Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Rapid Bay Jetty
In mid-Feburary 2003, I travelled to South Australia, primarily to dive the wreck of HMAS Hobart. However, it would have been crazy to travel this far without taking the opportunity to do a dive to see a creature that we do not see at home in Sydney. This, of course, is the leafy sea dragon.
In New South Wales we get common (or weedy) sea dragons. They are generally found south of the Central Coast but we do not have leafy sea dragons. When organising the trip, it became obvious that the best spot to see leafys was Rapid Bay Jetty.
Located approximately 100 kilometres south of Adelaide, Rapid Bay is a small "locality" consisting of a few houses and a caravan park. The nearest town is Normanville. This small town is about 75 km south of Adelaide and for interstate visitors is the best place to stay. See Normanville page for more information. From Adelaide, take the Main South Road and pass through Normanville and past Wirrina Cove Resort. About 8 km south of the Wirrina Cove turnoff you will see the access road to Rapid Bay.
|Rapid Bay Jetty|
The access road winds its way down to the sea, be careful as it is quite steep and winding in parts and there are quite a few sites where accidents have occurred. once you hit the village, follow the signs to the beach and jetty and park as close as you can to the jetty.
The Rapid Bay Jetty was built in 1940 as part of the limestone and dolomite mine located on the southern side of the bay. The mine was owned by BHP. The jetty is constructed of timber and is constructed in the shape of a T, but the end of the jetty has a slight kink to the right before meeting the end section. It is 488 metres long with a 200 metres long mooring section. The main arm runs approximately north-south and the mooring section east-west. It is quite a large structure, standing about six metres off the water and about eight metres wide. Along the western side of the main arm there was originally a conveyor belt to carry the ore out to the awaiting vessel. There is a platform on the northern section, on the inside part of the arm, which is perhaps three or so metres off the water. This has a set of stairs from the main deck and a ladder down to the water.
In 1981 the mine was sold to Adelaide Brighton Cement and the jetty was last used in 1990. In September 1998 the conveyor belt was removed. The jetty is in fairly good state of repair, but there is some damage to the decking and I have read in DIVE Log that there is some doubt about whether the jetty will be maintained in a condition that will permit its use by divers and fishers.
As indicated above, the jetty is very long and it is also about 100 metres from the closest parking spot to the start of the jetty. Many local divers have manufactured or adapted equipment to enable dive gear to be wheeled out to the dive entry point. Some use converted trolleys and home made items to make it a bit easier. I can attest that your gear (even a small tank like I used) gets as heavy as a bag of cement by the time you are out at the end. However, it is worth it and if you are local to Adelaide, it is worth taking along some kind of device to transport your gear (eg a trolley, golf buggy etc).
I should also think that it is possible to start your dive at the end of the jetty and to exit on the shore. The bottom here is rocky, but certainly easier than most Sydney shore dive locations as the seas are flat as a tack.
Once you are at the end of the main section of the jetty, turn right and a short distance along you will see a set of stairs down to the platform from where you enter the water. On the platform you will not, of course, ba able to wash out your mask unless you take off your BCD and climb down to the water. Spit in your mask and wipe it for now. Don your mask and fins and move to the edge of the platform. Make sure your weight belt is securely closed, hold your mask tight and take the leap. It is a long way down. Once in the water, take off your mask and wash it out. Sink to the bottom.
Straight away you will notice heaps of junk, old piles and timber sections from the jetty, parts of conveyor belt and other items. For now, go in one direction or the other, it does not really matter. I would go south as this is the larger section and there is more to see. Stick to one side of the jetty (say the open sea side) and return along the other. This way you see more of the dive site. There are numerous pylons holding up the jetty, with huge amounts of growth on the timber piles. The junk has heaps of growth as well and there is a lot of kelp all over the place, as well as sea grass. As you go along you see huge schools of fish between the pylons. I do not know a lot of the names of these fish, as they are not the same as fish we get in New South Wales. Of the familiar ones, there were large schools of old wives, seapike, whiting as well as quite a few boarfish.
Of course, the main aim here is to find sea dragons and soon you will see the first of many. Of course, if you have luck like me (that is not real good), then you will see common sea dragons. I saw a total of 11 on my dive there. They are a bit different to the ones we get in NSW. Our common sea dragons are a very yellow colour, whereas the ones under the jetty (and I presume elsewhere in South Australia) are very green in colour. Maybe it is a adaption due to the kelp being a bit greener that our very yellow kelp. The ones we found were fairly small and we did not see any very large ones. They were quite easy to spot, swimming in and out of the kelp and sea grass.
Some other strange fish I saw included a very small green fish that looked a bit like a blade of sea grass and, of course, swam in and around the smae grass. These fish lived in small schools. There were also some very ugly fish, with large eyes and spines along its back. I have not been able to find them in any fish book I own. Many other species I saw were also fish not seen (normally?) in NSW.
Once I got to the end of the jetty, I turned around and came back along the shore side of the jetty. More common sea dragons were seen. Along with the junk, I saw things like chairs that had blown off the jetty lying on the bottom. After 45 minutes I had still not seen a leafy sea dragon and we were at the T intersection so I turned right and went along the main section of the jetty. A short distance down the jetty I finally found what I was here to see, a leafy sea dragon. So tiny, so fragile looking, so beautiful! What a magnificient fish! I videoed it for quite a while and it was fantastic to finally see one in real life.
Goal attained, I headed back to the end section of the jetty and did a bit of exploring on the northern end before returning to the dive platform. This is where it gets a bit hard. My buddy climbed onto the ladder and removed his fins before climbing up the ladder to the platform. He then took off his tank and came back down the ladder to collect my fins and then my video camera. Only then could I climb the ladder. If I was a regular diver here, I would invest in a couple of long ropes and clips and hang these off the platform to enable the camera and perhaps my BCD and tank to be connected and then hauled up once I got to the platform.
Again, the walk back to the car park is a long and tiring event, but at least I am cool for the return trip.
This is a great dive, one of the best shore dives I have done in Australia (nothing beats the Coolidge as a shore dive). If you a visiting from outside South Australia, or even an Adelaide diver, take the effort to do this dive.