Bass Strait Islands
Central Bass Strait
Tasmania occupies a surprisingly large area stretching from Forty Foot Rocks off the Victorian coast in the north to Macquarie Island in the Sub-Antarctic region. Few people realise that virtually all of Bass Strait is inside Tasmanian waters. Much of this is empty ocean, but many islands and reefs can be found in a ribbon of granite outcrops that cross the strait from Flinders Island to Wilson’s Promontory. Many of them are more accessible from Victoria and would rarely be visited by Tasmanian divers. Many of these islands and rocks are sheer-sided sunken peaks which rise up out of very deep water. They often provide spectacular drop-offs crammed with a variety of deep water invertebrates. The rocks also attract a variety of fish life and are home to some of the largest seal colonies in Australia. As you might expect these rocks and reefs have claimed wayward shipping over the years and divers can also enjoy a few nice wreck dives. The islands have also saved many ships from the relentless force of the Westerlies that rip through Bass Strait. The Kent Group and Hogan Group have long provided safe harbours for ships in distress. Because of its good diving and safe anchorages the Kent Group is a major staging point for dive expeditions to the area. I have not managed to reach this area and I have relied on the collective experience of several other local divers for site information.
The Kent Group is made up of three main islands, Erith, Dover and Deal Island. Erith and Dover lie to the West of the group and are separated from Deal by Murray Pass. Erith and Dover could even be called one island as they are actually joined by a tidal causeway known as “The Swashway”. Dover Island is wild and scrubby as it has never been cleared for grazing. This lack of human interference has kept it in pristine condition as a refuge for Bass Strait’s many unique species of coastal plants. These are living fossils of all the vegetation types that once grew on the land bridge before the last ice age. It would be a tragedy if narrow-minded people were to burn the island. All visitors should be very careful about fires. This is the best area for more adventurous bushwalking. Some of the peaks, although relatively low are scrubby and difficult.
Erith Island is partially cleared for grazing but boasts some nice walks and rugged scenery. The shelter of West Cove offers pleasant surroundings for sunbaking, swimming and fishing. Deal Island can be clearly seen across the narrow Murray Pass. This pass is 35 metres deep in the middle. Deal Island has one of Australia’s last manned lighthouses mounted on top of a high south-western cliff that is often shrouded by mist. The light is technically automatic, but is maintained by volunteers.
Most of the diving around the Kent Group is of fairly moderate depth, usually bottoming out onto sand rarely deeper than 30 metres. The rocky shorelines are usually dominated by kelp down to 15-25 metres. Then the bottom is dominated by a very colourful profusion of marine invertebrates particularly sponges and tunicates. The shallow sandy bays are usually completely dominated by seagrass beds. The most dominant fish are Wrasse in the shallows and Butterfly and Barber Perch in deeper water. However, there are a wide variety of species, many of which are common normally only to southern NSW or Victoria. These include Mado Sweep, Drummer, Half-Banded Perch, and the normally rare White-Ear. There are plenty of crayfish and abalone to be found on the islands, but they rarely reach any remarkable size.
Flinder’s Island and the Furneaux Group
Flinder’s Island is the largest of the islands in a group that marks the Eastern extremity of Bass Strait. Cape Barren Island and Clarke Island are the other major islands in the group.
Most of the diving is on large granite reefs that protrude from a sandy bottom. These formations create exciting swim-swim-throughs and shelter plenty of unique marine life. During the Summer, a warm Easterly current brings some unusual fish as well as comfortable diving conditions. The visibility is normally excellent. The islands are also more removed from heavy recreational fishing pressure and it is reasonably easy to catch some huge crayfish. The Western side of the group is particularly good for big crayfish and Greenlip and Blacklip abalone are very common. The Eastern side of the group is sandier and the crayfish are smaller. This side is dominated much more by Blacklip abalone. Generally I prefer the south-western side of the group, but there is good diving all around the islands. Only Franklin Sound and the sandy north-eastern coast tend to lack suitable dive sites. All the dives tend to be on granite formations except for the unusual limestone reefs off Trouser Point and Cameron Inlet.
Most areas are very remote and difficult to reach safely without a good skipper. Visitors are advised to use one of the excellent charter services on the island. Doing it in a small boat would greatly increase the level of difficulty.
King Island lies roughly halfway between Victoria and the Tasmanian mainland. It is a flat and windy island about 55 kilometres long and 25 kilometres wide. The island is dominated by beef and dairy farms and is virtually treeless. Farming and bushfires have wiped out the Eucalypts and left only thick bands of Paperbark scrub. The western side is very rocky and exposed while the eastern side tends to be a little sandier and more sheltered. Most of the island’s rocks are quartz-like and jagged. These long reefs are broken by long sandy beaches. Only the area around Grassy is dominated by granite. Although the island is windy divers are normally able to get wet somewhere on the island.
Geologically the island is simply a peak of the ancient land bridge that once connected Tasmania with the mainland. It was uninhabited at the time of European settlement. The island was first exploited for seals, but farming became dominant in the post-war period. The locals also harvest Bull Kelp. This is exported to Scotland where alginates are extracted for use in all sorts of products including ice cream.
Most of the coastal areas are reasonably shallow and the dives are badly affected by unfavourable swell. Despite King Island’s exposed position the days are often sunny and the water relatively warm. It is possible to find plenty of warm water growths such as gorgonia.
King Island straddles the old sailing ship route through Bass Strait and the coastline is littered with wrecks. In addition to the main island there are a number of offshore reefs and islands.
Degree of Exposure
The area is affected by strong westerly winds that often make it very difficult to dive on the west coast of the islands. The eastern side is quite sheltered although still exposed to easterly gales in summer.
The best times to dive the strait are in January to April, but even then the passage of low pressure systems can cause sudden southerly or westerly gales. However, in summer these gales tend not to last long. It is very important to monitor the weather situation and be prepared to make for a safe anchorage if bad weather is predicted for Cape Borda or Neptune Island. After long gales it is common to experience a strong surface current through the strait.
There are limited dive services on Flinders and King Islands. All groups are otherwise required to be totally self-sufficient. The major town on King Island is Currie. While Whitemark and Lady Barron are the main centres on Flinders Island.
There are no permanent settlements on the Central Bass Strait islands. Camping on the Kent Group is restricted. Prior permission must be obtained from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in order to camp on Deal Island. There were plans afoot to transfer ownership of the islands to the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service. Dover and Erith Islands are leased to a private landholder who has been very reluctant to allow anyone on the island. The landholders are concerned about damage being caused by vandals and firelighters.
Flinders and King islands are accessed by light plane from a number of destinations in Tasmania and Victoria. Weight can be kept down by hiring weight belts and tanks on the islands. There is also a vehicular ferry operating out of Bridport to Flinders.
There is a boat ramp at Whitemark but the tide goes out a long way making launches difficult at times. The best boat ramp and most sheltered anchorage is at Lady Barron.
Wreck of the “Gaudelette”
Rating 6 stars Depth: 8 metres Category 2-3
On the 18th of July 1865, the “Gaudelette” was travelling from Newcastle on its way to Melbourne. The captain decided to take her through the treacherous Bank’s Strait. At one in the morning the lookout noticed breakers ahead, but it was too late to avoid the reef. The vessel grounded heavily off Harley Point on Cape Barren Island. The barque quickly began to strain under the impact of the sea. The crew managed to escape before the vessel finally broke in two and sank. The survivors lived on shellfish and game for over a week before finally making Swan Island. There they were rescued by a passing steamer. This wreck was discovered by the author in 1991, from information supplied by Jim Luddington of Flinder’s Island. It lies off the northern side of Harley Point on the north-western corner of the rocks. While the wreck has not been positively identified, I believe it is the barque “Gaudelette”. The ship conforms to what is known of the “Gaudelette” which was also coal-laden and of composite construction (made of wood but reinforced by iron ribs). The wreck is an interesting second dive although the remains are heavily scattered. On the slope next to the rock lies a winch, and what seems to be an iron lamp-post from the cargo. There are a few iron ribs lying out in deeper water, on a bottom of rock and sand. The cargo of coal is scattered all around Harley Point. There are few small artefacts but enough to see for a short dive. There is some confusion about the correct spelling of the ship’s name in some publications. The spelling given here seems to be correct. Gaudelette is an ancient French word which describes a woman of charming personality.
Ship File – “Gaudelette”
Dimensions: 119.5 ft x 24.3 ft x 12.7 ft
Features: Composite barque of 277 gross tons
Rating 5 stars Depth: variable Category 2-3
I am indebted to Jim Luddington for information on this type of diving. In the early 1970′s divers began to find fossils in the limestone reefs south of Babel Island. These included teeth from the extinct Giant White Pointer, Characharadon Megalodon. All the finds are likely to be of scientific interest and I would ask you to show any specimens to your local museum. The fossils actually look like black rocks and fall out of the limestone as the ledges are eroded by the sea. There is no specific technique to finding them, you need to find a limestone ledge and trust yourself to luck. The sea floor is not exactly inspiring if you don’t manage to find anything. This dive is best left to the end of a long trip when you are craving for something different. The best fossils have been recovered from the area off Cameron Inlet. Have a look at the specimens on display at the pub in Lady Barron. If you don’t have any luck at least you can say that you saw some.
Rating 8 stars Depth: 15 metres Category 3
This site offers the best shore dive on Flinder’s Island. The area can be reached by a rough bush track that turns off near North-East River. The site is opposite the Sisters Islands and is affected by the current that runs through the passage. Divers of experience can make a cautious dive around the point even in these conditions. Simply follow the rocks around and swim into the sheltered bays on either side of the point. These bays offer fairly safe entry and exit points, but divers should be careful when climbing over the boulders on the foreshore. The dive is very pretty with plenty of weed growth and fish life. The site seems to have a number of smaller and more colourful fish not common in other parts of Tasmania. They are probably Mado Sweep and juvenile Scaly Fin. The rock walls are also packed with colourful invertebrate life and sponges. The area is sheltered from south-easterly weather and this dive is a welcome saviour when other areas are undiveable.
Twelve Hour Point
Rating 7 stars Depth: 3-5 metres Category 3
To do this as a shore dive would involve a swim of a kilometre, or dragging gear for a similar distance over large rocks. Use a boat if you have one handy. The maxim here is ‘the further you go the better it gets’. The best diving is on the northern side of the point. For those less energetic, an easy shore dive can be had near the shallows closer to the car park. This tends to be thick brown weed broken by patches of sand. This location is relatively sheltered and would rate as a category 1 dive. On the point itself there are some very large rocks covered in fish and marine life. There are also quite a few large crays around. A very beautiful dive, but it’s a hell of a walk back. The dive on the point itself is probably only category 2, but a shore dive requires a high level of physical fitness.
Wreck of the “G.W.Wolff”
Rating 6 stars Depth: 3-5 metres Category 3
In 1912, the ship “G.W.Wolff” left Buenos Aires bound for Newcastle in New South Wales with a load of ballast. On the 8th of August the vessel was attempting to sail around Flinder’s Island when a strong wind and tide swept her onto Prime Seal Island. All of the crew, except the captain, managed to reach the shore safely. The “G.W. Wolff” was named after one of the partners in the firm Harland and Wolff who built her. This shipyard constructed many famous vessels, including the S.S. “Titanic”. The “G.W.Wolff” lies on the western side of Prime Seal Island and is easily located as parts of the bow have been washed ashore. The anchors were once visible, but the have been recovered and are undergoing restoration. The wreck lies in shallow water on a rocky bottom covered in small boulders and short weed. Large pieces of ironwork can be seen but the vessel has largely disintegrated. The site has been heavily souvenired and few artefacts remain. Deadeyes from the rigging can be seen wedged under the rocks. The area is very exposed and can only be dived in calm weather.
Ship File – “G.W.Wolff
Built: 1878 Belfast Ireland
Dimensions: 257.1 ft x 38.3 ft x 23.1 ft
Features: Iron sailing ship of 1743 gross tons
Rating 6.5 stars Depth: 2-15 metres Category 2
This is an easy shore dive (in favourable conditions) on an unusual limestone reef. Drive down Trouser Point Road and instead of turning the big corner to Trouser Point Beach, drive straight ahead through the farm gate to Trouser Point. Five hundred metres south of the track you will see a collection of large limestone rocks sitting on the granite shoreline. One hundred metres out from this point there are a series of low limestone reefs. This is the start of the best diving area. The reef creates a number of interesting swim-throughs and supports a good variety of fish life and seaweed. The area is not very good for cray hunting. The most interesting feature of the dive is the change of topography. This is one of the few dives in Tasmania on limestone reef. The majority of diving is normally on sandstone, or some type of volcanic rock.
Rating 7 stars Depth: 5-15 metres Category 2-3
Goose Island usually offers some shelter from unfavourable weather. For this reason it was a popular anchorage for old sailing vessels. It also has some very interesting reefs that harbour a few monster crayfish. Near the lighthouse on the eastern side it is fairly deep at about ten metres. A series of interesting reefs run parallel to the shore on a sandy bottom. The channel to the north near Little Goose Island offers the best fish life and it is relatively shallow at about 5 metres. It is very rocky here with the island offering shelter for more delicate varieties of seaweed. Old Wife are very common on this reef along with a host of other fish species. I am informed that the western side is a little deeper and is covered in large boulders. This area has a good variety of fish life and the wreck of the “Merilyn”. Not much remains of this 239 ton wooden vessel as she has been demolished by explosives. The prop can be seen at the Emitta Museum. The western shore is dived infrequently as it is more exposed to prevailing weather. The lighthouse is now unmanned, but was once a haven for the crews of vessels shipwrecked in the area. The diving is rated Category 3 only because of the remoteness of the area and the danger to inexperienced boatmen. Less experienced divers should still be able to cope if operating from larger charter vessels.
Thunder and Lightning Bay Reef
Rating 6 stars Depth: 10 metres Category 3
There is a small rock in the middle of this bay which is a popular dive on the way home from a charter to the “Cambridgeshire”. The rock is surrounded by a moderately large granite reef. The granite boulders harbour colourful invertebrate life and support an attractive seaweed garden. The boulders provide good cray holes and it is easy to find some real monsters. While they are easy to find, they are a lot harder to catch. The larger crays put up a real fight, and even thick gloves will not protect your hands from cuts and punctures. Do not let large crays get near your body. One diver got a very nasty surprise when he tried to secure a cray by holding it onto his chest. Crayfish of 3.5 to 4.5 kilos (8 to 10 pounds) are not uncommon in the area. Access is by charter boat from Flinder’s Island. Divers on a supervised charter will find this an easy dive of category 2 standard.
Wreck of the “Cambridgeshire”
Rating 8 stars Depth: 5-12 metres Category 3
On 7th of September 1875, the ship “Cambridgeshire” was on her way to Sydney with a valuable cargo of general merchandise. She was a new iron ship on her second voyage from England to Australia. On the first voyage she lost all her rigging in a storm and had to be towed into Melbourne. The captain believed he was approaching Bank’s Strait but had not taken proper bearings or consulted the Sailing Directions. The ship struck a small rock to the north of Night Island and began to sink. The crew abandoned ship and managed to reach the safety of Preservation Island. There they were welcomed by the local inhabitants who were descendants of the notorious Bass Strait sealers. The captain was treated hospitably, but arrived in Launceston without his gold watch. The wreck remained intact for five days before going to pieces. The area was littered with wreckage. For several months professional salvers recovered machinery from the wreck, while the locals helped themselves to the casks of brandy and wine that floated ashore.
The location of this wreck has been known to divers for many years and the wreck has been heavily souvenired for crockery and other artefacts. The wreck was declared historic in the 1980′s to protect it from further damage. There are still many artefacts on the site which is littered with bottles, crockery, electrical insulators and other items. Plenty of fun can be had just trying to identify the pieces. The dive itself is still very scenic. Collapsing plates have created swim-throughs and protect a variety of colourful marine life. The bow of the vessel lies in shallow water and is heavily broken up. Parts of the stern are still relatively intact and attract schools of fish. Few wreck dives are scenic dives, but this site has enough variety to interest anyone.
Ship File – “Cambridgeshire”
Built: 1873 in Newcastle. U.K.
Dimensions: 267 ft x 39.3 f
Features: 3 masted ship of 1766 gross tons
Wreck of the “Sydney Cove”
Depth: 3-4 metres Category 1-3 Rating 5 stars
In 1796 the British ship “Sydney Cove” set out on a voyage from Calcutta to the new British settlement at Sydney Cove. It is interesting that the merchants thought a cargo of rum would return the quickest profit. The whole venture seems to have been running on a shoestring. The ship was in a poor state of repair and was unfit for the voyage. Once at sea she soon began to take water and many of the Lascar (Asian) crew died at the pumps trying to keep her afloat. It was decided to beach the “Sydney Cove” in calm water near a group of islands. They named them Rum and Preservation Islands. The survivors made a camp ashore and lived off rum and seabirds, possibly Mutton Birds. Part of the crew set out for Sydney in a longboat but were wrecked on the Victorian Coast. Only three crewmen from a party of seventeen reached Sydney alive. Rescue craft saved the rest of the crew and told the settlers that they had discovered a new waterway with islands rich in fur seals. The resultant rush to exploit the seals created Australia’s first export industry. The voyage also made map makers realise that Van Diemen’s Land was cut off from the mainland by Bass Strait. The “Sydney Cove” was extensively salvaged and began to break up after a few months of exposure to the elements.
The wreck has now become a popular diversion after a dive on the “Cambridgeshire”. Compared to that wreck the “Sydney Cove” is certainly not very scenic. However, it is one wreck you have to see for its historic interest. In historic terms the wreck site is up there with the “Pandora” and “Sirius” in terms of its significance. This is why I especially ask divers not to touch anything. It is illegal to disturb any part of the wreck. While the site is a treasure trove for archaeologists it has little of interest for the average ‘treasure’ diver. It did not have a valuable cargo and most of what remains would fall to pieces without professional chemical treatment. Much of the wreck is covered in sand and shark netting to limit damage. It is still possible to see parts of the ship timbers and discern the shape of the wreck. The dive is an easy and simple snorkel dive. It is rated category 1 if you are in a supervised charter, but category 3 if you are attempting to reach the site on your own in a smaller boat. Details about the ship are uncertain. She was probably built somewhere in India of teak and little else is known of her construction. The only way of finding out more about the ship is through further archaeological research. Please don’t damage the site.
Wreck of the “Litherland”
Rating 6 stars Depth: 6-8 metres Category 3
The whaling ship “Litherland” was on a voyage from Newcastle to Hobart with a cargo of coal. She was anchored at Clarke Island when a storm drove her ashore on the 23rd of June 1853. Because of the wreck’s significance to the history of early whaling, she was declared an historic wreck in the early 1980′s. The wreck now points out to sea on a sandy bottom close to a series of large granite boulders. The major items of interest are the whaling trypots which can be found on the deeper part of the wreck. Ship’s timbers and other smaller artefacts can also be seen.
Ship File – “Litherland”
Built: 1834 North Birkenhead England
Dimensions: 101 ft 8 in x 25 ft 10 in x 16 ft 10 in
Features: Wooden whaling ship of 305 tons
South Brig Rock
Rating 7 stars Depth: 5-18 metres Category 2
This small island lies close to Grassy Harbour and is a popular dive in unfavourable westerly weather. The eastern side of the main rock is surrounded by a series of sunken outcrops. The depth amongst the rocks is only 5 metres and this area provides some good cray hunting territory. The crays are often quite large. There are a few challenging swim-throughs close to the island that may be difficult in a heavy swell. In unfavourable swell the sea pounds onto these rocks and this area should be avoided. Well out on the end of the rocks it is deeper and safer. Here cracks in the rock face support a few gorgonia fans and other small marine life. The area boasts a good variety of fish life including Sea Sweep, Old Wife and Boarfish. Seaweed grows luxuriously all over the rocks and the area is exposed to clean ocean currents making it a good area for underwater photography.
Sand Blow Gully
Rating 7 stars Depth: 7-12 metres Category 2
A long sandy spit runs out from the shore near Grassy Harbour. This is surrounded by a series of rocky reefs that harbour some crayfish. Many are in fairly shallow water and it can be uncomfortable in a big swell. The rocks support an impressive array of marine life. Boarfish, Magpie Perch and Banded Morwong are common. The seaweed is mostly long strapweed with Bull Kelp dominating shallower areas. Sheltered rock faces are home to zoanthids (yellow anemones) and colourful sponges.
Rating 5 stars Depth: 5 metres Category 2
In bad weather the Dive Centre often uses its four-wheel drive to take parties over the beach to the rocks north of Blowhole Gully. This area can only be accessed at low water. The site is dominated by low sandstone reefs that create numerous overhangs and swim-throughs. There are numerous types of fish darting around the ledges in the area. An anchor has also been located close to the shore, but who knows where the rest of the ship went. It looks like it came from a small wooden vessel that has probably completely broken up. The dive is a good way to finish a very tiring week of diving.
Rating 8.5 stars Depth: 7 metres Category 3
Just north of Blowhole Creek and about 500 metres offshore, there is an extensive patch of sandstone reef. In the middle of this reef there is a long wall about 4 metres high. This area was discovered by Neale from King Island Dive Charters and was once filled with crayfish. Unfortunately they have heavily declined in numbers. Because the reef faces south-west it is protected from the full effects of the swell. This sheltered area has now been colonised by a wide variety of marine life. Although only a small site it is still one of the most beautiful dives in Tasmania. The wall is covered in thick fans of gorgonia and the ledges are packed in anemones and other life. Please be careful when swimming by as careless fin action could destroy the delicate gorgonia. There are plenty of Bass Strait fishes including Boarfish, Magpie Perch and Wrasse. The face of the reef is heavily eroded leaving unusual pillars of rock holding up the ledges. The wall is not very long and there are some interesting rocks further inshore for finishing off the dive. The dive itself is relatively easy, the only limitation is the relative remoteness of the site from shelter. Those diving from the larger charter craft are unlikely to have major difficulties.
Wreck of the “Loch Leven”
Rating 6 stars Depth: 2-7 metres Category 2-3
In October 1871, the sleek and fast Black Ball Liner “Loch Leven” was heading south from Geelong with a cargo of wool. On the 24th a heavy fog was obscuring the land and the ship ran aground approx 1 kilometre south of Cape Wickham. All the crew managed to get off, but the captain was later drowned trying to recover the ship’s mails. His grave can still be seen near the Cape Wickham lighthouse. The wreck is now a relatively easy shore dive in good weather. She apparently lies broken roughly in two sections with the wreck lying parallel to the coast. The “Loch Leven” can be found about 50 m from shore just beyond the surf line. While many of the ship’s artefacts have already been removed the flattened ironwork is still very extensive and impressive. Part of the stern lies buried under shifting sands, but most of the wreck is normally exposed. The area is also popular with large schools of fish and can be quite attractive in good visibility.
Ship File – “Loch Leven”
Dimensions: 226.3 x 35.8 x 21.5 ft
Features: Iron clipper ship of 1439 tons
Wreck of the “Brahmin”
Rating 7 stars Depth: 2-7 metres Category 2-3
The ship “Brahmin” was making her way through Bass Strait on a voyage from London to Sydney loaded with passengers and general cargo. On 21st May 1854, during a gale, she struck rocks just south of Whistler Point in the island’s north-west. Only 24 of the passengers and crew made it to the shore only 700 metres away. The small reef lies between Duck Bay and Eel Creek and breaks at low water. The wreck is located on the seaward side in 6-7 metres. The stern points north-east on the shallow part of the reef. Being in relatively shallow water the ship has largely broken up although there are a still a few intact sections of the hull remaining. Two anchors and the windlass are clearly visible. The cargo is strewn along the rocky bottom and many artefacts can be found lying in the short weed. Pieces of china and earthenware, lead shot, copper coins and clay pipes are common. Two porcelain figurines, ‘Napoleon’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’, have also been found in the past. This site has been assessed by archaeologists as being particularly significant because of the range of artefacts. Divers are asked to ‘look but don’t touch’.
Ship File – “Brahmin”
Built: Greenock U.K. 1842
Dimensions: 124.66 x 26.5 x 20.5 ft
Features: wooden ship of 616 tons
Wreck of the “Blencathra”
Rating 6 stars Depth: 4-5 metres Category 2
In January 1875 the ship “Blencathra” was on a voyage from Glasgow to Sydney with a cargo of general merchandise (mostly whiskey). On her way through Bass Strait she mistook the light on Cape Wickham for Victoria’s Otway light station. She struck close to the present Currie lighthouse only 50 metres from shore. Salvors were brought in from Melbourne and recovered much of the cargo. However, many artefacts remain to this day for divers to look at. It is relatively easy to find pieces of pottery and china as well as numerous clay pipes. Although the wreck has been heavily broken up many sections of steel plate can still be recognised along with mast sections, the capstan, steering gear and ballast bricks. A large quantity of steelworks is spread over an area 80 x 20 metres.
The area is dived only after long periods of calm weather. If the bottom is stirred up it takes a few days of calm weather before the visibility improves. The wreck could be dived from the shore and this is the method used by local divers. However, it can be difficult to find without very specific directions and most visitors would dive the wreck through the King Island Dive Centre.
Ship File – “Blencathra”
Built: Whitehaven U.K. 1874
Dimensions: 202 x 32.25 x 19 ft
Features: steel ship of 899 tons
Wreck of the “Netherby”
Rating 6 stars Depth: 4-5 metres Category 2
The “Netherby” was on a voyage from London to Brisbane with 456 emigrants. She was part of the famous Black Ball Line fleet. Heading east through Bass Strait she got off course and struck the shore about 3 kilometres south of Currie on the 14th of July 1866. The “Netherby” lies in shallow water about 70 metres off the rocky point that now bears its name. The wreck is heavily broken up, but there are a few artefacts still to be seen here along with sections of the hull timbers and ironwork. The wreck is very similar in appearance to the wreck of the “Blencathra” but contains fewer artefacts. This wreck is also very exposed to the prevailing westerly swells.
Ship File – “Netherby”
Built; 1858 Robert Thompson Jnr, Sunderland England
Dimensions; 177.8 x 37.7 x 19.6 ft
Features; wooden ship of 944 tons
Wreck of the “Cataraqui”
Rating 6 stars Depth: 4-7 metres Category 2-3
The “Cataraqui” was wrecked on the 4th of August 1845 on a voyage from Liverpool to Melbourne loaded with 366 passengers. It had been blowing a gale for several days and the captain believed he was close to Port Phillip Bay. In fact, he was 200 miles south, off the south west coast of King Island. The ship ploughed onto an offshore reef at seven knots. She hit with enough force to knock the helmsman from the wheel and drive the ship over the reef. The “Cataraqui” forged on for another 15 minutes, hit twice more and stuck fast. The vessel was now grasped tightly by a jagged reef only 100 metres from shore. Panic broke out as she heeled over with waves breaking across the deck. Passengers and crew were swept away and the lifeboats lost. In an effort to right the ship the masts were cut away and the passengers clung to the deck as the storm raged around them. Gradually they were washed off the wreck and drowned. After 24 hours many of those left behind began to die of exposure. Finally the “Cataraqui” could take no more and broke in two. A 40 foot section washed ashore while the remainder was torn apart by the waves. In all only 8 crewmen and one passenger made it to a shore piled high with wreckage and dead bodies. The tragedy still counts as Australia’s worst civil disaster.
Not much is left of the wreck which is very exposed to the swell. An anchor and capstan can clearly be seen, while a few artefacts can be found wedged in cracks in the rocks. These are mainly iron concretions, pieces of lead sheeting and slate. The anchors were removed by divers in 1975 and without adequate conservation they corroded away into worthless pieces of metal. The site contains numerous crayfish and is often visited by schools of fish. The site is rarely dived due to the exposed position and lack of wreck material. It is worth a look because of its historic significance. The definitive account of the wrecking is “Poor Souls They Perished” and it is well worth a read for those interested in diving the site.
Ship File – “Cataraqui”
Built: Quebec, Canada, 1840 by William Lampson
Dimensions: 138 ft x 30 ft
Features: wooden ship with iron knees of 802 tons
Wreck of the S.S. “Karitane”
Rating 7 stars Depth: 1-70 metres Category 3
On the 25th of December 1921, the “Karitane” was on a voyage from Devonport to Pt Kembla, with a cargo of copper ingots. In a heavy fog she struck the cliffs under the lighthouse and was forced to beach in Squally Cove. The “Karitane” lay exposed for many years and was extensively salvaged. The copper was salved by ‘Johnno’ Johnson, probably Australia’s most remarkable professional diver. He later salvaged millions of dollars in gold from the wreck of the S.S. “Niagara”. To accomplish this he built his own diving bell which broke depth records at the time. He also walked across much of Bass Strait in ‘hard hat’ diving gear while laying an underwater cable. He even invented a prototype one atmosphere diving suit. These early salvors removed the fittings from the wreck of the “Karitane”.
The beached and rusting shell remained as a local landmark for many years until it finally broke up under the impact of the swell. The wreck can be easily located by looking for pieces of steel which are still visible along the foreshore in Squally Cove. Not much remains of the wreck below water and the “Karitane” has been flattened. She lies on a north-south orientation with her bow on a pebbly beach and the stern 80 metres southward among sand and small boulders. The stern rises within 1 metre of the surface. Some parts of the hull remain fairly intact, but whole sections have fallen outwards onto the bottom. The boiler, prop shafts and other machinery now lie exposed and easily identifiable in a jumble of twisted steel plates. The wreck often attracts large schools of fish and the more sheltered areas also contain other interesting marine life. Unfortunately some idiots have dynamited the wreck, probably looking for copper ingots or other ‘treasure’. They are so stupid they obviously can’t even read. Nothing of value remains on the wreck as she has been thoroughly salvaged by people who knew what they were doing.
Ship File – “Karitane”
Built: 1903 S.P.Austins & Sons Sunderland, (as the “Cavalier”)
Dimensions: 247 x 36.5 x 16.8 ft
Features: steel steamer of 1376 gross tons
Rating 6 stars Depth: 15-20 metres Category 3
This dive is on smooth granite boulders dropping away quickly onto sand in 20 metres. The flatter parts of the reef support thick stands of brown algae, mostly crayweed and strapweed. The gaps in between the boulders create crevices that support plenty of colourful marine life and a few crayfish. Plenty of usually deep water invertebrates like gorgonia and sea daisies thrive in relatively shallow water. The fish life is also abundant and varied. This is a very pleasant although fairly remote dive. The coastal scenery is breathtaking as with all dives in this area.
Rating 5.5 stars Depth: 2-7 metres Category 1-3
This diving area is very sheltered and in any other location would not rate as much more than a category 1 dive. The remoteness of the area makes it difficult to reach. This requires boat handling experience. Inexperienced divers on an organised charter will have no difficulty. Beach sand dominates the bottom out into about 6 metres. Here small wrasse can be seen darting about the shallows. Along the rocky shoreline the sheltered conditions have encouraged more animal life with plenty of sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sea stars and shrimp. On the deeper parts of the foreshore the boulder strewn bottom is covered in thick stands of delicate brown and green seaweed. The weed garden hosts a wide variety of fish, Wrasse, Silverbelly, Rock Cod and Scalyfin. Mado Sweep and One-Spotted Pullers are also unusually common here. Pairs of Old Wife can also be seen darting around in the shallows. This is an easy dive for mixed parties as the beach and scenery will amuse the non-diver. It is a good area for snorkelling.
Wreck of the S.S. “Bulli”
Rating 8 stars Depth: 13-16 metres Category 3
In Murray Pass, close to the northern end of West Cove lies the wreck of the “Bulli”. On the 27th of July 1877 she called into the shelter of Murray Pass to avoid a severe gale in the strait. The “Bulli” was on a voyage from Newcastle to Launceston with a cargo of coal. Resuming her voyage she sailed out of Murray Pass and promptly ran into an uncharted rock off the northern end of the islands. Damage to the bow caused flooding and the captain returned to West Cove and anchored. She later filled and sank before the captain could run her up on the beach. The owners quickly called in a salvage diver from Melbourne who vainly tried to raise the wreck with large wooden pontoons. A severe gale sprang up and wrecked operations, washing ashore one of the pontoons. Salvage works were called off and the “Bulli” was left to rust in peace with the masts exposed above water. The wreck was still in the same position when photographers visited the island in 1890. The wooden pontoon lay on the beach for many years, but has now been covered over by shifting sands.
The “Bulli” lies in relatively shallow water and can be seen from the surface on a very clear day. Obviously the wreck is easier to find with an echo sounder. She stand 5 metres off the bottom. The “Bulli” lies on an NE-SW orientation on a flat sandy bottom about 200 metres from shore. The wreck was assessed as historic in 1990, but by that stage she had already been heavily picked over by divers. Although the more obvious artefacts have been removed, many can still be seen by the observant wreck diver. The hull is still reasonably intact although she has broken up amidships, spilling out her cargo of coal. The hull is covered in colourful growth and attracts plenty of fish. Note the damage to the stern which was caused by the anchor from a visiting naval patrol boat. This highlights how vulnerable wrecks are to even unintentional damage. The whole site is very well lit and very photogenic.
Ship File – “Bulli”
Built: 1872 Lewis & Stockwell Greenwich London
Dimensions: 280.2 x 23.2 x 15.9 ft
Features: Iron screw steamer of 524 tons
West Cove – SE Point
Rating 7 stars Depth: 5-20 metres Category 3
This moderately exposed site is a very colourful dive with plenty of fish life. The bottom slopes away steeply and provides many caves and crevices for interesting marine life. Crayweed dominates the first 5 metres, which the gives way to strapweed and thick red algae. Sponges flourish in depths over 20 metres. Paddle wrack grows in the sand in 35 metres. Bryzoa and red-Mouthed Ascidians are very common on the rock faces. Plenty of gorgonia, hydroids, tube worms and sea daisies grow in water as shallow as 6 metres. The depths are covered in Butterfly and Barber Perch while the shallows are dominated by Leatherjackets, Wrasse, Magpie Perch, White Ear, Sweep, Trachinops, Long-Finned Pike, Herring Cale and the odd schools of Trumpeter. This is a very pretty dive that will please every type of diver.
Rating 7 stars Depth: 5-20 metres Category 2-3
The headlands around East Cove offer some very colourful diving not far away from a sheltered anchorage. The diving is fairly easy except for the current which sweeps through Murray Pass and affects the extreme edges of the headlands at times. The headlands slope away quickly into over 20 metres and are covered in large granite boulders. These rocks are home to abalone and crayfish, and also plenty of colourful marine life. There are a number of rock walls in places that are covered in anemones and sponge. Tube worms, cup corals, and tunicates are found in the crevices. The whole effect is of a very easy and attractive dive not far from the camping areas on Deal Island.
Rating 7 stars Depth: 2-20 metres Category 3
This island group is made up of a series of small outcrops around a central main island simply called Hogan Island. Hogan Island is 133 hectares in area and is 2.4 kilometres long and 800 metres wide. The Hogan Group lies 1.6 kilometres south of the Victorian-Tasmanian border. The islands are made of fine grey granite, capped by red granite and are as much as 130 metres high. There are springs at the base of the foreshore limestone on the east coast, but no permanent water. The island was once a refuge for mutton birds and penguins, but grazing cattle have destroyed most of the burrows, except on the northern and southern ends. There is also a small group of Fur Seals on North-East Islet. The shallows inside this island group provide a reasonable anchorage that is fairly safe from westerly weather. However, it is a poor anchorage in easterly conditions. Easterly gales are relatively common in the height of summer. The Hogans are a popular resting point for motor cruisers coming from Victoria on their way to the Kent Group. The island have been heavily altered by grazing and are given over to tussock grassland. The small and isolated Round Islet has managed to retain some of its original plant life and it is important that these small island sanctuaries are not subjected to fire. There is a pleasant beach on the south eastern side which is a great sunbathing spot. It also offers shallow and easy snorkelling on the nearby weed beds. The eastern area of the Hogan’s is very shallow with some sand and eelgrass beds. The shallows consist of Macrocystis kelp beds with pink encrusting coralline algae growing under the fronds. The fish life is generally poor amongst the smaller islands although the weedbeds will interest the marine naturalist. There are plenty of abalone among the rocks although the sizes tend to be stunted. This is apparently caused by the warmer sea temperatures and affects mainly Blacklip abalone. Abalone are common along the sandy edges of the western reefs in ten to fifteen metres of water. The bottom does get slightly deeper around the south-western tip of the island and around the Twin Islands. This increased depth allows some more delicate varieties of marine life to flourish. The shallows around the islands are dominated by Cystophora Intermedia, a short bushy brown algae. Bull Kelp does not appear to grow in the Central Strait. Much of the marine vegetation is more reminiscent of South Australia than Tasmania as marine organisms are brought in by the warm waters flowing in from the Great Australian Bight.
Rating 8 stars Depth: 25-35 metres Category 3
This 166 hectare granite outcrop lies 41.8 kms south east of Wilson’s Promontory. It is the main island in a collection of granite outcrops known as the Curtis Group. The other rocks, Cone Island, Passage Rock and The Sugarloaf are well away to the south-east. Curtis Island was discovered in the early days of settlement when it was known as ‘The Slipper’. There are some stories that a kidnapped Irish maid lived on the island with her daughter. How they survived is unknown, but there are ruins of stone sealers shelters on the island. Shipwrecked yachtsmen have spent time on the island in 1949 and 1954. One couple had to survive for a month before being rescued. This was made more difficult because of the lack of freshwater on the island. The island has numerous mutton bird burrows and no doubt they have been a welcome source of food for castaways. There are no beaches or easy landing points on the island. A difficult scramble over the rocks can be made on the northern end. Much of the rest of the island is surrounded by steep cliffs. A 1-1.5 metre swell is normally enough to prevent a landing. The island is almost completely tussock grassland with a little tea tree scrub. The plant life is important because Curtis Island lies in the deepest part of the strait on the ancient land bridge to the mainland. This was the first section to be isolated by rising sea levels 14000 years ago. Curtis is also important because only 7% of the island has been disturbed by human activity and plant introductions. This is up to 40% on the Hogans. The diving in the area is apparently very spectacular with vertical drop-offs into deep water being the dominant dive profile. These rock walls are covered in colourful marine life and clouds of fish.
Rating 8 stars Depth: 20-35 metres Category 3
This granite cone is close to the northern extremity of Tasmanian waters. The island is a well vegetated 114 hectare island over 350 metres high and ringed with 70-200 metre high cliffs. The island is home to a huge population of mutton birds. The main damage done to the islands has been the introduction of rabbits by whalers. As Rodondo is only ten kilometres off the Victorian coast the island is almost never dived from Tasmania. I only know of a few adventurous abalone divers who have taken shark cats across the strait to reach it. The area is usually dived by charter parties operating out of Port Welshpool. Good weather is absolutely essential as it is with all the remote islands in Bass Strait. The rock itself is an almost sheer-sided granite spire rising up out of 60 metres of water. The rock provides 40 metre drop-offs in places. The rock walls attract a wide range of invertebrate life including hydroids, gorgonia fans and deep water sponges. In other parts of the island particularly the north-east the rock slopes less drastically and supports narrow beds of sea grass and kelp. Rodondo usually attracts a wide range of school fish and has a large population of resident reef fish. The shallows are dominated by tough, short kelp and the best diving is below 20 metres. All around the island there are many cracks and crevices and occasionally large swim-throughs. The area is prone to dangerous tides at times and is normally a dive for experienced parties only.
West Moncoeur Island
Rating 7 stars Depth: 10-30 metres Category 3
The major attraction of this area is the large seal colony that can be found there. The depth at the shore is 10 metres and this area can be very prone to surge in an unfavourable swell. The shallows are covered in thick mats of Bull Kelp. Away from the cliffs in deeper water the rock formations become more substantial and support a wider range of invertebrate life. Throughout any dive in the area you will be constantly buzzed by seals (refer to the Barrenjoey dive for a description of seal diving). As with any seal colony, divers should be understand that this dive carries with it a heightened risk of shark attack. It is best to avoid the October to January pupping season.
Forty Foot Rocks
Rating 7 stars Depth: 25-35 metres Category 3
This series of low rocks lies four miles south of the lighthouse on Wilson’s Promontory. Believe it or not this series of rocks is the northern limit of Tasmanian waters. The diving is apparently very similar to other small islands in the area. A narrow rock shelf supports a thick growth of weed in 10 metres which drops way rapidly into over 70 metres of water. A gap between the rocks is at 24 metres. There are a few seals on the island and plenty of fish life. Coulourful invertebrates are also very prolific.