Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Manta Arch
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 these 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.
From Coffs Harbour it is a 15 to 20 minute trip out to the island. The seas are quite calm as we approach and after circling the island and looking at the lighthouse, houses and the gantry, we head to the northern end of the island. We are diving with Jetty Dive and the owner, Mike Davey, is leading this dive. He suggests a drift dive from Manta Arch just down the eastern side from the northern end to a mooring right on the northern most point.
We enter the water and drop to the bottom at 22 metres. We head to the south following Mike. We soon see the Arch and drop under it and move along a gutter. The first of many grey nurse sharks comes into view. We continue on and the depth increases to 29 metres. We see more sharks, a total of about 10 as far as I can tell. The visibility is not the best (the previous three days have been very rough seas), perhaps seven metres at the most.
We head back towards the island (depth 19 metres) and then north till we pass back under the mooring. The depth ranges up and down, between 17 and 22 metres as we pass over walls and gutters. There are a lot of large boulders everywhere and many cracks/gutters. There are more gutters to the west towards the island and sharks are usually seen there as well. This is The Shark GuttersAs we go, we see a lot of wobbegongs and a few yellowtail kingfish. The depth to the north of the mooring comes up to 13 metres and then drops back to 16 or 17 metres. As we approach the mooring we see a clown triggerfish, the first I have ever seen in Australia. To the west of the mooring we see a few firefish and an amazing sight as we spot a sergeant baker attack and eat a nannygai. Things that happen when you do not have a camera!!
We are finishing the dive around the mooring and quite a few Queensland groper are seen circling the spot. Despite the not so good visibility, we have had an excellent dive and seen a great amount of fishlife and some special species. The water temperature has been 21°C in early June. I again dived here twice exactly a year later and we saw as many sharks and had better visibility. In July 2005 I dived here and saw seven sharks, one huge pregnant female, one huge male and one female with a fishhook.
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.