South Solitary Island…Come Dive “The Light”

Nick-named “The Light” because of it’s most prominent feature (a lighthouse!), South Solitary Island is situated 8.5 N miles north east of the harbour. Being further off-shore, the island is more exposed to the magnificent blue water currents. Here are some of it’s stunning sites…


Typical marine life found round South Solitary Island includes Blue Groper, Grey Nurse Sharks, Wobbygongs, Shovelnose Rays, Bull Rays, Eagle Rays, Loggerhead Turtles, Frogfish, Anglerfish, King Fish, Bannerfish, Jewfish, Trevally, Wrasses, Moray Eels, Giant Cuttlefish, Blue Tangs, Clownfish, Nudibranchs, and the list goes on and on…

Manta Arch (1)

The Light’s SHARK DIVE, with in excess of thirty Grey Nurse Sharks at one time, this dive is sure to get your adrenalin pumping. Situated near the northern tip of the island, there is an underwater arch surrounded with boulders and ridges peaking at 15 meters with gutters tailing down to 30 metres. The area is covered with large anemones and different varieties of Clownfish. Towards the island, from the arch, there is a pile of boulders rising up from 21 meters of water, this is the best place to watch the masses of schooling Pelagic fish.

Cleaner Station (2)

In addition the cleaner station itself, Barney the Loggerhead Turtle, and Charlie the Blue Groper are regular friends to visit here. Along with an array of marine life in the gutters and boulders, including Angelfish, Black Cod and Frogfish. Site 10m – 20m.


Grey Nurse Gutters (3)

In this area, the bottom is sliced by gutters radiating out from the shore in depths from 10 meters to 18 meters. This area is well known for it’s abundant fish life and sightings of Grey Nurse Sharks. Schooling Kingfish, Silver Trevally, Jewfish, Pomfreds, Bullseyes and Tarwhine are often found in this area. Scattered amongst the boulders you will find anemone and clownfish, Blue Groper, Flute Mouth, lots of wrasses and bushes of black coral.

Boulder Wall (North 4 & South 5)

If prolific fish life is your liking, this dive is for you. Large boulders litter the top and cascade over the edge of the wall, levelling out to a comfortable 18 meters. This provides a perfect base for Crayfish to hide and corals full of tropical fish like Blue Tangs to thrive. Schools of fish are abundant with Silver Trevally, Goatfish, Tarwhine, Red Morwong and Snapper to name a few. During the winter, we have frequent encounters with Giant Cuttlefish along the wall which entices turtles to the island.

The Gantry (6)

The site where the old Gantry crane for loading supplies onto the island collapsed into the water. A great shallower dive 12-15m, with lots of marine life and wreckage. A turtle haven!

Buchanan’s Wall (7)

Towards the southern end of the island, we have a wall on the south-west side of a rock mass starting at 15 meters, and ending at 30 meters. This is a good area for invertebrate life, including Nudibranch’s, Spanish Dancers, encrusting soft corals and anemone’s with clownfish that are big enough to wear boxing gloves!.

Cable Trail (8)

Just along from Buchanan’s Wall there is a boulder pile and associated rock masses. There is the remains of old trawl cable draped around the area, hence it’s name. This is another good area for fish and sightings of Grey Nurse. There is a large Black Ray residing in the area and Cuttlefish are often seen here.

Other Sites

Other sites at the island include Archie’s Cave (9) and the Steam Boiler.

South Solitary Island website

Go to the great website of the history of the lighthouse at South Solitary Island with a click here!

Split Solitary Island

If it’s coral bottom cover and invertebrate life that you’re after, then Split Solitary is the place for you. The island lies 4 miles north of the harbour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShrimp Mooring, Cowry Mooring, Moray Mooring, Lobster Lair, Mike’s mooring and the Wall & Kingfisher Point

These dive sites are all on the south side of the island along an irregular drop-off. This marks the edge of a plateau about 10 meters deep running out from the island. At the foot of the drop, 15 to 18 meters down, the bottom is flat, slowly becoming deeper with occasional rock outcrops. On the plateau and along the drop-off the bottom is covered with hard and soft corals, sponges, ascidians, bryozoans, tube worms, algae’s and nudibranch’s. Also you will discover many species of resident fish, egg cowries, moray eels, banded coral shrimp, etc.


Turtle Cove

On the southern side of Split Solitary Island is Turtle Cove, a mooring lying on the eastern edge of a gutter full of life. The gutter starts in deep water and passes all the way along the edge of the island. Turtles, Nudibranchs and abundant fish are highlights to this area.



Cod Rock

Lies on the south-east side of the island opposite the “split”. This bommie is seperated from the fringing plateau by a gutter around 18 meters deep. This bommie rises to about 14 meters and then drops away to 21 meters. A large black cod around 2 meters long has been sighted here on several occasions, also blue devil fish are common hiding under overhangs. There is a second bommie just to the north which is always covered in red morwong.

Coral Corner

Located on the north western corner where the bottom is in general flatter than the other sites. Here we have kelp beds and profuse growths of plate coral growing only a few meters apart. The underwater terrain is shaped like a series of bays separated by rocky headlands in 10 to 15 meters of water. The bays are covered in corals while the headlands are covered by other invertebrate life. Out in deeper water (18 meters) there are kelp beds which seem to attract turtles who are frequently seen sleeping in the shallows.


South West Solitary Island

South West Solitary Island known as Groper Island – Gardens of Coral Reef

On the northern side of Groper Island or South West Solitary Island are three mooring (usually!), the perfect location for diving on a day of southerly winds
Groper Island is a divesite that like Split Solitary Island, can be amazing, with extensive Coral gardens of Plate coral, much more than the Great Barrier Reef!. This site hides a lot of macro life.

The moorings is located in 10-12 metres of water on the contour of deeper water and shallow 8 metre and shallower reef.
The Eastern end mooring has large gravel based gutters running into the island with rocky nooks as you venture around the eastern side of the island.
The Western end gently slopes away from the moorings an has very prolific coral cover, the more interesting parts of this area are in the shallows with unusual fish to be found. Lots of Egg Cowry shells and nudibranchs.
The divesite can get to 18 metres deep, but usually varing between 12 and 16 metres. Not as prolific with big fish compared to South Solitary, with usually poorer visibility, but on it’s day, South West Solitary can be a great dive.

North Solitary Island

Anemone Bay, Fish Soup, Bubble cave. This Island has some unique sites…!!

Precision HelicoptersNorth Solitary Islands is 25Nm north of Coffs Harbour and is often referred to as the “big” island.

North Solitary Island offers it’s own special sites, like “Anemone Bay” with it’s blanket cover of anemones and clownfish and “Fish Soup” with it’s abundant fishlife.

We run Charter Scuba Dive trips to North Solitary Island on an “as needs basis”, with about 75 minute boat trip each way.
This means that sea conditions must be suitable for a long trip. With these trips, we can easily dive 3 dives (using 2 tanks, with 1 tank doing 2 x 30 minute dives on the last two).

Anemone Bay..

Precision HelicoptersReported to have the largest population of clown fish in anemones on the Australian coast, this is an interesting location.
Located on the northern side of North Solitary Island, Anemone Bay is large enough to hide from southerly swells and protect the anemone beds.

Fish Soup

Fish Soup is a divesite that has a remarkable amount of fish, in just one little area. They all collect in this special point to hide, or feed in the current and swell.
A divesite not always accessible, but well worth a dive in the right conditions.

Hazards or Dangers

Precision Helicopters

Currents: Depending on the East Australian current, North Solitary Island can be exposed to quite strong currents, this can make it difficult to start and finish the dive in the same location.
The current usually heads from north to south around the island, and can be too strong to swim against. Anemone Bay, on a small current day, is a good location to dive from start to finish, but be careful not to wander too wide or a drift dive will be on. Beware! The current at this point can swing divers around the Eastern side of North Solitary, not the side to drift dive, usually!
Be careful if you are diving from a boat without a surface watch! We do not recommend this in this area with that current!

We usually operate our charter Dive Trips to be outside of the currents areas when there is that problem!

North West Solitary Island

North West Solitary Island has unique features like common sighting of manta rays in the warmer summer waters and grey nurses in winter. Again, like South West Solitary and Split Solitary Island, it is closer to the coast, with cooler waters and generally lower visibility.

Pimpernel Rock

Pimpernel Rock… “The Pin”

Big Fish, Big Cave, Big Depth,…. Big Dive!!
This has some Big Mean Fish…!!

Pimpernel Rock is located right on the North western point of Solitary Islands Marine Park. It is a advanced dive site on it’s best day, because of a few factors; The sheer depth of the site, and the vunerability of currents
Drawing courtesy of Tom Byron

Pimpernal-Rock Drawing by Tom Byron

Pimpernel Rock has no mooring, it can be accessed by an anchor line placed in the correct position, however, you cannot dive the area from a private boat without a permit to do so. So the area is usually dived by one of the charter boats that travel to the site.
The site is not always friendly! Any current can be difficult and more than slight current, can make it a challenge beyond diver’s ability to get down to the site!
This area is known for Large Pelagics including big Kingfish and Mulloway and common sightings of Grey Nurse Sharks in the deeper cave areas.
Pimpernal Rock is mind blowing when you get the conditions right! The descent down the peak leads you into the entrance of the Cave that is more of a huge swim thru than a cave.
This cave is the size of a tunnel that would allow a Semi Trailer Truck thru! Within the cave is deep water marine life. Sea whips and Sea Tulips are something that you notice that are different, as these species don’t thrive in shallow depths. The Bottom of the Cave is 39 metres and areas around can get deeper. Your dive time is very limited with the depth, but if you multi-level with the use of computers, you will extend your bottom times.
Nitrox can be an amazing difference in this site, especially if you plan 2 dives on the area.
Dive times are relatively short but offers some amazing animals for our area. To have Kingfish and Mulloway cruise close to you and know they are bigger than you is nothing short of exciting! Truely an Advanced to very Advanced Dive-site and should be done only with extra preparation and planning!

Hazards or Dangers

Currents: Depending on the East Aussie Current, Pimpernel Rock can be exposed to quite strong currents, this can make it difficult to start and finish the dive in the same location. (The Pimpernel Rock gutter itself is usually calm)
The current usually heads from north to south around the Rock, and can be too strong to swim against. Pimpernel Rock on a small current day, is a great to Dive. Beware! The current at this point can swing divers out into the deep blue sea!
Be careful if you are diving from a boat without a surface watch! We do not recommend this in this area with that current!

We run charter Dive Trips on calmer days, If there is no current and looking good, we start at the Jetty Dive shop EARLY!! Pimpernel Rock is 1.5+ hours north by boat and due to the extended distance we charge an extra $60 per diver with a minimum of 10 divers and a maximum of 12 divers, diving in 3 groups led by our Divemasters or Instructors.

Minimum experience is Advanced Open Water with at least 20 dives  recently including Deep Diving.