Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Boulders to Gantry Drift
Lieutenant James Cook, RN, named the Solitary Islands in 1770 when he passed by in his famous vessel HM Bark Endeavour. The southern most of the islands are located just off the northern end of Coffs Harbour on the Far North Coast of New South Wales. The largest of the southern islands is South Solitary Island. This has a historic lighthouse on it and there are the remains of the lighthouse keepers' houses. As there is no landing point on the island, a gantry was used to lift goods and people onto and off the island. The remains of the gantry are located on the western side of the island. This makes the island a bit different to the other islands which have never had any human life present for more than a few days at a time.
After our first dive at Manta Arch we have had a cup of tea or hot soup and some snacks. Mike Davey, owner of Jetty Dive suggests a drift dive from the Boulders on the northern end of the island along the western side to the Gantry. This is about half way along the island.
The depth at the mooring is 12 metres and the first thing we see below the mooring is a clown triggerfish. This is not the same one we saw on the previous dive (probably only 40 metres from here) as it is much bigger. Fancy that, two clown triggerfish in two dives! As would be expected from the name of the dive site, the bottom is made up of huge boulders spread out over a rocky reef. From here we head south towards the island, coming up to 8 metres. There is a small cave here and we see a small firefish outside. There are many wobbegong sharks near the cave and as we move away from the island a bit deeper (reaching 16 metres) there are a lot more. There are also many bream and yellowtail in this area as well as four or five egg cowries. These cowries have completely white shells which they cover with a black mantle.
As we go along we see a huge turtle which swims along with us for a while. The depth gradually comes up a bit to 10 metres. We are now near the Gantry and we start to see bits and pieces of old gantries scattered all over the place. There are rusting bits of metal everywhere, including railway tracks and small railway trucks. The depth here is only 6 metres. We are right on the edge of the island and looking up you can see the Gantry above the water.
Once past the Gantry we move about 20 metres off the island to the mooring. We explore a bit more around here and under the mooring there are two blue tangs. After 70 minutes we finally end our dive and we are soon on our way back to Coffs Harbour. An excellent dive, as good as any in New South Wales.
As indicated, I dived with Jetty Dive and can really recommend their services. Contact Mike on 02 6651 1611. For more information about Coffs Harbour, see my Coffs article.