North eastern Channel drift
Granny’s Pool, Blacksmiths to the Swansea Bridge
And vice versa
The drift dives have also been known as the “whasat” dives. The main reason for this strange name is due to the fact that the diver uses a natural phenomenon such as a current to move through the water. And also using this current, the diver rarely gets to view in detail what they have just swum over.
This drift dive takes place in the region between the Granny’s Pool at Blacksmiths and the Swansea Bridge.
The most common plan of dive profile is to drift on the incoming tides. As this will guarantee the diver that they shall not miss the exit point and drift out to sea.
The Granny’s Pool can easily be found by driving along the Pacific Highway and taking the first right (if coming from Swansea) or left (if coming from Newcastle) into Ungala
Proceed along Ungala Rd, keeping the reserve on your right hand side until you come across an intersection to your right, this should be @ 800 metresalong Ungala Rd. Turn right here, you’ll notice that you’re at the southern end of the beach car park for Blacksmiths beach, veer right again.
By now you should have come to a cul-de-sac with a small cottage behind and to the left of your drive in.
Or else, follow the telegraph poles to the right.
In front, one should find a small pathway that leads up and over a small scrubby hill, this shall lead you to the Granny’s Pool. (See below)
The most common form of trouble with the drift dives is “how am I going to get back?”.
Easy, the best method, tried and true, is to organise for the amount of transportation required to move the divers, with their gear, to the entry point and have the remainder of the available transportation left at the exit points.
Ensure that the vehicles left at the exit points have all the diver’s personals, as well as don’t forget to pick up the driver/s of these vehicles.
Once the divers have surfaced and exited the water from the drift dive, they have the chance to dry off and hop into some dry clothes before being dropped back to their vehicles left behind at the entry point.
What to see:
This dive, in comparison to the other drift dive, can be classified as a bit boring due to the fact that there is not much in the way of marine flora and fauna to be found.
The drift tends to start of relatively slow, making the diver think angry thoughts of having to fin all the way down the Swansea channel.
About three quarters of the dive, one will be drifting over multitudes of Sea Urchins and discarded bottles left behind from numerous parties held along this section of the channel.
It is not until you get into the final quarter, of the dive, that the rock wall that one follows starts to display plant life.
At around this point the diver may come across what may resemble wreckage. This infact is the location of Swansea’s old coal loading gantry (see Swansea Channel wreck).
On land, the old gantry site can be found on the side of the Pacific Highway, opposite the motel in Byrnse Reserve where the tallest trees are found along this section of the channel.
Be careful here as there may be sharp objects amongst the wreckage. Drifting along from here long sea grass becomes visible along the wall. The exit point can best be justified by when you come across the fist of the submarine cables that stretch from north to south across the channel. Before these cables, one may find evidence of how the gravel-loading barge was secure to the northeastern corner next to the Swansea Bridge.
Swansea Bridge. The powers that be thought it was best to dump and continually dump tonne after tonne of road gravel along the entire length ofSwansea Bridge. To do this a barge was loaded at the northeastern corner of the Swansea Bridge with the gravel and then motored into position.
The barge was secured to the shoreline via huge concrete slabs that can be found just below the water line with a couple of damaged reef balls in close proximity.
Where the gravel barge was moored and also some of the growth baskets
The area around the submarine cables is quite an interesting area to search in as many small fish use this area to seek some shelter from the currents as well as the growth that has accumulated along the lengths.
(In the past, the author has enjoyed entering and exiting a dive for the Swansea Bridge in this section, as it was known to not be affected by current for another fifteen to twenty minutes. Photographers have also been known to fill up 128megabyte memory cards during a dive, after the Bridge dive, in this area).
Upon surfacing, one should be very weary of ones close proximity to the Swansea Bridge due to the strongest currents found in the Swansea channel occur in the area of the bridge. Sharp rocks on the pylons as well as under feet can cause some trouble. Also trying to stand up in the shallow water, under the bridge section, maybe hard due to the fast flowing currents.
The exit point, be weary of fishing lines in this area.
If all else fails, snorkel and drift to the other side of the bridge (northwestern section) and proceed to the shallows from here.
Fish life such as Fortesques, Crested Morwongs, Maori Wrasse, Stripeys, Sergeant Majors, Silver Sweeps, White Ears, Old Wives (both adult and juvenile),Common Toadfish, Flathead, various styles of Leatherjacket, juvenile Yellow Boxfish and Moorish Idols have been commonly found along this dive.
(On another previous dive, the author accompanied by a couple of other divers, on a twilight drift dive, witnessed the Sea Urchins spawning along the entire length of the dive).
If need be, if one is feeling adventurous, one may wish to gear up and leave their vehicle at the exit point and walk along the footpath/cycle track until the get to the gravel drive leading into the grasslands of Byrnse reserve. At the end of the drive one will come across the tall trees marking the location of the old coal gantry, evidence can still be seen here. Enter the water about twenty metres to the east of this location and commence the dive here. This is great if the diver still has half a tank of air left in the cylinder.
Best time to dive:
The best time to dive this site is on the incoming tide. One may wish to dive on the halfway mark between low and high tide, exit and wait for the current to stop and then dive the bridge or else in the half an hour before the current to stop to allow the diver time to explore the bridge on the air left in their cylinders.
The dangers a diver should watch out for during this dive are:
- The multitudes of Sea Urchins along the length of the dive,
- As you are being pushed along with the current, be weary to watch out for large boulders that may suddenly appear. At times the visibility may only be five metres, but if one turns their head to aside for a moment, by the time they turn back they could be on a collision course with a boulder,
- The sharp edges on the old coal gantry wreckage,
- Bottom dwelling creatures such as Numb rays or Flatheads,
- The sharp growth on the pylons and surrounding rocks upon exiting,
- It is extremely advisable, if necessary to surface at any time along the drift dive, to surface up along right next to the rock wall. As this is due to the fact that this section of the channel is close to boating traffic as well as at one point the diver will drift past the opening to the boat-launching ramp.
Total length of the drift dive is 1.5 kilometres with the coal gantry being 430 metres away from the Swansea Bridge.
These next photos show what is to be seen of the old coal gantry underwater.
As is evident in all the underwater photos, sea urchins are abundant all along this dive site, especially around the wreckage.
Article and colour photos provided by Paul Wilson.
Black and white photos provided by Lake Macquarie City Council.