Far Northern 7 Day 23 – 30 October
Once upon a time in the land of Far North Queensland a special selection of adventurous divers flew into Lockheart River where they joined Spirit Of Freedom and her crew as they explored the unknown in the some of the most northern parts of the Great Barrier Reef.
We set sail in the early hours on the 24th of October from Portland Roads making way for Auriga Bay on the Southern Small Detached Reef, this was a nice easy going dive to start the trip as to let our passengers get accustomed with the procedures on board but also a good appetizer of what was to come. Southern Small Detached has steep deep walls that drop down below 400m, which boast large fan corals and huge schools of many fish species.
Over our lunch break we steamed north to the Northern Small Detached Reef and tied up to a spot dubbed the Sink Hole, similar to a blue hole in the middle of this miniscule reef. On the outer walls curious Silver Tip Sharks came in close to see what all the bubbles were about whilst on the top of the coral covered reef there was an array of Anemone Fish species nestled amongst the hard corals.
In the afternoon we moved up to Mantis Reef and on the northern point at a site called Black Rock as a large rock protrudes above the surface from the reef top. Through out the bay and along the wall several species of Sea Cucumbers were seen spawning as schools of Rainbow Runners coasted around the reef edge in search of some easy pickings. We had planned on a night dive here also but unfortunately some squalls blew through making it a little to sketchy to run a dive in the dark, no need to worry as we another four nights available for some awesome diving.
On Wednesday morning our Captain Tony had us set up for some drift diving in Steed Passage, in the middle of this deep channel a ridge comes up to 7m from the surface in which makes for some great pressure points attracting plenty of life. Early in the morning many divers saw crayfish crawling along the top while sharks hunted in the current pressure areas making for an action packed dive, this spot has been named Well Worth It, and rightfully so. Being such an eventful dive we chose to dive this site twice, a select very lucky few while on their way to the drop zone spotted a young Whale Shark and got to spend several minutes with it while drifting through the pass.
During lunch we did a little exploration among the 5 Reefs system and discovered a beautiful reef wall teaming with life so we dived the wall early in the afternoon. For our fourth dive of the day we moved NW to Wood Reef a dived Big Woody. Here there is a large swim through filled with fans and whip corals which goes from one side of a finger from the reef to the other. Here we also conducted our night dive where all the creepy crawlies came out to play in the moon light.
We got in a nice early start on Thursday as we had a five-dive day ahead of us; it started off with a static dive at Perisher Blue. As the name suggests it’s a steep slope with scattered bommies which imitate moguls on a ski slope.
The rest of the day consisted pinnacle diving, where we did two dive on Deep Pinnacle then the final two on The Pinnacle. Both both boast amazing life with such an array varing from nudibranchs and flat worms to large pelagics. Many feather stars take hold to the giant fans on the former while Lion Fish lay in wait for some prey on the latter, we conducted a night dive on The Pinnacle which was crawling with crustaceans once the sun had set, which was a magnificent sunset by the way. After our night dive it was a short steam to our overnight anchorage for a good nights rest ahead of our action packed day on Friday.
First upon the schedule was a cracking dive on ‘Epic’, this large seamount rises up from hundreds of meters to nearly ten meters from the surface and is part of the Great Detached Reef. Being a seamount it attracts all sorts of life as it catches the tidal currents that bring in nutrient rich waters from the Coral Sea. After brekkie we moved over to 3 Reefs and did a dive through one of the channels on the incoming tide, beautiful coral structures covered the walls through out the entire channel that housed an assortment of fish species.
As the wind dropped over lunch we steamed out to Raine Island where we would conduct the final two dives of the day. Raine Is. is a remarkable place where each year from October to December/January thousands of turtles congregate to court, mate and lay their eggs. Many turtles could be seen from the upper decks of the ship as they often came up for breaths of air and whilst diving many were spotted dancing with each other and also mating under water. Come later in the afternoon several large female had begun their tiresome trek up the beach where they would tediously dig a hole for which they would lay their eggs. Diving here at this time of year truly is a big tick on the bucket list. Shortly after everyone was back on board and accounted for it was time to begin our journey south with more than 120 nautical miles to cover overnight.
On Saturday morning we awoke near Creech Reef diving an un-named reef on a site called Aladdin’s Cave. Magnificent hard corals cover the scattered bommies housing Diagonally Banded Sweetlips while Bumphead Parrot Fish grazed the reef in the morning. We also did our second dive here as the site spans a large area creating many different routes and habitats along the reef.
After lunch we had moved further south to Joan Reef and we did a drift dive on the incoming tide, the wind had disappeared completely making spectacular views of the reef from the boat, perfect drone flying conditions. Along the wall we experienced the best Plate Corals we’d seen all week with many spanning more than two meters in diameter. Our fourth dive was down on Wilson Reef and was another drift along the wall but what made this dive so special was up on the too of the reef in the shallows was huge congregations of Surgeon Fish shooting bursts of sperm and eggs into the upper water column as the sun started to go down in the late afternoon. We then tied up to the reef for a static night dive at s site called Pirates Cove. Moray Eels came out to hunt in the night while turtles but their heads down for a good nights rest, soon to be the trend of all the passengers as it was a full on five dive day and another long nights steam down to the Ribbon Reefs.