Remembering what you have at Julian Rocks, NSW, Australia

Good Friday 3rd April 2015

Today Nick K and I decided to do one long dive at our favourite local dive spot Julian Rocks in Northern NSW, Australia. We had missed most of Summer diving here due to a few overseas dive trips, and I was eager to get some footage of the Zebra Sharks more commonly known as Leopard Sharks locally, before they moved out to warmer waters.

We headed to the Needles and the Aquarium which is a name we gave it last Summer due to the dense amount of fish life and Leopard sharks swirling around in one spot. As we were doing a long dive we decided to wait half an hour for after everyone got in, our strategy being to have the spot all to ourselves as three other boats descended upon the site.

The visibility was milky and ranged from 5-10 metres with quite a bit of swell and some surge, although no current. I thought welcome back to diving in Australia, no 50 metre visibility at this dive site!

We didn’t see anything out of the ordinary for about 25 minutes and were starting to think the other boats had scared the everything away. But we waited patiently then all the animals started to come back, and as we had hoped we were the only ones there to enjoy it.

We saw a Manta Ray with a school of fish trailing it and four huge Remoras underneath it, it hung around with us for about 15 minutes. A dozen or more Leopard Sharks started to come back and swam around us. Lots of schools of Tropical fish including a huge Snapper, Mackeral and Barracuda swimming solo. The Manta Ray looked so miniature compared to the giant Pacific Manta Rays we recently dived with in Socorro.

A huge black Bull Ray came towards me, and then, as if stunned by my lights hovered right in front of my camera for what seemed like ages before it swam just underneath me. A little unnerving as I strategically placed my camera between its barb and my body.

We saw Green turtles and the big Loggerhead resident turtles, Flute fish and a Guitar shark.

Nick found about eight Leopard Sharks having a rest on the sand and I thought super! as due to the visibility filming them swimming around wasn’t ideal unless I was very close to them. I snuck up to them on the sand and managed to position myself in between them all. Very gently I started filming them and they got pretty used to me. After half an hour of filming them I had one in front of me so close its tail was actually brushing against me in the surge and it really didn’t seem bothered. I was lucky enough to have the time to really frame some nice shots and even got in front of them and got some close footage of their cute puppy dog smiles.

By this time it was 100 minutes into the dive and we still had a heap of gas left. I asked Nick if we should go up because we told Blue Bay we would be about 100 minutes. Nick had already seen Christina down there and so instead just shot an SMB up to signal to the boat we were ok and we continued on for another 20 minutes. By that time I had so much 4k footage of the Leopard Sharks my camera battery died and we saw a huge Sting Ray very close on the ascent.

It was an absolute fantastic dive, we literally swam around a small area and saw it all! It just makes you realise how lucky you are to have a dive site like this as your local. I guess we take it for granted, we travel all over the world when we have some of the best diving right here on our doorsteps! Gotta love it!

Diving Flat Rock Stradbroke Island with Grey Nurse Sharks

Wednesday 13th August 2014

Today was a public holiday and we headed over to Straddie to dive. It was sunny yet cold and I was glad I was in my drysuit. It was pretty curly on the surface with a 2 metre swell and chilly wind.

We went to the shark gutters and Kev and I descended and headed to the gutter to greet several beautiful Grey Nurse sharks who were lingering. The visibility was fairly good at about 20 metres and there was no current and just a little surge on the bottom.

We practically spent the entire dive a mere 25 metres from the mooring because the sharks just hung around the whole dive. They were pretty curious and a few of them came directly towards me getting pretty close.

I couldn’t help but think if I was in the rebreather they probably would’ve bumped me in the face by accident! I tried to take a long time to breathe in and only let the odd bubble out for as long as possible so that I didn’t scare off the sharks with my bubbles.

We did a 50 minute dive here with a maximum depth of 25 metres.

On the surface interval one of the girls who intended to snorkel was really sea sick as it had gotten even more wild on top whilst we were diving, so we dropped her off back at shore with her friend. It was freezing on the surface and I don’t know how the guys in their wetsuits were coping!

For the second dive we headed to the Western side of Flat rock to try to see the Bull sharks. One of the divers saw two but I didn’t see them. I did see two large schools of Mobular rays, lots of Green turtles, lots and lots of Tropical fish, a huge Barracuda, a few schools of Pelagics and lots of anemones and Clown fish.

It was a pleasant dive with again no current, visibility about 15 metres. We did a 40 minute dive here with a maximum depth of 28 metres.

120 minute dive on the BNE ex HMAS

Saturday 22nd June, 2014

Nick K, Nick R, Gary, Ross and I decided to do one long dive on the wreck with the intention of exploring out wide to find the Giant groupers and sharks we saw the other weekend. Visibility was 20-25 metres and water temperature was 21 degrees Celsius.

Ross shone his canister light on the first grouper and then we saw about four after that. They didn’t let us get that close to them, edging out wider and wider from the wreck. Throughout the rest of the dive we saw them a few more times, probably about seven in total.

There was a large school of juvenile Kingfish that hung around our group for most of the dive. We checked out under the stern to see if the pelagics were there like the other weekend but they weren’t, just a lonely Cod and a school of Baitfish. Nick saw some large Snapper mating and we saw Barracuda, and Spanish Mackerel.

There was no current so it was lovely circumnavigating the boat a few times. I found a torch and gave it to Nick K to take up, there was also a pointer and some weights on the sand by the bow but no-one could be bothered bringing them up. I spent quite a bit of time on the bottom with a nice mix of EAN 37 when I was 3 minutes to deco I switched to my stage of EAN 45 at 21 metres and sucked that down before switching back to EAN 37.

The guys went back to the boat and I decided to keep on going. When I turned the dive to head back to the Mag deck I looked at my computer and noticed some how it was showing I was on EAN 50! Not sure what happened there as I was certain I had changed it back to EAN 37 but I decided to then end the dive and do some deco stops just in case as was not sure how long it has been on the wrong gas mix for, despite only being around 14 metres for a while.

So I did a stop at 10 metres for 6 minutes and a stop at 5 metres for 6 minutes then headed back to the boat.

Finished with a dive time of 120 minutes.

Disclaimer: Divers doing extended dives on the wreck or solo are certified to do so.

Solo dive Julian Rocks and Camera tragedy

Saturday 31st May 2014

Today I drove down to Brunswick heads to do some solo diving as the boys were completing their TDI Advanced Wreck course. As I had sent my video light battery back to get repaired I decided to try to get some macro footage and had geared up my camera with a 100mm lens and my Sola 1200 light. I also wanted to try out my new underwater Tripod for the first time.

On the first dive it was a drift dive to the Cod hole. Within minutes I saw three baby Eagle Rays and a huge Barracuda. As I continued down the Turtle trench to the Cod Hole I entered into a school of about 25 large Barracuda about a metre long! Amazing! I had never seen any so big before and so close to me! They didn’t seem to mind me swimming with them. Of course of all days to bring the 100mm!! Argh I could scream! So all I could do was just swim beside them and enjoy the sight.

I continued on to see the Giant Grouper and a huge Cod hiding amongst a school of Sweet Lip and Jewfish outside the Cod Hole. Some large Snapper and Kingfish swam by. I was starting to wonder why I bothered with the 100mm lens at all!

Around the corner I got to see a school of Cow Nose Rays in about six metres of water, as well as a Shovel Nose Ray and some baby Snapper. I completed a 55 minute dive as planned with a maximum depth of 23 metres.

For the second dive I jumped in at the Nursery and tried to find some critters to practise my macro video on. I’m telling you Macro videography is not easy, especially in a current, it’s near impossible.The tiniest movement an show up as a big shake in your footage so you need the camera to be completely still. I set the tripod up and framed a Anemone so that the Clownfish would swim into the frame. This seemed to work well and I think the trick to Macro videography is picking just one subject and spending some time on it getting it right. Patience is key.

After a while I got bored and swam around and found a school of Kingfish and some Moray eels. I then realised I had been swept out wide and back towards the Cod Hold where I didn’t want to be so I surfaced to get a bearing, and descended again. This meant swimming back into the current which was tiring, and as I had misplaced my gloves this morning I couldn’t use my hand to grab and claw my way up through it. I felt quite overexerted by the time I got close to the entrance of the Needles again so I decided to Bail on the dive. Just before I did a Hawksbill turtle came over to say hello. I completed a 51 minute dive with maximum depth of 17 metres.

So I’m sitting at home feeling a bit glum because I wish I had taken my Wide angle lens today, and it suddenly dawns on me to check if there are any spots on the BNE ex HMAS tomorrow….hey presto yes there is! So now I get my second chance, Wide Angle it is! :D

Hi ROOM 6 at Avonhead school!

A big hello and thank-you to Room 6 at Avonhead school for visiting my website and learning more about the Ocean! I hope that you enjoy the pictures and the videos, and that Mrs O’ Sullivan teaches you all about looking after our Oceans, because that is where over 70% of all the oxygen we breathe comes from.

It is also important not to litter, especially plastic as this can be swallowed by friendly turtles, dolphins and birds and hurt them. We also need to protect the biggest predators of the Oceans like the Sharks because even though you may think they are scary they make the Ocean a healthy place for all of the other marine animals and the Coral reefs.

I hope you enjoy studying the Sea with Mrs O’Sullivan! Be good kids!

Anita :)

Julian Rocks goes off with schools of hundreds….

Friday 25th and Saturday 26th April 2014

On Friday we went to the Needles for our first dive.

There were hundreds of Tropical fish and schools of baby Snapper hanging out in what we now call The Aquarium, along with Green turtles, and Leopard sharks. I had just filmed a large Green turtle for ten minutes when a diver from another boat came up to me in huge excitement to tell me there was a turtle ahead. I was trying to tell her that I knew that, and had already filmed it but she carried on doing her signals and jumping out of her pants so I just let her go on then we headed off in another direction.

We entered Hugo’s trench which was jam packed full of fish! Wobbegong sharks littered the sandy floor, and rocky walls. At the end of the trench as if they were having a meeting; several Wobbegong sharks lay in a perfect circle facing one another. Unfortunately avoiding the other boats backfired on us and I think we had nearly every boat of divers around at the Needles with us who were swimming a million miles an hour around the site. We did a 63 minute dive here with a maximum depth 16m.

For our second dive we went to the Cod Hole as the VIS was about 15m and there was no current we enjoyed having a swim around. I spotted a few Eagle rays and swam off after them to try to get close to them. I ended up sneaking up right behind them without them even knowing that I was there. Their tails were touching my camera. I saw five Eagle Rays in total. Then I navigated my way back to the Cod hole to find Nick K and Nick R.

There were dozens of Leopard sharks swimming and some chilling out on the sand.

Leopard shark hangs out with four Remoras up close from Anita Ong on Vimeo.

Nick K saw a giant Spanish Mackerel that was bigger than a Leopard Shark and actually gave him a fright. The Cod hole was packed full of fish and there were more schools of Trevally, Jacks, Kingfish and baby Snapper both above the Cod hole and out wide North of the Cod hole.

We completed a 50 minute dive with a maximum depth of 22m. Nick R surfaced apart from us due to us losing one another but everyone had a fantastic dive nonetheless.

Saturday we were pumped to get back to the Cod hole again and opted for both dives here.

There was nice VIS again about 15m and no current. The site was absolutely going off with a huge school of Big Eye Jacks circling above the Cod hole, along with baby Snapper, Trevally and Kingfish, we also saw Barracuda and Spanish Mackerel.

As we are all solo diver certified we had agreed to do our own thing on the dives today and regroup at 45 minutes by the lower end of the Cod hole to surface together. I swam out wide North East and found a school of a few hundred Kingfish which was very cool. I also hung out with a large Green turtle above the Cod hole for ten minutes who wasn’t phased in the least about me and kept bumping into my dome. I tried to keep up with a Pygmy Manta Ray but it was too fast.

Our first dive was 57 minutes with a maximum depth of 23m.

For our second dive I really wanted to explore as it is pretty rare not having a current outside the Cod Hole. I spotted a few Pygmy Mantas again and took off after them, I was finning as fast as I could but those things can move, and the closest I got was only got about 2m away from them. They had also taken me on a crazy path out into the blue but fortunately I navigated my way back to the Cod hole. There I found a huge beautiful white Cod hiding in a school of baby Pelagics. It let me get quite close to it and I got some nice footage.

Getting close to a great big Cod from Anita Ong on Vimeo.

I swam off North again and found the school of Kingfish. Knowing how much Nick K loves Kingfish and Pelagics in general I decided to swim back to the Cod hole and find the boys to show them. I swam back and signalled to the boys to follow me out. This was fine until Nick K got side tracked by a Barracuda and decided to go East and Nick R went with him. Never mind I thought, I’ll go back there and see how close I can get to them. By now they had swam out quite far, I could see them in the distance as a big shadow and hoofed it out there to catch up to them. I finally caught them a few hundred metres from the Cod hole North East. Once I had caught up to them they changed their behaviour and started to surround me and then started to school around me. It was awesome as I was right in the middle of a few hundred Kingfish and got it all on film! Sorry boys you missed out!

In the middle of a school of Kingfish from Anita Ong on Vimeo.

Nick R saw some Cuttlefish, we also saw Moray Eels, a school of Flute fish, Green turtles feeding, and large Barracuda.

We regrouped as planned and completed our safety stop with a school of Dartfish. A 57 minute dive with a maximum depth of 23m.

Awesome diving, and I’d say my last dive of the day was one of the best I’ve had at this site. Water temperature was 24-25 degrees and I felt reasonably toasty. Some of the other divers on our boat spent some time with two Manta Rays at the Needles. Everyone had an amazing day.

Winter water has arrived for NSW

Saturday 5th April 2013

Today was a stark comparison to the last several weeks of amazing conditions at Julian Rocks, Byron Bay.

For the first dive we dropped in at the Nursery and headed to the Cod hole. VIS was 6m at best and dropped away to 3m in parts. It was one of those days where the VIS isn’t just bad but it seems like it’s snowing floaties in the water. Definitely not good for Photography, even Macro was a stretch for some.

We were eager to see some fish life with the VIS down and the floaties up, but were disappointed to find not much around that side of the rocks. There was a mild current but the biggest surprise of all was the water temperature. With reports of it being 25 degrees just the day before, water temperature got down to a chilly 19!

There was a giant Grouper outside the Cod Hole, we dived through it and then went through the Cray cave on the other side. A few Leopard sharks in the murky shadows but apparently they were all basking in the sun on the surface in the Nursery. For the entire dive I felt cold in my 6-7mm wetsuit and all I could think about was my snuggly drysuit sitting in the wardrobe at home and counting down the minutes for the dive to end. I was happy when it was time to come up and thought I might sit out the next dive.

However after a delicious hot chocolate, a bit of sun on me and about four pies! Thanks to Christina’s delicious morning tea, I felt much warmer to the idea of getting in the chilly water again. So I dropped in at the Nursery first to sort out my white balance on my camera whilst I waited for Mark, Nick R, Nick K and Shannon. Well that was a pretty stupid idea because it took me about one minute to sort that out and then I waited another six minutes in the bloody cold water for the others to get down! Doh!

We swam around to the Needles where I found the Manta circling in the shallows. Much smarter than us as it seems, as it was nice and warm up there. I signalled the others and we hung out with it for about ten minutes. It had eleven Kobia following it and was very friendly. It didn’t seem to mind sharing the warm spot.

Nick then lead us around into Hugo’s trench where all the fish life seemed to be sheltering from the chilly thermaclines. There were schools of Sweet lips in there; usually found in the Cod hole around the other side, schools of Tropical fish and a Huge Bull ray. We then ran into a school of Barracuda, or I should say they ran into us, and swarmed around us which was cool!

Heading back to the boat we came across the Manta again but so had another twenty odd divers so we decided to bail. 

I only got one shot of footage I was mildly pleased with which I have posted here. It was still nice to get wet and be with my besties and it was a beautiful sunny day. Besides you have to have days like this in the water so you truly appreciate it when you do have spectacular conditions. Off to the pub afterwards for the Sea Shepherd fundraiser!