Australia 1: BYRON BAY
Famous for it’s alternative lifestyles and beautiful surf breaks, the small community of Byron Bay harbours a magical secret just off shore: Julian Rocks...
Image: Jean- Marie Ghislain
Wanting to buy a rubber weight belt for Peter, we wander into Byron Bay Dive Center and meet our new best friend; Joe.
Joe Knight is an experienced spearfisherman and SSI Freediving Instructor, with an education in Indian Ayurveda medicine and a heart for the ocean we soon became firm friends and he our self-appointed underwater guide. Launching the boat from the beach, we drive over the well-known right hand point break known as the Pass. There is no swell, thank goodness… my loyalties to the deep always get themselves a bit a testing when seeing perfect peeling waves.
We arrive at the north side of Julian Rocks and jump in. Peter checks and double checks our camera and underwater housing, her first open water adventure with us! Jean-Marie got a terrible flu on the way over from Cape Town and Peter and I do our first dives without the intrepid Belgian.
Julian Rocks are a collection of large black boulders thrown out at sea, close enough for the East Australian Current to sometimes caress the rocks, the life around Julian takes your breath away. Large schools of jew fish, bat fish and fish I’ve never seen. Shy turtles and quietly cruising Ragged Tooth Sharks, known as Grey Nurse Sharks in Australia. Large and toothy they hang quietly in the current, their stillness belying their power, get a little too close and you get a powerful tail cracked at you. As our eyes get used to the new landscape below, Joe points out the hordes of sleeping Wobbegong Sharks, or Carpet Sharks. These curious fish are nocturnal and the way Joe describes it to us is in his lilting Victoria accent is ‘well Wobbegongs rest during the day, and judging by the odd places you find them sleeping, they seem to fall asleep as soon as the sun rises, wherever they are.’ I laugh as a I imagine the oddly patterned whiskered critters fall asleep in the early sunrays, sinking to the bottom where you find them on the rocks, the sand, on coral and in crevices.
Our dive response waking up to the deeper and deeper dives, Peter and I are introduced to the magnificent swim through known as the Cod Hole. Entering the hole at the top at around 15 meters, you swim through a dim tunnel filled to the brim by fish almost as large as me. They stare balefully at me with their mysterious fish eyes before slowly letting me pass. Exiting at around 18 meters the Cod Hole opens onto a sandy patch where a legion of Raggies hang quietly. Hardly moving in the current they are like dream sharks, still and mysterious.
Alternating between shark encounters and turtle games we spend a week exploring our new playground. Jean-Marie stops coughing long enough to join us on some glorious shore entry diving at a spot known as Broken Heads. Rays, turtles, large Raggies and a dark shape larger and decidedly Great White looking. I love this ocean. Alive and wild I feel at home in the sometimes clear sometimes murky water. Sea weed and sandy bottoms, rock structures and occasional currents. Untamed.