The first people to journey along the shores, islands and waterways of the place now called the Solitary Islands Marine Park were the Gumbaingirr people. The land and sea of the region has always been at the heart of their cultural heritage, which developed through hundreds of generations, and continues today. The Gumbaingirr didn’t need to make long journeys – in the ocean waters, coastlines, estuaries and forests, they found all they needed.
European travellers first arrived late in the 18th century, when the great English navigator James Cook sailed along the coast, charting its headlands and naming its features. Observing a scatter of islands, each one standing alone in the Pacific, Cook named them the Solitary Islands.
His famous journey of discovery continued northward along the Great Barrier Reef and finally back to England, where he reported the presence of a “Bay or Harbour wherein there appear’d to be safe anchorage, which I call’d Port Jackson.”
But the Gumbaingirr and James Cook are very recent travellers. For uncountable ages, many other even more amazing journeys have been made in the region of the Solitary Islands.
Wedge-tailed shearwaters nest in burrows among the tussocks on Muttonbird Island, a short stroll from the colourful Coffs Harbour Marina. Every year in autumn, the birds leave the island to make an astonishing migratory flight across the Equator to South East Asia, where they spend the southern winter.
As spring approaches they make the return journey, skimming low across the ocean for thousands of kilometres before returning every August to the same burrow on Muttonbird Island. During the nesting season, the adult birds spend the day foraging for food at sea, returning each evening on dusk in a spectacular display to feed their plump, fast-growing chicks.
The Solitary Islands Marine Park protects islands, shores, reefs, beaches and estuaries along a 75 kilometre stretch of coast from Coffs Harbour northward to Sandon River. Migratory wading birds use the coastal estuaries of the area as resting and feeding stages on their own long journeys – many of these birds travel beyond the Arctic Circle and back every year.
Beneath the surface of the Pacific, some of the largest creatures on the planet have been making their own long journeys along the coast of the Solitary Islands Marine Park for many thousands of years.
From early winter, humpback whales migrate from their southern feeding grounds in Antarctic waters, travelling along the Australian coast to breed and give birth in warmer northern waters, then returning southward with their calves. In both directions of their journey, increasing numbers of whales are easily observed along Coffs Coast from June to November. Frequent whale-watching charter cruises depart from Coffs Harbour Marina and the spectacular headlands that jut out into the Solitary Islands Marine Park make excellent locations for whale-watching.
The whales’ migratory routes follow the directions of two great ocean currents that meet and mingle in the waters of the Solitary Islands Marine Park off Coffs Coast. These currents flow like great rivers in the sea – the colder north-flowing current brings nutrient-rich waters from the Tasman Sea, meeting the warmer south-flowing current that comes from the tropics.
Where the two ocean currents meet, a spectrum of marine species whose more common habitat is thousands of kilometres apart, exist together. The Solitary Islands Marine Park marks the southern boundary of many species of hard corals – while swimming among them are fish species that abound in Tasmanian waters. The Marine Park is also an important habitat for endangered species such as grey nurse sharks.
The abundant variety and diversity of marine life in the Solitary Islands Marine Park makes Coffs Coast a brilliant destination for diving and snorkeling enthusiasts. The Solitary Islands themselves are close to the coast, so it’s only a short ride in the dive boat to a range of excellent dive locations.
Among fronds of surge-tossed kelp, there’s a good chance of glimpsing the endemic banded anemone fish, its bright orange body slashed with white stripes. (Remember Nemo? That’s him). Turtles, dense schools of subtropical fish and diverse coral, sponge and algal species are among the other highlights of diving here.
So whether you’re interested in diving deep, snorkelling on the surface, cruising ocean waters, cracking a Pacific wave or strolling to the end of a Coffs Coast headland, you’ll find it all here - in, on and under the beautiful Solitary Islands Marine Park.
Explore the Solitary Islands Marne Park with this video...
For more information visit the Solitary Islands Marine Park website
. For more information on Sub Marine Experiences...