Diving in to Bicheno – Combined Dive Clubs Weekend, 2019

For a lot of Tasmanian divers, there is one event that is always on the calendar, Tasmanian Combined Dive Clubs Weekend (CCW). It is held every year, in the sleepy, East Coast town of Bicheno on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, for the last 15 years.

Beautiful sunsets of Bicheno get me every time.

For me, it always starts the same way, finish work, pack the car faster than light speed, then drive 2.5-3 hours in the dark, along the windy, coastal highway, attempting to avoid the suicidal native wildlife. The car, the company and all the dive gear have managed to make it every year, for the last 5 years, thankfully.

Arriving in Bicheno, and our first stop is the local fish shop down at the boat ramp. Yarns are told, new and old divers alike are greeted and a few rough dive plans mooted for the next morning. We stroll along the road, back to our accommodation, being serenaded by the nesting penguins.

We awake to a beautiful, crisp Bicheno winters morning. The sun is shining, wind is barely a whisper and the sea is calm. A couple of the hard-core interstaters were at the ramp at 6am for a dawn dive, return with tales of 15 meters + visibility! Its going to be a good one.

Being a long weekend, boats, big and small are everywhere! However, it is a big coast, and most fishermen head offshore, and away from the marine reserve, where we prefer to dive. Dolphins playfully join us as we leave the boat ramp, heading towards the marine reserve. We kill the boat motors and the dolphins do laps around the boat, showing off their lithe and skillful manoeuvres.

Down at 30 meters, just outside there reserve sat this stunning sea whip completely encrusted in pink jewel anemones (Corynactis viridis)!

The 45 minutes in the blue never quite seems to give us enough time to explore the great diversity of dive sites the East coast of Tasmania, and in particular, Bicheno, have to offer. Once we are past 20 meters depth, the kelp beds begin to thin out, making space for the beautiful and complex variety of sponges, sea whips and other incredible invertebrate species. And the colors. I’m eternally in wonder with the colors the deeper sites of Tasmania have to offer. The massive, room sized boulders give the appearance of huge sea monsters, covered in sea whips, long, white and gently swaying with any remnant surge.

Hundreds of pink butterfly perch, move in synchronicity and are more interested than afraid of the two ridiculous, neoprene and steel shapes moving through them. They flit and turn together, collecting little morsels from the water column. In the Governor Island Marine Reserve, the large rock lobsters know they’re safe, and the vibrant, large red and yellow animals stroll across the boulder littered sea floor with very few cares in the world.

If you look closely, you can even see one or two of the parazooanthids wiping their tentacles across their “mouth”.

Heading back to the surface, we come to the region that is dominated by golden parazooanthids. Weird, tubelike creatures, that end in delicate tentacles. these beautiful colonial animals cover swathes of rock bommies, leading to the aptly named dive site, Golden Bommies. The butterfly perch follow and watch us, still eating in their peculiar little way.

Slightly shallower again, the kelp begins to return, as do swathes of bryozoans (colonial animals that look like plants), yellow sponges, and my all time favorites, sea spiders and nudibranchs. A macro photographers heaven. It’s a good thing our bottom time is considerable longer at this depth, I easily spend 10 minutes harassing one particularly photogenic nudibranch or a group of sea spiders huddling together.

One of my favorite “little things” to see on a dive, a sea spider. This one has a stash of eggs on its underside!

Our time is almost up, but there is one last favorite bit of diving in Bicheno. That 5 minutes between deploying the surface marker buoy (smb) and breaking the surface is not to be ignored. It is the chance to have a candid view in to this underwater playground. The wrasse play hide-and-seek in the surge and kelp, leather jackets, who look like they’ve had a little too much to drink, try to defend their territory from other, faster fish, and the pike school hurriedly through the melee to rush off as one. A rock lobster, surveys his little hidey hole, and shuffles a little further in to the open.

We break the surface, and chill on the surface like the nearby seal, sunning its self. The boat comes and picks us up, and we quite literally sail in to the most stunning, pastel hued sunset. The sky is still highly colored an hour later as we sit on our balcony drinking a quiet beer.

We wash down, pack up, eat cheese, tell a yarn and listen to the evening presentations. The latest research on the invasive urchin (Centrostephanus rodgersii), scientific and cave diving talks as well as a stunning video from the Our World Underwater Scholar from 2018. The weekend is finished with Dr Harry (Thai cave rescue, not the vet…) giving an incredible, down to earth talk about his experiences.

The winding road, rain slicked windows, and some tunes carry us gently home. Mother nature smiled on us, this time round, sun, no wind, no rain, and 15-25 meter visibility. Bring on winter diving!!!

Lembeh Photography Workshop 2018

Underwater Tribe Photo Week at NAD Lembeh

The thing I most want to do at the end of a cold winter in Tasmania, is head to some beautiful tropical island and go diving for a week!  The next best thing, is undertake a photography course.  Well, I was lucky enough to do both of these, in Lembeh, Sulawesi.

I stumbled across the Underwater Tribe website as I was looking for some lightroom tutorials to edit some of my diving photographs at the start of the year.  I still hadn’t planned my Tasmanian winter getaway by this stage, so I scrolled through their website.  The Photo week looked like too good an opportunity to pass up, three fantastic photographers, Mike Veitch, Luca Vaime and Doug Sloss, in a beautiful resort, NAD Lembeh.

Tropical paradise at my fingertips. Here are two of the four dive boats that NAD Lembeh undertake all their dives off. Really well set up run by an extremely helpful boating crew

Flights, and workshop booked, I dragged myself through a mild Tasmanian winter, with the sweet optimism of a week long, tropical holiday at the end of it.  After 22 hours in airports and planes, 2 hours across Northern Sulawesi’s roads and 15 minutes by boat, I arrived at NAD Lembeh.  Over afternoon tea we were introduced to NAD Lembeh’s manager, Sonja, the three instructors, Mike, Luca and Doug, and Stenli, our dive guide.

This boat felt like my home by the end of the trip. It is named after the Wonderpus, a very fast little octopus that I was not quick enough to get a good shot of all week.

A typical day from that point consisted of an eat, dive, eat, dive, nap, eat, dive, eat, workshop, eat, sleep.  Honestly, a SCUBA crazy ladies perfect holiday.   The diving, oh the diving was paradise!  It is not like your typical tropical holiday, coral reefs, lots of fish etc, instead it is more like a permanent treasure hunt.  The black sands of Lembeh Strait had so many critters hiding I lost count of what I had and hadn’t seen by day two.  Tiny nudibranchs half the size of your little finger nail, various species of frogfish pretending not to be there, as well as octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish and seahorses, just to name a few.  I did a blackwater dive and a night dive over two nights (as three dives a day just wasn’t enough), and was amazed by the animals that came out.  I think one of the most memorable and scariest things I saw on these dives however was a hunting bobbit worm.  The voracity with which this terrifying creature consumed its prey was chilling, even if it was only a couple of centimeters across.

The afternoon workshops were fascinating.  Personally, I got the most out of Doug Sloss’ workshops about editing images in Lightroom, but the other instructors also ran workshops on composition, lighting techniques and more advanced techniques including snooting (maybe next time) and bokeh.  Thankfully, we were gifted with copies of all the workshops, there was so much to learn I am still sifting through the information.

If I wasn’t sleeping or diving, I was in here, NAD Lembeh’s fully equipped camera room. Every diver had their own station, with a global power boardto charge batteries.

Having a dive guide who could basically take you straight to an interesting subject, and then instructors who would assist you in taking the shot in situ, massively improved my photography over the week.  I was sad to leave the island, and all the funny little critters, but I am fairly certain I’ll be back again  soon.  If you want to mix having a tropical dive holiday with learning A LOT about underwater macro photography, book in for 2019’s photo week.

Leaving NAD Lembeh was pretty sad, You can even see Sonja waving from the end of the jetty!

Dive Site Review – Blackmans Bay South, Tasmania

Dive site map of Blackmans Bay South

Fifteen minutes south of Hobart CBD (Tasmania) is a fantastic little shore dive, located at the south end of Blackmans Bay beach.  If you love sea horses, stingarees and draughtboard sharks and giant kelp, then this site has to be on your Tasmanian dive bucket list.  Due to its shallow depth it is easy to spend an hour or more exploring this beautiful dive site.

Lots of these seahorses can be found in the shallows of the dive site at Blackmans Bay South.

Entry is off the end of Ocean Esplanade.  There is easy parking with a grass area for you to set up your dive gear.  Once set up, there are two entry options (see the map).  Entry #1 is a short 150 meter walk down on to the beach.  This will give you plenty of time in the water to get set up as
the depth is quite shallow for about 200 meters from this point (~2-3m), but, keep your eyes open, this is where you’re most likely to find the pot-bellied seahorses (Hippocampus bleekeri).  Entry #2 is a longer 350 meter walk along the Boronia Beach Track, and then a short scrabble along the sandstone rocks.  I advise caution when using this entry, as the rocks can sometimes be quite slippery.  However, this is a great entry if you are interested in getting past the eastern point and around in to the giant kelp forest.  The jutting walls on the east point of the dive site are

Biscuit star and jewel anemones that can be found on the walls of the eastern end of Blackmans Bay, Tasmania

encrusted in stunning jewel anemones, and there are always a fair few draughtboard sharks (Cephaloscyllium laticeps) sleeping in cracks or under some weed.

Even in average visibility, this site can be a photographers dream, with plenty of fish and sharks to keep a diver happy for well over an hour!

Parking: 90 degree parking at the end of Ocean Esplanade

Amenities: Public toilet about 700m north of the dive site, on Ocean Esplanade

Depth range: max 10 meters

Visibility: As this site is in the Derwent, it can vary from 2-10 meters

2017 – Diving Adelaide for the first time!