Lady Musgrave Island / HMAS Tobruk / Wolf Rock Trip Report
25 Nov – 3 Dec 2021
Participants: Akiko, Judy, Laura & Brian, Jen, Val, Jim, Colin, Richard, Ro & Dave, Lucy, Rigo & Jannemieke
This trip was a little bit of everything, a whirlwind of a trip combining various dive sites along the Wide Bay- Burnett region put together for us by Deb at Diversion Dive Travel. So in similar fashion, here’s a combined trip report – a little bit of everything from the fantastic participants:
Bundaberg (26 Nov 2021): What to do on a rainy day?
– by Rigo Van Meer
The trip started well. Our first dive day was cancelled due to stormy weather and high winds. Akiko with the help of Deb of Diversion Travel switched to plan B: “Hit The Turps”, vaguely disguised under the name of “Distillery Tour”. Where can you do this better than in Bundaberg, home of the world-famous (in Australia) Bundaberg Rum?
Alcohol is a poisonous undrinkable liquid. It is used to kill germs (kills 99.9% according to the label) or to preserve small animals for biological study. But when properly diluted you can ingest it in small amounts and it plays wonders with some receptors in our 🧠 brain, deluding it in thinking that everything is ok and people around us are all friendly. To a point of course.
Kalki Moon Gin Distillery and Brewery at 11am is an excellent start to wake up on a cloudy day. Favourite was the smooth Kalki Moon Navy Strength Gin (57% alc.). Big and full of juniper, heavy on the Angelica and Liquorice root and Bundaberg ginger for spice. Next was Ohana Cider House and Tropical Winery (home of the Cheeky Tikki Cider) where we all had a tasting board of 4 different brews. The Cold Drip Coffee Liqueur was definitely the people’s choice. Next was the Bundaberg Rum Distillery (home of the Polar Bear).
It was exciting to see the famous Bundaberg Rum Distillery, that has a polar bear as their logo. We would think that polar bears drink vodka and would have chosen a drunken 🦘 kangaroo for the brand, but nobody ever asked us.
Well, the distillery is quite impressive. We had a nice, well organised tour, which ended, of course in a tasting event, included in the price of the admission ticket.
The last and least interesting locale was the Bargara Brewing Company (home of Ballistic Beer).
We worked very hard as a team to get as many different tasting experiences as possible. We helped each other finishing our glasses, compared notes on taste and found the whole experience enlightening and very spiritual. We finished the day at the local fresh fish restaurant.
Lady Musgrave Island (27-29 Nov 2021)
– by Lucy Graham
Day 1 (27 Nov)
Saturday morning saw us wake up bright and early to catch the bus to the marina and finally get on our way to Lady Musgrave Island.
We were pleasantly surprised as we were welcomed into the captains premier lounge, VIP passengers. That meant big reclining chairs, tea and coffee and morning tea. The comfort of the premiers lounge put us in a relaxed mood as we travelled two hour journey out to the pontoon.
On arrival we were hustled onto a dive boat, that had tanks waiting and scuba gear ready for those who were hiring.
Soon we are on our way to our first dive site, despite the rain and a little bit of wind we were all excited to be below the surface. The first dive set high expectations as we jumped in and the coral jumped out at us, so bright and Beautiful. The stag horns were moulded by strong currents, creating a weaved carpet, rather than the usual forest you see. A painted crayfish waved us on and two huge Green Sea Turtles welcomed us to the southern GBR.
After surfacing and getting back on board, we were welcomed with steaming hot chocolate, fruit and muffins. Soon to become a daily routine. Making the interval more like a midship, wetsuit-clad picnic.
After an break and refreshment we moved to a new site and descended on our second dive. The vis was low on this dive but it created for an eerie dive where giant Mantas drifted silently in and out of view. White tipped reef Sharks slunk around the edges. But amongst the mist there was still a lot of colour – clown triggers, palette surgeonfish and a big fat banana nudibranch.
After returning from a busy start to the day we were welcomed back to the pontoon, and amongst a little bit of chaos (the day trippers) we were introduced to our new accommodation. Some of us below decks and some of us above. The afternoon let a little sun shine through and we enjoyed time chatting, relaxing and getting accustomed to our new setting.
At 6pm some of the party descended again into the fading light for our first night dive, and it did not disappoint. A shallow profile with beautiful corals, cowries and lots of critters hiding. The best of which saw us jaws dropped under water. MANDARIN FISH. We really couldn’t believe our eyes. There were so many, hiding in between the corals. Back on the pontoon we were met with some disbelief, but needless to say there was going to be increased interest for night dive number 2!
That night we dined on delicious pizza, thin crust and plenty of topping! A great meal for cold divers. Unfortunately after dinner the rain and clouds meant that renewables let us down and without lights, tea, or anywhere particularly great to sit, many went to bed.
Day 2 (28 Nov)
Many went out on the morning dive – I read my book and stared at the glass fish from our below water bedroom.
After a delicious breakfast we were back on the dive boat and off to the outer reef.
Dive 1: a ripping current saw us flying down the Southside wall, huge green sea turtles, jellyfish, dory who had finally found her family, clown triggerfish, nudibranchs and more. Divers scrambled to stop to look at things, fighting a treadmill of current they kicked back and held on to get photos of the illustrious nudibranchs.
Dive 2 took us straight to the sandy bottom and the group was quickly separated, but there was a lot to see, bull rays and turtles, morays and nudibranchs. Iridescent Coral trout on every Bombie. After raising our diver sausages we were reunited to share stories of what was seen.
After the success of the previous night dive, many more of us got in the water to go back to see and find evidence of the mandarin fish. We weren’t disappointed and photos were taken of the shy little fish.
Day 3 (29 Nov)
Our last day diving didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately on both dives the group was separated, so we couldn’t all share the same stories of sights seen. However many of us were lucky to have close encounters with beautiful mantas at the cleaning stations and between bommies as the current took us by. The second dive of the day was another special event as we were visited by two Zebra
Sharks, beautiful big animals in the water, a particularly special way to finish our time on the reef.
Our time at Lady Musgrave was magical. The pontoon experience is new, and there are still some kinks to sort out for overnight guests, but the food is good and the diving is really spectacular. I thoroughly enjoyed our diving at lady Musgrave and would definitely go again!
HMAS Tobruk (30 Nov 2021)
– by Jen Barrett
After returning to Bundaberg from Lady Musgrave HQ and a night back in Bargara, we were collected early for our daytrip to the ex-HMAS Tobruk wreck. The HMAS Tobruk was launched in 1980 and was the Royal Australian Navy’s first purpose built amphibious heavy lift ship with two helicopter decks, a tank deck, a vehicle deck and cabin accommodation for up to 520 troops. The ship delivered supplies in the Middle East and supported humanitarian response and peacekeeping missions in Fiji, Somalia, Bougainville, the Solomon Islands and East Timor before being decommissioned in 2015. When the ex-HMAS Tobruk was determined to be suitable for scuttling as a dive site, Jacquie Lambie fought hard for the ship to be sunk off St Helens in Tasmania however the Fraser coast won out and the HMAS Tobruk was scuttled off the Fraser Coast between Hervey Bay and Bundaberg in 2018.
Initial plans to make the wreck an accessible, beginner level dive had to be abandoned when the ship tipped during its scuttling in 2018 and settled onto its starboard side rather than the keel, blocking many planned access points and portholes. The ex-HMAS Tobruk now sits between 12m and 30m and several cut outs and adjustments have created easy access to the 100m long tank deck for a long and very straightforward swim through.
Lady Musgrave Experience also run day trips to the HMAS Tobruk site so we were met at the dive boat by some familiar faces. The company’s Managing Director and our skipper for the day was Brett who was joined by our old friend and dive guide Dave and another of the Lady Musgrave guides, Abby, both of whom were also excited for their first dive on the wreck! With our trip coinciding with the Bundaberg region’s wettest November since 1934, the trip out of the Burnett River was a brown and bumpy one giving us a good idea of what sort of visibility we might expect on the wreck which is 17 nautical miles off the coast.
Our first dive was planned as an exterior dive and, at 127m long, there is more than enough to explore on the exterior of the vessel. The visibility was as murky as expected after so much rain – about 5m for most of the dive. Once the wreck came into view, we were immediately greeted by Brookie, the resident green sea turtle who is completely unfazed by a dozen divers dropping in to say hi. Schools of batfish, barracuda and snapper surround the wreck and the orientation of the ship on its side makes the propellers easily accessible and the walkways angled as swim throughs with a very grumpy looking frog fish making good use of the handrails.
For the second dive, those keen to swim through the tank deck headed in with guide Dave while others opted to continue to explore the exterior of the vessel. Our skipper Brett gave us a briefing for our penetration dive recommending we enter through the stern access point and exit through the port side. There was a little confusion when Dave headed straight into the port side access point with part of the group while the rest of us headed to the stern as planned. We waved hello as we passed each other inside. The tank deck and both access points are wide and comfortable, even as two groups pass each other on the inside. A torch and gloves are mandatory for the dive (and available to hire) and the torch was certainly necessary here. There is an excellent covering of soft corals along the inside of the wreck and plenty of nooks and crannies for some fun macro critters that we couldn’t find but will surely be there soon. After saying another hello to our frog fish friend and a good bye to Brookie the turtle we, with some difficulty, found the dive boat’s drop line and surfaced. While the poor visibility on our trip made it a little challenging to see much of the ‘big stuff’ that is reported to hang around the site, the amount of growth on the wreck in less than 4 years means that the site is just going to get better and better.
The ride back into Bundaberg was thankfully smoother than the trip out and we caught up with Ro, David and Lucy in Bargara for yet another drink funded by our cancellation kitty and a good night’s sleep before our transfer to Rainbow Beach the next day.
Wolf Rock (1-3 Dec 2021): Who’s Afraid of the big bad wolf?
– by Laura Korte
The final leg of our trip was to the much-anticipated Wolf Rock which is a gestation site for the critically endangered Grey Nurse Shark.
We had an early morning bus ride from Bundaberg to Rainbow beach and then met the team from Wolf Rock Dive centre. The staff were welcoming and helpful with setup of gear. The briefing around dive site and procedures was also extremely thorough.
The dive trip runs from Rainbow beach and is about a 45 min bumpy boat ride out through the channel and across the Wide Bay Sandbar. The weather was a bit rough, and the crew prepared us well for the most treacherous part of the bar crossing and encouraged us to hold on. Shortly after there was a ruckus at the back of the boat with one diver leaping out of their seat and across the deck! They had spotted a stowaway on board and their attempt to get away nearly lead to a person overboard situation. Luckily the offending intruder, a spider, was as scared as the diver and disappeared so we could continue on our way safely. After the crossing, the course tracks along the beaches of the Cooloola Coloured Sands.
Wolf Rock is located 2km off Double Island Point and has been classified as a marine sanctuary (green zone) since 2003 as it is an important gestation site for grey nurse sharks. The site itself comprises of four interconnected pinnacles rising from 35m with 2 visible at the surface The crew run descent lines to help with access to the site which can be subject to strong currents.
Wolf rock certainly didn’t disappoint. Despite some adverse surface weather conditions including heavy rain and a rough surface interval we had some cracking dives. The operation runs with a maximum of 10 divers which are split into small groups. On our first dive we were blessed with excellent conditions with little current and good viz 20-30m. The topography of the site is quite spectacular with some deep rock walls and gullies. Our experienced guide took us around the site and though to a plateau where 20-30 grey nurse sharks were congregating. The sharks were relaxed cruising around the site and despite their fierce and somewhat toothy appearance were harmless and seemingly oblivious to our presence. It was a breathtaking experience to have such close encounters with these large sharks in the wild.
Although the grey nurse sharks were the highlight we were also lucky enough to see some spinner sharks and a leopard shark who was curious and came to check us out. Groupers, eagle rays and marble rays also added to the excitement. Aside from the large marine life the site was also abundant in macro critters with many colourful nudibranch, octopuses and even frogfish!
Back on dry land and Rainbow beach seemed to be a delightful, sleepy, beach town with several interesting cafes, bars, and restaurants. Following our last dive, we frantically tried to dry our gear in preparation for the bus trip back to Bundaberg and onward to flights home. A big thanks must go to Jannemieke, Rigo , and Jim who were driving home and contributed by taking wet dive gear so helping to avoid those pesky excess luggage fees.
Wolf Rock proved to be an exhilarating dive experience and for me this was easily the highlight of the trip. An experience that will not be easily forgotten and I hope to be back soon.