S.S. Yongala and Wheeler Reef
First port of call was Wheeler Reef. Made up of mainly small to medium bommie clusters and meandering sand paths it was very easy to get lost, though with the amazing visibility we didn't do too badly.
Towards the end of the day, we found a large school of fusiliers being mercilessly picked off by a big school of black trevally. Absolutely huge fish, some nearly 2 metres long. White tip reef sharks cruised along underneath the carnage, picking up stunned near misses.
S.S. Yongala was an absolutely amazing dive. 110 metres of wreck, lying on its side in 30 metres of water covered from bow to stern with soft corals, sea fans, spongues and plant life. Green turtles, Qld Grouper and Coral Trout where everywhere. Black Trevally and white tip sharks cruised nearby and shovelnose and huge bull rays glided effortlessly along in the current.
A wreck is a bit difficult to dive, and often we found the current in the shipping channel a bit daunting. Mostly we were mored on the down current side, so you initially swam into the current to the far end of the wreck, turned around, and flew back to the start.
S.S. Yongala is easily the best diving on the GBR I've done so far.
Great Keppel Island (Diving)
It took about an hour and a half to get over to the island from the Roslyn Bay marina, and we were in the water by lunch time.
The water wasn't the cleanest, but it was delightfully warm. We started with a reconasance snorkle before a shallow (4 metre) dive to get the guys used to their gear again.
After some lunch, we moved to another spot and did another dive with more skills this time. I basically hung around nearby taking photo's while masks were cleared, etc.
We anchored near Big Penisula, part of the Great Keppel Island, and did a spot of fishing before dinner. We caught a fair few fish, even caught a couple of keepers to have for dinner.
Finished the night off watching the amazing view of the stars while listening to the surf on the nearby beach - wonderful.
The Cliffs, Lady Musgrave Island
We moved along the right hand side of one wall and got down to about 18 meters before turning back. The wall was covered in sea anemone’s giant clams, assorted corals and lots of little nooks and crannies. There were fish everywhere, lots or Moorish Idols and Angelfish, moon wrasse, triggerfish and sergeants.
Tim indicated he had a problem with his air, which I couldn’t work out precisely why at the time, but we headed back. It was quite a swim back as it turned out, because the current had changed direction.
Tim had snagged his reg on his jump from the boat, and the reg and the first stage were leaking air. This can be seen in a couple of the photos below. This time we decided to go the high side of the wall we just looked at and head up into much shallower water to look at the smaller fish and the coral.
The current had died down. We found the top of the wall and swam along the top of it. The top was similar to the previous dive along the bottom of the wall.
After a short time, we came to a field of small bommies interspersed with gutters of sang. It was quite nice to swim along these channels, looking under ledges, or swimming over the small bommies. Again, so of the bezt colour was to be found in around 6 metres of water or less. The fish life was spectacular, in all the colours of the rainbow.
We headed back at about 110 bar, because I remembered the sort of swim back we had last time. In slightly deeper water, we came across a small group of Emporer Snapper. No wonder they call these guys snapper, they have huge mouths. While looking at the snapper, a single small manta ray came swimming past and did a large circle around us and moved off between us and the boat.
I was glad to see the German couple, Simone and Thomas at the anchor chain when we got back – almost certainly they had seen the manta. Their luck had not been good in this department and had missed each on so far.
Tim had not seen one either, and the guys had also seen it, so it turned out to be an excellent finishing dive to a great trip.
Lady Musgrave Island
The bommie had a couple of large swim throughs that are always fun, one filled with thousands of baby fish, translucent, and strangely not frightened by our approach (safety in numbers?). As you swam through the crack they would part in front of you and close in behind, so that everywhere you looked was thick with fish.
The bommie had a lot of large overhangs, most of them built by large sponges. They looked like cereal bowls glued upside down all around the bottom. The overhangs stopped about 2 feet from the sand, and under each lurked a small group of large sweetlips, cod, coral trout, or snapper.
Further around the other side was another of those huge Hump-headed Maori wrasse that were beginning to become the signature fish of this trip.
This was a delightfully diverse dive. Lots of large and small fish, coral, sponges, sand, and colour. Jason and I decided to get a closer look at the coral wall that forms the lagoon at Lady Musgrave Island. This would entail leaving the anchor at about 10 - 12 metres and making a long swim on a compass bearing towards the shallow coral.
It was well worth the effort, as the diversity and colour of the coral life on the edge of the lagoon was some of the best on the trip. There were large plate corals, thick and thin staghorn corals in all sorts of colours. Every colour was represented - yellows, red, greens, blue and interestingly it at the shallower depths, mixtures of colours on corals. For example, yellow staghorn coral with blue and purple tips.
Fish life nearer the shallow coral was understandably smaller, but more diverse. All sorts of small fish, and juvenile fish of larger species were using the coral as a safe haven. They'd quickly move deeper into the safety of the coral as we approached - however, quite hovering nearby would soon see them cautiously re-emerge.
At 100 bar we turned to head back to the boat. The long swim back, with the addition of a little extra distance from our exploring of the reef used up all of my air, and I had to share air with Jason for the last bit of the swim back.
A lot of people specifically want to see just the fish on the reef, and miss out of the coral. I'm glad we took the opportunity to go shallower and have a look at the coral specifically. Overall a great dive.
Lady Musgrave Is, Split Bommie
The boat lay in around 10 meters of water, and was a stones throw from two bommies, the one we’d just looked at, split bommie, and another not far away. Tracey had also told us about a small bommie off to the right of the main one which was home to a large black moray eel. This clinched it, we’d take in all the bommies, ending with the moray eel.
We didn’t spend too long at split bommie, as we’d seen most of it snorkelling. We did a couple of laps around the base, and swam through the splits. We also had a quick foray into the cave at the bottom of the bommie. Inside the cave, Tim spotted a shark, and indicated as much to us. Knowing that usually the only sharks that live in caves are wobbygongs, I went back in very carefully, not able to see what he was talking about. I came back out for more clarification and found out there was another chamber off to the right. Back inside I saw what all the fuss was about – a largish white tip reef shark having a wee nap on the bottom in the safety of a cave.
We left the split bommie and headed for the other smaller bommie to the rear of the boat. It was covered in green sponges and stag horn coral, and surrounded by large fish. I spotted a nudibranch at the bottom of the bommie, and spent some time try to get a photo of it.
This bommie also had numerous giant clams here and there, also in all sorts of colours. These clams seem to be light sensitive, each time I put the light on one, it would retract its mantle and close slightly…
We then headed off to where we thought the moral eel would be, and found a tiny bommie. We had a good look around, but could see no sign. It was not a disappointment, however, because nearby was a huge potato cod, easily the largest fish I’ve ever seen. He would have been easily 1.5 meters long. An absolutely mammoth fish. He swam off as we got closer.
An excellent dive.The boat had been moved in closer to Lady Musgrave Island for the night, as we weren’t able to make it to Lady Elliot Island due to the weather. Tracy was taking James on a navigation dive for his coarse at this spot, and we’re were going to have the night dive here. I was keen to dive again, and Jason wasn’t feeling the best and opted out.
I went mainly to check out the area so that I knew what to expect for the night dive – it would be good to get the lay of the land.
I didn’t take the camera, as it would be a distraction to my goal of remembering where everything was. I also didn’t have a buddy as such for the dive, rather I just stayed within vision of Tracey and James. This was a good experience because of the freedom it allowed.
We saw a green turtle, half asleep. He must have been finding a spot to settle down for the night because after we disturbed him, he went straight back to where he was. I made note of this spot, and others like it – we were more than certainly likely to have a turtle on the night dive.
On the way back to the boat, we saw a black lionfish crossing the sand. It was juvenile, and quite small. It had streamer like fins coming from the tips of its spins. It looked like a Chinese dragon moving slowly across the sand.
Just before the end of the dive, two manta rays passed overhead quite quickly. They must have been on a mission, perhaps finding a spot for the night. Jason was up for the night dive, and quite keen. I imagine because the previous night dive he had to go with the instructor (his first night dive).
This time we did our own thing. It was definitely worthwhile doing the orientation dive on this site earlier in the afternoon. I new precisely where all the spots I wanted to look at were. We took in several of the spots I though might house turtles, and found that they did in fact have turtles in them. I took a few quick photo’s of these lovely creatures, trying very carefully to not disturb them. I did unfortunately wake one up and he swam off, but he soon returned to bed after we concealed the lights.
We also saw a couple of biig moon wrasse under big pieces of plate coral, lots of sea urchins. The sea urchins on the reef have much longer spines than their Sydney cousins, and are less numerous.
I’m very happy with the Alpha light as a night dive light. Its more than enough light, in fact I had to partially cover it most times to prevent it spooking the fish.
Jackson Bomie, Fairfax Is and Lady Musgrave Island (Night)
The current was moving to push us towards the bommie, but since we had a destination in mind, and it was not far away, we went to the bommie, knowing we'd have to swim against the current to get back.
The bommie is just as I remembered it - large and castle like in its scale next to the surrounding coral, teaming with life both large and small, and home to a multitude of brilliantly coloured sponges and plate corals.
The bommie offers several nice swim thoughs, one of which was packed with 2 inch long juvenile fish, all moving in unison, but curriously unafraid of us. The other swimthrough was the domain of a couple of large giant sweetlip, and a stately coral trout.
Also lurking nearby was another huge humpheaded maori wrasse. To top of an already fantastic dive, a medium manta ray came gliding by to give us a quick show. Manta rays are such majestic and gracefull animals. Night dives are always a treat. The rest of the group had not done a night dive before and were going as a group with the instructor. Tim and I however, had done a few already, so we were free to do our own thing.
The boat was in around 12 metres of water, enough to keep it shallow for the group. At this depth near Lady Musgrave island though, there is maily staghorn coral everywhere. We moved into deeper water when it became evident that the staghorn was not going to give way to anything more interesting nearby. In deeper water, the sponges and larger plate corals joined bommie style rocks to give a more comfortable place for fish to sleep.
We startled a couple of quite big angelfish, and an enormous batfish during the dive, however, neither stayed around for long.
The highlight of the night dive was the colourfull fans that come out when its calm and dark, brilliant reds abd yellows and greens. Its strange that these bright colours should only be out during the night, when nothing can see them.
Hundreds of red reef shrimp stared their beedy eyes at us from the coral. If you got the slightly uneasy feeling you're being watched diving at night, these fellows are the reason why.
At the end of the dive, we spotted a green turtle asleep under a rock, but I was out of air and had to head up for the safety stop, but my buddy got a closer look.
This dive we followed the anchor chain down to 16 metres or so, the normal proceedure for boat diving. Fields of staghorn coral below and swarms of fish, combined with the fantastic visibility means you feel like you're flying above the world.
We swam off to the left of the anchor chain, the coral slowly changing from hard staghorn to the softer brain style corals as the water got slightly shallower.
We saw a couple of nudibranchs, a large blue and yellow specimen a highlight. Lots of different sea anenome, with their usual accompaniment of a pair of striped anenome fish.
After we turned back, we headed down into deeper water a little and swam past a couple of small bommies. Haunting these were 3 of the largest fish I've ever seen. At least 2 of them were hump headed maori wrasse, and possibly the third. Unusually for big fish, they moved away from us as we approached. (I suppose, you don't get to be that big without being cautious).
I had new O-Rings in the camera, so for this first time, I took an empty shell to confirm its seal, it worked fine. In the drink with my old friend Jason - it was nice to have him here, to catch up and to enjoy doing something we have a common interest in.
I had spotted a nice Nudibranch last dive, a large blue and yellow beastie (???), and now that I had my camera with me, I was keen to get a shot of it for my collection.
The current was quite strong for this dive. The tide had changed and the water was moving in the opposite direction than it had been on the previous dive. We moved away from the anchor chain into the current, and slightly towards the island into shallower water.
Ubundant fish life, loitering around the protection of the hard staghorn corals. The fish tended to retreat to the safety of the coral whenever we approached, but if you lingered, they'd cautiously re-emerge.
We spotted a rather angry looking octopus. When I put the video light on it to take a photo, it really set him off. Wave after wave of bright colour flowed over his skin, red, yellow, green...
A few smaller nudibranchs here and there. Is didn't manage to find my little blue and yellow friend though, bugger.