Return to Magazine Index

The stark isolated beauty of the Hoskyn Islands.

SOUTHERN GREAT BARRIER REEF

Queensland’s Best Kept Diving Secret

By Andrew Whitehead

Published in Dive Log Australasia
June 2004

 

We were anchored off the reef at Lady Elliot Island in 25 metres near the famous Blow Hole. The seas were smooth, the weather was hot, sunny, with perfect diving conditions. We swam on the surface to the floats that mark the location of the cave. The water was very clear and we spotted the vertical hole in the reef as we crossed over the wall. We descended to the opening at about 15 metres, then dropped down the hole into a cave which is about 20 metres in length, with a wide entrance on the reef wall.  I found some bones in a small alcove which I presumed to be the remains of a turtle. Incidentally, we found the famous “Gnome fish” in the cave. We cleaned him up and set the little fellow upright to surprise the next visitors!

The divers on this cruise were from the Brisbane area on a four-day trip aboard Big Cat Reality that included full accommodation and up to 18 dives. We had already visited Lady Musgrave Island, the Fairfax Islands, and the Hoskyn Islands in the Bunker Group and then to the isolated Lady Elliot Island.

Departure

Big Cat Reality normally operates in the Moreton Bay Marine Park from Scarborough in Brisbane. On these particular trips, they operate from the Port of Bundaberg near the entrance to the Burnett River. The regional city of Bundaberg is famous for, amongst other things, Bundaberg Rum, sugar, and being the birthplace of the famous pioneer aviator, Bert Hinkler. It is 360 km north of Brisbane, a drive that generally takes about five hours passing through Gympie and Maryborough.

I arrived at the Port of Bundaberg in the late afternoon, spotted Big Cat Reality at the marina, went aboard and claimed my favourite bunk in one of the air-conditioned hulls. I placed my 12 litre (100 cu ft) steel tank behind a seat facing the briefing board and my dive bin underneath.  The marina was a hive of activity as fishermen brought in loads of spanner crabs and re-fuelled for the next day.

Big Cat Reality is a 25 metre, luxury dive charter vessel with facilities to accommodate up to 24 divers and 7 crew including a K180 dive compressor, and a 4.2 metre rigid inflatable rescue vessel and the latest navigation equipment. Big Cat Reality has a 10 metre beam which provides a large stable dive platform.

The ship’s crew for this trip were owner/skipper James McVeigh, George, Jeremy and John. Skipper James usually gives the detailed dive briefing on the position of the ship, the dive site, and the diving conditions. Our Dive Master was Jeremy from the Sunshine Coast who gave the safety briefings and was assisted by the crew in filling the tanks. The crew managed to squeeze in a few dives themselves while being very attentive and looked after us very well.

Other groups of divers arrived during the evening, some having driven up from Brisbane after work. Late that night, we left Bundaberg and headed north to Lady Musgrave Island in the Bunker Group.

The Bunker Group

The Bunker Group National Park is a remote chain of coral cays and reefs about 30 nautical miles off the coast of Queensland. I had visited several islands including Heron Island in the Capricorn Group years ago but had never ventured further south into the Bunker Group.  The Capricorn and Bunker Groups are not a “barrier reef” as such but are portrayed in the tourist brochures as “the southern gateway to the Great Barrier Reef”.  They are a beautiful place to dive! The weather was great, visibility was superb, and the water temperature was between 24-25 deg Celsius the whole time.

Lady Musgrave Island

Lady Musgrave is a coral cay with good tree cover and sits at one end of an extensive reef. The reef surrounds a large lagoon with a wide entrance channel. As we moved from site to site along the outside of the reef, we could see two large vessels and several smaller boats in the lagoon. Before we entered the lagoon ourselves in the late afternoon, we witnessed the departure of the big new whale watching catamaran “MV Eye-Spy” and the day cruise vessel “Spirit of 1770”.

We had a total of seven dives at Lady Musgrave where the visibility was at least 20 metres at all times. The various sites included Manta Bommie, Entrance Bommie and Radar Fix. All the sites had magnificent coral formations and abundant marine life. For example, at Manta Bommie we saw two manta rays, four turtles close together, a whitetip reef shark, a shovelnose ray, a moray eel, a potato cod, a few coral trout, batfish, rainbow runners, two octopuses, and some pipefish.

After the night dive in the lagoon, the crew prepared a barbeque dinner for us including steak, sausages, eggs, onions, salad and bread rolls. Then we tucked into a dessert of apple pie, ice cream and custard. Nobody goes hungry on this boat!

Shipboard Entertainment

Apart from watching the day’s video footage on the TV set, there is a VCR and an extensive library in the lounge/bar/aft dining area. The most popular movies on any trip are maritime disasters like ‘Titanic’!  Those preferring to write up their log books, read the latest Dive Log, or have a quiet chat, tended to sit around the front dining area. For a change of tempo, we watched Neil Harris’s video of diving on the SS President Coolidge, and then “The Blue Planet” presented by David Attenborough.

In order to avoid gear problems from salt corrosion, I always take 100 ml of SALT-X Concentrate and a bucket with a lid. I add the SALT-X to 7 litres of water in the bucket on the first night. I soak my regulators, power inflator, gauges, reel, torch and knives for a few minutes at the end of the day to remove any accumulated salt and then hang them up to dry. The SALT-X can be re-used each day and then used with wetsuit wash to clean your BCD and wetsuit at the end of the trip.

Fairfax Islands

We visited the Fairfax Islands twice on our trip: on the way north to Hoskyn and on the way back to Lady Musgrave. Based on my quick photos from the party deck, these less-visited islands seem to be three coral cays with a surrounding reef and a shallow lagoon.

Our dives were mainly up current along the reef wall, then drifting back over the numerous bommies at about 18 metres. After the dives, we lined up at the galley servery for a smorgasbord lunch of lasagne, potato salad and garden salad.

Hoskyn Islands

The only time that we went ashore was when eight of us explored the deep lagoon between the two coral cays that form the Hoskyn Islands. The tender took us in as far as possible, then we snorkelled in through the small surf until we were able to walk over the reef to the shore. The islands are a bird sanctuary so we were not allowed to venture above the high tide mark. The energetic swimmers saw some turtles in the deep, clear lagoon. My polypropylene suit would have been perfect attire for this little shore excursion. As it was I had to make do with my wet suit, which was too hot in the sun and too buoyant in the water!

Skipper James always positions the boat near the good sites such as coral bommies that are honeycombed with holes, full of fish and the usual moray eel. We had three dives at the Hoskyn Islands including a night dive at the overnight mooring site. The hungry night divers returned aboard for a dinner of beef curry, rice and salad, followed by apricot pie, lemon meringue pie and ice cream. Yum!

Lady Elliot Island

Big Cat Reality completed the three hour trip from Lady Musgrave to the popular resort island of Lady Elliot at 6.30am in time for a quick breakfast and the first dive. As we moved from site to site along the reef wall, we could see the resort buildings, the lighthouse, and small passenger aircraft using the airstrip that runs down the length of the island. James had timed our visit to coincide with the best weather for we had smooth seas, hot, sunny, perfect diving conditions.

We were able to visit two spectacular dive sites on the eastern side of the island along the reef wall where we did our deepest dives for the trip – 24 metres at the Blow Hole and Hiro’s Cave. The visibility was at least 25 metres.

After diving at the Blow Hole, we moved a little south along the reef while the tanks were being filled to a set of floats marking Hiro’s Cave. We swam over and down the wall and found a smaller cave than the Blow Hole but very interesting. There are gorgonians, lots of fish, and a big moray eel that wriggled out beside me as I went in! It’s a great dive but who is this Hiro that is was named after?

We managed to fit in a dive at Anchor Bommie on the other side of the island before departing for Bundaberg. There is a resident moray eel in the Bommie and the two admiralty anchors make a great (digital) photo opportunity.

This was the second of four 4-day trips to the Bunker Group in the southern Great Barrier Reef that have been scheduled for this year. The next ones are at Christmas and New Year. If you want to have your own adventurous weekend of great diving on Big Cat Reality, you can book online www.bigcatreality.com or phone James McVeigh on 07 3881 2384, Mobile 0438 812 384.

Web sites
The SALT-X range of products are available directly from Salt-X Australasia, website www.salt-x.com.au
Discover the Southern Great Barrier Reef www.southerngreatbarrierreef.com.au
Lady Elliot Island Resort www.ladyelliot.com.au

Return to Magazine Index

Return to top


Home News Scuba Diving Articles Author Contact Links