Yesterday we hired a car and drove up to South West Rocks - a town about 1 hour north of here. We had hooked up the South West Rocks Dive Centre to take us out to the famous Fish Rock Cave where we could dive with Grey Nurse Sharks. After launching at the boat ramp in the Macleay river we sped over the river bar and around the headland towards Fish Rock. What would usually be about a 30minute trip took much longer because we had a few visitors along the way! Three humpback whales, including a baby, approached us about half way across from the mainland. Not content to just check us out and leave, they began to put on an amazing show, broaching, slapping their tails, and rolling onto their backs and slapping the water with their fins. It was an AMAZING sight. The captain cut the engine into neutral and we drifted in the current for about half an hour as they stayed right alongside and playing around. They were completely uninterested in leaving us alone - they just follwed the boat as it drifted towards Fish Rock, popping up on one side of the boat, and then the other. It really felt as if they were showing off - to us or each other, Im not sure! Both the crew on the dive boat commented that they had never experienced such an long and active display. It was something I will never forget - everyone on board agreed it was a pretty special experience.
Amazingly, our day had only just started! Once moored at Fish Rock we kitted up and a group of us, led by dive guide Mike, descended into the rocky gutters beneath the boat. The visibility was fairly poor, but it didn't matter as we immediately spotted Grey Nurse Sharks, patrolling sleepily along the gutters. These fierce looking critters are actually harmless, but their ferocious look has meant they were mistaken for man-eaters and are now endangered.
After a surface interval we descended a second time to conquer the famous Fish Rock Cave. The cave is about 125 metres long and runs right through the small rocky island. Its entrance is a triangular hole at the end of a gravelly gutter at about 25 metres deep. The entrance is guarded by schooling bulls-eye fish, and it is quite a bizarre feeling to enter the darkness, pushing through a curtain of hundreds of these pretty sentinels!
With the dive guide in the lead, we switched on our torches and filed into the cave one by one, following a narrow passageway into complete darkness. The inside was rocky, and quite bare except covered with pink and brown algae. The cave roof opened up above us, but remained quite narrow for about 20 metres until we reached a "chimney" leading up to the next level. there was a large crack extending from the floor, up the chimney. Inside were at least 10 huge painted crayfish. We slowly ascended the chimney, controlling our buoyancy as we went. Large blue gropers and hundreds of other fish call the cave home. Soon a blue glow appeared ahead and the magnificent silhouette of two grey nurse sharks and hundreds of fish appeared at the exit of the cave. On the swim back to the boat we saw Eagle Rays, and more sharks.
A great day, and we can definitely recommend South West Rocks Dive Centre - they were very professional and fun.
PS I asked a local guy why the town is called South West Rocks when it is neither in the south, or the west. Apparently when James Cook spotted it, it was SW - from his position in the north east. So there you go. Its all relative.
Michael's video of our amazing whale encounter
A few still images
Video with the Grey Nurse Sharks (and friends) at Fish Rock
Map of Fish Rock Cave - courtesy of SWRDC