Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - The Boulders to Bubble Cave Drift
The eastern side of North Solitary Island off Wooli on the North Coast of New South Wales is one of the most undived locations in the State. In all my visits to the Solitary Islands, it was a long time before I had even seen that side of the island, let alone dived it. Even now, I have only ever dived there three times. You need relatively calm conditions to dive this location. North Solitary Island is actually made up of two parts. There is a small channel that separates the two sections. This is about five metres wide at the narrowest bit. While the island runs roughly north-south, the channel runs north-east to south west. It is located roughly in the middle of the island.
|Grey nurse sharks at The Boulders|
From Mullaway, it is about 45 minutes out to North Solitary Island. Unlike the western and northern side of the island which are quite shallow, the eastern side drops away to be deep. I am not sure how deep it gets to, but on the western side of the north point it gets to at least 40 metres. On the eastern side of the middle of the island, it gets to over 25 metres just a few metres from the island and over 30 metres not too far off.
This dive is a drift dive from the site just north of the channel between the two parts of the island through the channel to the western side and then onto the Bubble Cave. This is located on the north-eastern corner of the bay on the western side of the island. As there are no moorings on this side of the island and (I think) anchoring is not permitted, your boat will drop you off and wait to see that you have safely made your way through the channel to the western side before moving to that side.
About 50 metres north of the channel there is a small inlet. This is the normal starting point for the dive. As can be imagined from the name, the dive site primarily consists of huge boulders and a couple of gullies. After entering the water, swim a little towards the island and descend. The depth right alongisde the island is about 20 metres. If you head south from here you will enter a gutter or gully. This is a "blind" gully and is sometimes home to grey nurse sharks. This gully does not run for a long distance and at the end you need to come up to about 12 metres as you drop over to the east. You enter another larger gully, this time the eastern wall is not a solid wall but a series of boulders. There are more grey nurse sharks in this section.
|The channel between the two parts of North Solitary Island|
The depth here is drops from about 12 metres down to over 25 metres. The boulders house plenty of caves and swim-throughs. Below one enormous rock there are three caves, one of which on my first dive here contained the biggest non-shark fish I have ever seen. This Queensland groper was at least two metres long and it darted out of the cave as I entered. Luckily it was seen by other divers in one of the gullies. As I mentioned before, grey nurse sharks swim along the gullies and some large rays add to the black corals and firefish seen. On every dive at this site I have seen sharks, and most times a number of black or estuary cod as well as prolific fishlife.
Continuing south along the gully you come into a more open area. The depth varies between 15 and 20 metres. Shortly you will see that the wall on your right turns a little to the south-west and then on your left you will see another. The bottom is composed of small round smooth rocks and this is the start of the channel between the two parts of the island. You can swim right up this channel to about 12 metres before coming to a narrower section. I would allow about 30 to 35 minutes to get to this location. The depth goes up to eight metres as you go between the narrowest section. The depth drops a little to 10 metres before again rising to six to seven metres. On one dive this area had four large estuary cod. Even on calm days there may be a little bit of surge but it is easy to get through to the western side.
This side of the island is much shallower (maximum of about 15 metres but more like 13 metres max) so very long bottom times can be experienced. You can spend a large amount of time looking at the anemones and clownfish as well as the remains of a fishing vessel wrecked on the island in about 1989. You may also see eagle rays, turtles and many more fish.
|Kelly McFadyen at the entrance to the Bubble Cave|
Note the bubble at top
|A firefish upsidedown inside the Bubble Cave|
The dive boat should by now be tied up to the Bubble Cave mooring. As you go past you should be able to see it clearly. If you still have some air left, go over to the Bubble Cave. The Cave can be found by going to the north-west from the mooring over two ridges into the second gutter along from the mooring. Head right up this gutter. The bottom as you get closer to the cave is composed of medium sized round rocks like on the bottom of a river. The depth goes from 13 metres on a slope up to about five metres at the entrance. This is located on the western side of the gutter and is not always that obvious. The whole entrance to the cave can be blocked by fish and even after parting them, there can still be more in the way. The depth inside the cave is about four metres and it slopes up to perhaps three metres and turns a little to the right. It is a fairly large cave. There are normally lots of firefish in the cave, mostly on the walls and top of the cave. As you would imagine from the name of the cave, there is a series of air bubbles on the top of the cave, mostly near the entrance.
Head back out of the cave and go over the wall to the left and follow this gutter back to the 12 metre depth. The mooring should be over the ridge to your left.
On my dives here I have averaged over one hour and fifteen minutes. A fantastic dive site, as good as it gets, but not for the less experienced.
If you are contemplating a dive trip to northern NSW and want really great diving, you should consider visiting Dive Quest at Mullaway (02 6654 1930). You will get not only excellent diving, but first class and friendly service.