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Charlotte: Why did you name your retreat Planula and what exactly do you offer divers?
Our Destination of the Month is Australia. Diving in Australia in general and Julians Rock off Byron Bay in particular. Article by Charlotte van Weeghel. Photos by Tim Hochgrebe (click on the photos for a full gallery).
Tim and Wandy Hochgrebe
Underwater photo/videographers and marine enthousiasts Tim and Wandy Hochgrebe not only own and operate Underwater Australia, a comprehensive Web site about diving in Australia but also run a divers retreat with the wonderful name Planula in Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Together they have shown hundreds of divers the beauty of local dive site Julians Rock.
Charlotte: Tim, I understand you are from Germany and Wandy is from the Netherlands, how did you end up all the way in Byron Bay, Australia?
Tim: The usual story, I came as a backpacker when I was 19 and could never get my mind off this beautiful country. It took a few return visits until the big move happened in 1994. I met Wandy in Germany just months before my PhD studies were about to start at Sydney Uni - and somehow managed to convince her to come along.
Charlotte: And now you run a diver's retreat called Planula?
Wandy: Yes, we started 4 years ago and now we get plenty of divers and non-divers staying with us. Because we are divers ourselves we know what is important to divers. We have a fantastic job, because when divers are staying with us we have something in common straight away. The other nice thing about it is that we have convinced many of our other guests to experience diving or go out for a snorkel. There is nothing more fulfilling than talking to people that just have returned from a fantastic dive or snorkel and you have made them go out and do it!
Wandy: Planula is the name of the larval stage of anemones, jellyfish or coral following sexual reproduction. Little planulae float with the currents until they find somewhere nice to settle down.
Divers that come and stay at Planula will find a relaxed place with a lot of marine life identification books, a safe place to dry and store their dive gear, digital camera hire, other divers to chat to and we offer diving/accommodation packages.
Tim and I are marine biology enthusiasts trying to create awareness for the marine environment in a fun and relaxing way. We hope that people will more appreciate what they see once they know what they are looking at, because the more you know the more you see!
Charlotte: Can you tell a bit more about the diving there?
Charlotte: When would be the best time to visit Byron Bay?
Tim: Julian Rocks is an awesome divesite all year round. Most people that come here after they’ve been to the Great Barrier Reef tell us that they have much better dives here - so it’s not just me saying that. The variety of both little critters and big marine life such as huge rays, turtles, sharks, pelagic fish like kingfish and jewfish at Julian Rocks needs to be seen to be believed. Check out more details on this amazing dive site on our Web site >>
Planula is the name of the larval stage of anemones, jellyfish or coral following sexual reproduction. The diagram on the left shows a general schematic overview of the lifecycles of these animals.
Wandy: Any time of the year is good really. Besides the enormous variety of marine life that can be found around Julians Rock, there are also seasonal visitors such as the Leopards sharks in summer, Grey Nurse Sharks in winter and Manta Rays occasionally. Water temperatures range from 18 – 27 degrees Celsius, so it never gets too cold to have a look.
There is also plenty of life that doesn’t swim away very fast including brightly colored nudibranchs (seaslugs), stunning sea stars and, once you get used to them, even the sea urchins show an amazing array of colours, shapes and spikey-ness. A lot of our guests mention that they have no idea where to look first.
Charlotte: What kind of marine life is there to explore?
Wandy: Well, where do I start? Here at Julian Rocks you do not need to be very experienced to see at lot of different marine life. There are more than 500 species of fish alone. Generally, on dives you will see turtles, anemonefish (Nemo-like), playful Blue Groupers and Wobbegong sharks. Then there are plenty of animals hiding under ledges, in small caves and crevices such as different species of moray eels, crayfish, a number of shrimps, octopus and blind shark. Colourful fish, such as parrot fish, surgeon fish and wrasse are just about everywhere.
We read about the marine environment being destroyed in so many places
around the world. How is the situation in the Great Barrier Reef at the moment?
Tim: I believe scientists draw a pretty grim future for the GBR with the increasing impact of over-fishing, pollution and global warming. However only recently ( 1 July 2004 ) the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was rezoned considerably increasing the amount of sanctuary zones. We can only hope that initiatives like that will help to slow down or stop the deterioration of one of this amazing natural resource – for more info click here >>
Charlotte: This brings me to your new venture; Underwater Australia. The site says it is a comprehensive guide to dive Australia. What a great initiative and beautifully designed site! How did you get the idea?
Wandy and Tim: Since the beginning of PLANULA Divers Retreat we have been using the internet as our main tool to promote and market this venture. We had to deal with hundreds of different accommodation portal websites and found that there was a need for a comprehensive and unbiased, well designed and user friendly portal for everything underwater in Australia. So we took the plunge and developed a prototype version in early 2003 – it was welcomed by enough dive industry players that we decided to create underwater.com.au, version I.
Click her to continue >>