Just 3 days for a dive trip, for a second I contemplated if it was worth lugging my dive gear and the camera equipment all the way to North Stradbroke Island. Pffft, of course it was! Any opportunity to get in the water, especially with the added draw card of Whale Fest!
Manta Lodge YHA and Scuba Centre is surprisingly the only commercial dive operation based on North Stradbroke Island. Several times a year they have weekend festivals that highlight the marine life they have on offer at their most abundant time of year. These include Manta, Nudi, Shark and Whale Fest. The 3 day events include several dives, accommodation, a group dinner at the bowls club and educational presentations. It’s all very interesting and a great chance to learn more about the creatures we love to look under the sea and meet and ask questions of marine biologist experts.
So after touching down in Brisbane, training it to Cleveland, jumping on a ferry to North Stradbroke and then bussing it to Manta Lodge, not only was I confident to have covered most methods of public transport, but I was ready for a drink. Already I had met the Hogans, a lovely family on their holiday, and the staff were also super friendly and keen to swap dive tales and tips!
The morning dives require an early start. Meet downstairs from the accommodation in the dive shop for 6.45am for a double boat dive, yaaawn! Thankfully my bleary eyes only lasted as long as it took for me to backward roll from the inflatable into the 20 degree water, yep awake! We started off at Shark Alley, and it does what it says on the can. Sharks of the grey nurse variety everywhere. Unlike Magic Point in Sydney at Shark Alley they are out and about instead of hiding in a cave which makes for better photo opportunities and a chance to get quite close.
The sharks are most certainly the main attraction here and as it’s the right time of year the same site is visited pretty consistently. Of the 6 dives I did on North Stradbroke 4 of them were at the same site, the other two at the shallower Shag Rock. In the summer when they have mantas visiting the island they also head to Manta Bommie. We did try to get to this site on the off chance that we would see some lingering mantas however unfortunately the currents were too strong to dive. So, Shark Alley it was, and I can confidently say that every dive was completely different, so diving the same site in no way became boring.
The double boat dives have a maximum dive time of 50 minutes. Anything under an hour I’m generally disappointed with, but the issue with this dive site is that it’s all quite deep so your decompression limits have you looking for shallower water after about 35 minutes, and seeing as there isn’t much to look at above 15 meters you may as well come up. Or, hang on the mooring line and hope to see a passing humpback whale. Which I did, however unsuccessfully. It also seemed that I was better on air than the DMT’s so they were having to make use of the drop tank on the safety stop when guiding me, sorry boys!
My last dive on Shark Alley proved to be the most impressive. Whilst I didn’t manage to see Moby Dick in the deep blue, I did pretty much see everything else! Grey nurse and wobbegong sharks, manta shrimp, cuttle fish, lion fish and an uncountable school of eagle and devil rays flying right by us for a good couple of minutes. Breathtaking!
So what about the whales? Well they were most certainly there. Everywhere along with their dolphin friends, except by me under the water. You would rarely go 5 minutes looking across the horizon without seeing them blow or breach. Being super peak migration time means that the last of the stragglers are still heading north, whilst the front runners are already on the way back south with their calves. So we were pretty much looking at a humpback super freeway! I recommend the Straddie Pub for a good viewing vantage point, not to mention the great meals and cold cider!
On the Saturday evening after a great dinner at the bowls club we went back to Manta Lodge to listen to a presentation by Dr Olaf Maynecke who is the chief scientist at the Gold Coast based non for profit called Humpbacks and Highrises. It was fascinating to learn about what this impressive organisation do, and to also get a bit of a history lesson on the history of whaling in Australia and how we almost wiped out an entire population of whales in such a short amount of time.
So 3 short days and 6 dives later it was time for one last meal at the beautiful Straddie Pub, then back to reality and a couple of days work in Brisbane before heading home. A big thanks to James, Alan, Adam, Will and the crew in the dive shop for making it a great weekend. Also to my new found dive buddies. I will endeavor to get back soon, perhaps when the water is a little warmer 🙂
Check out some pictures of the weekend here!