The North-West -Port Sorell to Cape Grim
The north-western tip of the state around Woolnorth is quite good despite restricted access. The whole area is the property of the Van Diemen’s Land Company and they have insisted that you hire a guide before being admitted. This can also be accessed from Montagu. The shallow channel to the open sea requires extreme care, especially at low tide.
Offshore the Flerieu Group has a lot of potential for further exploration. The northern part of Hunter Island and Three Hummock Island offer the only granite reefs in the area. To the south Robbins Island and the southern end of Hunter Island are similar to the rest of the North-West. The Flerieu Group is extremely difficult to reach and is very exposed. This would be a major expedition requiring access to an experienced skipper and a large vessel.
The western settled part of the North-West is sometimes known as Cape Country by local divers, due to the large number of rocky promontories. Principally these are Table Cape, Rocky Cape and Circular Head. Circular Head and Table Cape are volcanic and tend to be dominated by narrow and shallow reefs that hug the shore. Nonetheless there are a few pretty and fairly easy dives to amuse the local diver. The situation improves on the quartzite reefs in the Rocky Cape to Boat Harbour area. The reefs offer the North-West’s best scenic variety. There are fringing quartzite reefs as well as some deep offshore bommies. These features are packed with fish and offer possibly the best invertebrate life to be found in Tasmania. Rocky Cape has been proposed as a Marine Reserve.
Around Burnie and Wynyard shallow quartzite reefs run out from the shore in many locations. There are some nice sunken bommies well offshore.
Closer to Devonport and Port Sorell the bottom is fairly shallow and generally dominated by volcanic geology. There are some nice easy shore dives, as well as some offshore reefs.
Diving in this whole area is very dependent on good weather. Westerly winds prevail most of the time, but easterly gales are not uncommon in the warmer months. Either conditions cause problems as the area has few sheltered waterways. Southerly weather blows offshore and creates good conditions. Light airs and bright sunny days are relatively common in the January to April period. The weather is definitely warmer and more stable than in the south during this period.
There are dive services in Devonport and Wynyard. The North-West coast is one of the most fertile agricultural areas in the state and Burnie and Devonport are major industrial cities. Other smaller population centres are at Ulverstone, Wynyard, Stanley and Smithton.
Road and Boat Access
The Bass Highway is a straight, sealed, two lane highway that follows much of the coastline. The major towns and cities lie along this route. From this highway there is a network of good roads servicing outlying agricultural communities. Only the Flerieu Group and the Woolnorth area could be classed as remote.
The most strategic boat ramps can be found at Rocky Cape, Sister’s Beach, Devonport, Hawley Beach, Wynyard, Penguin, Ulverstone, Burnie, Stanley, and Smithton. Rough launches can be made from Baker’s Beach, Woolnorth, Boat Harbour Beach and Montagu. Many ramps are shallow and covered in weed at low tide. Therefore, a popular combination with local divers is a four wheel drive tow vehicle with a long extension bar for the trailer. A depth sounder and a tide table are almost indispensable items of boat equipment.
Rating 6.5 stars Depth: 2-25 metres Category 2
This large reef system lies about five kilometres east of Devonport and about one kilometre from the shore. The reef is an extension of a low rocky shelf stretching out from Pardoe Point. The rocky shallows are spread over an area in excess of one square kilometre. Two low islets, Wrights Island and Egg Island are visible at all states of the tide. Much of the rest of the reef is exposed at low water. Egg Island gets its name from the large seagull and cormorant rookery found there. Despite the large size of the reef much of the shallows offers fairly poor diving. The water around the main rocky outcrops is very shallow and much of the more interesting life has been ripped off the bottom by the swell. The shallows are dominated by thick mats of short brown seaweed and is patrolled by small Wrasse and Magpie Perch. The best area is well away from the reef on the seaward side. Use an echo sounder to locate broken bottom in 15-18 metres. At this depth the sheltered sides of the reef are able to support more delicate forms of marine life and a wider variety of fish. In deeper water 1-3 metre boulders hide a good variety of sponges, ascidians, nudibranchs and bryzoa. Large numbers of Wrasse, Magpie Perch, Barber Perch, Whiting, Banded Morwong, and schools of Trachinops can also be seen. This reef is very exposed to the weather and boat operators should be experienced in reading the local conditions. On a good day it offers an easy dive that is reasonably close to Devonport.
Rating 5 stars Depth: 2-4 metres Category 1-2
Along the eastern mouth of the Mersey River, the Marine Board has constructed a long breakwater and training wall. Much of the breakwater is actually covered at high tide. The western side of the breakwater is often clouded by sediment washing down the river and is affected by a strong tide. However, the eastern side of the breakwater is sheltered and flushed by ocean currents. This is an easy dive in good weather, although it is very exposed to easterly wind. The best part of the breakwater is at its northern end where a small kelp forest has established itself along the rocky fringe of the breakwater. Here there are small abalone as well as Magpie Perch and Wrasse. The area is reached by walking over the rough and loose stones of the breakwater. This is really a snorkel dive due to the shallow depths and the difficulty in transporting scuba gear. Younger children should dive in the shallows around the base of the breakwater where they can be better supervised. Here the bottom is very bare, but covered in colourful sea stars and short weed. This is likely to be interesting enough for the young novice. Exposed on the pebble beach 100 metres to the east of the breakwater is the wreck of the dredge S.S. “Agnew”. The “Agnew” was the only iron vessel ever built in Tasmania. She blew ashore here on the 13th of February 1939. Also worth a quick look is the wreck of the dredger “G. Ward Cole”. She broke her moorings and came ashore on the 29th of October 1930. Divers moved her to her present position to the west of the breakwater’s base, but she could not be refloated. The wreck is often clouded by silt, so it is worth waiting for a flood tide after a dry period. The western side is exposed to the current and there are some sharp pieces of steel lying on the bottom to catch the unwary. A wreck for snorkellors with some in-water confidence.
Ship File – S.S. “Agnew”
Built: 1887 by Kennedy Brothers, Hobart
Dimensions: 112.2 x 26.2 x 9.5 ft
Features: iron steam dredge of 203 gross tons
Ship File – “G Ward Cole”
Built: 1889 Renfrew Scotland
Dimensions: 146.5 x 32.2 x 11.3 ft
Features: iron steam dredge of 431 gross tons
Rating 5 stars Depth: 5-9 metres Category 2
Mersey Bluff is one of the most picturesque places on the North Coast. There are excellent views from the bluff lighthouse. The reef that fringes the bluff is the main attraction for divers. In calm weather it offers an easy and colourful dive close to civilisation. The eastern end of the bluff tends to be shallow and fairly sandy. The depth increases slowly around to the western side which offers the best diving. The nicest area is a reef which runs north-west from a large rock that often serves as a cormorant roost. There is a depth of 6 to 9 metres over a low reef split by pebble gutters. Under the foreshore rocks there are some nice crevices harbouring colourful cup corals, nudibranchs, anemones, sponges and hydroids. The weed garden is home to Luderick, Wrasse, Leatherjackets, Magpie Perch and a few small abalone. Zebrafish and Bastard Trumpeter are also often seen in the area. Out on the deeper reefs a few fans of white gorgonia can be seen as well as some lace bryzoa. The reef terminates about 100 metres from shore in 9 metres.
Rating 5 stars Depth: 5-9 metres Category 2
Don Bluff is a stark volcanic headland to the west of the old disused port of Don River. In the nineteenth century the Don River once rivalled Devonport and was the major port in the area for outgoing agricultural produce. At the time the larger Mersey River was blocked by a dangerous sand bar. Large sailing ships entered the Don at high tide to load timber and potatoes upriver. Some of the old port buildings can still be seen on the road out to the bluff. The removal of trees in the hinterland eventually caused massive erosion and the port silted up. New technology made the dredging of the Mersey River bar more affordable and the Don River settlement was eclipsed by the growing town of Formby (later called Devonport). A trip out to view the old houses and a ride on the historic steam railway at Don River, is well worth the short journey from Devonport.
At the Don Heads a gravel road terminates in a turning circle only 50 metres away from the start of the good diving. It is then a fairly quick walk out to the cubed rock and breakwater that mark the entry point. The bottom drops away quickly onto rock in 5 metres. The small drop-off contains crevices that are home to Bullseyes, Trachinops, Wrasse, Leatherjackets and Magpie Perch. Even the odd cuttlefish can be found amongst the weed. The bottom is a mixture of short weed with no algal species dominating. Away from the shore there are a series of reefs running parallel to the cliffs. Well offshore in 6-9 metres the reefs are capable of supporting a variety of invertebrate life such as lace bryzoa and a few small sea fans. Red algae is also much thicker on the deeper reefs. This site is a very pleasant and easy dive in good weather. In calm seas it would be a good place for a night dive.
Rating 6 stars Depth: 10-18 metres Category 2
The Fourth Sister is an underwater extension of the Three Sisters Rocks and is not visible above the surface. The reef is about 300 metres long and about 70 metres wide on average. Jump in near a series of jagged foreshore rocks on the north-western tip of the Third Sister. The reef terminates at a pinnacle reaching within three metres of the surface. On a clear day it is possible to see the pinnacle from the surface, but normally an echo sounder is needed. The area offers quite a good dive although it is affected by a slight current at times. This makes the dive more difficult, but encourages filter feeding animals and brings in schools of fish. The Fourth Sister is often patrolled by Bastard Trumpeter, Sea Sweep and Long-Finned Pike. It is home to large schools of Barber Perch and Trachinops as well as large populations of Leatherjackets and Wrasse. While the reef is home to some interesting marine life, I have noticed that many of the gorgonia fans appear to be dead. I have a strong suspicion that this is being caused by excessive pollution, either from industrial sources, or more likely, due to excessive siltation caused by inland erosion. Diving farmers! Please get involved in Landcare before beautiful reefs like this are totally destroyed. Your farm needs the soil more than Bass Strait.
Rating 5 stars Depth: 5-10 metres Category 3
This convenient shore dive sits right in the centre of the city of Burnie. The Burnie wharf is actually built over part of the reef and the formation is in effect a natural breakwater for the port. Burnie is rapidly becoming the major shipping port in Tasmania for interstate freight. This means that there is a lot of shipping traffic in the area. Obviously the Marine Board is going to take a very dim view of divers or boat operators who interfere with the safe passage of ships. However, much of the western side of the reef is well away from the shipping channel and should make for a moderately safe and easy dive. Entry is from the eastern end of the car park at the West Beach Reserve. There are some change rooms located only a short distance away at the Burnie Surf Life Saving Club. The reef is a flat dome of rock spread over the area of a large football field. The top of the reef is very shallow in only 5 metres of water and seems to stretch out to sea for ages without getting much deeper. This section is an easy snorkel dive in good weather. There are small rock faces close to the exposed reef tops that shelter a few sponges, ascidians and lace bryzoans. The large shallow area around the top of the reef is covered in short Macrocystis kelp. This is patrolled by a few Wrasse and plenty of Leatherjackets. Scuba divers should snorkel out as far as possible, conserving their air for the deeper parts of the reef. The dive improves when deeper water is found on the western fringe of the reef. The sea seems to have carved away the sand and created a nice weed bed in 7-10 metres. The depths are also more protected from the surge. Off the north-western end of the reef there are isolated outcrops in ten metres out on the sand. They are home to a few more invertebrates and common Bass Strait fish like Magpie Perch. While this is probably the prettiest part of the reef it is also easily 300 metres from the shore, a long surface swim in bad weather. This area is very uncomfortable and a little unsafe in rough weather, especially if you don’t leave plenty of air in reserve. This is unfortunate because the best part of the reef is at the extreme end of the range of a normal scuba tank. It is an easy dive on a super calm day, but otherwise demanding for all except the fittest parties. Newer divers wanting to reach the deeper areas should wait until they have acquired some muscle tone, as some finning stamina is required.
Rating 5 stars Depth: 2-6 metres Category 2
This interesting basalt feature is an easy dive, not too far from Wynyard township. Rubble falling from the cape has created a narrow rocky reef. The reef is covered in weed including some Macrocystis kelp. Leatherjackets, Magpie Perch and other common Bass Strait reef fishes can be seen. There are also plenty of Sea Sweep darting about in the shallows among some medium to large boulders that have fallen from the cliff. Due to the shallow and exposed nature of the reef it does not support a wide variety of delicate marine life. However, there is still plenty to see in the cracks and on the larger boulders. The dive is relatively remote from safe anchorages and would only suit beginners if accompanied by an experienced dive leader and boat operator. Boat launches can be made from a reasonably good ramp in the sheltered Inglis River. This part of the coast is very exposed to bad weather. Because of the shallowness of this area a heavy swell will make the dive particularly uncomfortable.
Boat Harbour Pt
Rating 5.5 stars Depth: 2-15 metres Category 1-3
The main beach at Boat Harbour skirts an area of fairly sheltered water known locally as Crystal Bay. The Crystal Bay side of Boat Harbour Point is a popular dive spot, especially for beginners. It is apparently also good for a night dive. Entry is either off the beach or via a longish walk through tea tree scrub along a track which begins near the changing rooms. The track first meets the sea at a small cove which marks the start of the main diving area. The water here is very shallow. At low tide half the foreshore of Boat Harbour Point becomes dry sand. The shallows of the small cove are less than two metres deep and are covered in delicate brown seaweed. Apart from a few Wrasse, juvenile Zebrafish and a few sponges there is little marine life. Some nudibranchs, cup corals and zoanthids can be seen down the small cracks in the rocks. The dive improves remarkably as divers head further north along the foreshore. The best area is near a large rock that is a popular roost for cormorants during calm weather. Here the edge of the rock is in 8-10 metres in places. A few nice cracks and overhangs can be found closer to the shore in about 5-8 metres. Around these overhangs you can find gorgonia sea fans, lots of lace bryzoa, sponges and tunicates. This is the best area for the naturalist and underwater photographer. The area also boasts a large fish population. Plenty of different species of Leatherjacket can be found as well as Wrasse, Banded Morwong, Magpie Perch, Zebrafish, Boarfish, Bearded Rock Cod, Bullseyes, Herring Cale, Weedfish and plenty of other smaller varieties. The ‘Cormorant roost’ should be the northerly limit of the dive for beginners. Further out to sea the area is very exposed to the current.
The western side of Boat Harbour Point is a pretty and relatively easy dive which offers shelter from moderate easterly winds. Access to the area is through a rough foot track that cuts through the tea tree and emerges on the northern end of the point. Entry over the rocks can be tricky if there is any swell, but this is an easy dive for relatively fit parties. The western side of the point is noted for the two large offshore rocks, the largest called Cascade Rock. These rocks mark the start of the main diving area. The depth around the rocks is about five metres and the bottom nearby is littered with 1 to 3 metre high boulders. These boulders are home to delicate invertebrate life as well as a good cross-section of fish life. The diving is very similar to the eastern shore, but generally rockier and slightly deeper. The bottom slopes away fairly slowly onto sand in 12 metres. On a rising tide divers can let themselves go with the current and have an easy swim back to the change rooms at Boat Harbour Beach. Like all shore diving in the area, the exit over the wide and jagged foreshore rock shelf can be an uncomfortable experience at low water.
Western Bay – Grey Crags
Rating 6 stars Depth: 15 metres Category 2-3
This is probably the nicest shore dive in the Boat Harbour area. The dive is on a series of quartz ridges that run parallel to the shore from Seal Rock in Western Bay to Rocky Bay near the change rooms at Boat Harbour Beach. The easiest way to dive the area is from Western Bay where there is a convenient parking area close to the shoreline. The walk down the embankment and across the sharp rocks may test some divers. Locals prefer to wait until high tide and swim out across the rocky tidal flats.
Close to the shore the waves have torn most of the life off the bottom, but it begins to support a thick mat of brown seaweed at the 5 metre mark. About 50 metres from shore the bottom drops off rapidly into ten metres, then to a series of jagged ridges in 15 metres. There is a maze of sand-filled gutters and crevices to interest the diver as well as some impressive rock walls and bommies. The crevices are home to a large variety of invertebrate life including lace bryzoa, cup corals, nudibranchs and tunicates. The rock faces are home to large schools of Barber Perch, and often Trumpeter, Sea Sweep, Zebrafish and Long-Finned Pike. The reefs are also have the usual resident reef fish like Magpie Perch, Rock Cod and Wrasse. This area can be dangerous in rough weather and is also exposed to a slight current. The current flows east to west on a rising tide and west to east on the ebb. If you don’t mind a long walk back to the car, more experienced divers can plan to follow the current along the ridges. Divers still need to monitor their air and avoid straying too far from shore. This sort of free-ranging dive plan is a category 3 dive as it requires some skill in underwater navigation and dive planning.
Glory Hole (Sisters Cave)
Rating 5.5 stars Depth: 5-10 metres Category 2
When heading into Sisters Beach township travel past the shop and turn right along a gravel road that follows the southern edge of the beach. At the end of the road there is a turning circle and a small pebbly beach. To the left of this beach lies a long red quartz headland. The rocks around the tip of this headland form caves and swim-throughs known as the Glory Hole. It is a long swim out to the rock over a shallow tidal flat that almost dries at low water. Most locals prefer to dive at high tide. At low water the tilted quartzite is particularly difficult to walk over, especially when exiting. The shallows contain many small Zebrafish as well as a few Wrasse. In deeper depths the fish life tends to improve and there are often unusual fish to see, such as large stingrays. In the gap between the rocks and the shore a noticeable current can be felt and it is probably better to stay on the sheltered side and hug the bottom. The best part of the dive is right under the seaward side of the rocks. Here there is a boulder maze that has created a number of interesting crevices and swim-throughs. The rock faces are covered in colourful growths including, yellow zoanthids, lace bryzoa, cup corals and sponges. The site has plenty of fish life. Close to the rock there is a large cave that is home to schools of Bullseyes. This cave narrows down to a tight squeeze before emerging on the seaward side of the rock. Away from the rock there is a thick garden of Macrocystis and crayweed which harbours some small abalone, but few crays. This site is part of the Rocky Cape National Park and an entry permit is required.
Elephant Shark (Shag) Rock
Rating 5.5 stars Depth: 15 metres Category 2
This rock is just 500 metres NNE of the Glory Hole Pt rocks. It is a popular roosting spot for seabirds and an interesting and fairly straight-forward boat dive. The ‘rock’ is actually a series of rock spires which arc in a north-easterly direction away from the main visible rock. There is a gap of roughly 50-75 metres between the main rock and the deepest submerged bommie further out to sea. The bommies rise up almost sheer-sided from 10-18 metres and are an impressive sight in good visibility. The bommies have attracted plenty of fish life including Magpie Perch, Wrasse, Leatherjackets, Banded Morwong, Rainbowfish, Scaly Fin and Barber Perch. The rocks are also frequently visited by schools of Bastard Trumpeter and Long-Finned Pike. The sheltered rock faces are anchoring points for some very large cup sponges and some nice sea fans. The flatter rock faces are covered in patches of sea daisies and other invertebrate life. The area can be subject to a noticeable current. This current is generally manageable. Even so, a lookout should be maintained aboard the boat for divers in difficulty.
The Sponge Garden
Rating 7 stars Depth: 10-25 metres Category 2
This extensive area of reef is located on the north-eastern side of Sister’s Island. The reefs start almost from the shore and stretch out for at least a hundred metres away from the island. These reefs are noted for their prolific sponge growths and jagged bommies. The bommies are covered in lace bryzoans, gorgonia, nudibranchs, tunicates, and hydroids. Large sponges dominate the underwater scene and they cover the reef in bright red, orange, pink and yellow. The understory is also encrusted with thick plates of pink coralline algae. Thus, the effect is very colourful and impressive. Barber Perch, Leatherjackets, Wrasse and Trachinops are also common. The area has a few abalone, but is fairly sparse when it comes to crayfish. The easiest way to dive the area is to tow a dive bouy and drift with the current. A competent and alert boat operator is essential if this dive plan is preferred.
Rating 7 stars Depth: 5-15 metres Category 2
Sister’s Island is a small and narrow island about five kilometres east of the Sister’s Beach boat ramp. It is surrounded by extensive reefs that shelter a great deal of small marine life. The Sisters Island area has an amazing potential and is one of the best scenic dives on the North Coast. The western shore of the island consists of long and low quartzite reefs running adjacent to the shore. The reefs provide shelter from the swell and are home to a diverse range of colourful marine life. It has one of the most numerous populations of nudibranchs that I have ever seen. It also harbours a wide variety of anemones and sponges. The reef system extends out to sea for 200-300 metres on each side of the island.
The area north of Sisters Island is full of bommies and rock spires and a specific site is difficult to locate even with a sounder. The Jewel is a group of bommies on the north-eastern side of Sisters Island. The site was pointed out to me by the Cape Country Dive Club. There are lots of fish, sponges, zoanthids, gorgonia and even a few crays. The sponges are on the eastern side of the spires. Zoanthids and soft corals are very common on the south-east side. Clouds of Barber Perch can be found all over the reef area. Local help is probably a necessity in order to locate “The Jewel”. It probably doesn’t matter a lot if you miss the exact site. The whole area around it is very good diving anyway. Leven Scuba Club have also located “The Magic Castle” which is a similar formation nearby. Cape Country claim it is actually “The Jewel”. The dispute merely highlights the fact that there are many excellent bommies here yet to be fully explored.
Bluestone (Blue Rocks) Pt
Rating 6 stars Depth: 5-15 metres Category 2
This headland to the east of Rocky Cape is fairly typical of the shallow foreshore dives on this part of the coast. This part of Rocky Cape area is not particularly deep. Therefore, it can be difficult to find an site that gets enough shelter from the swell to support delicate marine life. The bay to the east of Blue Rocks Point offers a little protection but not from any heavy swell. Moderate weather is essential. The bare rocky foreshore drops away rapidly into 8 metres where a wide shelf supports some interesting life and a few common reef fish. Out off the point the sandy bottom is cut by a series of long reefs that run directly out to sea. These reefs offer the most interesting life, particularly large basket sponges and sea fans. There are also large patches of zoanthids at certain isolated points on the reefs. There are lots of lace corals (bryzoans) everywhere. The fish life is reasonable with Luderick, Silverbelly, Red Mullet and Barber Perch encountered frequently. In the middle of the bay there is an enticing reef which offers a similar type of bottom. The seabed is reached in 10 metres on the shore side and 14 metres on the seaward side. This whole area is fairly convenient to the boat ramp and the diving is not particularly difficult. It has some interesting marine life, although it does tend to be a little barren on account of its heavy exposure to the swell. Worth a look on days when moderate westerly winds have just begun to make other sites a little uncomfortable.
Popeye’s (Half-Tide) Rock
Rating 6 stars Depth: 5-10 metres Category 1-2
This is a shore dive on the eastern side of Rocky Cape. It is often the only area on the coast that is sheltered from westerly weather. Drive through the park down to the turning area just north of the toilet block. This area was once a jetty, but now houses a concrete boat ramp that is a good launching site at high tide. From here the rock is obscured by a large headland.
At first it is a long swim over shallow weed beds covered in short brown algae. Beginners without the muscle tone to make the point may wish merely to snorkel in the shallows. There are a few abalone, some Wrasse, Magpie Perch and Zebrafish darting about the rocks. Apart from a few sponges and some colourful ascidians, the bottom is fairly devoid of invertebrate life. The depth here rarely exceeds 5 metres.
From the point it is easy to see the rock at low tide. At high tide the area is covered in 1-2 metres of water and it is necessary to follow the reef out to the rock. This is not a difficult undertaking as there is plenty to see and it is not a great distance. If you were impressed by the fish life in the shallows you will be dazzled by the life around the rock. There are Boarfish, Barber Perch, Leatherjackets, Red Mullet, Zebrafish, pipehorses, Senatorfish and Globefish. The crevices are packed with Bullseyes an other small fish species. Cuttlefish and Cowfish can also be found occasionally in the weed. The rock is very interesting for the macro-photographer with plenty of nudibranchs. The crevices also contain many colourful sponges, ascidians, cup corals, hydroids and bryzoans.
This area is often dived during dive courses as it is a sheltered and easy diving location. The rock is also visited as a night dive. Then the Bulleyes are out of their crevices and schooling on the bottom. Many fish also change their colours and sleep amongst the weed. This is the time to see other night hunters like octopus and certain species of mollusc. Although locals have become very unconcerned after numerous dives in the area forced by bad weather, I find it a very interesting, easy and relaxing dive.
Sea Pen Point
Rating 7 stars Depth: 10-15 metres Category 2
On the north-eastern extremity of Rocky Cape, just south of Cave Bay, there are a series of reefs and bommies that will entertain most scuba divers. The southern shoreline of this point is strewn with bommies and boulders that harbour plenty of fish and colourful marine life. The point is special because of the large number of sea pens that can be found growing in the sand near the reef fringe. Sea pens are usually found in very deep water in excess of 30 metres. Sea Pen Point is one of the few areas in my experience that has large numbers of this animal thriving in such shallow water.
The area is a bonanza for the underwater naturalist. The rock walls house sponges, gorgonia, sea daisies and nudibranchs. Schools of Barber Perch patrol the bommies, while Wrasse and Leatherjackets munch on the small marine life. Red Mullet are very common on the sandy fringe and Bullseyes and Trachinops hide in the shadows of the caves. Small Boarfish are also found on the site. There are few crays and the abalone seem to be largely undersized, suggesting that this area suffers from heavy diving pressure.
Within 50-75 metres of the shore the bottom drops onto sand in 10-16 metres. On the extreme end of the point the reef slopes away very steeply onto sand in 18 metres. This point is heavily tide affected, so divers should exercise caution at all times. The calmest water is at 3-3.5 hours after low water. This area is very colourful and relatively protected from easterly weather. It is easily reached from the good boat ramp nearby.
Rating 9 stars Depth: 5-25 metres Category 3
This large rocky outcrop is located 2.25 kilometres off the lighthouse at 145 degrees 31min East, 40 deg 50 min South. The area is heavily affected by the current and can only be dived at slack water which occurs one and a half hours after the change of the tide. It can be a difficult area to find without local knowledge and a depth sounder. The pinnacle is on the Rocky Cape side of the reef and dries half a metre at the lowest of low waters. This is not a reliable way of finding it. Bring some local help if you can. The rock covers a rectangular area over 100 metres square and shelves off in a series of steps out to 25 metres. The small pinnacle is dominated by brown algae, but this soon drops away into 8 metres. There the rock faces are covered in sea daisies, hydroids, tunicates and sponges. Nudibranchs are easily found by the observant diver. On the Rocky Cape side the bottom drops away very suddenly onto a flat seabed covered in seafans, gorgonia and large sponges. On the seaward side the reef shelves more gently providing a wide platform for larger clumps of seaweed. This area is covered in large boulders and the cracks in the rocks are filled with marine life. The current encourages the growth of colourful invertebrate life and is home to clouds of fish. There are also a few crayfish to be seen in dens along the rock walls although they have been heavily fished in recent years. numerous other smaller reefs and spires have been located in the nearby area and await further exploration. This is considered to be one of the better dive spots on the North-West Coast.
Wreck of the S.S. “Southern Cross”
Rating 6 stars Depth: 4-12 metres Category 2-3
On the night of the 22nd of February 1889, the “Southern Cross” was heading west from Burnie with a cargo of passengers and potatoes. Bushfires had been burning all day and the light on Rocky Cape was obscured. The vessel was cut back to half speed, but this did not prevent her from running aground near a small rock known as Boat Rock. The ship sank leaving the bridge exposed above the water. A few tardy attempts were made to salvage the fittings, but the wreck quickly broke up.
This is one of Tasmania’s most popular wreck dives despite being in a relatively difficult location. It has been subject to heavy souveniring and few artefacts remain. The wreck is heavily broken up and scattered over a 50 square metre area. The most attractive section is the largely intact stern. The large steel propeller can be clearly seen. A variety of small artefacts are crammed into nearby gullies. The stern lies 75-100 metres WNW of Boat Rock. The stern is sitting close to a sunken reef which comes close to the surface from 10 metres. This is easy to locate with a depth sounder. The area can be subject to a strong tidal flow, so the wreck should be dived about 2 hrs after high tide. For those who miss the wreck there is a very pretty dive to be had on the south-western end of Boat Rock. This small area is covered in colourful marine life and is by no means an inferior consolation prize. Some writers have stated that the vessel was built as a Confederate blockade runner, but the Tasmanian Steam Navigation Company stated that she was built for them to their specifications.
Ship File – “Southern Cross”
Built: 1863 at Govan Scotland
Dimensions: 234 ft x 26.7 ft x 17.8 ft
Features: Steel passenger steamer of 640 gross tons
Rating 7 stars Depth: 10-15 metres Category 2
A rough road near the western boat ramp leads to the northern base of a point running out from Pebbly Beach. This point offers an attractive shore dive, day or night. Near the shore the depth quickly reaches 10 metres and is covered in thick brown algae. The rocky bottom extends out into 15 metres about 20 metres from the shore. Here green algae becomes more common. In this deeper water there are 6-7 metre high spires covered in marine life. Numerous species of nudibranchs, cup sponges, zoanthids and basket stars are found over the quartzite reefs and bommies. The deep spires are also home to Butterfly Perch, large Boarfish, Luderick as well as the usual Bass Strait reef fish. The area can be subject to current, but this is usually manageable.
The site is calmest about 1.5 hours after the turn of the tide. I am indebted to Malcolm Joyce and Bradley Watson of Cape Country Dive Club for information about this site.
Rating 5 stars Depth: 3-9 metres Category 1-2
This small rocky dome lies within the confines of Mary Ann Bay straight off the rocky point at the western end of the bay. It breaks in all except the calmest weather. Head out from the Rocky Cape western boat ramp and line up Boat Ramp Point with the small offshore rock. Proceed west on this heading until you begin to see water welling up over ‘The Boomer’. The location provides some shelter from easterly winds, but this would still be an uncomfortable and murky dive in any swell. In calm weather it is an easy and relaxing dive for everyone. The shallow depth and sheltered conditions encourage an unusual variety of short green and brown algae. In the crevices of the reef Wrasse, Magpie Perch and Leatherjackets are relatively common. A few abalone can be found, but they tend to be on the small side. This is a safe and straightforward dive for those wishing to relax and enjoy a nice calm summer day.
Rating 6 stars Depth: 5-15 metres Category 2
This prominent landmark offers a memorable and easy dive in good weather. Access to much of ‘The Nut’ is only by boat, or via a fairly long walk along a track at Godfrey’s Beach. The area near Godfrey’s Beach is shallow and exposed to the swell. On a good day it provides some attractive snorkelling. Due to the long walk and shallowness, it is probably not worth bringing scuba gear to this part of the shore. The best diving is on the eastern side, close to the breakwater and this is often sheltered from the wind. It is still fairly uncomfortable in a swell, especially in shallower depths. Access to the breakwater is easy and an empty shed makes a handy change room. Care must be taken when crossing the foreshore rocks, especially at low water. Do not stray into the port area which is off-limits to divers. It is possible to find abalone along the rocky shoreline in some attractive patches of seaweed. In slightly deeper water there are attractive bommies harbouring delicate marine life. The large bommies hold big fans of gorgonia and attract unusual fish species like Warty Prowfish. Weedy Sea Dragons can also be found and Ornate Cowfish are common. Take care as this sandy area is often covered in Banded Stingarees.
Three Hummock Is-Chimney Corner
Rating 7 stars Depth: 10-15 metres Category 3
A trip to this remote island is an adventure in itself. The beautiful and rugged coastal scenery is rarely visited. The island boasts plenty of granite which is something of a rarity on the North-West Coast. Large cubed granite boulders have formed a number of swim-throughs that will entertain the scenic diver and naturalist. The crevices house plenty of fish and invertebrate life. Old Wife and smallish crayfish are common. Other parts of the shoreline are similar, but there are also a number of deep drop-offs in some places. This extremely remote area is still being explored. The island is usually dived from private yachts or large shark cats. The nearest access is from the Duck River in Smithton or from the Old Port Rd in Montagu. I am indebted to Cape Country Dive Club for information on this site.
Rating 8 stars Depth: 2-20 metres Category 3
I have only dived the eastern side of the island. On the western side the sea boils with white foam much of the time as the prevailing westerly weather pounds the island. To the north, a few reefs offer the prospect of some good cray hunting although the area suffers from a noticeable current. These fairly small crays are jammed in the few cracks that offer shelter from the incessant swell. These reefs are covered in Bull Kelp although they do have some other attractive growths in deeper areas. On the southern side of the island the conditions are fairly similar, offering a few small crays among thicker patches of seaweed. Exceptionally calm weather would be needed to explore the western side.
I have it from a reliable source that the diving is much better on the exposed south-western side more towards the seaward end. This area can only be dived in easterly weather. The water is deeper here and more sculptured, offering shelter for delicate marine life. The rocky bottom is 10 metres deep even close to the cliffs. The sea floor is split by large fissures that widen and bottom out into pebbled tunnels and large granite formations in 20 metres. Crays as well as some attractive soft and hard corals thrive along the sheltered rock faces. I am indebted to Cape Country Dive Club for information on this part of the island.