island.

The S.S. Athletic went ashore on the south-western tip of the island on the 11th of November 1881. She was on a voyage from Launceston to Hobart at the time. Little remains of the wooden hull. The only section to have survived the swell is the boiler, which is still intact and covered in weed. It lies in 3-4 metres of water less than 50 metres from the shore. The area of the wreck is exposed to the current, but she is worth a quick look on scuba or snorkel.

 

MacLeay and Baynes Islands

Rating 5 stars Depth: 5-10 metres   Category 2

These large islands are sheltered from the full impact of unfavourable Easterly weather. They are also only a stones throw away from the launching point at Petal Point. The islands are often the only good dives in the Cape Portland area in strong winds. Hence they have suffered from strong diving pressure. Even so, it is still possible to find a few crayfish along the shores, although they are very well spread out. The bottom itself is fairly flat, but does support reasonably good weed growths as well as a few fish. The islands have saved many a weather-bound diver from madness brought on by immersion deprivation.

 

Waterhouse Island

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 10-30 metres           Category 3

The island consists of low fringing rocky reef around the island in fairly shallow water. The best diving is on the North Western tip of the island. It can be exposed and tide swept, but there are rocky crevices here that protect the local marine life and seen to house a variety of odd Bass Strait species like Velvetfish.

 

East Sandy Point

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 3-12 metres   Category 2

This dive tends to be popular with Launceston divers, as the Bridport area is considered a relatively short drive from the city. This headland contains a few nice reefs lying close to the shore in moderately shallow water. The reef system is quite extensive so there is no great mystery in locating a good spot. Simply anchor in a safe area and go exploring. In calm seas it is better to travel out onto the more exposed areas near the tip of the point. The area is heavily fished because of the relatively poor diving in the sheltered areas between Granite Point and East Sandy Point. There is still some nice fish life and plenty of things to see growing on the low volcanic reef. East Sandy Point attracts Magpie Perch, Scaly Fin, Barber Perch, Wrasse, Leatherjackets, Sweep, Bullseyes and Herring Cale. The area is normally safe, but divers should be wary of a small surface current that occasionally flows near the point.

 

Barranjoey (Tenth Is)

Rating 8 stars Depth: 4 metres        Category 2-3

Barrenjoey is a small island about four kilometres off the Northern coast of Tasmania. Despite its small size it is Tasmania’s largest accessible seal colony. The site can be accessed by boat from the ramp at Lulworth, but only in good weather. The island supports 100-200 seals with a lot of pups being born in late Spring. This is a great time to view the colony, but pupping also increases the number of sharks in the area. The seals are playful and friendly. Only the Bull seals attempting to scare you off by charging. They are only trying to scare away what might be competition and veer off at the last minute. No-one will hang around too long in the boat on this dive. The rock is covered in droppings and they emit a powerful and foul smell. Seal droppings are a bonus for the huge schools of Kelpies who follow the seals around. They survive by eating seal droppings. The seals will tend to shower divers with droppings. This is a sign of approval and feast time for the Kelpies.

The rock is covered in thick weed but the seals have stripped it of other life. You will have a lot of fun if you let yourself go and try to mimic the seal’s behaviour. When the seals become more comfortable they will start to ‘taste’ your fins and gloves. Seals have a powerful sense of taste and are trying to work out who you are. No-one I know has been injured by a seal on any of these dives. I have had my hand in a seal’s mouth on several occasions.

Sharks are attracted to the area, so it is suggested that you back the boat into the shallows and do not linger on the surface.

 

Farewell Beacon

farewell beacon

Rating 8 stars Depth: 10-30 metres           Category 3

This beacon sits on the edge of a gentle drop-off going into the deep shipping channel out of the Tamar. The slope is covered in invertebrates, but the fish life is usually fantastic, with just about every Bass Strait species present. The area is very heavily affected by currents.

Closer to land on the shallow reef tops, straight out from the Low Head Lighthouse there are some large reefs that are often covered in luxuriant growths of Kelp. The area here is occasionally frequented by large stingrays. They look quite threatening, but are relatively harmless and quite timid. The area is still affected by the tides in the river although the tide loses much of its strength here. The turn of the tide tends to produce some confused seas at times. Some caution is still required. The area is easily accessed from ramps at Low Head, Georgetown or Kelso.

 

Low Head Shore

low head kelp

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 2-6 metres     Category 2

The reserve around the Low Head Light station offers ease of access to the shallow reefs around the point. There is plenty of parking at the light station and the small museum inside the lighthouse is a good place from which to assess the conditions. Back at the car park there is an access gate which leads to a number of dirt tracks that criss-cross the point. On the Eastern side there are plenty of good entry points. The reef is a flat terrace and only 2 metres deep near the shore. Near the pine fences there are some fairly large boulders that make an impressive site in good visibility. The area is covered in short olive and brown seaweed and is home to Barber Perch, Weedfish, Zebrafish, Wrasse, Magpie Perch and Sea Sweep. The bottom is fairly heavily scoured by the swell, but there are still some more delicate growths under the boulders. Within 50 metres of the shore the bottom deepens to 4-6 metres and the bottom gradually flattens out and becomes less interesting. On the Western side there are some short growths of Macrocystis and a few abalone. Nearly all are very small and the area has a reputation amongst abalone divers as a ‘stunted patch’ which grows very slowly. Attempts to thin them out have not improved the growth rate which may well be limited by the availability of food or some other factor. However, it is still likely that you will find one or two sized fish to take home. Divers need to be wary of the current which is reasonably strong, particularly on the Western side of the Head. This need not be a problem and can be used to advantage. Drift along with the current to minimise your effort. Caution is needed to avoid being dragged away from the shore and into swifter flowing water. Also make sure there are plenty of safe exit points further down current before commencing the dive. This dive is easy to do on snorkel, but only suits those divers who have gained a little more confidence because of the currents in the area.

 

Barrel Rock

Rating 7 stars  Depth: 25-30 metres           Category 3

This site is good alternative dive when the weather is rough on Hebe Reef. The rock lies near the Low Head lighthouse and has been a shipping obstruction since the early days of settlement. It was once marked by an old barrel-shaped buoy. This has been replaced by a steel marker with a fish-shaped weather vane on the top. Therefore the rock is known as both Barrel Rock and the Fish Beacon. The rock lies in the middle of the tideway and can only be dived at slack water. This begins half an hour before the turn of the tide. The visibility is much better at high tide. Information on the tides and shipping movements can be obtained from the Port of Launceston Authority at Bell Bay. The rock is very close to the main shipping channel and passing ships tend to produce some very uncomfortable sound waves. I have dived here when a freighter has passed overhead and the noise should not cause a major problem unless you are swimming between two rocks. The sound waves then tend to be very uncomfortable on your ear drums. It is better to dive when there is no shipping activity.

The tide only produces a surface current. Once divers descend a few metres the current tends to fade out. Continually monitor your depth and maintain neutral buoyancy as it is possible to descend to over 60 metres before reaching the bottom. Because of the strong tide the rock is covered in filter feeding marine life and has attracted a lot of fish. Although the bottom is muddy the dive is still very colourful and should be popular with photographers. In particular, there is a vast array of interesting sponges to look at and photograph.

Do not to forget to monitor the dive time and surface before the tide begins to run again.  If divers time the dive correctly, there is a shallow kelp garden just under the beacon that is good for a five minute safety stop. This area is only safe at slack water. Divers should try to surface up-current from the boat and always leave plenty of air in reserve. On the surface it will be impossible to swim against the current and you must always leave someone in the boat to help in emergencies. If unable to reach the boat, swim across the current towards the shore which is a relatively short distance away. This area is not suited to shore diving because of the strong tides but some experienced divers have managed it.

 

Wreck of the S.S. “Nelson”

Rating 5 stars  Depth: 15-20 metres           Category 5

On the night of the 27th of June 1890, Captain Carrington was taking his steamer up the Tamar River on its way to the wharves at Launceston. The steamer was laden with general merchandise and passengers from Melbourne. While trying to pass to the East of the Porpoise Rock the steamer ran aground and began to take water. After an hour she had taken a dangerous list and was abandoned. After seven hours on the rock the vessel finally heeled over and sank. Porpoise Rock is not actually a rock but an outcropping of mud and pebble that has built up in the middle of the Tamar River. The top of the rock once reached within a metre of the surface. It had always been a dangerous obstacle for shipping. In order to improve the harbour the port authority decided to remove the wreck and dredge the rock down to ten metres. To do this hard hat divers were called in to break up the old wreck. One of these divers recovered the ship’s bell as well as numerous other artefacts. The stern of the wreck was once in only 6 metres of water while the bow rested in approximately 18 metres. Divers fixed explosives and the wreck was blown up. Any large remaining pieces of wreckage were dragged out into deep water. A dredger then started on the rock, scattering the remains and covering them with silt. During this operation two brass cannons were picked up from an older shipping mishap. These can now be seen in the Launceston Maritime Museum. In 1993 the wreck was dredged again and a six tonne piece of the stern, including the propeller, was recovered for onshore restoration. The dredge also hooked onto the boiler, but this rolled off into deeper water before it could be recovered.

The wreck of the “Nelson” is one of the most dangerous dives in the state. It suffers from bad visibility and strong currents. If that is not enough there is also the chance of being run down by a large cargo ship. The wreck itself is actually a pile of junk that has sunk into the oozing mud of Porpoise Rock. Most of the smaller artefacts lie buried under about 6 inches of mud. Only a few large pieces are visible. It is technically illegal to dive on the wreck as it is inside the shipping channel. Therefore, I can’t recommend this as a dive and I include it as an interesting historical curio and an indication of the conditions in the confined parts of the river.

If you decide to act against my advice and still want to dive the wreck, ring up Port Control at Bell Bay to check on shipping movements. Even if they say there is no shipping be ready to make a quick departure from the site. There have been many close calls with unexpected cargo ships. The water is clearer at flood tide, but it is easier to anchor close to the wreck on the ebb tide. There is also less likelihood of running into large shipping. Dives should only be carried out at slack water. Only dive when someone is in the boat who can pick you up in the event of problems.

Ship File – “Nelson”

Built:            1876 Port Glasgow Scotland

Dimensions:   200 ft x 25 ft

Features:      steel passenger steamer of 648 gross tons

 

Wreck of the “Asterope”

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 2-4 metres     Category 2-3

The “Asterope” finally arrived off Tamar Heads on the 8th of June 1883 after an eventful and slow voyage of 102 days. For two hours she signalled for a pilot and beat backwards and forwards across the heads. At 2 P.M. the “Asterope” struck Hebe Reef which was concealed at the time by the high tide. Local newspapers were critical of the pilot’s slowness in answering the signal. The vessel lay parallel to the reef in about two metres of water at low tide. Much of the wreck was salvaged before she was finally destroyed by storms. The area is interesting to poke around in, but most of the ship’s structure has been destroyed. In the gullies it is sometimes possible to see coal, pieces of slate, ship’s timbers, bottles and crockery. The wreck was declared historic in the early 1980’s, in an effort to prevent further damage to the cargo. The area was heavily souvenired by divers in the past. Since the disturbance ceased the wreck site has silted over, but pieces are uncovered by storms.

Ship File – “Asterope”

Built:            Approx 1855 at Aberdeen Scotland

Dimensions:   172 ft x 28.3 ft x 17.5 ft

Features:      Wooden barque of 602 net tons

 

Wreck of the S.S. “Esk”

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 5 metres        Category 2-3

esk2The “Esk” was heading out of the Tamar River on the 24th of April 1886, loaded with passengers and fruit for Devonport. The seas were calm and the full extent of Hebe Reef could not be seen on the surface. The captain ignored the beacons that had been set up to guide ships clear of the reef. The “Esk” struck heavily and became firmly wedged in the reef. The vessel could not be refloated and was abandoned. Two weeks the wreck was destroyed by a severe gale. Captain Evans had also lost the S.S. “Tasman” three years before and this time his master’s certificate was suspended. Without a job he was forced into alternative employment, later becoming the Premier of Tasmania. The remains of this vessel lie heavily broken up, only the boiler and stern are relatively intact. The wreck can be located most easily at low water as the boiler is exposed. The wreck has been a popular dive for many years and its accessibility means that it has been heavily souvenired. The whole wreck is covered in short yellow-green weed which tends to make the “Esk” look like part of the reef. It will test your powers of imagination to try and identify various parts of the wreck. The engine, deck winches and prop shaft can be easily identified with a little concentration.

Ship File – “Esk”

Built:            1877 at Port Glasgow as the “Vampire”

Dimensions:   190.6 ft x 27.1 ft x 21.2 ft

Features:      Iron steamer of 854 gross tons

 

Wreck of the Barque “Eden Holme”

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 6 metres        Category 2The “Eden Holme” was on a voyage from London loaded with general cargo for Launceston. On the 5th of January 1907, Captain Dulling asked for a pilot to enter Tamar Heads. The “Eden Holme” was under the command of Pilot Mullay when the wind dropped away and the vessel was becalmed. Without the power of the wind she drifted slowly onto Hebe Reef and bumped lightly. Although the barque was undamaged the tide was falling. Soon the vessel began to groan under her own weight and eventually the plates gave way. By the time a tug arrived it was too late to save her. She lay intact on the reef for some time and was heavily salvaged before finally breaking up. The vessel was owned by the famous company of Hine Brothers. They also owned the larger “Brier Holme” which was wrecked on the West Coast. The wreck lies about 40 metres to the East of the “Esk” and can be seen from just under the surface. Tow someone around slowly behind the boat until the unnaturally straight lines of the ship’s ribs can be discerned. The “Eden Holme” rests in a depression in the rocks and the hull plates above this depression have been broken off and scattered. Much of the cargo was salvaged, but divers can still find fragments of glass, china and shot. Deadeyes, full bottles of wine and vinegar bottles have also been located in the past.

Ship File – “Eden Holme”

Built:            1875 Sunderland England

Dimensions:   201 ft 8 in x 32 ft 2 in x 18 ft 5 in

Features:      Iron barque of 827 gross tons

Badger Head

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 4-20 metres   Category 2

It can be very difficult to find a good cray spot near Launceston. The area has suffered from heavy fishing pressure and has never been particularly good cray country. Badger Head offers the best cray fishing prospects, particularly if you have access to an echo sounder. The best cray hunting is well out to sea in about 20 metres. The bottom here is not very scenic. The idea is to chance upon a small reef that might hold a few isolated crays. Those who prefer better scenery will remain close to the shore. Here there are a few nice reefs in 4-10 metres of water. The usual types of Bass Strait fish can be found as well as a few abalone. You would be very lucky to find a crayfish in this shallow area, but it is still an attractive dive.