The Solitary Islands are a gem on the New South Wales Coast, between Brisbane and Sydney. So why don’t we hear more often about scuba diving the Solitary Islands? Only because we are spoilt with many fantastic dives sites in the region. The Solitary Islands are located just between Julian Rocks in Byron Bay and Fish Rock Cave in South West Rocks. So they’re in the shade of these two other famous dive sites on Australia’s East Coast.
As I met a few people who mentioned the Solitary Islands as their favourite dive in Australia, I wanted to check it out. To cut the suspense short: I enjoyed my dives there, but I wouldn’t put them at the top of my must-do list. However, I found it as good as Byron Bay and loved that it was different from what we usually see.
I wonder if the people I met meant Pimpernel Rock when they answered my question about their top Australian dive. Pimpernel Rock is further north of the Solitary Islands. Boats go there only when the weather conditions are excellent. Because of the complexity of the site, dive shops don’t take risks, and just a few lucky ones will manage to explore it.
Is it worth scuba diving the Solitary Islands?
So far, I have only dived three sites of the North Solitary Island: The Steps, Anemone Bay and The Canyons. Unfortunately, the sea conditions weren’t right to take us to other spots. Still, I had a fantastic time underwater as you can see in this video:
What I saw while scuba diving the North Solitary Island was different from anywhere else I’ve been.
That’s especially true for Anemone Bay. Anemones cover the ground. I had never seen so many different kinds of anemones next to each other. Most of us know anemones are home to the famous clownfish. But if you stop for a while and look at them, you’ll see many other creatures living in symbiosis within the anemones, like crabs and shrimps. And don’t be fooled by these predators. Anemones look like a plant, but they are carnivorous animals. Using their tentacles, they feed on small fish or the anemonefish leftovers.
The overhangs are hiding some of the best things.
I loved the many surprises we could find but just lighting up the dark spots under the rocks. I highly recommend bringing a dive torch when you dive the North Solitary Island. It will help you spot creatures that are hiding such as shrimps, lobster, slipper-lobster and fish like a beautiful coral trout. The torch is also amazing to reveal the beautiful colours of the walls, or critters like the lionfish.
The North Solitary Island is one of these dive sites where you aren’t sure what to look at because of the abundance of marine life.
Scuba diving the North Solitary Island will please those into macro-photography as much as those who enjoy big marine life. We spotted beautiful nudibranchs, a giant cuttlefish, sharks (wobbegong, grey nurse, guitar and even maybe a hammerhead), big cods, rays, turtles and so many different other species of fish that it would feel like a neverending task to try to list them. One of my favourite critters was the two-headed moray eel.
There are many dive sites around the North Solitary Island.
Anemone Bay is the most famous place in the North Solitary Island. But there are many other dive sites to visit.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to choose because of the weather conditions. The ones we went to were good for both shallow and deep dives. From what we experienced, they were easy to navigate and well-protected. The boat trip from Wooli to the North Solitary Island was quick. Plus, Wooli Dive has the most comfortable scuba diving boat I’ve ever been on for a day trip.
If you have time while travelling on Australia’s East Coast, I think it’s worth making a detour to the Solitary Islands.
Where to stay to visit the North Solitary Island?
We stayed in Wooli* as that’s where the boat was launched.
Wooli Dive offers accommodation just above the shop, a few metres away from where they launch the boat. It makes it an easy trip to organise. The two apartments are spacious and have everything you need. We paid $30 per person.
But if you look for the cheapest option, it will all depend on the size of your group. For four people, a small bungalow at the Solitary Islands Resort* looked interesting. Wooli River Lodges* may have the best deal if you are five or seven. And for a group of nine people, Wooli Holiday Units* was the cheapest. You can check availabilities for Wooli accommodations here*.
When is the best time to visit the North Solitary Island?
We were told to aim for the warmer months to dive the Solitary Islands. The water can get quite cold in winter. We dived there mid-November, and a few in our group were cold. However, if you are brave enough to dive there during the colder months, you will get to see from the boat the humpback whales migrating!
The best time for diving is where there is no wind and the northernly are to be avoided. If it has rained a lot the previous days, there’s a risk of green water and poor visibility.
Are there other things to do in the North Solitary Island?
We didn’t spend enough time in Wooli for me to list all the things to do in the region. But at the right season (winter), a boat trip around the Solitary Islands will give you great opportunities to spot the migrating whales. The Yuraygir National Park surrounds Wooli for those who feel like a coastal hike.
Minnie Waters isn’t too far away. There’s a spot for shore diving or snorkelling there (you will need your snorkel equipment) where you can spot a few species of nudibranchs.
Have you scuba dived the Solitary Islands? How was it? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where are the Solitary Islands?
The Solitary Islands can be reached from Wooli (close to the North Solitary Island and the closest dive shop to Pimpernel), Mullaway or Coffs Harbour (South Solitary Island).
The North Solitary Island is about 13 km east-south-east of Wooli. It took us around five hours to drive from Brisbane to Wooli. It’s a long drive, and you’ll be tired after diving, so make sure you take your time and have at least a couple of breaks.
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Eloise lives in Brisbane (Australia), but you won’t find her often in the city. When she is not disconnected underwater or in a national park, she loves sharing her travel tips and inspiring her readers to take care of our beautiful planet. She considers every weekend as a two-day holiday break. Her approach: you don’t always need to go far to travel. Still, she also enjoys exploring the world and discovering new cultures. Eloise is originally from France and, before moving to Brisbane, she lived in Sydney, Istanbul and England.