What makes the Solitary Islands Marine Park unique?

We’ve chatted family, fishing and sharks with him before but here, Coffs Coast local and Senior Research Scientist (NSW Fisheries), Paul Butcher shares with Coastbeat what he loves most about the Solitary Islands Marine Park…

Although the Solitary Islands Marine Park (SIMP) is only 75km from the Sandon River to Coffs Harbour, I can guarantee that many coastal dwellers have never visited more than a handful of places that tourists pay big bucks to enjoy. If you haven’t explored this amazing, protected marine park that offers so many great activities, be sure to ‘bucket list’ these spots.

What makes the Solitary Islands Marine Park unique?
Nate is all smiles with his luderick catch (l) and (r) Nate and I head home with dinner all sorted 

Sandon

Starting in the north of the SIMP and part of the Yuraygir Coastal Walk, the Sandon River can be easily accessed through Brooms Head. However, I recommend taking the scenic route to this little hideaway from Minnie Water and up Sandon Beach and over the headland to the southern end of the village of Sandon. Take a boat, have a swim or shuck some oysters from the riverbed but the real appeal here is swimming in the rockpools along the rocky headland.

Throw in your mask and check out the range of fish that you could only dream of seeing in northern Queensland. Along with some curious kangaroos, you’ll most likely have the place to yourself. Next, head back down the beach and try your luck at catching a beach worm or collecting some pipis before making your way to Minnie Water to camp the night.

From there, make a trip around Lake Hiawatha and into Diggers Camp, a small village with campsites that will take your breath away. Irrespective of whether you’re fishing, surfing, snorkelling, walking or relaxing on the beach, take the time to gaze across the ocean from the natural freshwater shower on main beach to finish the day. On your way, catch a wave at Wilsons Headland, keeping an eye out for the elusive coastal emu that still inhabits the region. As a child, I remember them walking right up to our back fence at Wooli, but these days they are few and far between.

What makes the Solitary Islands Marine Park unique?
Aerial image of Diggers Camp courtesy of DPI

Wooli

Wooli is the next of my recommended spots. From catching mud crabs, pumping nippers, swimming and fishing in the river or taking the family to roll down the sand dunes on the western side of the river, Wooli has it all. From here, a must-do for everyone is a trip to North or South Solitary Island. These ocean gems are a two-minute boat ride and can be accessed with your own boat or by jumping on one of the charters from Wooli, Arrawarra or Coffs Harbour.

Be it fishing, whale watching, diving or snorkelling, you won’t be disappointed with the warm tropical waters and temperate southern waters mixing to create a scenery – they don’t call it ‘fish soup’ at North Solitary Island for nothing.

What makes the Solitary Islands Marine Park unique?
The Solitary Islands Marine Park is home to over 850 fish species. Anemone fish image by Stephen Smith

Back on shore, it is on the southern side of the Wooli River that tops my list of things to do in the SIMP. Spend a day walking between Jones Beach and the rocky coastline to Station Creek. Pack your fishing rods, dive gear and hammock.  It’s not uncommon to see people stretched between two trees reading a book with only the sound of the waves to eventually send you to sleep. This part of the coast is a goldmine when looking for treasures that have floated ashore from distant lands.

Once at Station Creek, spend a night at Pebbly Beach. Sit by the beach, set up a campfire (once current bans are lifted of course), enjoy a yarn with the local park ranger or spend the morning on one of the tree swings overlooking the ocean as the sun rises or sets. Before heading off, swim in the creek at high tide, watching out for mud crabs that are often wandering around.

Once you hit Red Rock you can join the Solitary Island Coastal Walk to Coffs Harbour at the southern end of the SIMP.

What makes the Solitary Islands Marine Park unique?
There are plenty of land and sea activities to do in and around Wooli. Wooli River image courtesy of DPI

Red Rock

Red Rock is a unique location and for me, the best thing is jumping in at the river mouth near the top of the tide and floating 700m on your back upstream to the boat ramp and then doing it again and again or heading to the shop and grabbing a coffee and watching everyone else do it.

Further south, Arrawarra provides a unique cultural experience and if it’s not looking at the native stone fish traps on the rock platform, it’s watching the locals (and these days backpackers) surfing at Arrawarra Point.

Observing what the SIMP has to offer from a broader view can be done from the Woolgoolga whale watching platform. This location and Muttonbird Island at Coffs Harbour at the southern end of the SIMP provide the best vantage point to watch the many ways in which the SIMP is enjoyed and experienced (by surfers, beach users, fishers, divers, hikers and even marine life such as whales, dolphins and fish).

Last but not least is Moonee Creek which, in my view, has to be the best place on the coast to watch the sunrise. With a creek in the foreground, soldier crabs running across the flats and the sun rising over the ocean, every day provides a different montage.

What makes the Solitary Islands Marine Park unique?
My three boys look for worms on the Coffs Coast with Spilt Solitary Island in the background

I encourage everyone to get out and about to experience these Solitary Islands Marine Park locations and partake in the great activities here too. Why not enjoy what’s right on your doorstep? Who knows, you may even discover or create your own activity to share with us all…

For more on Dr Paul Butcher and his involvement in the largest shark tagging program in the world, read this article.