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GREAT BARRIER REEF
Best Kept Diving Secret
Published in Dive Log Australasia
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
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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The SALT-X range of products are available directly from Salt-X Australasia,
Discover the Southern Great Barrier Reef www.southerngreatbarrierreef.com.au
Lady Elliot Island Resort www.ladyelliot.com.au