Discoveries at Julian Rocks

While waiting for the end of the cyclone season to head north, we have been exploring interesting underwater spots we had not had the opportunity to see before. Julian Rocks was next on our snorkel list. This is a nature reserve two nautical miles off Cape Byron in northern NSW, known for its prolific aquatic life.

Protected and world heritage-listed, the ‘Rock’ – as Julian Rocks is affectionately called by the locals – has been a marine reserve since 1982. Indigenous Bundjalung people know Julian Rocks as ‘Nguthungulli’ (Father of the World), the creator of land, water, animals and plants in Aboriginal Dreamtime.

Just like we found at the Solitaries, the convergence of warm tropical and cool temperate waters create a unique underwater biodiversity hosting an abundance of marine life. Although the visibility was poor with very murky water and quite a bit of current wrapping around the rocks, we got to observe a variety of species, some of which we had never seen before, making this snorkeling spot a highlight. We both took lots of photos during a couple of dives to increase our chances of getting good shots; just as well, as we had to trash many due to the amount of backscatter and lack of clarity. Depending on the depth we were in and time of day the shots were taken, the colour, visibility and light were not always the best but we captured critters you might not have seen before.

The Marine Parks moorings at Julian Rocks are designed for runabouts, far too small for Anui. However you know us, we have ways of getting around these challenges. So we left the big boat anchored in front of Main Beach at Byron Bay, and we took the dinghy! It is a busy spot, especially on the weekend with both private and commercial vessels, but we had fun and in fact had two dives during the calm albeit overcast weather.

A friend of ours said to us: “Julian Rocks, it’s a bit sharky!” Well yes, but the type of sharks that visit are quite docile! So let us introduce you to a couple of these and other critters we encountered.

Leopard Sharks (Stegostoma fasciatum)

When was the last time you saw something for the first time? We just love that sense of awe and wonder. We were very excited to observe several Leopard Sharks, a first for us. Unlike any other shark we have seen, they are quite large, from 2.5m to 2.8m, but not aggressive when approached and generally considered to be harmless. It is special to get close to them and feel no apprehension. We had to work for it though, diving down to a minimum of 5-meter depth to spot them. With their long, tapered tail swishing gracefully back and forth, they are slow swimmers, which makes them relatively easy to follow and we also saw several lying on the bottom having a snooze. They are nocturnal creatures, so we think ourselves lucky to have seen them swimming as well as lying motionless on the seafloor! As you can see, they are very distinctive with dark spots, strong ridges along the upper sides, an elongated upper tail fin. They feed on crabs, molluscs and small bony fish.

Wobbegong Sharks (Orectolobus maculatus)

Another species of sharks we saw was the Spotted Wobbegong, a type of carpet shark. We were quite familiar with them but pleased to see them nevertheless as they are classified as a vulnerable species. Like the Leopard Sharks, they are nocturnal. We saw several laying flat on a rocky reef and even spotted an aggregation of them snuggled in a furrow. They are large bottom dwelling ambush predators, 1.5 to 1.8m long. They have distinctive markings with white O shaped spots over a banded green or brown coloured body, barbels around the snout and tiny little white eyes which keep a check on you. Being well camouflaged, when they hide under ledges they can be hard to spot by divers and if touched by mistake, they can inflict a painful bite.

Still no Grey Nurse Sharks, but we are told they are winter visitors to these parts so we were a bit too early.

White Spotted Eagle Rays (Aetobatus ocellatus)

White Spotted Eagle Rays, which are near threatened and protected, were another delight. These graceful creatures seemed to fly through the water. We found them mainly down around the 3 to 5 meter depth mark, but having said that, we also saw one breaching, launching itself clear out of the water as we were nearing the Rock in the dinghy. While snorkeling we saw them swimming alone as well as in small groups – a fever! They tend to be wary of divers and difficult to approach. White Spotted Eagle Rays are named for the distinctive white spots over their dark upper side, their fins that flap like wings, and their protruding snout that resembles an eagle’s beak or duck’s bill. They have a white underbelly, a very long whip like tail with two to six venomous barbs. Their wingspan can reach 3 meters and when they put the speed on, you have no hope of keeping up with them! They feed on molluscs, whelks and crustaceans.

Other Critters

Other marine life that attracted our attention were a few medusa called Aequorea Australis which we had not spotted before, some getting eaten by Spotted Sawtails, schools of Bigeye Trevallies and Spotted Darts, several Green Sea Turtles, Longfin Batfish, even the very tropical Orange Basslets and Moorish Idols.

With threatening rain and thunderstorms, we only stayed anchored at Byron Bay for two days, but would easily revisit Julian Rocks, although this is another site requiring calm conditions!

Visiting dolphins as we leave Byron Bay with Julian Rocks in the distance

We are now back on the Gold Coast equipping Anui with some new gear. More on this in a future post.

25 thoughts on “Discoveries at Julian Rocks

  1. Another interesting and rewarding stop. Being able to dive that bit deeper really pays off. Exciting to see new creatures and seeing the ray breaching, I can imagine the whoops of delight from you two.
    Hope the fitting of new bits and pieces doesn’t take too long.

    • Hi Ann, Julian Rocks was the best spot of the last month. A Lot to see despite the low vis. We have a couple of weeks of hanging around but then starting to head north.

  2. Have penciled time in this afternoon for ‘sharks and rays’ about which I know but little . . . love all the photos especially those of the turtles! Had heard of Julian Rocks of course – know more of those also . . . big smile! Hope you have a good Easter and that the rain and wind band ‘promised’ as a Good Friday ‘gift’ does not disturb . . . best!!!

  3. Hey Chris
    Thanks for bringing us these beaut pics at Julian Rocks!!
    Brings back fond memories of my dives there many years ago.
    By the way, what’s the Latin term for “Other Critters” ? 🤣
    How are you both going?

    • Hey Waz, don’t know about Latin but in French it’s “autres bestioles”! We are okay… a bit bored and over the waiting… only two more weeks and we are out of here starting our pilgrimage north!

  4. You both must be enjoying the deeper diving. The free diving course well worthwhile I suspect. Certainly a bonus at this spot. Enjoying your adventures from afar!

    • Hi Amanda, yes it helps to be comfortable going further down, especially in these conditions. We would not have spotted much otherwise. Bet you are counting the days for your own adventure!

  5. Hi Chris, Thanks for the post!

    I noticed something odd. When I click on leopard shark images to see full screen images 1,2,4 doesn’t appear, but 3 and 5 do. When I click on white spotted eagle ray, image 1 doesn’t appear, but 2,3,4 do.

  6. I agree with your phone comments, I loved this post with so many interesting sharks and the wonderful rays. In Gosford, drove to Terrigal and Avoca today, it was nice to see the sun and sea. Walked too far but am already in bed to recover. It is going to take a while. I hope all is going ok with the work. Enjoy

    • Hi Sue, Julian Rocks was good. We loved seeing the sharks and rays.
      Pace yourself my friend, but we understand your desire to be out in the sunshine after the past weeks.

      • Never been there, what a feast of critters and colour! Have surfed at Byron and been attacked by a bunch of kids on the beach when I was 12, but that’s the limit of my Byron region experiences …

      • We were boarded by kids at Coffs… Anui appeared to be their preferred diving spot next to the jetty! Very annoying.

        Julian Rocks was a first. We generally stop at Byron every trip south or back north, but never dared to snorkel at the Rock! So worth it…

      • Claire reminded me that we had seen an eagle ray in the estuary at Red Rock. (One of our favourite camping & kayaking spots)

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