– THE WILD SOUTH WEST
It can get rather
windy in Albany, so windy in fact that they have a wind farm that produces 75%
of the city’s energy requirement. But the wild and windy south west of Western
Australia also has some of the most spectacular diving in Australia.
Albany is located 400km south of Perth and is one of the most picturesque cities in Western Australia. The city was established in 1826 on the sheltered waters of King George Sound and served as Western Australia’s main port for almost a century and one of the countries main whaling stations.
The scenery around Albany is breathtaking. Spectacular granite cliffs, caves and crevasses dominate the coastline, above and below the water line. There are countless dive sites off Albany and even though it might get windy at times, there is nearly always somewhere sheltered to dive in and around King George Sound and its many islands. The following are just a sample of our favourite dive sites on a recent trip.
When the Albany Whaling Station finally closed in 1978 a number of whale chasers were left to rust. In 1982 one of these, the Cheynes III was sunk off the western end of Michaelmas Island in 23m for divers. The 47m long ship is a brilliant dive, even though the hull has started to collapse and it is now unsafe to penetrate.
Swimming along the side of the ship divers can see the bridge area and forward winch, and peering into dark cabins and passageways. The vessel is completely encrusted in colourful sponges, ascidians, bryozoans, hard corals and especially soft corals. Fish life on and around the Cheynes III is very impressive with morwongs, leatherjackets, boarfish, wrasse, sweep and schools of bullseyes common.
The end of the dive is spent on the kelp beds close to the island, and if you are lucky you may find a leafy sea dragon. These spectacular fish are found on many of the dive sites around Albany, but are very difficult to locate, with their exceptional leafy camouflage.
Another excellent dive site off Michaelmas Island is The Caves. At this site the granite island plunges straight to 25m forming many overhangs, walls and caves. There are some beautiful sponge gardens here and divers will also see gorgonians, black coral trees and soft corals. The fish life is prolific with wrasse, leatherjackets, sweep, bullseyes, schools of silver drummer, blue gropers, boxfish, morwong and stingarees common. Stunning western blue devils are found in the caves, while curious harlequin fish are seen around the kelp. Both these colourful fish are endemic to this region and are very photogenic.
This dive site is one of the best off Albany, located on the northern side of Breaksea Island. The cove is the location for a colony of New Zealand fur seals, but is also a good place to encounter Australian sea lions. The dive here general starts on a series of bommies in 20m to 27m that are covered in sponges, gorgonians, black coral trees, soft corals and huge cabbage hard corals. It is amazing how much hard coral grows on the reefs off Albany, this is a legacy of the Leeuwin Current that runs down the west coast and into the Southern Ocean. It keeps the water temperature a couple of degrees warmer than you would expect in this part of the world and also brings the larvae of many tropical species. The bommies shelter many reef fish and invertebrate species, and pelagic fish also zoom by.
From the bommies you can swim up a sand gutter to shallow water. This gutter leads to a rocky wall, which is undercut by ledges and one large cave, home to western blue devils and silver drummer. From here you can enter the cove where the fur seals frolic, and have a lot of fun while you do your safety stop.
This is one of the most interesting and least dived sites off Albany, a dumping ground for whale hip bones from the nearby Whaling Station (which is now a museum known as Whale World). Although parts of the bones can still been seen, most are now completely covered by amazing cabbage hard corals and sponges. The Boneyard is only about the size of two tennis courts, rising from 19m to 12m, however it is home to masses of fish. Western blue devils, sergeant bakers, morwong, wrasse, boxfish, old wives, talma, scorpionfish, sea perch, goatfish, foxfish, boarfish, blennies, gobies, swallowtail and yellowtail. We also found a large cuttlefish and lots of nudibranchs and sea stars. It is also a good idea to have a look over the sand as you may encounter huge smooth stingrays or smaller western stingarees.
When the guided missile destroyer HMAS Perth was scuttled behind Seal Island on 24 November 2001 she quickly became Albany’s premier dive site. The 122m long vessel now rests in 35m of water and is already covered by a tapestry of sponges, soft corals, gorgonians, algae, anemones, ascidians, bryozoans and hard coral. It takes a minimum of two dives just to get a brief look at this impressive warship.
Divers generally start at the mast, which has been left projecting out of the water, and either head east to the bow or west to the stern. Heading around the bow area there are numerous rooms to investigate, as dozens of access holes have been cut into the side of the ship. The main feature is the bridge, with the captain’s chair still in place. Heading toward the stern you can see the large gun turret and the missile launching room.
The funnels, radar towers and mast are fun to explore as you head back into shallow water. The fish life on the wreck is always impressive – schools of yellowtail, huge samsonfish, morwong, wrasse, leatherjackets, trevally and boxfish. However, our favourite fish are the false Tasmanian blennies that poke their heads out of the handrails. Australian sea lions are also common and will play with divers until they get bored. This is one dive you will want to do again and again.
Dive conditions off Albany are generally good throughout the year. Autumn brings the most stable conditions with calm seas and clear water. The water temperature varies from 15C to 22C, while the visibility varies from 12m to 20m, and can be 30m plus on the outer islands.
We dived Albany with Albany Dive.com, which is owned by Uwe Klinge and Liane Sulkowski. They have a dive shop in the centre of town and run daily boat dives on their 8.7m sharkcat. Originally from Germany, Uwe and Liane settled in Albany in 2001 after falling in love with the city and all the wonderful diving in the area.
Article appeared in Dive
Pacific Annual 2007
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