Diving Solitary Islands Marine Park

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Solitary Islands Marine Park, Australia

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Country: Australia  Area: Coffs Harbour

Water Temp: 18 - 26°C (64 - 79°F)

Visibility: 8 - 40m (26 - 131 ft)

Depth Range: 5 - 40m (16 - 131 ft)

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The Solitary Islands Marine Park is where the tropical waters of the East Australian Current meet the southern temperate waters. Located just off the shores of the ever-pleasant Coffs Harbor, which is coincidentally surrounded by a phenomenal number of national parks, this diving destination is fantastic above and below the sea.

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Coffs Harbour was originally known for its hugely successful banana industry. Since the 1960s however, it has shifted its focus to tourism, given its location in a stunning section of Australia. This beachside town is surrounded by terrestrial and marine national parks, which means there is no end in adventure activities. Along with diving, skydiving, surfing, rafting and whale watching are also very popular.

Diving here puts you in close proximity to a unique mix of tropical and sub-tropical fish – all in one location. Pelagic fish are consistent year round, while tropical and temperature fish shift with every season. Within the reserve, divers will find five different islands. Each island has its own focus, which spans from large populations of anemones to manta rays to nurse sharks and coral gardens. Sites accommodate all levels of experience, and offer up something interesting for everyone to see.

Marine Conservation

The Solitary Islands Marine Park has been a reserve for marine life with sanctuary zones of no fishing for 21 years. During this time the amount of residential fish has increased dramatically. The area has unique and endangered species, like the large Black Cod and Grey Nurse Sharks. 

Climate

Coffs Harbour has a very mild climate, with Summer temp up to 35c and usually between 25 and 30c down to a low of 15c at night. Winter day temp average is 21c with cooler nights down to 6-15c.

Diving is all year round with Summer water temp between 22 and 26c and Winter temp between 18 and 21c.

The Solitary Islands are weather dependent due to open ocean crossing to the exposed Islands. Tropical depression weather patterns in Summer and Frontal patterns in Winter can bring winds and rough seas. There is not pattern to this weather, and any season can have beautiful flat seas.

 
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Shore Diving

There is a single shore dive off of Muttonbird Island. It is a very basic dive and depends on swell and wind. It does not give much perspective on the amazing marine life in the Solitary Islands Marine Park and as such, it is not often recommended.

Boat Diving

Between the five islands of the Solitary Islands Marine Park, there are three major dive sites that are frequently visited. They are:

Dive Site 1:  South Solitary Island. 30 minute charter boat ride from Coffs Harbour. Offers the best fish life in the area, with tropical and sub tropical species. “Manta Arch” dive-site has the reputation of amazing close encounters with Grey Nurse Sharks. (Manta Arch is only divesite that is suitable for experienced and Advanced divers).

Dive Site 2:  North Solitary Island. Anemone Bay with abundant Anemone fish suitable for all levels of diving. Fish Soup with schools of fish, suitable for all levels.

Dive Site 3:  North West Solitary island where Manta Rays can be seen from January to April.

Liveaboard Diving

There are no liveaboards around Coffs Harbour and the Solitary Islands.

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How to Get there

Coffs Harbour is halfway between Brisbane and Sydney on the East Coast of Australia. Multiple Domestic Flights from Sydney daily and Bus and train from both Capital cities pass through Coffs Harbour. Approx 6 hours drive from Sydney and 5 hours drive from Brisbane.

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Where to Eat & Drink

There are a range of restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Coffs Harbor that cater to a variety of ages, preferences and budgets.

Restaurants serve a blend of local and international fare, with a constant focus on incorporating fresh seafood into their dishes. Given the city’s location in such a fertile part of Australia, there is also a large emphasis on incorporating fresh and seasonal produce into dishes as well. Mangrove Jack’s, the Purple Carrot and the Happy Frog are some of the best organic restaurants, while The Coast, The Coramba Hotel, and the Yknot Bistro offer up great pub fare. A few restaurants offer up Italian, Thai and African dishes as well – if craving something different. There also happen to be a few local vineyards in the area, which can be visited as part of a wine tasting tour.

There is a good variety of nightlife throughout the week as well. Trivia nights are very popular on week nights, while weekends tend to emphasize more local and live music. The Hoey Moey tends to attract the university/backpacker crowd, hile the Plantation Hotel draws in more famous bands. Ask around for weekly happenings when you arrive.

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Other Activities

Unsurprisingly, nature-based activities tend to dominate Coffs Harbour.

Surfing, swimming and snorkelling are of course popular, as is white water rafting in the nearby rivers. There are a number of hikes that go along Muttonbird Island and through neighbouring rainforests as well – if craving some on-land fitness. On Muttonbird specifically, you can also learn about local aboriginal history and try to catch a sighting of the island’s namesake bird.

A quick drive up to Sealy Lookout just north of the city happens to provide some of the best views of the beaches below. Otherwise, biking, golfing, hiking and helicopter rides are other great ways to explore the area’s natural beauty.

The Botanic Gardens are a wonderful way to experience the subtropical climate and beyond, with regions devoted to Africa, China and Queensland. A lovely walk tours visitors through six kilometers of trails – ending at the ocean. There is also a local aquarium, which is owned by the Southern Cross University’s Marine Science Center, gives a glimpse into the world below the surface for non-divers.

Finally; a visit to Coffs Harbor would be incomplete without at least viewing the Big Banana from the outside. Built in 1964, this was the first of the ‘Big Things’ in Australia. Here you will find a variety of rides, attractions and a waterpark.

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Tips

Dives are by booking only, don’t expect to get a dive by just walking in. Sometimes in the quieter times, minimum numbers are required, so early booking will allow the operators to work on “building” the numbers required to run.

Coffs Harbor is divided into three regions: the jetty, the commercial center and the beaches. Just south of the city is Sawtell, which has some sensational beaches prime for surfing.

Weather is unfortunately a big part of availability to dive. No season is better, just depends on the luck of good conditions.

Coffs Harbour has a large Hospital, however the nearest Hyperbaric Chamber is Sydney or Brisbane.

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