More Solitary Explorations

This week we have continued our explorations around the Solitary Isles but had to be very patient with uncooperative weather. Just as well we were not on a schedule! While we were waiting for favourable conditions to visit the northern islets, we stayed based in Coffs Harbour.

Two weeks at Coffs Harbour, alternating between one side of the jetty and the other!

Korffs Islet

Just in front of Coffs Harbour is Korffs Islet. Although not strictly part of the Solitaries, we could not resist checking it out while the weather was acceptable because it is so close. Our curiosity was also piqued as Korffs Harbour was the original name for Coffs Harbour. It was given by shipbuilder Captain John Korff after taking shelter there from a storm during 1847. The Captain’s namesake was short lived as it was accidentally changed to Coffs Harbour by a surveyor during 1861. The islet however escaped the name distortion.

Korffs Islet being outside of the Marine Park we were able to anchor the dinghy and snorkel together! We could even have gone fishing but did not. Although the water clarity was not great, the amount of marine life was impressive: Mackerels jumping in the current, dense schools of Golden Bulls Eye fish snaking through the gutters, Gropers, Cods, a beautiful frilly white Sea Worm we had never seen before, lots of sponges of different shades… all this amid textural kelp from temperate waters swaying back and forth in the surge and acres of dusty pink seaweed.

It was one of these spots where if you dive down deeper you escape the algal bloom, the visibility is better, the colours and details of the sea floor sing. However ideally you want the strobes on the camera which we had not put on. It is always a bit of a gamble with strobes: they make the rig much bigger and awkward to freedive with; if there are particles in the water, they make them stand out like a snow blizzard, but if you do without and dive further down than two meters or in overcast conditions as we did, your photos are too dark. Anyway, here is what we got after spending some time developing the images in the electronic dark room. Do click on the first photo in the gallery and swipe left to see each shot in full screen.

North West Solitary

Next was North West Solitary. In light conditions, we decided to motor with Anui the 20 nm there, enjoy a snorkel then return to Coffs, leaving North Solitary and North West Rock for the last outing before getting into Yamba.

We are very glad we did this out and return trip as it meant we could take our time to properly check out the islet with its extensive coral gardens on the western side of the island. This was a point of difference with the other sites we visited. The schools of Neon Damsels were also a striking sight in their iridescent blue which we had not seen anywhere else. The algal bloom was again blanketing the surface of the water, but it offered some interesting shots as did the effervescence of the ocean where the waves were breaking on the rocks.

North Solitary

For the last of the Solitary Isles excursions we were hopeful we would see some particularly interesting marine life. Thursday was the magic day when we finally motored 20nm away from Coffs Harbour not to return, full of hope we would enjoy the best of the Solitaries. We were not disappointed.

We went to the northern end of the island, to Anemone Bay which is reported to have the biggest aggregation of giant anemones on the Australian coast. The bay is protected from southerly swells by the island.

The water was crystal clear, in fact deceptively so. The bottom looked close yet was actually 12 to 16m down right to the edge of the rocks. So our snorkel was quite challenging. But there was so much to see: anemones of course, different species of hard and soft corals, see ferns, urchins, egg cowries, sea stars. We kept looking for nudibranchs and although we did not see any, we did spot several of their egg clusters. The fish life was plentiful with schools of Drummers, Damsels, Silver Sweep. We saw a few tropical species like the Blue Tangs and the Moorish Idols. We were on the lookout for Grey Nurse Sharks in the deep gullies, but did not see any. The rich colours were amazing: lots of burgundy, pink and green covering the seafloor and rocks. Abundance and vibrancy are the words that come to mind when describing beautiful Anemone Bay.

Although the visibility was excellent and the weather sunny, to photograph anything you had to dive a long way down. So this time, Chris connected the strobes to the camera housing, determined to get well lit shots of all the critters lurking deep down. It is actually the first time both were flashing at near full strength. Without them, we would have had black shots! This slide show is some of what we saw.

  • Anemones at North Solitary
  • Boulder Star Coral at North Solitary
  • Sea urchins at North Solitary
  • Lobophyllia Coral at North Solitary
  • Egg Cowrie at North Solitary
  • Sea star at North Solitary
  • Sea Urchin at North Solitary
  • School of Pacific Drummers at North Solitary
  • Nudibranch Egg Cluster at North Solitary
  • Moon Wrasses at North Solitary
  • Sea Star and anemones at North Solitary
  • Carnation Coral and Anemone at North Solitary
  • Carnation soft corals and anemone at North Solitary
  • Anemone at North Solitary

This day was the absolute highlight of our Solitary Isles Explorations. We are so pleased we waited and waited. Sometimes marking time can be mind numbing. But it was worth it!

We went past North West Rock, a kilometer further on, but the wind had picked up and the exposed site was a bit too lively for our liking. So we did not go for another snorkel. Instead we raised the sails and enjoyed a great 30nm passage to Yamba, managing to cross the Clarence River bar just before high tide at the end of the afternoon.

This concludes our explorations of the Solitary Islands. Our last two posts demonstrate the advantage of not sailing to a schedule. These islands are exposed, demanding the calmest of conditions; they are also spread over 75kms of coast line, so quite a distance which in a light breeze can also mean motoring! To enjoy a snorkel or dive at each one, you need time and you need to wait for the weather so you get low swell, decent water clarity and good light. Most yachts just sail through without stopping. Yet we hope you will agree, the Solitaries and their diverse marine life are worth visiting.

As we post this, we are moving on to Byron Bay for a few more snorkeling sessions at a new spot for us, Julian Rocks, while the conditions are calm. More on this next week!

23 thoughts on “More Solitary Explorations

  1. The water was cloudy but you did capture many beautiful photos anyway. Are barnacles on the drives already? No way!

    • Hi John, yes the water clarity was not ideal, but better further off the coast and down deeper. Barnacles… yes a few on the sail drives but really easy to wipe off with the gloved hand. We haven’t been doing long runs, when you sit they tend to collect.

  2. Glad you stopped and waited long enough to capture the diversity and colour of the underwater life. The fact that so many just pass by might be a very good thing for the health of the area. Some of the colours are amazing.

    • Morning Ann! Yes the Solitaries are not well known. The commercial dive boats tend to favour South Solitary but we haven’t seen anyone at the others. As you say a good thing in a way. We checked out all the moorings during our dives and most looked like they had not been serviced for ages! By far the best for colour was North Solitary. It was a “grand” site where you felt the depth and size. Nice way to end our tour!

  3. Glad you’ve been having some good snorkels. How did you find out about the Solitary islands?

    • Hi Graham, yes it’s the beauty of this group of islets at the meeting point between temperate Southern waters from warm waters from the East Coast Current. You should go there in Asteroid!

  4. Hello from practical me – are you proposing to print your tracking address on all future posts? I just love to see exactly where you are when I click on and ‘what you are doing’ . . . . . moving at 5 knots at the moment 🙂 !!!

    • Hi Eha, our satellite reference is on the website so you have access to it on all posts as long as we use PredictWind. It has been on there for over a year BTW 😊. And yes very slow moving under spinnaker as there is hardly any wind, but it beats motoring. Did you like what we got up to this week?

    • Hi Mick, yes the free-diving course was really worthwhile but you need to keep training to keep your breath holds long enough! Jetty Dive at Coffs do tours to South Solitary in particular and in the right conditions to North Solitary. Good if you want to scuba dive.

  5. Thanks for the pics and news. The Solitaries look fantastic, a bit of everything and the colours were really great. The news from here is the specialist and his entourage visited about an hour ago and my lungs are pretty shot. I will be here for 7 days on the antibiotic drip. I cannot tolerate it orally.. so at this stage I will get out next Wednesday, all things going well. Take care and travel safely

  6. Glad that the weather enabled you to get an albeit brief look at the Solitaries. I hope that Byron treats you kindly.

    • Hi Bill, the Solitaries were worth finally snorkeling at, with the best for last! Now at Byron… Julian Rocks tomorrow if the weather allows!

  7. Stunning shots Chris! never would have imagined all that colour and beauty in the sub-tropics.

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