Julian Rocks is often cited as one of the top dive spots in Australia and the best in New South Wales.
Situated just 2.5 km from the gorgeous main beach in Byron, these tiny islands have an abundance of corals that attract marine life from far and wide.
MARINE LIFE AT JULIAN ROCKS
Leopard sharks, grey nurse sharks and wobbegongs are regular visitors to Julian Rocks, as well as turtles, manta and sting rays, many colourful fish and a variety of nudibranchs – the weirdest creatures you’re likely to see on any dive.
With all of this going on so close to the shore, it’s little wonder that a number of local companies run a few dive trips a day to Julian Rocks and, if you’re a qualified diver, this really isn’t a place to be complacent about. If not, I suggest you learn!
WHICH DIVE CENTRE?
There are a few diving companies in Byron Bay, all of which do trips to Julian Rocks, but we chose Sundive because of their great reputation and exceptional service. They originally stood out because they were the only company who actually replied to our email enquiry. Then, once we were booked in, they went above and beyond our expectations. They called us numerous times the day before to update us on dive conditions and to give us the opportunity to cancel our trip if we were concerned we’d miss out due to poor weather. They also looked after our luggage when we worked out that the only way to make the 10:45 am dive on the Saturday was to go straight to the dive centre from the airport.
THE JULIAN ROCKS DIVE EXPERIENCE
On arrival, they kitted us out in some quality gear and helped those of us who were out of practice to assemble and check our equipment.
After a short drive in a minibus down to the southern end of the beach, they reversed a 4WD straight into the sea and dumped their motorised dingy in the shallows. Then it was our turn to muck in by helping to push the boat deeper each time it lifted on a wave.
Eventually we were afloat and we clambered aboard the boat. The skipper manoeuvred us between a hundred surfers then picked up speed on the open ocean as we clung to any rope or secure tank we could reach.
Once we’d put on all our gear and flopped backwards into the sea, we regrouped at a dive boat mooring and followed a rope to the ocean floor. This made the descent much easier, and less scary for those of us without much experience.
A QUICK DIVER’S REFRESHER COURSE
This is by no means all you need to know to scuba dive, but I know that there are a lot of people out there who, like me, learned to dive many years ago and haven’t gotten round to doing it again. Diving is similar to driving in that your license doesn’t expire and you can take it up again years after you passed your exams without having to retrain.
That’s not to say that the dive companies don’t care about your safety, but they have people of all abilities passing through every day and they can’t be expected to run you through everything an Open Water Diver is supposed to know. In addition, they do offer refresher courses, but I managed to sidestep this because I dived in an aquarium less than a year ago. I felt pretty confident as they asked if I had any questions. And I said no, because I couldn’t remember how much I’d actually forgotten about open water diving. Auckland’s aquarium had only been 3 m deep!
The very obvious way that diving differs from driving is that, once you’re 15 m underwater, if another question pops into your head, you can’t very easily go ahead and ask it! So, here are the three things I’d forgotten that would have been most useful:
1. USE YOUR BCD AND BREATHING TO CONTROL BUOYANCY
It sounds like obvious advice. Even a diving novice wouldn’t have too much trouble figuring out that a buoyancy control device is a device that controls your buoyancy. But for some reason, as I sank slowly towards the sea bed, very narrowly avoiding sitting on a shark, it didn’t occur to me that putting a little air in my BCD would be much more effective than flailing my arms about and trying desperately to swim towards the surface. Of course, it soon came back to me, but I wish I’d remembered beforehand to avoid scaring that poor shark.
2. LET YOUR GUIDE AND BUDDY KNOW WHEN YOU’RE AT 70 BAR
That’s 70 bars as a warning, not 50, as I mistakenly thought! In order for your divemaster to plan the remainder of your dive, they need to keep track of how much air everyone has left. For this reason, you’re meant to tell them when you get to 100 bars and then 70. On my first dive in almost 14 years, I waited until I was down to 50 before alerting anyone, which resulted in a rather speedy ascent.
3. DON’T FORGET YOUR SAFETY STOP
Safety stops allow more time for absorbed nitrogen to be released from your body. You’re less likely to get decompression sickness if you do one. It also gives you a chance to check the surface for boats and to fine tune your buoyancy so that you can control your ascent and ensure you take it slowly. Although they’re not strictly necessary at the kind of depths you’re likely to go to at Julian Rocks (barely more than 10 m for most of the dive), it’s best to play it safe. The only benefit I had from ascending too fast on our first dive was that I was noticeably running out of air (thanks to my inability to remember point number 2)!
HOW MUCH DOES DIVING AT JULIAN ROCKS COST
The current prices are:
Hiring all equipment: $95 for your first dive and $85 for your second
Hiring only weights and the cylinder: $65 per dive
All of your own gear: $60 with free air fills
Sundive also offers the following courses:
Introductory Dive: $160
Open Water: $550
Divemaster: $999 (plus some additional extras)
POINTS TO REMEMBER
Julian Rocks has been listed as a marine reserve since 1983. As with any place you dive, you should be respectful of your surroundings. Try not to break off corals with your hands or fins and keep a couple of metres between you and the marine life.
WATCH OUT FOR YOUR BUDDY
Keep a close eye on your dive buddy as well as your guide. Not only is it your responsibility to help out your buddy if they get into difficulties, it’s also a much more enjoyable experience if you share what you’ve seen with someone. And if there’s a minute or two with very little marine life, you can amuse yourself taking underwater selfies instead.
BRING YOUR DIVE CERTIFICATION ID CARD
Not everywhere asks to see your dive card, but in Australia, they tend to be pretty strict, probably because they’re safety conscious. If you’ve lost yours or, like me, your photo is 14 years old and you no longer wear braces, you can order a new one very easily (a little too easily if you ask me…) online here.
TAKE SEA SICKNESS TABLETS
A few of my diving companions looked pretty green on the boat ride back, and one was actually sick over the side of the boat. While the boat ride is short, it is also very bumpy, and some people also feel the effects of drifting with the ocean swells during their dive.
WHERE TO STAY IN BYRON BAY
We spent two very comfortable nights at Nomads Byron Bay. They have dorm rooms ($30-40) as well as private rooms ($100) that are very swish. Our room had a private balcony. The communal areas have everything you could need, including a very spacious kitchen, lockers, laundry, entertainment rooms and a courtyard with a small spa area and some hammocks. And there’s free WiFi – a luxury you don’t find that often in Australia.
While they encourage people to socialise and have fun, they turn off the music after 10 pm. This means you can get a decent night’s sleep if you’re staying in. Otherwise, Byron has plenty of great places to go out in the evening and most of them are within a short walk.
The reception area is huge and contains a travel desk to help you plan your stay. But one of the main factors that attracted me was its location. Not only is the beach less than five minutes’ walk away, but Sundive is almost on its doorstep. All you have to do is turn right when you leave Nomads, cross the road and follow the little path ahead of you, and you’ll be climbing into your wetsuit just seconds after leaving your room.
CONTINUE THE ADVENTURE
Byron Bay is one of the stop off points of the fantastic BEACHES AND REEFS tour run by Contiki. This two-week trip is filled with fun and adventure and includes surfing, kayaking, skydiving, bungy jumps, scuba, a dracula show, barn dance karaoke, whip cracking, overnight sailing, plenty of parties and much, much more. It’s without a doubt the most fun I’ve ever had on a tour!