08/03 Bucket List Dive: Straddie’s Mantas!

By 08/03/2015Trips Away
North Stradbroke Island

After diving with whale sharks near Exmouth in WA, seeing a dolphin on a dive right here in SA on Hallett Cove Reef, seeing heaps of different sharks around the world and regularly playing with the sea lions here in SA as well, manta rays were at the top of our “big things to see underwater” bucket list!!

The first Australian place that comes to mind when looking at diving with manta rays is Lady Elliot Island up in Queensland as it’s well known for its year round manta ray encounters. So we started reading up on Lady Elliot, when suddenly North Stradbroke Island came up and we read something about frequent manta ray visits at one of the local dive sites!

We read that the island, locally known as “Straddie”, has heaps of manta rays and leopard sharks in Summer and heaps of grey nurse sharks in Winter and that it has some of the best dive spots in Australia. As we had never heard of mantas here, we researched it a bit more and saw daily pictures on Facebook of the guys of the local dive shop showing manta rays pretty much every single day!!

We decided to go for it and planned the trip. We were driving up in our campervan, straight trough the outback (which was an experience in itself and took us 3 days each way) and took the ferry over to Straddie, which is very reasonably priced (especially if you compare it to the Kangaroo Island ferries here) at $170 return for our van + 2 passengers.

The island itself is easy to navigate, with pretty much one big road from one of the end of the island (where the ferry comes in) to the other, with all the hotels, campings, etc. along the way! As we were driving up instead of flying, we had decided to bring all the equipment, including tanks and weights, so the first stop was the dive shop to see if there was any shore diving that we could do for the first day (and New Year’s Day, which was a couple of days later). The girl at the dive shop showed us two spots, one close to the boat ramp, with lots of boat traffic and mainly small stuff and one in a cove with chances of seeing manta rays, guitar sharks, leopard sharks and other big things. Obviously we drove straight to the second spot, but unfortunately we ended up diving near the boat ramp, as the other spot was blown out.

North Stradbroke Island

The shore dive was great with lots of nudibranchs, small cuttlefish, dwarf lion fish, banded coral shrimps and other cool little critters, but this was nothing compared to what we were up for the next day!

After an early start and a short boat ride out, we arrived at “Manta Bommie”, which has the East Australian Current running right past it. The divemaster explained what the site was like and what to watch out for, so we rolled backwards of the RIB and were under before any of the other customers on board! We’re only a few seconds underwater when Denise starts pointing at something in the distance, WOW, a big leopard shark right away! And another one right next to it! Then we see a turtle slowly cruising past in the distance and a big stingray on the sand and so it continued for about 10 minutes until we saw our first manta ray!!

Wohoo, we couldn’t believe it, we got what we came for!! Swimming after it as quickly as we could we got a few shots (hey, it could have been the last one we saw on our trip!), but while we were following this big guy, the next one comes cruising towards us. Wow, this one is even bigger and a lot easier to take some great photos of as it was coming right at us. Only then we started to realise how this site works. There are three cleaning stations in a row and the manta rays fly past them as slow as they can, do a half circle and cruise back over them again, until either a tourist gets in the way (in which case they can shoot off in a milisecond as their wing span is easily 2m across) or they move on to the next station!

The next few dives we just patiently waited for them to cruise over our heads and noticed that it’s the same as with almost all marine life: the calmer and more relaxed you are, the calmer and more relaxed they are. They come up to within a few centimetres and seem to love flying over your head when you least expect it!

The Manta Rays of North Stradbroke Island

The list of things we saw slowly grew over the 6 boat dives we did: leopard sharks, wobbegong sharks, guitar sharks, green turtles, hawksbill turtles, loggerhead turtle, stingrays, marbled rays, eagle rays, manta rays, big octopuses, different sort of moray eels, nudibranchs and the list goes on.

We think it’s incredible how dive sites like this aren’t more well-known!! We have dived some pretty spectacular dive sites in Australia (Exmouth Navy Pier, Julian Rocks, South West Rocks, Yongala and the Ningaloo Reef to name a few), but this one tops them all! There is constant entertainment for as long as your air lasts (we did 75 minute dives and the dive shop guys were happy with that) and it’s only a short ferry ride away from Brisbane, so a lot easier/cheaper to reach than any of the other sites I mentioned earlier! You can simply take the train from the airport to the ferry and a walk on passenger ticket for the ferry only sets you back $10! The dive shop guys are happy to pick you up from the ferry, so it doesn’t get much easier than that!!

After a week of diving, sunbathing and swimming (as there is not much else to do on Straddie), we cruised back through the outback and just couldn’t stop talking about this place! We are 100% certain we’ll be back here, but we’re just not sure what season we’ll go. Maybe in Summer again to see the mantas, or maybe we’ll come back in Winter to dive with the grey nurse sharks?? Either way, we’re sure we’ll love it again, but we also have to keep an eye on ourbucket list, so maybe we’ll do Straddie again in a few years time and focus on the next big thing first: Hammerhead Sharks! Does anyone know any “secret spots” where we can see those?

North Stradbroke Island

LOCATION: North Stradbroke Island (QLD)
VISIBILITY: 25+ Metres
WATER TEMPERATURE: 26 Degrees in Dec/Jan
WETSUIT: We dived in our 5mm. long wetsuits, but most people were diving in 3mm suits
LOCAL DIVE SHOP: The Manta Lodge
BEST TIME TO GO: Mid Summer (manta rays) or Mid Winter (grey nurse sharks)
WORST TIME TO GO: May (no manta rays, no grey nurse sharks)
SAFETY ISSUES: East Austalian Current (very strong current) and the regular suspects (scorpion, lion and stone fish)

Full Photo Album on The Diving Adelaide Facebook Page.