If you have a boat and the weather is good, go out and try a few of the headlands in the area. They can be affected by outflows from the Clarence River after rain and they aren’t deep, all usually under 10 metres and quickly give way to sand. They also build up some big surf in a swell. They are only dived presently by scientific diving teams doing monitoring but there are stories of other deep reefs and wrecks known to fishermen (some misleading). Hard work, but try some exploring.
Woody Head Reef
29.35560 153.37745 WGS84
This site lies within an extensive reef complex adjacent to Woody Head, to the north of the Clarence River. It is 880 m from the shore and supports diverse marine life. It can be affected by outflows from the Clarence River.
Shelley Beach Headland Reef
29.53043 153.36239 10
This site lies 11.3 km south of the Clarence River
29.47706 153.36555 WGS84
This reef lies 5.4 km to the south of the Clarence River. It has a high diversity of fish and molluscs for the area. The closeness to the Clarence River may affect visibility at the site.
153.279490 -29.944480 WGS84
This site lies 1750 m offshore and has diverse communities, including a coral-dominated seabed,
153.294840 -29.829160 WGS84
This site lies 420 m from the shore and supports complex habitat for a low and relatively shallow reef.
This site lies 800 m from shore of the Barcoongere State Forest just south of Woolli. Access is via the Woolli ramp and over the bar at high tide in good weather only. The fish diversity is high. Barcoongere Reef is fully protected within a sanctuary zone. The rocks are known for snapper, tailor, groper, mackerel, tailor, bream, whiting and mulloway.
While this terrific site is the signature dive for the area it is rarely visited. The site is quite exposed and charter operators are reluctant to go there unless the boat is filled with experienced divers. The site is quite deep and current affected. The safest way is to book out a charter with a group of friends and wait on the weather. Below 28 metres the rock is covered in tropical and temperate invertebrate life, sponges, sea fans, sea whips and black coral trees. The fish life is extraordinary and so thick it is hard to see through the schools. There is a tunnel under the rock is 12 high x 15m and it extends through the rock and a small tunnel also veers off from this main cavern. Grey nurse caverns patrol outside this cavern and smaller fish species dominate the cavern walls.
This site is only 5 minutes boat ride from Broom’s Head and offers a large area of gutters, crevices, caves and overhangs. It has lots of hard and soft corals and is covered in fish. Schools of sea sweep and yellowtail cluster over the reef. A swimthrough called the Bat Cave will attract grey nurse sharks at times. In 1864, this reef the wooden barquentine “William Buchanan” was wrecked. There is nothing left of her.
This site is 2kms SE of the Sandon River, where small boats can launch in good weather. The area offers a low reef rich in soft and hard corals, including black coral trees. There are also colder water sponges, anemones and sea fans. There is also one of the nicest surf beaches in NSW at Sandon Bluff, that will keep the family entertained while you dive. It is only a 20 minute boat ride from the dive shop at Wooli.
Nambucca Heads is the boundary between the Manning Shelf (to the south) and Tweed-Moreton bioregions and is of scientific interest. Apart from some monitoring teams it is otherwise little dived. There are very extensive sections of reef northwards from Nambucca Heads, largely unexplored recreationally. Depths aren’t great and due to the exposed position there are likely to be good rather than great sites. They can also get outflows from the Nambucca River. It is going to provide some interesting days out on the water for locals with a boat.
Wenonah Headland Reef
Rarely dived local inshore reef
Valla Beach Reef
In addition to the above mark, there are large areas of low reef about 1km offshore off headland that needs exploring, with depths in the 20m zone at the deepest.
This reef lies 600 metres from the shore and 1 km from the entrance to the Nambucca River. The Nambucca Reef may not be scenic but it is scientifically interesting for the high coral cover present at a site often washed by water from a major river. Otherwise the site supports a few molluscs but a low fish diversity.
Woolgoolga Reef and headland
This narrow and shallow reef provides a few school fish and is a pleasant dive in good weather, for the beginner, snorkeler, or photographer.
Park Beach Bommie
Bait fish schools occasionally passing by attract pelagic fish and fishermen to this low inshore reef.
A heavily fished and shallow inshore reef covering quite a large area. A good spot for mackerel, tailor, jewfish and bream.Worth a snorkel.
Korff’s (Pig) Islet
This barren rock lies about 500m SE of the harbour. There is some good fish life on the NE and western sides including occasional grey nurse sharks.
This site gets its name from the prominent split that divides the island. Nine different areas of this relatively small island are moored to provide anchoring points that won’t damage the coral. Most of the sites are on the southern side. There are lots of smaller invertebrates and fish and a few turtles. Good beginners and photography diving. The northern side offers large fields of hard coral and a mix of tropical and temperate fish species.
South Solitary Island
This larger island lies 5 kilometres offshore and is marked by a prominent lighthouse. Lying well offshore it catches oceanic currents with more of a tropical influence. Most diving is done on the more sheltered western side where there are several moorings. The bottom is dominated by a variety of hard corals and is swarming with subtropical fish species, There are lots of crevices and overhangs. Buchanan’s Wall is a site on the SW side of the island offers Buchanan’s Wall from 16-32 metres. After the 30 metre mark there is some excellent invertebrate life.There is a spectacular arch at an islet on the south east of South Solitary, in a slightly more exposed area. On the NW side there is the Manta Cave in 24 metres. It is known for clown fish and grey nurse. The site is swarming with small tropical species. The Shark Gutters on the northern side in 15 metres also swarms with fish and grey nurse sharks. This is one of the most popular dives around the island. South Solitary is considered the best of the southern islands.
South West Solitary
This area is not often dived despite having a large garden of hard corals and good fish life. The eastern side has ledges and gutters home to turtles and subtropical fish.
Korora Reef is adjacent to an urbanised area immediately to the north of Coffs Harbour. The reef is 580 m from the shore. The area has a reasonable variety of fish and molluscs. It is also subjected to heavy fishing pressure.
This rock lies close to NW side of South Solitary and offer similar excellent marine life including lots of corals and schools of fish.
This pinnacle offers varied terrain with rock walls and boulders on the north side packed with a mix of tropical and temperate species.
This rock lies half way between Split Solitary and South Solitary. It offers east-west gutters packed with fish and invertebrate life.
This pinnacle of rock lies two kilometres off the harbour. The fish life is good but the other invertebrate life a little on the sparse side.
This relatively shallow and kelp covered reef lies one kilometre SW of Split Solitary Island. It offers mainly smaller marine life for the macro photographer and beginner diver.
This kelp-covered reef is similar to Marsh Shoal and offers some varied smaller temperate invertebrates.
Sawtell Reef and headland
This reef lies immediately offshore (700 m) from Sawtell Headland, between Boambee and Bonville creeks. Sawtell?Headland offers an island on one side and an estuary mouth on the other. Schools of tailor, bream, luderick can be seen. It is heavily fished and will suffer from poor visibility after heavy rain.
NW Solitary Is
There are a variety of good diving sites around the island but a summer dive on the Manta Reef on the western side of the island is the most popular. The reef has plenty of gutters that are covered in colourful invertebrates.
The eastern side of this current affected spot is teeming with pelagic fish, grey nurse sharks and rays. A sheltered area between two reefs on the western side is home to thousands of school fish. The site, known as Fish Soup, is one of the area’s most popular dives. The western side is home to a shallower garden of hard corals teeming with smaller species of reef fish. There is also a small shallow cave off the northern end of the island. A dozen different mooring sites are provided around the island. There are plenty of sea whips, sea fans and black coral trees.
This reef is well offshore and is relatively small, only about 200 x 250 metres. It offers a boulder bottom with patches of brilliant white sand. There are tunnels and gutters packed with sea fans, sea whips, black coral trees and sponge gardens. There are also swarms of sub-tropical species. One of the best dives in the North Solitary Islands.
Anemone Bay is perhaps the most popular dive in the area. It is on the northern part of North Solitary Island and is usually sheltered from the southerly swell. The shallow anchorage in 12-15m offers a safe snorkelling and beginner spot on a rocky bottom carpeted with anemones and anemone fish. Anemone Bay is also an access point onto the north eastern side of North Solitary. A shallow gutter gives access from Anemone Bay out onto the deeper areas on the eastern side of the island. South of the entry point are Belmore’s Boulders, as it suggests a field of very large boulders covered in life. The school fish gather around the rocks and glide along in the relatively mild current. Although I’ve seen some newer divers on this dive, a bit of experience is needed to navigate back to the opening and to manage air. This is recommended as an advanced or guided dive. The Steps lie in 15-45m. This deep and current affected wall on the NE tip is patrolled by pelagic fish and studded with filter-feeding marine lfie. The Canyons on the eastern side offer a shallower are bursting with smaller fish species in 5-24m. There is a small Bubble Cave in 5-13m, near the split that separates the island into two halves.
Wreck of the SS “Keilawarra”
The 200 foot long 784-tonne iron steam ship was travelling north from Sydney to Queensland. Off North Solitary Island the Keilawarra collided with the steamer “Helen Nicoll” and sank on December 8, 1886 at about 8.30pm. The 200-foot steamer sank within seven minutes and 48 passengers drowned, the worst civil maritime disaster in NSW history. Rediscovered in 2000, she is well known to local charter operators and can be dived on mixed gases by experienced technical divers only.