If you are looking for quite possibly the best experience when in Byron Bay, a snorkelling trip to Julian Rocks with Wild Byron should definitely be on the cards! Julian Rocks is in fact known as one of the best snorkelling spots in Australia AND one of the best shark dive sites in the world! With large numbers of sharks, rays and turtles here, it’s bound to be a snorkelling trip that you won’t ever forget!
JULIAN ROCKS SNORKELLING IN BYRON BAY WITH WILD BYRON
Julian Rocks are the two big rocky outcrops you can see a couple of kilometres out to sea from the shore when you’re on Main Beach, Belongil Beach or Wategos Beach in Byron Bay NSW (one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations). Whilst Julian Rocks may just look like two rocky islands they are far more than this. Julian Rocks – also known by the local Arakwal name of Nguthungulli, is a Marine Sanctuary and a Protected Nature Reserve and a whole other world lives under the surface here!
Julian Rocks is home to many sharks, rays and turtles. That’s right – you can swim with sharks here! In fact Julian Rocks is one of the world’s best shark dives and snorkel sites!
I honestly cannot believe this snorkel spot is not more well-known – especially seeing as Byron Bay is such a popular holiday destination both with international tourists and Australians themselves! Literally every tourist that steps foot in Australia will come to this beautiful laid-back town at some point. So the fact Julian Rocks isn’t more well known honestly leaves me speechless. But it’s actually quite nice not everyone knows about this beautiful secret underwater paradise!
Why Is Diving & Snorkelling at Julian Rocks (Byron Bay) So Good?
Julian Rocks is widely rated as one of the best dive and snorkelling sites in Australia due to it’s wide variety of marine life, and I can definitely confirm this is true. I have snorkelled three times at The Great Barrier Reef and snorkelling at Julian Rocks was absolutely next level compared to The Great Barrier Reef! And I’m not alone in thinking so: The Australian Geographic Magazine ranked snorkelling at Julian Rocks higher than snorkelling at The Great Barrier Reef! I can totally see why.
Julian Rocks is a great place for snorkelling and diving as it has a subtropical location. Here the warm and cold water currents of the ocean meet, so it creates an extremely diverse and rich underwater environment that makes it a very popular place for marine life. There are some regulars who are here year round, such as turtles, wobbegong sharks, eagle rays and shovel-nose rays. Then there are seasonal visitors who migrate here at certain times during the year as the water currents and water temperature changes, such as the leopard sharks (pictured below) and grey nurse sharks.
During our hour snorkelling at Julian Rocks I counted at least 12 leopard sharks, some turtles, an eagle ray and hundreds of colourful reef fish varieties! Literally the moment I put my face under the water I saw my first leopard shark, and there were honestly very few moments when I was snorkelling when a leopard shark was not within my view. How amazing is that?! There are very few places where you can say the same.
Another reason why snorkelling at Julian Rocks is so good is because the water isn’t very deep at Julian Rocks. It’s around 8 metres deep, so diving is not necessary to be able to witness all the incredible marine life and action here. Even just snorkelling from the surface you can see the bottom of the ocean here.
JULIAN ROCKS SNORKELLING IN BYRON BAY
Variety Of Marine Life At Julian Rocks
The variety of marine life at Julian Rocks is so impressive and so unique, with over 1,000 marine species visiting the area! Whilst in many snorkelling locations around the world you’ll come across turtles and big school of fish, what really makes Julian Rocks snorkelling special and unique is the vast amount of sharks and rays you will see here. You certainly don’t get to experience this is many other places around the world. I honestly even found it a bit overwhelming how incredible the marine life was here!
Julian Rocks has been protected for 40 years. As it is a marine park, fishing or disturbing the marine life here is prohibited, which means there is a higher density of fish here. This then in turn attracts the fish-eating sharks. Since Julian Rocks became protected the abundance and diversity of species here has increased a lot. It is so great to see that these conservation measures are working. And just incase you were wondering – the sharks are all here naturally. No bait is used to attract them (which does occur in other parts of the world).
Snorkelling With Leopard Sharks At Julian Rocks:
Leopard sharks are an endangered species, but you’ll find an abundance of them here at Julian Rocks in the summer months of January to March! They are incredibly beautiful, majestic and docile creatures. This was my first time ever seeing sharks – not to mind swimming with them! It was a totally magical experience watching them glide past and cruise around.
Leopard sharks are harmless to humans and they are very relaxed creatures. They are not scared of humans and they won’t swim away from you if they see you, which is great so you can get a really good look at them and their unique spotted patterns.
They are called leopard sharks because – you guessed it, their markings are just like a leopard – colours and all! It has distinctive dark spots and each leopard shark has a unique pattern.
Note that what is often called a leopard shark in Australia is called a zebra shark in the United States – and vice versa! Leopard sharks have distinct ridges running down the back of their body, and their tail fin is nearly half their total length! Adult leopard sharks are around 2.4 metres long (8 feet). They are usually found nearer the bottom of the ocean bed, but seeing as the waters at Julian Rocks are quite shallow it is very easy to see them when you are snorkelling and many of them swim higher up, their long tail moving slowly in the water.
We also saw eagle rays, manta rays, turtles, a lion fish and many other species of fish! Sometimes you will see dolphins too!
When Is The Best Time Of Year To Go Snorkelling At Julian Rocks?
Snorkelling trips to Julian Rocks happen year round and honestly, any time of year is a great time to go snorkeling at Julian Rocks. The summer months of January to March are the best time to see the endangered leopard sharks as they are in abundance here at this time. You may also get lucky and swim with a majestic manta ray during the summer months!
During the cooler winter months of June to August grey nurse sharks (a critically endangered species) migrate up here and you can often spot them. Note that whilst grey nurse sharks may look quite fierce, especially with their sharp teeth visible, like leopard sharks they are also harmless to humans and it is perfectly safe to snorkel or dive with them!
And from the months of roughly May to September you get the added bonus of spotting humpback whales! Keep an eye out for them on their migration when you are travelling on the boat from the mainland to Julian Rocks as they can be regularly spotted! It is honestly such a magnificent sight to see them breaching.
And of course in addition to the migratory sharks, the usuals like the eagle rays, unique reef fish, turtles and sometimes even dolphins are here year round. So whatever time of year you come there will incredible marine life to see. The great thing about snorkeling with the turtles at Julian Rocks is that many of them live in the shallower protected area year round – they aren’t shy of humans and you can often get fairly close to them.
JULIAN ROCKS SNORKELLING IN BYRON BAY WITH WILD BYRON
Snorkelling at Julian Rocks With Wild Byron
Laura was our Wild Byron guide. She was very friendly, professional and it’s clear she is so passionate about her job and marine life. She had a very in-depth knowledge about the local area and the marine life and really made an effort with every guest on the trip. She was in the water for the full duration of the snorkel time, pointed out different marine life to everyone and took some fantastic photos of the marine life with her camera, whilst our skipper Glenn stayed on the boat supervising and was available if anybody needed assistance.
The whole trip lasts around 2 hours from start to finish – around 30 minutes each way to reach Julian Rocks from Brunswick Heads Boat Harbour on the boat, and one hour snorkelling. I felt this was a good amount of time – not to short or too long. If an hour snorkelling is too long for you (it can be tiring if you aren’t used to it!), you are more than welcome to swim back to the boat early and relax on there whilst you wait for the rest of the group to return. The boat is never far away if you want to go back for a little rest and floaties are available, should you require.
Snorkel gear (fins, mask and snorkel) are included, although you are welcome to bring your own if you prefer. Obviously you will need to arrive ready in your swimming attire and wear reef safe suncream.
Wetsuits are optional in the summer when the water is warm but you may choose to wear one either for sun protection or to protect yourself from bluebottles. You’ll definitely need a wetsuit in the cooler winter months as the water will be cold. Bear in mind if you plan to freedive that a wetsuit does make it harder to free drive.
There are a maximum of 12 guests on each Wild Byron snorkelling trip. There may however be some other people out snorkelling at Julian Rocks if other boat companies are there at the same time. Whilst we were snorkelling at Julian Rocks there was another snorkelling group there as well, but it never ever felt crowded out on the water. In fact, for such an accessible location, I am surprised there aren’t more people out snorkelling.
Your skipper will take you to the most appropriate area to snorkel around Julian Rocks that day – usually you will be snorkelling around The Nursery as it is the most sheltered and protected part – which is on the western side of the rocks facing Main Beach. Here in The Nursery the depth is shallow at around 5 to 12 metres so it is the perfect place to snorkel. Plus, the marine life is so abundant here, despite it being so shallow!
Depending on the current and conditions, you may also swim towards The Needles (a depth of around 10-15 metres), which is where the leopard sharks love to hang out – although to be honest I stuck mainly to The Nursery and saw so many leopard sharks there. The northern side of the rocks gets more current as it is the most exposed to the ocean so it’s advised not to go there.
Visibility At Julian Rocks
Visibility can vary here at Julian Rocks, with late summer (February/March) usually having the best visibility (20 metres +) and the warmest water, as well as a the largest number of rays and leopard sharks. This coincidentally happened to be the time of year we visited, which we were very pleased about!
The morning we were snorkelling at Julian Rocks the water clarity and water conditions were very good, so we had many very experienced free divers on the trip with us (the water clarity the whole week had been insane). All the freedivers had incredible underwater cameras (or professional cameras with underwater housing) – far better than our Go Pro, and their pictures looked phenomenal.
Of course some free divers will dive down to get a closer look at the marine life, especially to capture it on their underwater camera. Even if you haven’t free dived before, you can always practice! Just obviously remember to take the snorkel out of your mouth.
Boat Ride To Julian Rocks With Wild Byron:
I have to say – the boat ride from Brunswick Heads Harbour across to Julian Rocks was definitely not expected! I had imagined a smooth and calm boat ride, but the ride over is very fast, and due to the position of the harbour, the tide and the swell conditions, it certainly made for an adrenaline filled and exciting ride! It was really fun and definitely woke me up!
Our skipper Glenn navigated it like a pro. He was so smooth the whole journey, even when the waves were huge! The vessel that Wild Byron Sea Safaris use to take you out to Julian Rocks is the quickest and safest vessel in the region. Even though it was challenging for Glenn to get out of the harbour, we felt completely safe at all times. Plus he even stopped the boat at one point to pick up a plastic bottle that was floating in the ocean, which we all appreciated. It is everyone’s responsibility to look after our ocean.
Many people on our boat were locals from Byron and the surrounding area of the Northern Rivers, and many were return customers, which goes to show how reputable Wild Byron Sea Safaris is within the local area.
If you do suffer from sea sickness I would advise you to take sea sickness tablets before you board the vessel as they don’t carry any onboard.
Booking Your Julian Rocks Snorkelling Trip With Wild Byron:
Booking the Julian Rocks snorkelling trip online with Wild Byron is very easy. The Wild Byron website is easy to navigate and you can see the timetable of available tours as well as the amount of spots left for each session. All levels of snorkelers, from beginners to advanced are welcome at Wild Byron, as long are you are able to swim unaided at least 50 metres.
As the Wild Byron Snorkelling trips are very popular it is advised to book your trip at least a week in advance to ensure you get a day and time that suits you. Snorkelling tours are available every day of the week and they usually have 3 trips during the day (8am, 10.30am and 1pm) – current and swells dependent. You don’t want to wait until last minute to book it and then find out that suitable times are either sold out or none of the times work for you.
If you need to contact Wild Byron just do so through their Contact Form. They are extremely efficient at getting back to you and trying to accommodate your needs. The contact form or email is the best way to reach them as they are often out of the office on the snorkel trips, so emailing as opposed to phoning is going to be more efficient. Communication with the staff before our snorkel trip was very smooth, efficient and professional.
If you have any medical issues, disabilities or injuries or there is a possibility of pregnancy it is always best to contact Wild Byron to discuss prior to making a booking so they can assist you.
You can also use your Discover NSW vouchers for the Wild Byron snorkelling experience, which will take $25 off the price (the standard price is $109 for adults, $99 for children aged 5 and over). The trip is extremely reasonably priced for such a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we really loved it. We were honestly talking about it for days afterwards!
Wild Byron Cancellations:
Wild Byron Sea Safaris have a very flexible cancellation policy. Cancellations or changes to bookings can be made free of charge up to 48 hours in advance. For cancellations you will get 100% refund.
All snorkel trips are weather dependent. If your trip does get cancelled – understand that it is due to unsafe weather and sea conditions and for safety. If the swells are too high it would make it unsafe to snorkel – especially as you are so close to the big rocks, and so your trip may be cancelled or postponed. If your trip is cancelled you will receive a 100% refund.
Wild Byron Sea Safaris is a covid safe venue, and they do not accept anybody onboard who displays signs and symptoms of covid-19.
JULIAN ROCKS SNORKELLING TOUR WITH WILD BYRON
The Wild Byron snorkelling tour departs from and finishes at Brunswick Heads Boat Harbour – not from Byron Bay! Brunswick Heads is 20km north of Byron Bay. It’s really important to turn up on time for your snorkel trip (ideally 10 minutes before the start time) so you don’t delay the group and it gives the guides time to brief you about the trip and to pair you up with appropriate equipment such as wetsuits! You can leave your belongings in the office during the trip, or you can bring them with you on the boat.
Driving to Brunswick Heads is relatively easy and there is a free car park right next to the boat harbour. Bear in mind if you’ll be coming from Byron Bay that traffic going in and out of Byron Bay can sometimes get very busy, so it’s a good idea to leave in plenty of time. If you arrive to Brunswick Heads early there are plenty of cafes and shops nearby to keep you busy. The beautiful Torakina Beach is nearby too if you plan to make a day out of it. Alternatively, you can just arrive to the boat harbour early and chill out on the bench next to Wild Byron. Wild Byron has a small shop with some drinks and snacks available to buy – just make sure not to leave any rubbish behind.
Alternatively you can explore the lovely town of Brunswick Heads after your snorkelling trip. Torakina Beach is a great beach if you have small children as there are barely any waves here. It’s a 15 minute stroll from the boat harbour, or you can drive round and park there – parking is free around Brunswick Heads.
If you don’t have your own car you can get a 20 minute Uber to Brunswick Heads for around $35 from Byron Bay. A regular taxi from Byron Bay Taxis will cost you around $60. Do be aware that especially during peak times or early in the morning, Uber availability is not great in Byron Bay and you can often be waiting up to 20 minutes to get an Uber. Especially if you will be doing an early morning trip like we did (we had a 07.30 start) there may not be any Uber drivers on duty, in which case you will need to phone for a regular taxi (Byron Bay Taxis – 0266855008), which will cost more.
Public transport to and from Byron Bay and Brunswick Heads is not very frequent. The 645 bus goes to/from Byron Bay to Ocean Shores via Brunswick Heads (the bus stop in Brunswick Heads is at the Information Centre on Park Street). However the bus only stops at Byron Bay 3 times a day on Monday-Friday so it is definitely not the most efficient option. Click here to view the timetable.
Wild Byron Sea Safaris used to operate a shuttle service from Byron Bay however currently due to covid-19 the shuttle bus has been suspended so you will need to work out your transport yourself.
Other Wild Byron Trips:
Wild Byron also operate 3 hour Whale Watching tours from June to October where you will most likely get to see several humpback whales. If you don’t see any whales you can get another whale watching trip for free – that’s how likely it is to see them! Plus they also do Whale Swim in late August-early September where you actually get to swim with the whales! What an incredible experience that would be!
Wild Byron also operate land tours in Nightcap National Park, such as trips to visit the impressive Minyon Falls and the prehistoric temperate rainforests of Wollumbin Volcanic rim.
If you’re like me and are not a seasoned snorkelled, these tips will hopefully be useful:
- Don’t put your mask too tight. I did and I ended up having pain on my forehead for two days after! If you’re not sure how tight to put your mask, ask the guide to help you put it on – they will tighten it correctly (the tip is to not make it too tight – the vacuum of the water will keep your mask on – despite what you may think!).
- Don’t smile when you’re under the water! If you smile it causes water to leak into your mask between your cheeks!
- Also, just relax and don’t bite onto the mouthpiece for dear life (like I always seem to do and end up getting jaw-lock).
The skipper will also give you some basic hand signals to use in the water that you can use to co-ordinate if you are okay or if you need help. It’s always recommended to have a snorkel buddy, and especially if you will be going down to free dive – make sure one of you stays on the surface at all times.
Note that Julian Rocks (Nguthungulli) are incredibly significant to the local Arkawal people and there are several dreamtime stories associated with Julian Rocks. For this reason, as well as Julian Rocks being nesting and resting grounds for so many birds, Julian Rocks are uninhabited and must stay protected. People are not allowed onto the rocks.
Underwater Photography At Julian Rocks
If you want to capture your snorkel trip on a camera other than a Go Pro, make sure you invest in a good underwater housing for your DSLR camera, such as a Nauticam NA-A7RIII housing, with a Canon 8-15 mm fisheye lens. The fisheye is a great lens for leopard sharks – a close-focus wide-angle subject.
We were holding our Go-Pro in our hand on a wrist attachment during our snorkel, but we have also seen some snorkel masks that have a go pro attachment on the top of them which are great so you are hands free.
Laura our guide has a very good camera with underwater housing and she very kindly gave us permission to feature some of her photos in this article. This trip definitely made us realise we need to up our underwater photography game when we saw just how clear and detailed her underwater photos were!
The photos on the Wild Byron website do not do the snorkelling trip justice – to see more amazing photos and videos you definitely need to head over to @wildbyronseasafaris Instagram, or Laura’s personal Instagram @laurags_photography ! They both update content regularly onto their Instagram and honestly the quality of photos and videos are amazing.
Summary of Julian Rocks Snorkelling Tour In Byron Bay With Wild Byron
We honestly had such an incredible experience snorkeling at Julian Rocks with Wild Byron Sea Safaris. We were totally blown away by the abundance and variety of marine life we saw. The crew were very friendly and professional, and I can definitely say that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I would 100% recommend the Julian Rocks Snorkelling trip with Wild Byron to anyone who is coming to Byron Bay and is looking to do something very special!
What Else Is There To Do In & Around Byron Bay?
If snorkeling at Julian Rocks with Wild Byron alone hasn’t convinced you that Byron Bay is the perfect holiday destination, check out these other things to do around the trendy laid-back town of Byron! Whether you want to relax or want to do different activities each day, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Byron Bay. Byron Bay is a very popular place for all types of travellers, from backpackers and grey nomads to the elite and rich and famous and is a firm favourite on any East Coast Australia NSW road trip itinerary! Many people come back to Byron again and again as they just love the energy and good vibes here. There is just something about this place that makes you long to return!
Cape Byron Lighthouse
A must when you are in Byron Bay is to visit Cape Byron Lighthouse – mainland Australia’s most easterly point. As this is the most iconic photo spot in Byron Bay it does get busy, especially at the weekends – but it is most definitely a magical experience! The lighthouse is so picturesque, located ontop of a cliff overlooking the ocean and you can get some fantastic photos here.
Sunrise is a popular time to visit as this is the first place in Australia where you can see the sun rise every day. The view of the sun coming up over the ocean is magical. Sunset is also popular and people often come up here with groups of friends with some food, drinks and music and enjoy the view and the sun disappearing over the hills.
Visit The Pass Or Wategos Beach
Byron Bay is known internationally for it’s epic surf beaches. The Pass and Wategos Beach are firm favourites for surfers to catch waves. If surfing isn’t your thing and you’d prefer to stay on dry land, take a walk up to The Pass from Main Beach to get a lovely view back over Main Beach.
The Pass is an elevated viewing platform and is a lovely place to watch the surfers – plus you can often spots dolphins here too! You can get some lovely pictures of the staircase overlooking the beach, or you can get some looking out over the ocean. If you visit at low tide it will be a lot easier to walk here, whereas if you visit at high tide you’ll need to wade through the water a little to get to the steps!
Halfway between Cape Byron Lighthouse and The Pass is Wategos Beach. Wategos is a beautiful sheltered beach popular with surfers and locals.
Visit The Trendy Boutique Shops, Cafes & Restaurants
There is a lovely atmosphere in Byron Bay with lots of family businesses and start-up companies. There are many lovely boutique clothes stores to wander round, plus there are so many great cafes and restaurants here. As Byron is a free-spirited place, you’ll find many vegan restaurants that offer simply delicious food. We tried out many vegan restaurants during our time here, but our absolute favourite was No Bones.
Kayak With Dolphins
The marine life in Byron Bay is honestly out of this world. Here at Byron Bay you can kayak with dolphins – which is an incredible experience.
Minyon Falls, Nimbin or Crystal Castle Day Trips Into Byron Hinterland
If hiking and swimming underneath waterfalls if your thing, then a trip to Minyon Falls should definitely be on the cards for you. Hike down to the waterfall and swim at the base of the waterfall (100 metres high) before hiking back up and continuing your journey to Nimbin. Nimbin is the hippie and marijuana capital of Australia and is certainly an interesting place – you’ll feel like you’ve walked back into the 1970’s!
Crystal Castle is also located in the Byron Hinterland, and the highlight is the twin amethyst crystals here. These crystals are the largest and most beautiful crystals in the world, from the amethyst fields in Uruguay, standing at a breathtaking 5.5 metres tall. These crystals were created millions of years ago from molten lava flow and are extremely rare, usually hidden deep below the earth’s surface. When they were discovered in 2016 they were transported to Crystal Castle.
Beach Horse Riding With Zephyr Horses
Another totally unique experience in Byron Bay is to go on a horse ride on the beach with Zephyr Horses! The feeling of riding on the sand and your horse wading through the water is simply magical.
This post is sponsored by Wild Byron. All views and opinions expressed however are my own.
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