Rowley Shoals, Western Australia

This article was contributed by Alan Gurevich.

While diving Ningaloo reef (Exmouth and Coral Bay) a couple of years ago I heard about Rowley Shoals, about 240 km offshore from Broome, another 16 hours drive North. The liveaboard I found for this was Kimberley Escape, run by Great Escape Charter Co.


Though Broome is remote and not arrived at quickly, I felt the town and surrounding area alone were worth the trip. For about 80 years Broome was the center of the mother-of-pearl, and then cultured pearl industries. Mother-of-pearl went out of demand with the invention of plastics, and the pearling industry has moved its main operations north of Broome.

But the town has done very nicely by offering lots of beach, sun, and tours into the Kimberley part of the Australian outback. A four day 4-wheel drive camping trip before I met the dive boat was barely enough to scratch the surface of this area, well known for its many beautiful gorges, billabongs (water holes), and generally wonderful scenery. There are also some incredible examples of aboriginal rock art.

The Kimberley Escape Liveaboard

The Kimberley Escape itself has a crew of 4 and sleeps up to 14 guests. All cabins sleep 2 (some would take three) and share 3 toilets and showers located on the main deck. This didn't prove to be inconvenient at all, and was actully nice as you could shed your dive gear and hop right into a hot rinse (hot water is pretty much unlimited).

We met the boat evening of the first day for an all night cruise to the dive site.

The Diving

Rowley Shoals is three separate atolls, two with sand bars that are exposed full time or at low tide. We visited Clark and Mermaid Atolls, both of which have outer edges marked by a combination of vertical drops to deeper than you can see, drop offs to a sandy shelf/bottom, and walls that are intricately cut with channels, swim throughs, and some interesting caves, some of which are also swim throughs. The insides of both atolls have some scattered bommies which made for nice night dives.

Animal life is plentiful so long as you aren't thinking macro. The fish life was wonderful, and there were grey or white tip reef sharks on each dive, but if you're looking for small critters - crustaceans, nudibranchs, flatworms, etc., there weren't many to be seen. That said, three of the most incredible nudibranchs I've seen were here - so I guess I just wasn't looking in the right places.

And even given my love of macro-life, and the lack thereof, I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to go back.

Of particular note were:

Some drift snorkels done at Clark. There are three cuts through the reef, one not much wider than 2-3 meters. As this area has (according to the Broome tourist brouchure) the 2d largest tides on the planet (after Canada's Fundy), the water gets to ripping through these channels. One day after lunch we drifted all three and I've no doubt the current was moving at 6+ knots for the last one.

There was also the largest tridacna clam I've ever seen in one of the channels - on first sighting it I literally thought it was a boulder - must've been 1.5 meters long, easily, although blowing past at 3-4 knots it was tough to stop for a look (and it's in about 15 meters of water. But there's another clam inside the lagoon in 3-5 meters that was longer than my fin.

At the exit to the main channel there is also a very large bommie that's home to two or three potato cod. The male is a monster - I'd guess 1.2-1.6 meters long. My introduction to him was on a night dive, when I turned to see why my dive partner was pushing me away from the crevice I was looking in. Coming mask-to-nose with something that size at night is quite a thrill, and for the rest of the dive, and subsequent day dive at that spot, he was constantly nosing arund one or another of us, as were his female companions.

A few more comments on the boat: The crew was terrific, the facilities very comfortable, the food wonderful. Chris and Punie, the Master and First Mate, are both owners and had the boat designed for diving from the keel up, based on their previous work experience on other dive boats. They've done a great job and take real pride in their boat, and the product, which is well deserved.

That's about it, though I could wax enthusiastic about this trip for pages. They also do a 14 day trip up the coat from Broome, concentrating on fishing and poking around the spectacular coast. But if you're a diver, Rowley Shoals is certainly what you should opt for.

By Alan Gurevich.

Books to Take

Diving Australia: A Guide to the Best Diving Down Under
by Neville Coleman, Paperback, PeriPlus Editions, 332 pages (2004)
Atlas of Australian Dive Sites
by Keith Kockton, Paperback, HarperCollins, 288 pages, (2003)
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