A brief history of Julian Rocks and Byron Bay

Aboriginal People have lived in the Cape Byron area for many thousands of years. The traditional landowners are Bundjalang people. A plaque at Cape Byron tells their story, of how a jealous husband threw a spear at a canoe carrying his wife and her lover. The canoe broke and sank, leaving only the prow and stern sticking out of the water, and thus creating what is now known as Julian Rocks.

Captain James Cook discovered Cape Byron in 1770. He named it in honour of Admiral John Byron, another British navigator, and grandfather of Lord Byron. The naming of Byron Bay streets after literary figures is just poetic licence. Cook noted Julian Rocks but did not name them. On a chart from 1828 they were still unnamed. By 1883 they had been charted as Juan and Julia Islands.

From the mid 1880s to the 1960s Byron Bay was a commercial port, but not a good natural harbour. The first jetty was built at main Beach in 1886 and the second at Belongil in 1928. Many ships have sunk in storms, in the Bay, Two wrecks remain today. The stern post of Wollongbar, which sank in 1921, can be seen, at all tides, sticking out of the water, just off the beach towards Belongil. At low tide the boilers can also be seen. This wreck is easy to find, and there is some fish life around it. In 1944 a munitions boat, Tassie II, which was tied up at the old jetty sank. This wreck is about 100m off shore, near Fishheads, and is home to large numbers of fish and other sea creatures. Unfortunately the visibility in that area is often poor. On a clear day it is well worth a visit and the remnants of the old jetty can also be seen. The rocky area between the two wrecks is a good place to find eagle rays.

Between the Pass and Middle Reef there is a string of rocky areas which provides interesting snorkeling, but this should only be attempted by strong and experienced ocean swimmers. There are also rocky areas between Clarks and Main Beach. Movements of sand within the shallow areas of the Bay are enormous, and exposed rock comes and goes, hulls fill with sand, so the quality of habitat for marine creatures in these areas changes over time

By far the best local spot for catching up with marine life is Julian Rocks. Commercial operators run several snorkeling and diving trips to Julian Rocks every day. Julian Rocks is rated as one of the best dive sites in Australia. Coral growth is limited but the abundance and diversity of larger animals is enormous. Leopard Sharks and Grey Nurses visit at different times of the year. Wobbegongs and turtles can almost always be seen. Julian Rocks is a Marine Reserve and the creatures are generally friendly.