The Rowley Shoals is one of the most outstanding dive and snorkel sites in the world. We’d like to tell you about the cruise and cover a few questions you might have.
Where Are The Rowley Shoals?
The closest atoll, Clerke Reef is about 162 nautical miles west of Broome or 300 kilometres west of Broome.
What Is It?
The Rowley Shoals is made up of three coral atolls. They extend from the seabed to the surface. They vary in size, but the total area is roughly 90 square miles which is about 145 square kilometres. They are about six kilometres wide by nine kilometres long. The coral growth on the surface has managed to keep up with the gradual increase of the water level so it is exposed at low tide.
What Will I See There?
We think this cruise is for everybody. If you are water-orientated you will absolutely love the Shoals because there are so many things you can do there. There is the snorkelling side of it and all the tropical fish that you can see. Then there's a diving side which we have to say is next to nothing else that we’ve ever seen. We've done a fair bit of diving around the world and the Rowley’s is right up there with the best.
There are other activities available. On two of the atolls, there are caves which are home to bird colonies. You can go for a wander around the island in the evening or early in the morning. There is also the opportunity to fish at Clerke Reef.
Mermaid Reef is actually a Class A Nature Reserve managed locally by the State Department of Parks & Wildlife on behalf of the Federal Department of Environment & Heritage. They set guidelines for our visit to the region.
There are a lot of big species of fish out there. You'll see cod, groupers and Maori wrasse, lots of white and black sharks and big trevally. These are all really big fish and to see large groups of them under the water is pretty amazing. As a snorkeler or a diver, you will experience that.
Crystal Clear Water
Our guests tell us Rowley Shoals exceeds their expectations because of the clarity of the water. You'll also get a nice surprise when you feel the water temperature. Water temperatures around Australia are usually quite cool, but at the Rowley’s it probably ranges between 23 degrees and actually goes to 30 degrees in our wet season.
Warm Water Temperature
The warm water temperature means you can just jump in the water. You're free; you don't have to wear a big thick wetsuit. There are no stingers so you’re safe to bare some skin. There are a few corals you need to avoid going to close to, but you’ll love the freedom of diving without a thick suit. Having said that, a suit will help you stay in the water longer and provide sun protection so we recommend you arrange to have one with you on your trip. You’ll see so many tropical fish and other larger marine life. You don't have to go too far or too deep to see them either.
Pristine Marine Environment
If you’ve dived in different places around the world there is one remarkable thing you’ll notice about Rowley Shoals immediately. There is no rubbish. It's an absolutely pristine dive site. We’ve never seen a piece of rubbish out there. That's a really rare thing.
Dive Master Planning
Once everybody is comfortable with their equipment, there will be a conversation had with the dive master onboard. Each diver will get to talk about their experience and what they're looking to achieve. We want to know how many dives they are interested in participating during the day. We can have divers onboard who have completed only a few dives or others who may have done over one hundred dives. We cater to all levels of experience.
We have a buddy system onboard. It's a safety procedure, so everybody dives with a buddy and we like those people to be matched well to their experience. Those who have more experience can be left to their own devices a little bit more. Those who don't have as much experience can then be diving closely with the crew and the dive master. We want them to have that sense of peace of mind and confidence in the water.
You have to have a minimum open water dive certification to dive. You can’t achieve that level out on the water. If you plan to dive you have to come onboard with your certification and be reasonably confident. We are a long way from help, so it is a very remote dive site so a reasonable level of dive confidence is important.
Let's talk about the equipment that you need for diving. There's quite a lot of equipment required for diving and as most people are travelling a long distance to get here we help out. We provide the dive tanks and weight built onboard. We also provide a marine lifeline which is a piece of safety equipment that all of our divers are provided with. It's a radio and GPS built into one. It's a piece of data equipment in the event that they ever become separated from the group. It allows the crew to know exactly where they are at any time.
Apart from what we provide, our guests have to bring the rest of their dive gear or snorkel gear themselves. We work with local businesses to hire the gear that you need. Things like a dive computer are compulsory. Every diver needs to have a dive computer, their BCDs, their regulators, fins, wetsuits, snorkels, masks, all of that gear. Torches and dive knives, safety packages can all be hired locally. In the booking phase, we'll send you an order form with all of the equipment pricing. We then liaise with the local businesses to ensure that their order arrives on time for your trip. We return the gear at the end of your trip.
We do this so you don't need to bring that bulky equipment with you. As an operator, we provide a little tool box with a variety of spare parts. We do this just in case there is some minor gear failure. We provide that equipment so that we can do little repairs along the way.
How Many Dives?
On any given day, there's the opportunity to participate in three to four dives. Sometimes we do a night dive as well. It's pretty exciting to do a night dive. These are usually for the more experienced divers. During the day we have service intervals in between dives. It is important for our divers to have that required time between dives so that their bodies can release any built up nitrogen.
It's also important to rest, warm up again and rehydrate before going onto the next dive. That's why we have three to four dives a day because it does depend on the length of dive, and the depth of dive. We have a duty of care to ensure that everybody is well rested and had a chance to warm up if they've gotten cold in the water. Hydration is also important and consumption of alcohol when you're diving is prohibited.
You can opt in or out of any of the dives. Some of our divers prefer to have a rest and they might just go for a snorkel instead. It is quite time-consuming to suit up and go through the procedure for each dive. If you have already enjoyed a couple of dives during the morning and you might just want to have a more relaxing afternoon and go snorkelling. That's perfectly fine as well.
The Rowleys is a relaxing place to dive. Most dives are a maximum time of sixty minutes. It's very relaxing because you can just dive down and float with the currents that run along the edge of the reef. Sometimes divers will do up to a kilometre in an hour of a dive by just drifting along. You'll see hammerheads and numerous species of reef fish. You’ll see silver tips, and occasionally we've seen dolphins. It is quite active and exciting.
We generally have a mix of divers and snorkelers on any trip.
Depending on the size of the group one or two crew members are assigned to the snorkelers. They can be in the water for hours at a time. There are lots of different opportunities at the Rowley Shoals for snorkelers. We've got beautiful examples of coral gardens and the coral wall. There are also channels which are the super fun. You can glide along and enjoy the rush of flow in through the channels.
As a snorkeler, the colour of the coral is most vibrant in the first five metres. You'll get to see the best that's on offer. If you can manage any sort of free diving then you get to go down to those depths a little bit more.
You're in the fresh air, the water, and the sun. It can be quite exhausting. Usually, an hour or so in the water as a snorkeler is enough and then you’re back to the boat for a bit of a break. It's your holiday. You can participate in as much or as little as you want.
Many Varieties of Tropical Fish
The outside of the atolls gets exposed on the low tide and from there down they drop off steeply. Some of the areas drop to 80 or 90 metres, straight up and down. As you drift along those edges, one minute you're looking down into the deep blue and you're only two metres off the edge of the actual atoll. The next thing you turn to the side, and you can see the top of the atoll almost on the surface of the water. The sheer variety of little tropical fish and sea creatures you’ll see will surprise you.
Many Different Water Activities
This is a place for people who love water. You can be diving, you can be snorkelling. We also take out the stand up paddle boards. We take out for some skurfing when you take a skim board and ride it behind a boat like a wakeboard. There is a sand island, so we can visit the sand island and go for a little bit of a day excursion and a walk on dry land. There's a lot of different ways you can enjoy the sun and the water.
The Rowley Shoals is a very remote place. We usually visit two atolls, Clerke and Mermaid. Mermaid is actually a nature reserve so there's no fishing allowed out there.
It is fantastic to be able to spend five to seven days out there and not see anybody else except for perhaps a customs plane or maybe one other boat.
The coral life out there is unbelievable. It's so healthy and strong. In most other places, especially around Australia, there is some coral bleaching. The Shoals have been protected because of the deep water around it. It’s in very good order.
The Finer Points
Starting Your Rowley Shoals Cruise
We set off on the Rowley Shoals Cruise at around 5:30 pm or 6.00 pm in the evening. We are travel out to the Rowleys overnight and we are in open water. If you suffer from sea sickness we recommend that you prepare early in the day by taking sea sickness medication. We don’t want you starting your holiday feeling unwell. It's better to be prepared.
We also help our guests by having a light meal on that first night. We also don't encourage much alcohol particularly if you’ve taken sea sickness medication. For those reasons you’ll find that first night onboard will be a little bit low key. We encourage an early night so you will sleep through that first night of travel.
The Exciting Arrival
We rise early in the morning and go down through the channel into the reef. This part of the cruise gives you the opportunity to stand up on the bow of the boat and look at this super deep blue water coming up to the reef. We go through a little channel, and you will see all the hump-headed wrasse and parrotfish racing all over the edge of the reef. Arrival is always exciting. It is a beautiful start to the whole experience. We track down into the lagoon. The water turns a beautiful turquoise, and you can see down to the sandy bottom.
Getting Set For Adventure
One of the first things we do is an equipment briefing. We like all of our guests, whether they're divers or snorkelers, to become familiar with their equipment. A careful equipment check is particularly crucial for the divers. They participate in a quick dive which gives everybody the opportunity to test their equipment. The crew can observe and learn about how comfortable people are in the water.
A Crew Favourite
I think the crew enjoy the Rowley Shoals cruise because once we have arrived it is time for fun. The crew almost feel like they're on holiday themselves. The hardest part is travelling in and travelling out because of the distance. Once you are out there, the boat doesn't have to move very far during the stay. Being stationery gives the crew the opportunity to join in and enjoy it with you. That's a fantastic thing. All the crew look forward to the Rowley Shoals cruises.
Many People Return
Many people will return to rebook on a Rowley Shoals cruise. We have a great group of guests who we have travelled with us over a number of years. Many people within a dive group will stay in contact with each other. They also let us know when we can catch up with them.
You'll Love It
The Rowley Shoals is remote and untouched. It is pristine and beautiful. We really love it and we're sure you will too.