Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - HMAS Swan
Located 255 kilometres to the south of Perth, the Capital of Western Australia, is the small township of Dunsborough. The town is on the southern shore of Geographe Bay, a huge semi-circle that provides some northern and even eastern facing beaches, well protected from southerly winds. Cape Naturaliste is the northern point of the peninsula that provides the main protection. At the Cape there is a lighthouse and some very nice coastal scenery. Near Dunsborough are the bigger towns of Bunbury and Busselton (both with in excess of 20,000 persons). The whole area is only two and a half to three hours drive from Perth (the roads are excellent, better than NSW) and the speed limit for most appears to be 110 kilometres per hour. More about travelling there later in this article.
Dunsborough is the gateway to the Margaret River area, one of the best surfing locations in the World. Most people would be aware of the annual surfing classic held here, normally in fantastic conditions. As if this is not enough, the Margaret River has some of the best vineyards in Australia, producing excellent wines. This alone is a reason to visit the area.
For scuba divers, the Cape Naturaliste area has been a popular diving location for locals and Perth residents. Now there is a new reason to dive the area, HMAS Swan. For more information on the Swan, see the separate article. In brief, the ship was scuttled in December 1997 as a new dive location and provides excellent diving.
In June 1998 I travelled to Perth from Sydney specifically to dive HMAS Swan. My buddy and I left Sydney on a Qantas flight at 0915 and arrived in Perth just after midday (almost five hours - less than the drive to South West Rocks). Our flights cost us just over $430 each, cheap! We had booked a hire car from a place called Ace Rent-A-Car and after phoning them as we came through customs (we were flying international) they came and picked us up and took us to their nearby base. We booked a Hyundai Excel 3 Door which cost us $41 per day. We were staying four days so the cost was $164 with unlimited kilometres. In fact, we ended up getting a Hyundai Excel 4 Door with air conditioning. This turned out to be a very good and economical vehicle (only $27 for fuel for more than 700 kilometres), with heaps of room for two, including all our dive gear (in fact, three could easily be accommodated). Check out their Web Site.
Anyway, after doing the paperwork, we headed off south along the South Western Highway. As I indicated above, the roads are excellent and even though we had at times heavy rain, 110 kilometres an hour was possible. Just over three hours later after a scenic trip via Armadale and Bunbury we arrived at Busselton. We decided to have a look at the ocean here and we very glad to see that the sea was millpond. We were a bit ahead of time so we decided to have a look at the Busselton Wharf (at over 1500 metres, the longest in the Southern Hemisphere) and afternoon tea at the Busselton Wharf Cafe. Well worth the stop, great tea and coffee and some of the best cakes I have ever tasted.
Less than 15 minutes after leaving Busselton, we arrive at Dunsborough and find our accommodation (more later) and then the dive shop. We are diving with Cape Dive and Tackle (now just Cape Dive) so we drop into see the owner, Shelley, and find out what is happening tomorrow. She tells us to be at the shop ready to go at 1030 (very civilised dive time I reckon).
Our accommodation is the Dunborough Lakes Caravan Park (ph 08 9756 8300, Commonage Road, which is about two kilometres from the town centre. The weather is still not too good, rain on and off. We have booked a "cabin". This is a mobile home and is comfortable enough considering the price ($45 per night for two, including linen and blankets). After all the rain over the past few days, the park is very wet and we almost have to swim to the door to get inside. Dinner that night is the recommended local cafe (forget the name but it is around the corner from the bakery). This is an excellent meal, with two courses costing only $22 each. We have purchased a bottle of Margaret River wine to go with the meal and this makes it even better.
We retire to our van and, as our bodies are two hours ahead of WA, we go to bed early, eagerly awaiting the morning. Talk about cold!! It is freezing during the night and the van does not have a heater (in fact, I do not think any caravan park in WA has a heater) and about 0300 I am awoken by howling winds and pouring rain. Hell, this is a problem. The wind and rain continue all the rest of the night and when we get up it is even worse than earlier. The wind is so strong, it has shaken the van around at times. This does not look promising.
We have a relaxed breakfast before arriving at the dive shop. Shelley asks if we are still keen to dive and we tell her that if the skipper is happy to take us, we do not mind the conditions. We are soon loading our gear into the small aluminium "rubber" duck and driving the short distance to the boat ramp and our adventure is about to begin.
For information about HMAS Swan and the dives on the wreck, see my separate articles on the ship and the dives.