Byron Bay is in the northern most part of the state of New South Wales. Over the years, it's developed a reputation as one of the last refuges for hippies. It's certainly full of some very odd people and you can attend workshops on all sorts of bizarre topics like "Vibrational Theory" and Permaculture.
It's also a mecca for surfers and there are plenty of dive shops in town. Strangely enough, the surf isn't that great there, though it's good enough for beginners and there are plenty of schools that will do their best to teach you how to stand up. Most of them even guarantee to give you your money back if you don't stand up after the first lesson.
Byron is also quite a popular resort for Australians, often with their families, so it can get very busy in the school holidays. This means that the place has a different atmosphere to some of the northern resorts like Cairns where everyone is a backpacker and you don't meet that many Aussies. Rather than backpacker haunts with cheap jugs of beer, Byron has a couple of pubs with live music most nights. Some of the bands were really quite good, though not my cup of tea.
I decided to stay at the Belongil Beachhouse, because it was one of the few places I could get a single room. It was quite a walk from town. During the day, you could walk along the beach, which was good. There was a café at the beachhouse, which did fairly normal breakfasts, but their evening meals didn't appeal to me. They also didn't sell canned soft drinks, just extremely expensive mineral water, and worst of all, no meat pies. Fortunately, there was a range of takeaways in town including a Mexican and a couple of fish and chips shops with really fresh fish.
Byron's big attraction for scuba divers is the Julian Rocks. These rocks are an extension of the ridge that forms Cape Byron, the most eastern point of mainland Australia. The rocks are located in a convergence zone of warm and cold currents, so the fish life is guaranteed to be good. It also means that you get to see temperate and tropical fish at the same time. Cape Byron is also the site of the region's most famous symbol, the lighthouse. Its presence might explain why there don't seem to be any decent wreck dives in the region.
At the right time of the year, there's a good chance of seeing a whale. In October the whales are swimming to the south. On my first day in Byron, as I walked down the beach into town, there were a couple of whales out in the bay. There were also some dolphins playing amongst the swimmers. Mind you, this was the only time I saw either whales or dolphins.
There are two dive shops in town: Sundive and the Byron Bay Dive Centre. I went into both to check out the prices, but they were much the same, so I picked the second one, Sundive, because there didn't seem much point in going back to the first one. Their phone no is (02) 6685 7755. The Julian Rocks aren't that far away, and they use RIBs to get there. Typical journey time is only around the ten minute mark.
The water isn't that warm, especially as it was only early spring. They used 5mm wet suits, with extra padding around the kidney region. As the water was only about 19C, I still found that I was getting chilled after about 45 mins.
My first dive didn't go that well. The viz was about 10m, though it was very bitty, so it seemed worse. Unfortunately, the guy who was leading shot off far too fast. Every time I stopped to have a look around under a ledge or in a gully, everyone else had disappeared off into the gloom. I managed to see a couple of stingrays, a turtle, a wobbegong shark and a couple of big blue wrasse. Others didn't see quite so much as they made a bit more of an effort to keep up than I did.
The second dive was much better, mainly because I was diving with an English guy doing his DM internship, and he wasn't in any hurry. We dived through the Cod Hole, which was full of fish, including clouds of bullseyes and some big grouper. There seemed to be wobbegong sharks lying everywhere. We must have seen at least eight and there were also yellowfin tuna, a cuttlefish, a scorpionfish and a moray eel. Maximum depth on this dive was about 18m, though it would have been easy to stray down to 22m.
I then had a couple of days rest and did another couple of dives. These were as good as the previous dive and the viz improved dramatically. On my last dive in Byron, it was around 20m. The depth on all the dives was around 18-20m. I was allowed to use a computer and pretty much did as I pleased. I even committed the cardinal sin of going slightly deeper on my second dive than my first, which would have earnt me a rebuke at many Queensland dive centres.
I thought the dives were better than the ones I had done in Cairns. The fish life was much better, with some really big specimens to be found, as well as large shoals of fish like fusiliers and snapper. There isn't a great deal of coral on the Julian Rocks. The water is really too cold for anything except the most hardy brain and table corals.
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