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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!