Niall Brittain

Not a Wolf in Sight !!

by Niall Brittain

Whilst snow was falling in a not so sunny Scotland I had a day’s diving planned for the much sunnier climes of Queensland on the east coast of Australia.  A nice way to kick off 2018’s diving.

After an hour and a half drive in the early morning sun we arrived at the Wolf Rock Dive Centre, Rainbow Beach on the Sunshine Coast in plenty of time for the 8am start. The usual paperwork completed dive buddies were met:- Monica from Switzerland, Luke from Germany, Andy from Australia, Ash who was originally from England but who now lives in Oz and Moi from Scotland.  In addition to this multi-national grouping, were our skipper James and dive guide Alex, both from England (who bought the business around 18 months ago).  It became obvious as the days diving progressed that James and Alex were clearly developing the business into an excellent dive outfit.

All the gear sorted and loaded onto the boat, the first dive briefing of the day was given which included the fact that the current could be really strong and visibility poor or it could be flat calm and amazing viz.  You could sense the excitement of the divers as we wondered what awaited us, especially as the site is reputedly one of the top ten dives in Australia - we would soon see if that was a justified claim.

Wolf Rock is a formation of four volcanic pinnacles found just north of Double Island Point and about a forty five minute boat ride from Rainbow Beach. Two of the pinnacles break the surface and drop down to approximately 35 metres.

The boat loaded and hitched, our group of intrepid divers headed to the marina. A successful launch and all in all a perfect start to the day - or was it. As the boat hit the water Ash realised he’d left his wetsuit back at the dive centre. How could he possibly have forgotten some of his gear!!!  Oops - five minutes later I realised I’d left my camera at the dive centre too, so after 2 return trips to the centre we eventually headed off to the Rock.

The journey out to Wolf Rock took us past the southern tip of Fraser Island which is an amazing place to visit and is also a bit of a big boys playground if you’ve got a real 4x4 – maybe next time.

The boat was a fast mercury twin-engine boat which was, we were told, unsinkable due to its aluminium construction! Thankfully we didn’t need to test this theory out. 

With the benefit of the two powerful engines we cut through the waves like a knife cutting through butter, albeit not quite so smoothly. Engines at pretty much full throttle it was an all inclusive rollercoaster ride. When booking the dives the info given suggested taking anti sickness pills if you suffered from sea sickness, and if you didn’t then STILL take them.

The boat was literally taking off and we’d brace ourselves as the engines went from full throttle to minimum just as the boat soared in mid air as it came to the crest of a wave before crashing down into the next depression and the throttle being pushed back to full again.  The journey to Wolf Rock would have been a very multi coloured event if a number of Clydebank’s finest were on the boat. Thankfully I managed to maintain the pride of Clydebank SAC as we only had one casualty on the day - Til Luke from Germany.

As we neared the site two pinnacles broke the surface and excitement rose as we spotted them and discovered that Wolf Rock is not only a Marine Sanctuary but is the only known aggregation site in Queensland for the endangered Grey Nurse Shark.   The mating season had just finished and the females head to Wolf Rock bearing lots of mating scars for the full 9 months of their gestation. It is not known why they head there but it could simply be because the site is a safe haven, with strong currents, nutrient filled and food rich waters.

In the Uk we would generally refer to Grey Nurse Sharks as Sand Tiger Sharks and in Africa they are called Ragged Tooth Sharks.  Whatever we call them they are pretty impressive creatures when visiting them in their own habitat.    The site is also a hotspot for manta rays but unfortunately we were a couple of months too early to see them although the occasional manta has been seen outwith the peak season - not on this trip I’m sad to say.

Following a stride or roll back entry into lovely warm water we grabbed hold of the line that was attached to the mooring buoy and pulled ourselves along to the shot line before descending down the chain and line to 25 metres or so.   Leaving the shot behind we dropped deeper and moved towards the start of the gulley which reminded me of a song – pinnacles to the left of me large boulders to the right ‘here I am’ with a wide gulley in the middle.  

The plan was to complete an anti clockwise dive of the pinnacles.  We were no sooner in the gulley when our first Nurse Shark came straight towards us pretty much head on before it gracefully veered off to our right.  This was clearly going to be an up close and personal shark dive.  With more Nurse Sharks to the left and right of us as well as below we didn’t know which way to look.  Unfortunately the viz wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped but with so much life I didn’t care.

As yet another Nurse cruised by I spotted a large shape on the sea bed and hoped it was a Wobbygong Shark – sadly it wasn’t.  Dropping down for a closer look it turned out to be a massive bull ray.  Settling down to get a couple of head shots, other divers approached and also settled nearby.  The grumpy bull ray seemed to take exception to us all being there, almost huffed and puffed, rose from the sea bed, turned 180° on a sixpence and sank back to the sea bed with its back and tail towards us. Clearly a shy BIG thing that wasn’t too fond of inquisitive divers.  As the bull ‘dissed us’ I looked upwards just as a Nurse Shark passed overhead providing a classic ’jaws’ type head and teeth image and photo opportunity – pretty awesome even if the quality of photo isn’t as good as I would have liked.

Carrying on around the pinnacles we encountered our first Leopard Shark with a friendly remora attached to its back near the dorsal fin.  Although fairly relaxed the Leopard elegantly rose and swam off once it had deemed we’d had enough time to look at it.  With similar lines along their backs as well as their general shape, Leopard Sharks resemble a much smaller version of the big daddy of sharks, the Whale Shark.

High above us a large Eagle Ray was beautifully silhouetted by the sun as it headed off into the blue.  Reminding me of our Scottish Lochs, the fish life was absolutely prolific on every part of the dive and interestingly we even encountered, in between the constant panorama of large stuff and the plethora of schooling pelagic fish, a couple of fair sized nudibranchs.

Having successfully circumnavigated the pinnacles we held on to the mooring line, in a fairly decent current, for our safety stop looking a bit like superman.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of fish and two eagle rays sat practically motionless in the current watching these strange humans hanging on for dear life – what a curious site we must have been to them.   A young eagle ray was even more curious than the other two and carried out a drive by or I should say a dive by of us – I’m pretty sure he was laughing.

Back on board our unsinkable boat for our surface interval we efficiently carried out the classic Eat, Sleep and Repeat (without the sleep) before dropping into the blue for our second dive which provided the same exhilarating experience of the first with the added sighting of a large Grouper that I’m certain believed he was so well camouflaged that we couldn’t see him.

Two dives completed and with everyone on board and accounted for we headed back to Rainbow Beach.  On the way a humungous Sea Eagle swooped past the bow of the boat over to our starboard side and roughly a 100m or so later it plunged sea ward to pluck a sea snake for the choppy waters.  Our skipper James asked what we thought it meant and in unison three of us said the Sea Eagle was hungry.  James was somewhat gutted and called us something akin to heathens as he thought that it had a much more powerful and spiritual meaning. 

Back at the harbour and the boat recovered we headed back to the dive shop only to be stopped in our tracks to let a decent sized Iguana cross the road – and he wasn’t even using a designated Zebra Crossing Point let alone an Iguana Crossing.

Wolf Rock is a fantastic day’s diving that I would highly recommend if you find yourself on the Queensland coast.   It’s also a great name for a site - Wolf Rock – but as we divers know, if a site is named after a particular species then the chances of actually seeing that species are practically non-existent.  This ‘fact’ was true to form as we didn’t see a single Wolf !!!