Underwater Photography Day Trips to Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay with Redboats
Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay is one of the hidden gems of Australia’s dive scene. Its temperate waters are probably best known amongst underwater photographers for the diverse marine life that can be found beneath any of the Mornington Peninsula’s six most popular piers: Blairgowrie, Rye, Flinders, Mornington, Portsea, Frankston and Sorrento (which can only be dived once the ferries have stopped running for the day).
Underwater photographers are typically spoiled on these easy access pier dives with long bottom times in three to eight metres of water, shooting marine critters to their heart’s content around the clock in water that is typically not tide dependant.
However dive operator Redboats has recently started running four hour tours catering specifically to underwater photographers, giving them access to a buffet of the deeper highlights of the 1930 square km bay. The underwater photography tours typically include a visit to the rambunctious seals at Chinaman’s Hat, a dive to 27 metres at the gorgeous Lonsdale Wall, and one or two other stop-offs, across two BYO tanks total.
Visiting the colony of male seals that have been outcast from the main colony at Phillip Island is always an exhilarating experience. Typically the seal colony is visited on snorkel only, but this specific tour accommodates photographers on scuba. Belly flopping into the water from the tall wooden structure that gives this dive site its name, the photogenic seals are always excited to spend time with their human admirers in three to five metres of water.
Their antics range from maniacal hyperactivity and chaotic synchronised swimming to lazy vertical lolling in the water column. Some seals enjoy skidding on their bellies across the sand to join photographers on the substrate, while others would much prefer to take a playful, curious bite at a diver’s fins, sometimes even at divers’ hoods!
From little cuties to larger bully boys, many of the seals seem to love posing for the cameras, stopping within millimetres of a photographer’s dome port, peering intently into the lens. Large smooth rays often also frequent the waters around Chinaman’s Hat, swimming amongst the seals. The amount of silt generated by all this commotion at times lends itself better to natural light photography rather than to using strobes, and the motion of seals appearing from all directions makes anticipating the action a key component of capturing exciting images with the fast-moving subjects fully in frame.
Further out towards the heads, divers are dropped in at one of many entry points to the spectacular Lonsdale Wall, which stretches for around one kilometre (and comprises part of Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park). There are kelp beds at around 12 metres depth, but divers who go over the wall and venture to the 27 metre mark will find colour and beauty that rival the Great Barrier Reef.
Pastel sponges, hard coral bowls and gorgonian fans play host to a diverse range of fish life including the Southern Blue Devil Fish, while rocky ledges festooned with yellow zoanthids provide refuge for large crays and the occasional brightly coloured nudibranch. Divers will typically swim with their shoulder to one side of the wall, then turn around when they meet the current. Dive times are typically around 45 minutes.
Other sites on the photography tour may include a short visit to Pope’s Eye – the incomplete foundation of an island fort built in the 1880s to protect against invaders coming through Port Phillip Heads – as well as other rocky outcrops featuring ledges and swim throughs. Longnose boarfish are commonly sighted, and chance encounters with cuttlefish and shark species such as 7 Gill, Port Jackson and Wobbegongs are also possible.
The cost of $135 for the four hour experience is a great investment for photographers who are seeking longer bottom times in the depths of the bay than catered for by standard boat dives, in order to capture special images. And like-minded comraderie on a boat filled with shutter bugs is sure to turn the shared dive day in Melbourne’s temperate waters into a truly memorable event. Thanks to Redboats (redboats.com.au) for making this underwater photography tour available.
AUTHOR: PT Hirschfield
Feature Image Photo Credit: Sam Glenn-Smith
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