West and South-West Coast

hells gatesWest Coast

This area is one of the most exposed and wet parts of Tasmania. The rough seas of the Southern Ocean pound in relentlessly on the rocky shoreline and have carved out a rugged coast with few safe landfalls. These trade winds also brought in many mariners and a few ploughed into the inhospitable coastline, usually with great loss of life. The West Coast was one of the last areas in the world to be explored, so harsh was the climate and so impenetrable the mountainous forests.

Northern and Central West

Much of the coastline in the northern half of the West Coast is noted for its low and jagged quartzite reefs that are broken by long sandy beaches. Only the areas around Sandy Cape, Trial Harbour and Granville Harbour are dominated by granite formations. Much of the coast in the West is fairly shallow. This means that the sea sweeps away the delicate marine life. Only Bull Kelp manages to thrive in the surf line. As you might expect this area has big wrecks and big crays. Apart from the breathtaking coastal scenery these are the major attractions.

Port Davey and the South-West

This area is a mecca for experienced and keen divers who are willing to brave the difficult conditions to explore this rarely dived area. The diving in Port Davey is quite deep with tannin-stained water from large rivers affecting many sites. Much of the port offers unfortunately poor diving. The shoreline has been heavily battered by the swell and light penetration is low due to outflowing fresh water. It is often necessary to get outside the heads onto the reefs and islands nearby. This demands very good weather and access to large and reliable craft.

South Coast

Much of this area is a balance between bottom types. The western part is largely quartzite, but much of the southern shoreline is dominated by granite cliffs. Sedimentary rocks tends to be slightly more prominent in the eastern part of the South Coast. The South Coast is generally fairly shallow along the shore, although there are many area of deep water near the high cliffs around South-West Cape. The marine life gets a battering in the constant south-westerly swell. The fish and invertebrate life tends to be fairly thin. Abalone are very common, but crays tend to be big on the West Coast and stunted in the South. Some excellent diving has been found, especially on the large offshore islands near the Continental Shelf. The area has been little dived by sportsdivers and it is a real adventure experience.

Degree of Exposure

Much of the coastline can only be dived after easterly winds have flattened out the swell. Unfortunately these conditions are not very common and are usually confined to the Summer. All parties should be prepared to accept the possibility of constant bad weather. Only Bathurst Harbour, Macquarie Harbour and (less so) Cape Sorell provide reliable shelter from the south-westerlies that are almost a constant feature of the area.

Diving Services

The closest diving facilities are at Smithton, Wynyard and Hobart. Most locals simply put their tanks on an overnight bus to Burnie. This rather awkward sounding arrangement seems to work well if rather slowly.

Road and Boat Access

Far North and Central West

Access to the area is often very difficult. Boats can be launched at Bluff Hill Point (only a beach launch) and other areas are virtually inaccessible. In the North-West, the road reaches Temma and only well-equipped four-wheel drive parties can negotiate the sandy track to the Pieman Heads.

There is road access to Granville and Trial Harbours, but no easy launching sites. Inflatable craft are very handy in this terrain. At Strahan there are good ramps and Cape Sorell provides a little shelter from south-westerly swells. This area is the most frequently dived part of the West Coast.

South-West and South Coasts

The South-West and South Coasts are virtually inaccessible, being the exclusive domain of cray fishermen and abalone divers. From time to time fly-in charters have been available from Bathurst Harbour based around the airfield at Melaleuca. Large groups can negotiate to charter the boat for diving. Those on a tight budget can approach private yacht owners. They often make cruises around the coast to the shelter of Port Davey.

Population Centres and Accommodation

The major centres on the coast are at Smithton in the north of the area, and Zeehan, Strahan and Queenstown in the centre. There are no human habitations along the South-West Coast except for the lighthouse at Maatsuyker Island. The tourist industry in the area is becoming increasingly sophisticated, particularly in Strahan. There is a wide variety of accommodation as well as some good camping areas.

Mawson Break

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 2-24 metres  Category 3

This rock lies nearly in the middle of a line drawn between West Point and Bluff Hill Point. The rock is easily located because it breaks in most weathers. The area is swept by heavy seas and the bottom is fairly flat and featureless away from the rock. Mawson Break is covered in short and tough Bull kelp as this is the only weed with the strength to hang on in the shallows. The seaward side is interesting, but a poor place to anchor. It is best to use scuba tanks rather than a compressor. Divers can then anchor on the lee side and move around to the seaward side underwater. Avoid getting too close to the top of the rock where it breaks heavily. Even in calm seas, freak waves can slam a diver down on the top of the rock. Like most of the West Coast this dive is for experienced divers.

 

Bluff Hill Point

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 5-25 metres  Category 3

This point is probably the most frequently dived area on the northern part of the West Coast. There is a launching site for private boats nearby and the point itself offers some shelter from southerly weather. As a consequence the crayfish in the area have declined in numbers as fishing pressure increases. The shallow bottom near the harbour is featureless and virtually devoid of crayfish. The only real choice is to wait for calmer weather and try for the rocks to the west of Bluff Hill Point. These rocks provide some shelter from the swell. Calm seas will allow some divers to venture closer to the seaward side. Here some very large crays can be found on and under the rocks. The underwater scenery is not particularly brilliant. The best scenery is above water. Even so, this dive is highly recommended for divers seeking a bit of adventure.

kahika

Kahika Rock

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 10-20 metres Category 2

This rock was uncharted until the M.V. “Kahika” struck it in 1940. The ship forged on before sinking and there is no wreckage on the actual rock.  The area is very exposed and it is not easy to get to the rock. The rock can be seen from the lookout near the lighthouse as it breaks heavily in most weathers. The rock lies about 300 metres SSW of Bluff Hill Point and about one foot of the rock is exposed in the trough of a big wave. There is also another rock close by on the north-east side that can only be located by depth sounder. There is about ten metres of water over this rock. In a heavy swell it will be impossible to reach the area.

The bottom is fairly typical of the whole area. The shallows are covered in tough Bull Kelp and the rock drops away quickly into 20 metres of water. The bottom there is covered in a mat of tough seaweed and it is not particularly scenic. Any part of the rock that provides a sheltered crevice will be crammed with crayfish. Shelter is obviously at a premium and it is this factor that seems to determine cray numbers. Although the crays are tightly packed they are still relatively few in number, so heavy fishing pressure may quickly change any assessment of this area. The wreck is reportedly lying heavily broken up in about 20-25 metres some distance away from the rock. She would be a very interesting wreck, but difficult to locate on the flat and fairly featureless bottom around the rock.

 

Wreck of the S.S. “Australia”

Rating 6.5 stars  Depth: 2-4 metres    Category 3-4

australiaCaptain Rogers was on a voyage from Launceston to Strahan with passengers and cargo. Off the West Coast he left his Second Officer in charge. At 5 A.M. , on the 19th of April 1899, the “Australia” struck an uncharted rock off West Point and began to take water. It was soon realised that the steamer would not make it to Strahan and an attempt was made to beach her near what is now Australia Point. The passengers and crew managed to reach the shore and were eventually rescued. The vessel broke up quickly, and it is unlikely that much was salvaged from her. This wreck is a vivid reminder of the power of the sea. This sturdy steel steamer has been totally smashed to pieces. Rust and sand have mixed together to weld the remaining artefacts into cracks in the rock. Any brass fittings have been grit blasted by sand particles and are shiny and worn. During extremely low swells the wreck can be dived, but even then the swell propels you across the bottom. The wreck is actually in the surf line. The engine is the largest remaining piece and this stands two metres off the bottom. This wreck was located by abalone divers in the early 1980′s. The vessel lies off a small sheltered beach 100 metres south of Australia Point. The wreck is about 50 metres from the shore, scattered along a shallow depression in a submerged rocky reef.

 

Wreck of the S.S. “Yolla”

Rating 5 stars  Depth: 2-4 metres    Category 2

When the S.S. “Yolla” left King Island with a load of cattle the weather was bad. The captain had ordered the vessel to leave even though the compass was not working properly. Unfortunately, on her voyage to Strahan much of the land was obscured by fog. On the 23rd of December 1898 she struck a small island lying close to Sandy Cape and soon became a total wreck. The court of inquiry found the captain to be at fault and suspended his ticket for three months. This small wreck is actually quite relaxing by comparison with the “Koonya” and can be dived in moderate weather. The wreck is scattered over a wide area and little of it remains. Even the boiler has broken up, and only one end of it remains intact. The rest of the wreck consists of a few small pieces scattered among the rocks. The area offers plenty of abalone, but little in the way of crayfish. This wreck has been known to fishermen for years, but was only dived by sport divers in 1991. This dive is best suited to a lazy second dive or snorkel dive.

west coast temma

Koonya Inlet

Rating 6.5 stars Depth: 2-25 metres  Category 2-3

This is one of the few places on the West Coast where divers can have a fairly sheltered shore dive. The actual inlet is often calm unless the swell is particularly strong. The shallow parts of the inlet are usually safe for beginner divers. This is only the case where an experienced diver is able to assess the conditions and supervise the group. The base of the inlet is only shallow with a bottom of patchy sand and rocky reef. The dive gets progressively deeper reaching about ten metres at the mouth of the inlet. Here there is a nice weed garden with interesting marine life. Most reasonably confident divers can manage this area which is only about a category 2 dive. Further out on the nearby reefs it is much deeper and more exposed. This dive is only suited to experienced divers and rates as a category 3 dive. In good weather divers can enter from the rocks at the mouth of the bay and swim out underwater to a large offshore reef. This reef is constantly swept by huge waves and divers must avoid surfacing in shallow water. The rock itself is smooth sided and very large. While swept clean of any significant growth, it is still an impressive sight in clear visibility. Cracks in the rock hide a number of nice crayfish as well as quite a few fish. Large abalone are numerous. The seaward side of the rock drops way sharply into 25 metres. Leave plenty of air in reserve for the return journey and exit in the shelter of Koonya Inlet. This will require some skill in underwater navigation. If a diver should need to surface in order to get their bearings, make sure this is well away from the dangerous shallows. The site can only be reached by four wheel drive vehicle from Temma. The journey is a major undertaking and the area is usually dived as part of a longer camping holiday.

Wreck of the S.S. “Koonya”

Rating 6.5 stars  Depth: 5-15 metres  Category 5

koonyaThe S.S. Koonya was a large steel steamer owned by the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. She was engaged in trading to the mining port of Strahan on the West Coast of Tasmania. She had a distinguished career being the first steamer to travel beyond the Antarctic Circle. At the time she was towing the exploration vessel, “Nimrod”. The “Nimrod” was taking the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton on a scientific voyage to the continent. The “Koonya” was later used to recover part of Shackleton’s party in 1909.

On the night of the 4th of June 1919 she was engaged in more mundane trading work, steaming off the coast near the Pieman River on a voyage to Burnie. The Captain and Chief Officer had plotted a course to take them close to the Tasmanian coast. However, they did not make allowance for the strong wind and sea. The “Koonya” was undermanned because of a maritime strike and the inexperienced lookout did not see the breakers until it was too late to take evasive action. The vessel stuck fast to a dangerous reef on the southern side of Sandy Cape. Some of the seamen managed to swim to a nearby rock despite the dangerous seas. Their crew mates threw them a line and everyone was able to climb to safety. When a steamer arrived at the scene two days later, the ship’s bow had disintegrated and the rest of the vessel was on the verge of collapse. By next morning the “Koonya” had completely disappeared. The captain blamed the compass, saying that magnetic variations in the area had caused the navigation error. This is a possible as huge deposits of iron ore at Savage River have been known to cause compass error.

This is not a dive that I would really be prepared to recommend. It is included essentially for general interest as it will give you an idea of how exposed and dangerous some sites on the West Coast can be. It would only suit very experienced, well equipped divers, who are fanatical about wrecks and slightly mad! This site is very exposed and even in good weather huge foaming breakers crash down on the wreck site. It can take a week to get good weather, and even then there are no guarantees. The location is exposed to the south-west which is where the swell is usually coming from. The only reason that the wreck has been dived at all is because it is partly sheltered from the full impact of the waves by a high submerged reef. It was dived by swimming into the middle of the bay underwater and then swimming behind the reef, rather than over the top of it which would be suicidal. The wreck is blown to pieces and scattered down a rough depression in the rocky shelf. The anchors and winches are in 5 metres and the stern is in 15 metres. Most of the wreckage is jammed down cracks in the rock among large quartzite boulders. Running out of air here might have fatal consequences due to the force of the waves above. I will take a completely separate alternate air source if I ever dive it again. The surf is so heavy that the foam actually blocks out the light when a big wave comes through. Moving around the wreck involves waiting for lulls in the swell and grabbing tightly onto the wreckage to secure your position. Even steel plate has disintegrated under the force of the waves, although many twisted fittings remain wedged in the cracks. I was part of only the second group to have dived the site. The first was an abalone diver who nearly drowned in the attempt. This is not a high rate of success. Stay away unless the conditions are exceptional and you are fully briefed and prepared.

temma

Wreck of the S.S. “Devon”

Rating 5.5 stars  Depth: 2-3 metres    Category 2

The “Devon” was ideal for the West Coast trade, having a shallow draught that enabled her to easily negotiate the sandbar at Hell’s Gates. As she was lightly laden, the captain did not wait for calmer weather as he tried to leave the port on 19th of September 1894. This is surprising since the “Devon” had nearly been wrecked a few weeks before. During that incident she lost her propeller blades crossing the sand bar. This time there was to be no escape. The “Devon” struck the bar and swung broadside on to the waves. The pounding she received burst a steam pipe and broke off the propeller and rudder. Helpless, she finally washed off the bar and grounded on the old South Spit. Years later a breakwater was constructed on the spit and actually covered the bow of the old wreck. Sand has accumulated behind the breakwater, advancing the shoreline and causing the wreck to now be in shallow water. The majority of the wreck is buried with only the stern clearly visible. The steering gear actually breaks the surface at low water. This wreck provides an interesting snorkel dive if you are in the area. Beware of strong currents that occasionally sweep around the bay and affect the wreck site.

Wreck of the S.S. “Kawatiri”

Rating 6.5 stars  Depth: 2-4 metres    Category 4-5

kawatiriIn August 1907, the S.S. “Kawatiri” was attempting to enter Hell’s Gates in a heavy sea. She was hit by a large wave and flung against the breakwater. The sea then dragged her off the breakwater and deposited the vessel on the treacherous North Spit. This dangerous sand bank was later to be renamed Kawatiri Shoal. Waves swept along the decks of the vessel and she groaned under the stress of each impact. Only one lifeboat could be launched and this was loaded with the women and children. Two sailors panicked and forced their way aboard. The boat tried to make for the safety of Entrance Island lighthouse, but they were swept away by the current. The stewardess was washed overboard and drowned. As the boat swept past the lighthouse the Assistant Keeper watched as his wife and children cried out for help. The lifeboat was then swept onto the breakwater. In a mad scramble to get out, four children and one woman were drowned. The dead included the Assistant Keeper’s whole family.

Onboard the “Kawatiri” the men waited for what seemed like certain death. However, at 8.30 A.M. the wind suddenly abated. The Head Lighthouse Keeper and six exhausted men set off in a leaking boat in an attempt to rescue them. Many times they were washed back, but finally secured a line to the wreck. Through this action all the remaining passengers and crew were saved. The tragedy left the local population in shock. This was worsened when two local fishermen drowned trying to recover the ship’s mail. The Assistant Lighthouse Keeper was given enough time off for the funeral, but had to return to watch over the waterway that had claimed his whole family. Soon he was unable to work and was transferred to the light at Low Head. The wreck managed to remain intact for three months, despite constant battering by the waves. Finally, she canted over onto her port side and broke up.

kawatiri wk

This wreck lies buried in shifting sands on the treacherous Kawatiri Shoal. Sand movement has uncovered part of the starboard hull plating and the machinery. This wreck is worth a look and a photograph, but only on an exceptionally calm day. Even then, there is still a serious risk from freak waves that build up over the shoal. Fanatical ‘wreckies’ should consider using a self-draining boat and wait for exceptionally calm weather.

eaten bull kelp

Wreck of the “Brier Holme”

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 5-10 metres  Category 3-4

The “Brier Holme” was on a voyage from London to Hobart loaded with 1500 tons of ammunition and general cargo. She was owned by Hine Bros of Maryport, a famous shipping line who named their ships distinctively with the name “Holme”. The “Eden Holme” (a slightly smaller ship) is wrecked on Hebe Rf. The ship left London on a voyage to Hobart and disappeared. By October of 1904 Hobart port authorities had noted that the “Brier Holme” was well overdue. In January 1905 a local fishing boat discovered a mass of wreckage piled up on the shore. They helped themselves to part of the cargo before reporting the find to Hobart. A steamer was sent around to the site and found the remains of a survivor’s camp. Extensive searches were made up and down the coast without success. In late February a Norwegian seaman named Oscar Larsen was found alive at Port Davey by fishermen. He told how the ship had run ashore in rough weather on the 5th of November 1904. Only he had managed to reach the shore alive. He had survived on tins of herring thrown up by the wreck and had made a couple of overland journeys to Port Davey before spotting a rescue vessel.

brier holme wk

There were apparently some inconsistencies in his evidence. Rumours said that he had avoided the search parties for some unknown reason. Fishermen made much of the way he watched one of his crew mates drown without offering help. This is a ridiculous comment if you have seen the size of the waves on the West Coast during a storm. Larsen was most likely exhausted in any case from his own ordeal. Various theories have been advanced that he used his time ashore to conceal valuable parts of the cargo, or implied that he had covered up a mutiny. The area around the wreck has always been remote and inhospitable. It is the last place in the world that an exhausted sailor with scurvy and no bushcraft skills would want to be. Personally, I can’t see any reason for Larsen to delay his rescue. The most reasonable explanation is that he did not. More to the point, why did it take so long for the rescuers to find him? It is even possible that some of the rescuers were diverted by their interest in ‘saving’ the cargo. I feel that Larsen’s extraordinary feat of survival was given an extraordinary explanation by a few onlookers. The truth is probably much simpler.

The wreck lies wedged inside an indentation in a low bluff now known as Brier Holme Head. She is broken in two sections with the shallow section lying close to the mouth of the indentation. This section is heavily broken up and badly affected by swell. Out in slightly deeper water the stern section is relatively intact and makes for a more comfortable dive. Periods of very calm weather are needed to dive the wreck and then there is still plenty of surge over the site.

Numerous small artefacts remain including an entire shipment of Codd Patent (marble) bottles bound for the Milsom’s cordial factory in Launceston. A variety of other household and industrial items have been found on the wreck. The Brier Holme was also carrying 6 pounder artillery ammunition for the local volunteer colonial forces. These small brass shells are occasionally recovered and have caused anxiety in the past. Excessive caution on the part of some official led to a Navy expedition to the wreck in the 1980′s. She was declared a diving hazard and promptly used for demolition practice. The navy divers removed most of the remaining shell cases. A prominent local businessman also recovered the anchors. They were not properly treated and lodged outside a Hobart fish shop. They have now disappeared from view and I doubt that they are still in good condition.

The wreck is still dived regularly by abalone divers and occasional groups of sport divers. Access is the main problems as she is one of the state’s more remote wreck sites. You may have to make friends with one of the West Coast abalone divers.

brier holme

Bond Bay

Rating 5 stars  Depth: 2-9 metres    Category 3-4

This very sheltered area offers an easy scuba dive or snorkel on an attractive weed garden. The first two metres are dominated by Bull Kelp which soon gives way to cray weed and Macrocystis kelp. The bottom is covered in delicate green and red algae which harbours small fish and molluscs. Some areas are quite sandy and have small eelgrass beds. Nearby Kelly Basin has some particularly thick eelgrass beds. There are also small offshore reefs in Bond Bay that offer abalone and the prospect of some good cray hunting. There are apparently few marine invertebrates at this site due to the shallow depths.

Breaksea Island

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

Breaksea Island, as the name suggests, provides a natural barrier to the swell and protects the entrance to Bathurst Harbour. The site is affected by outflowing tannin-stained water and can be a little gloomy at times, particularly after heavy rains. The seaward side (like much of Port Davey) is heavily beaten by the swell which strips the boulders of life and scours away at the sandy bottom. The area does contain a few crayfish, but secure dens are a long way apart and diving here tends to be a bit on the boring side. The constant surge is also very uncomfortable. However, the sheltered side of the island is quite pleasant with a nice weed garden which attracts fish and some very large crayfish. Apparently on either end of Breaksea there are some very pretty invertebrate colonies in depths over 6 metres. The weedy fringe is dominated by red algae which soon gives way to dense collections of sponge, bryzoa, anemones, gorgonia, sea whips and hydroids. There are large patches of ascidians close to the southern shore of Breaksea. The diving is not particularly difficult in itself, although it can be dark at times due to the outflowing fresh water. Remoteness and restricted access make this whole area the domain of experienced divers and boat operators.

 

Sarah Is – Bathurst Channel

Rating 7 stars  Depth: 4-22 metres  Category 3

This is a ‘must do’ dive for any marine naturalist in the area. No dive in Tasmania has such an amazing variety of colourful invertebrates, many of them not yet scientifically identified. Sarah Island is a small island straddling Bathurst Channel near its opening into Port Davey. The channel here is over 40 metres deep and current and tide bring in food particles for filter feeding animals. The brackish outflowing water is very tannin-stained and dark. The light penetration is poor meaning that many deep-water species can thrive in the shallows. Below six metres it is like a night dive and divers should plan the dive in a similar fashion. Groups should have some low visibility experience. The area is virtually devoid of fish life except near the mouth of Bathurst Channel. The brackish water also stops cray and abalone larvae from making the journey up the channel, so this is purely a dive for the naturalist.

A dive on the channel side is dominated by Bull Kelp and brown algae down to 4 metres. Then we start to see a few groups of colonial invertebrates growing in the fine silt such as, hydroids anemones and bryzoa. These colonies become thicker with depth and tend to form into bands separated by bare patches of silt. At 14-18 metres the bottom is dominated by large sea pens. The shore then drops away steeply onto a reef in 20 metres covered in sea whips, basket stars and gorgonia fans. The dive is extremely colourful and interesting.

Despite the seemingly sheltered nature of the site it is vulnerable to westerly winds that funnel in through the channel. It can blow up rough with little warning. Divers should also be prepared for the strong current which flows through the channel at times.

 

Celery Top Islands

Rating 4 stars  Depth: 4-10 metres  Category 3

Bathurst Harbour is often the only area in the South-West which is sheltered from the wind. When westerly gales destroy holiday plans, you might be tempted to go exploring. This large waterway is quite deep in places and can be very dark. The freshwater layer can be a thick as 2-4 metres while the light usually only lasts for 6 metres. The surface layer is charged with particles of tannin, a natural brown dye that leaches out of plants in the South-West’s numerous button-grass plains. The bottom is also made up of a fine oozing silt that is easily stirred up to cut out any remaining visibility. Close to the shore there is also the danger of entanglement from the many sunken trees that lie in the mud. This hardly sounds encouraging and no doubt I have already put many of you off. However, in good conditions it does have some very unique marine life that would be of interest to those with a marine naturalist disposition. The rest of the party can enjoy the boat ride through this very beautiful area.

The fish life is the main attraction here, not because of its quantity, simply its novelty. Parts of the harbour are covered in many varieties of bottom-dwelling sharks. These harmless animals, usually Dogfish, enjoy the low light and putrid ooze. The shallows are patrolled by some very colourful Toadfish, while the bottom is covered in sand dollars, crabs and even mussels. Bathurst Harbour is largely unexplored scientifically and new species of animal are being found quite regularly. Bring your camera and give it a go at least once. If the weather doesn’t improve you can go home with the knowledge that you have dived in a truly unique area. Even so, this is not the dive for everyone. You will need good torches and recent low visibility experience.

 

Lourah Island

Rating 5.5 stars  Depth: 2-4 metres    Category 2-3

This small island in Hannant’s Inlet offers a nice easy dive when the sea is low. The island takes its name from the 90 ton wooden schooner “Lourah” which was blown ashore here on the 4th of January 1900. This shallow dive is very easy and in any other location would be a Category 1 or 2 dive. The remoteness of the area warrants the category 3 rating. This means that inexperienced divers can still dive the area, but only when supervised by experienced boat handlers and dive leaders. The area around the island is relatively protected from the swell, but the inlet can still be rough in heavy weather. The area around the south western end of the island offers the best variety, with crayfish, a nice weed garden and the remnants of the old wooden wreck to be seen. The shallow bottom allows for a good snorkel dive, with abalone and crays relatively easy to find in the weed. The wreck lies heavily broken up with only a few timbers visible. Many of these timbers were taken from the wreck to build a jetty nearby on the island. The site can be affected by tannin runoff, but in the shallow depths this is not normally a problem in summertime.

 

S.W Cape

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 4-25 metres  Category 3-4

I know of very few people who have dived this area. The tip of the cape has apparently some very nasty currents and has a reputation as “shark alley”. For this reason it is rarely dived by abalone divers. The area 2 kms north of the point has been dived by a National Parks marine naturalist. He reported a fairly barren bottom covered in abalone. Bull Kelp dominates only the first metre before giving out to some patchy brown algae on a bare granite slope. The maximum depth of 25 metres is probably not deep enough to provide shelter for delicate invertebrate life. This coastline is pounded by the swell almost constantly. I still fell that the tip of the cape especially just around on the lee side is likely to provide some very unusual wall diving, especially with the strange current that flows around the point. However, the area is very difficult to reach and the almost constant south-westerly swell would make such an exploratory dive a very difficult undertaking. Exceptionally good weather would be required.

 

Maatsuyker Island-Eastern Coast          

Rating 6 stars  Depth: 5-12 metres  Category 3,

The north-east coast of Maatsuyker, near the landing stage, is often sheltered from the constant westerly seas. The sheltered eastern side is able to support a thick weed garden that is good for some shallow cray hunting. Thick stands of brown algae including cray weed and Macrocystis grow on the rocks below 5 metres. The shallows are dominated by Bull Kelp and are fairly barren. Fish life throughout the South-West is fairly thin, but this weed garden is home to Banded Morwong, Wrasse and Leatherjackets. Schools of Bastard Trumpeter are also occasional visitors to the area. The reef continues out for some distance before sand is reached in 12 metres. This is an easy and sheltered dive largely for the cray and abalone hunter who is stranded by bad weather.

 

Shoemaker Bay                                                      

Rating 5 stars  Depth: 3-8 metres    Category 2-3,

Shoemaker Bay is a small bay about two days walk along the South Coast Bushwalking Track. The area is intermittently snorkelled by a few hardy bushwalkers. Occasionally scuba divers reach the area in chartered motor boats on their way round to Port Davey. The southern edge of the bay is reasonably protected from the strong westerlies and offers an easy and shallow dive on a nice weed garden. The granite shore of Shoemaker Point is fringed by a narrow rocky shelf. The first few metres of rock are dominated by Bull Kelp. At about three metres this gives way to a variety of brown and green seaweed including crayweed and Macrocystis stands. The Macrocystis kelp tends to stick to the deeper fringes of the reef. The bottom tends to drop away in steps exposing some low vertical rock faces that are home to colourful sponges and bryzoa. The reef is patrolled by Leatherjackets and Wrasse and is occasionally visited by schools of Trumpeter. This rock usually hits the sand only 50-75 metres from the shore. The area is fairly surgy in southerly weather. this is a good place to find a few fresh abalone as a change from that dry bushwalking diet. As most are unlikely to carry a wetsuit on their backpack, the average dive in this bay is of a fairly short duration.

 

South Cape Bay

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

This area is quite a popular spear fishing and snorkelling spot as it can be reached by foot after a relatively easy two hour walk from Recherche Bay. Much of this track has been duck boarded, so there is no great difficulty in bringing a backpack full of diving gear. Obviously only fit walkers will attempt this fairly strenuous access method.

The bay is very exposed to big swells and is very shallow. Much of the sandstone rock shelf dries at low water. Better snorkelling will be found the more you are prepared to walk. Many will be happy to poke around in the shallows close to the start of the return track. Here there is a good if sparse representation of the local weed varieties and the usual reef fish. There is no great difficulty in finding abalone, but you may have to be prepared to travel in order to reach cray country. Bushwalkers can camp overnight at South-Cape Rivulet. There is plenty of fresh water nearby, but parties must be otherwise totally self-sufficient. This area is also a great surfing beach. This should make it clear that very calm weather is needed if you intend to enjoy a safe and relaxing snorkel.

 

Pedra Branca

Rating 10 stars  Depth: 35 metres     Category 3,

This unique dive site is located almost ten nautical miles off the Tasmanian coast, not far from the Continental Shelf. It has a major bird and seal colony, as well as being home to a number of unique plants and small animals. Its isolation has allowed a completely new species of lizard to evolve on the island. This open ocean area is often visited by whales, dolphins and school fish. It also has a reputation as a popular hunting ground for White Pointer sharks. It is unlikely that you will encounter one, but the risk still needs to be considered. The island is not an easy place to reach requiring either a large fishing boat or shark cat. More often than not these dives have to be cancelled at the last minute because of bad weather. The rock was named by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and simply means ‘White Rock’. This is because the large quantity of bird droppings give it a distinctive colour as well as an unpleasant smell.

The rock is essentially the top of a submerged mountain and most of the diving is on reasonably sheer rock walls. At the base of the first drop-off there are a few nice crayfish. However, there are not many rocks large enough to shelter them and the population is fairly small. Cracks in the rock at other places provide shelter for some brilliant marine life. There is a very nice crack right underneath the seal colony which is packed with sea whips. Throughout the dive you will be buzzed by seals who enter and exit from the rock ledge above. The rock also has a wreck dive. In 1976 a Japanese tuna boat, the “Nisshin Maru No 8”, hit the South-West tip of the island and sank. Only one of the crew managed to reach the rock and survive. This steel wreck is apparently heavily broken up and is on a very exposed part of the island. There is also a large cave which cuts through the Southern third of the island. The entrance on the Eastern side is located in 30 metres of water. To my knowledge no-one has swum far into the cave because of the constant surge sweeping through the opening. Exceptionally calm weather and an alternative air source would be a must for this cave.

This site is a very attractive dive that determined and patient divers will thoroughly enjoy. Remember to take precautions against seasickness on the long and uncomfortable voyage to the area. I am indebted to John Cocker for additional information on this site.

“Nisshin Maru No 8”

Built: Probably 1975, details unknown

Features: Steel tuna fishing vessel of 254 tons

 

Lake St Clair

Rating 4.5 stars  Depth: 4-6 metres    Category 1-2,

There will be times when you are very keen for a dive but the weather is too rough wherever you go. This might be the time to try some lake diving. Most Tasmanian lakes suffer from extremely bad visibility due to the tannin that washes in from Button Grass plains. Surprisingly Lake St Clair is the exception. The lake is a two hour drive from Hobart and is part of the Lake St Clair-Cradle Mountain National Park. The fringe of the lake is quite shallow near Cynthia Bay and there is good light penetration down to about ten metres. After that the bottom quickly becomes dark, spooky and lifeless. The best area is in the shallows in about 5 metres of water. You will find some small weed growths and numerous freshwater crayfish. The ‘crayfish’ are actually lobster and have large pincers . The lobster are usually about the size of your hand. They are relatively harmless and can easily be picked up and played with. You are not permitted to remove these animals from the lake. Other forms of life are very difficult to find but if you look carefully small shrimps and a strange and minute species of underwater spider can be found among the weed. The shore is covered in fishing lures that have become snagged in the branches. Lake St Clair has some great trout fishing but the trout seem to stay outside of visual range. The water is a little colder than the ocean, especially when the snow melts in early Spring.

The surrounding area offers some of the world’s best bushwalking including the famous Overland Track. Cheap accommodation is available nearby for groups wishing to stay in the park for a few days. This dive is a welcome change of diet for those a little jaded with the same old ocean dives.