During one of our Brisbane to Sydney road trips, we stopped at Coffs Harbour to go scuba diving South Solitary Island. It takes about 30 minutes by boat to reach the island. Is it worth it? With its lovely lighthouse and all the birds around, the island looks stunning from the boat. We even spotted a couple of sea eagles. Although we had a good time underwater, it was rather a long trip for the number of things we saw during our double dive.
If you’re spending time in Coffs Harbour, it’s a nice local attraction. Diving South Solitary Island is reputed for bringing together the best of two worlds: it has marine life from temperate waters plus the East Australian Current (the one from Nemo) also bringing tropical fish to the area. It is the limit of the range for species so there’s a good opportunity to see them mingling.
But our experience diving South Solitary Island (Buchanan Wall and The Gantry) wasn’t good enough to justify driving four hours from Brisbane. We did see different types of marine life, but there was no wow effect. There are closer dive sites near Brisbane that are at least as good, and cheaper.
However, we didn’t have perfect weather conditions for diving when we reached Coffs Harbour. It had been very windy for a few days and the sea was still rather rough. There were also many students on the boat learning new skills which may have impacted the dive site choice on the day.
Where and when to go diving in Coffs Harbour?
Jetty Dive regularly organise boat trips to South Solitary Island. They also occasionally go to North Solitary Island and use Split Solitary Island as a backup when the weather isn’t great. They have a couple of boats, including a big one that remains comfortable and fast when there is a big swell.
The colder months are great to see grey nurse sharks, but the water temperature drops. We dived from Coffs Harbour in December (summer) and were already cold with our 7mm wetsuits.
What we saw when diving South Solitary Island
We were a bit disappointed by Buchanan’s Wall. After spending half an hour on the boat to reach the marine reserve, we expected to see more life underwater. We’re too spoilt with the local dive sites near Brisbane. Still, we saw a few fish (Royal Blue Tang – Dory in Nemo, clownfish and many others), a few nudibranchs, beautiful cowries and a cute small octopus.
We found The Gantry dive site a lot more interesting than Buchanan’s Wall. We did a drift dive which was more fun to navigate, and there was a lot more to see. Early in the dive, we saw two beautiful bull rays and a wobbegong shark just a bit further. We particularly loved the Spanish Dancer we spotted on a wall and a small moray eel that wasn’t shy at all and swimming from one rock to another.
It’s a good site to see grey nurse sharks but, unfortunately, only the guide and their buddy at the front of the group could spot the shy critters.
Did you go diving from Coffs Harbour? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is South Solitary Island?
South Solitary Island is about 15 kilometres northeast of Coffs Harbour.