Tweed, Byron and Ballina

Gold Coast/Tweed River

There are relatively few reefs on the Tweed Coast that are less than 2 km from shore. A few have pretty reef areas within a depth range of 8-12 m

 

Tweed River

3-11m

This area is always sheltered and available for a shore dive. The 4 metre high rubble of the riverside harbour works are home to smaller marine life and passing schools of fish. There is a strong current and the visibility can be poor especially after rain. The rain tends to flush it out and strip the delicate marine life off the bottom, so it’s better after dry spells. Entry is adjacent to the car parks near North Head. The incoming tide is quieter and clearer, with the outgoing tide a little too fast. Try to dive close to slack water and be alert for boat traffic if surfacing.

Fido Reef

10-20m

This site off Cook Island offers a large area of reef, charter operators target 15 different dive sites within the area. It can also be executed as a drift dive by experienced parties. This is an inshore reef consisting of reef ledging down on to sand. Along the base of the ledges there are plenty of soft corals. There are also many gutters, sometimes with a grey nurse or two in winter. Pelagic fish also come and go on the reef.

Wreck of the S.S. “Fido”

The1433-ton, 70.53 metre long, Norwegian steel steamerFido”was built in Frederickstad, Norway in 1904. She was lost in 1907, when it ran onto what we now call Fido Reef at night. At the time she was under charter to the Pacific Phosphate Company, to take 2000 tons of phosphate from Pleasant Island (Nauru) to Sydney. When abandoning ship, Captain Larsen shot his red setter dog thinking he would have to pay a £50 landing fee. The same dog had earlier saved his wife and child from a cabin fire.

The flattened wreck of the Fido rests on the southern edge of the reef.  The wreck is encrusted in green algae, with a few sponges. The clear outline of the wreck is discernible among a tangle of partly sanded over steel plates. The area is usually subject to moderate currents and the boat lookout will need to be alert. The nearby reef offers parallel crevices and short sandy filled gutters. There are overhangs and low tunnels.  The occasional grey nurse shark can be found.

Five Mile Reef:

10-30m

This reef is a nice dive in good weather offering a good selection of sponges and soft corals. It gets some clearer northerly currents that also bring in schools of mullet and other pelagic fish. Only partially explored and little dived. There are many sites. Elle’s Wall is an 8m dropoff with grey nurse sharks during June to August.  .

Nine Mile Reef

7-33m

This reef is actually 4.5 miles from the Tweed, hence a nine mile return journey. It is about three miles offshore of Cook Island. A number of different dive sites can be visited on this large reef. This site offers deeper and clearer offshore diving with lots of hard corals, turtles, rays, pelagic fish and sharks. Shark Alley is a site with grey nurse sharks in winter and leopard sharks and bullrays in summer. Even hammerheads and bronze whalers are seen on occasions. The rock, like many in the area, are algae coated and can be sparse for more delicate life, but there are walls and gutters full of colourful filter feeding invertebrates like feather stars. The site is totally exposed to wind and current and for experienced divers only. It is a popular spot in the calmer winter weather.

 

The Canyons

16-35m

This large area of reef offer big gutters and caves. The site is for advanced divers.

 

Ballast Rock Reef (Mud Hole)

23-33m

This dive is on an artificial reef reportedly made from large ballast rocks stacked on the sand. These would have been discarded by vessels loading at the Gold Coast. It is also probable that it is a natural formation.

 

Wreck of the S.S. “Alberta”

6-12m

This new 3168 ton steamer ran aground on Sutherland Reef, a part of the inside edge of Kingscliff Reef, on 19 October 1890. She was on a voyage from Japan to Melbourne with coal. The crew of 36 reached Tweed Heads safely in the boats. The 103.60 metre long steel steamer was built at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK in 1888. This is a huge wreck, but has been pounded by the sea in her shallow location. She is and easy snorkel or scuba dive in good weather. The broken remains lie on boulder bottom with small patches of sand. The large boilers from the ship lay out in the sand. Visibility can be variable but is often 5-10m. The wreck is home to a few fish and wobbegongs lay in the heavy ribbed structure of the wreck.

 

Sunken Island (Southern Reef)

12-28m

This reef is similar in shape to Cook Island with caves, walls and tunnels,

 

Wommin Reef

13-28m

28°12.0′S, 153°34.8′E

The reefs topography is very interesting for this area, consisting of blocks of volcanic rock offering lots of crevices and swim throughs. It has good invertebrate life and is visited by schools of fish from time to time. Wreckage of unidentified ship has been found by charter operators. This area is only rarely visited due to strong currents and dirty water at times.

 

Ronnie’s Rocks

29-38m

This deep site for experienced divers offers excellent fish and coral life. Grey nurse sharks and large pelagic fish are frequently seen. The reef rises 9 metres off a sandy bottom.

 

The Boulders

18-26m

Large boulders sitting on the sand next to each other, forming caves and tunnels.

G-Spot Reef

12-28m

The reef offers sheer walls, caves and tunnels. Grey nurse sharks and leopard sharks can be seen at times. The area is renowned for its great fish life.
Cook Island

6-20m

(northern side) 28.19450 153.57613

(southern side) 28.19620 153.57626

 

The northern side of Cook Island is one of the most popular dive sites for Gold Coast divers. It tends to be diveable in moderately poor weather. There are coral and gutters with plenty of interesting things to see and photograph. This southern section of reef is 560 m from shore and is less frequently visited.  The area supports high diversity of both molluscs and fish. It gets a dirty outflow from the Tweed River after rain. The channel between the NNE side of the island and Guy (Mary) Rock is current affected. The site gets Leopard Sharks in January and at other times, boarfish, turtles, snapper, morwong, blue groper and big rays. The difficulty is with the weather over the Tweed River bar that can limit boat access to the site. Cook Island Aquatic Reserve was declared on October 23, 1998 to protect the marine biodiversity of the island’s reef system

 

Kingscliff Reef.

9-33m

This large expanse of reef offers a variety of sites. This area is inconvenient to the populated areas of the Gold Coast and so it is rarely dived. However, it is well worth the effort for experienced divers, due to its spectacular topography. It also offers some adventure, away from the crowded sites along the Gold Coast.

 

Local Reef  

9-12m

28.25017 153.59632 3 WGS 84

Fish species richness is high at Local Reef as it is 1.3km offshore. Being close to the mouth of Cudgen Creek the reef gets some runoff after rain.

 

Outer Bommie

15m

28.25367 153.59402 4

 

Kingscliff Pinnacle

16-33m

The inner reef is relatively close to shore and consists of low reef with some nice fish life. The best area is the offshore pinnacles on the eastern side of the reef. There are at least three main areas of pinnacles and bommies that rise up of a coarse sand bottom. They offer crevices and caves filled with morays, wobbegong. The current has promoted lush cover of fixed invertebrates, sponges, plate corals, ascidians and sea fans. The site is often covered in pelagic fish such as jewfish and yellowtail kingfish. The rocks are covered in schools of nannygai and butter bream. Leopard Sharks and sweetlips are often encountered in summer, with grey nurse in the winter.

The area is current affected and needs to be dived at slack water. Access is via a tricky sand bar at Cudgen Creek, or via a slightly less tricky bar at the Tweed River. Winds greater than 15 knots will rule out this area. Northerlies are also uncomfortable. There are plenty of bommies on the reef other than those described, so go exploring, it is a big reef.


 

Byron Bay

 

Bait Reef

28.62810 153.61610

This reef is 1.4km from shore. Bait Reef supports diverse communities of marine life.

 

Kendrick’s Reef

24m

This offers a very nice coral garden with sea whips, gorgonia, black coral trees and ascidians. There are fairy basslets, rock cod, anemonefish, lionfish, angelfish, butterflyfish. There are lots of smaller critters, nudibranchs and molluscs around the reef.

 

Julian Rocks

6-25m

You can go to dive shops in Bryon Bay for a long time before diving a site other than Julian Rocks. There are good reasons for this. It is a very large, diverse and high quality site. It is relatively sheltered and very close to good ramps. Nearly every dive starts at the shallow western end where the Nursery is a popular site in 6-15 metres. It offers a lot of colourful smaller fish and invertebrates and is a good beginner or photography dive. The Cod Hole is a 10m long cave at 21metres full of fish including lionfish, moray eels, turtles and stingrays. There are lots of large pelagic fish and at times a few grey nurse sharks. The Needles offers walls and crevices in 15 metres with plenty of fish, sharks and colourful invertebrates. Hugo’s Trench is a gutter in 21 metres full of sharks, rays and turtles. There are lots of other interesting sites around the Julian Rocks.

 

Cape Pinnacle

25-50m

This cluster of rock pinnacles lies 4 kilometres off Byron Bay and is clear and current affected. In very calm weather, and if you have a boat load of deep certified divers, local charter operators may take you there. The rocks are covered in black coral trees, sponges and sea fans. The walls are patrolled by grey nurse sharks, eagle rays, huge Queensland groper, warehou, jewfish, drummer, sweep, pike, snapper, trevally and blue morwong.

 

Wreck of the Woollongbar

2-3m

This large steel steamer of 2005 tons gross, 87.02 metres length, was built at Troon in 1911. In May 1921, she was at the old (and now demolished) jetty when a heavy seas rose up and drove her on to the beach. She is now exposed at Belongil Beach in the surf line. Her steering quadrant is usually exposed above water, making her easy to find. When surf is up she is a menace to surfers, but in calm seas she makes for an interesting snorkel. She lies on bright white sand and makes an interesting photograph. She is covered in tufts of red algae and is a haven for quite a few juvenile fish.

 

Wreck of the Tassie III

3 m

This small vessel was an ex Launceston Marine Board barge – MBL 3. She was on a voyage from Brisbane to Sydney with condemned ammunition for the American Water Transport Section. She came into Byron Bay to anchor on Friday, June 8, 1945 because of rough weather. During the night, the ship dragged its anchor and was beached up against the old jetty which was located in front of the now Byron Bay swimming pool.

 

In February, 1946 after complaints that shells were washing up, she was blown up. The remainder of the old jetty was removed in 1947.

To find the site, start in front of the toilets where an embankment of rocks shows where the jetty use to be. Keep this on your left and swim about 80m seaward. There is a mix of species around the wreck. You may see see turtles, wobbegongs, shovel nosed rays, eagle rays, damsel and wrasse. The wreck still has small identifiable remains covered in colourful invertebrates. It is said to be good for snorkelling and night diving.

 

Spot X

27m

This site is a large clump of gutters and crevices just to the north of Julian Rocks and actually joined up with the Mackerel Boulders. There is good invertebrate life but it is the fish that make the dive, morwong, sweep, yellowtail, bream, grey nurse and wobbegong.

 

Mackerel Boulders

20m

This area lies a little out of the bay off Julian Rocks, but this is enough to make it more exposed and so it is dived much less often. This is a site for turtles, wobbegong, blue groper and lionfish. The ridges and gutters are covered in hard corals. The rocks are patrolled by schools of yellowtail and bullseyes.

 

Windara Banks

45m

These pinnacles rising up to within 20 metres of the surface are 20 kilometres north of Byron Bay and 12 kilometres offshore. The current lashes the site and brings in clear water and swarms of fish, bream, trevally, warehou, pike, tommy rough and kingfish. Sea fans, corals, sponges and black coral trees adorn the spires. The site is rarely visited and you would need to charter the whole boat and fill it with very experienced divers. It is one of northern NSW’s best dives.

 

 

Ballina

Richmond River

5-10m

When the weather is rough a dive in the river can be rewarding. The incoming tide brings in clear ocean water and schools of fish. There are also old jetty piles and other junk on the bottom from the days when the river was a major commercial highway serving inland agricultural centres.

 

Black Head

8-10m

This kelp-covered rocky reef just off the mouth of the Richmond River offers stingrays, wobbegong and a variety of other local reef fish. It can be affected by dirty river water after rain.

 

Cocked Hat Rk

25m

This site is further away from Ballina and its river outflows and perhaps a little clearer. Otherwise it is very similar to other patches on inshore reef in the area. It has some small sponge gardens and reasonably good fish life.

 

Lennox Pinnacle

12-15m

There is quite a bit of shallow rocky reef off Lennox Head, with a good coverage of sub-tropical fish species and plenty of smaller invertebrates to look at and photograph. Not a difficult dive, but good weather is needed.

 

North and South Riordan’s Reef

18-40m

This large area of rocky bottom to the south of Ballina offers small gutters, crevices and rock walls to explore. The low reef has a good range of temperate and tropical fish species. It is also clearer as it’s is a little away from major rivers. Good weather is needed to explore this exposed site. The site breaks in heavy seas but can otherwise be hard to find.

 

North and South Evans Reef

20-25m

This large area of rocky bottom off Evans Head offers a variety of terrain and reasonable fish life. The rocks tend to be barer on the western side, but offer crevices and gutters on the exposed eastern side. Anchoring on the reef can be hazardous except in very calm weather. The Evans Head area is affected by coastal runoff from Jerusalem Creek and is very exposed. The reefs are easily seen as they often break.

 

MV Limerick

107m

Bow:28° 56.520? S 153° 47.679? E

Stern –28° 56.475? S 153° 47.750? E WGS84

 

The 140m long MV Limerick was a 9000 tonne cargo ship. In 1942 there was a rash of Japanese submarine attacks on the East Coast. A very fast ship, the Limerick struggled to slow down to the pace of the convoy and she was a big target. Twelve nautical miles off Ballina she unknowingly passed in front of a Japanese submarine. A torpedo ripped a huge hole in her starboard side just forward of the stern and she sank.

She now lies upside down, facing north east, on a dark sediment bottom with the hull standing 13 metres off the bottom. The wreck site is affected by extremely strong currents (typically 4-5 knots). At most times this would make diving very dangerous if not impossible. The huge bow and stern are impressive and the interior is exposed around the torpedo hole. The ship is covered in fish including grey nurse sharks, Queensland groper, king fish and trevally. She is a mixed gas dive for experienced technical divers only. A typical time on the bottom is 20 minutes, with a 3 hour drifting deco.