Sydney, Australia, is better known for its fantastic food, nightlife and surfy vibe, but not many people know that it is one of the best places in the world for snorkelling.
With so many spots littered across the region that are all easily accessed, make sure you take your snorkelling gear for your next trip to Sydney. Whether you are a scuba diver, an avid snorkeler or an expert, you'll be amazed at the amount of locations on offer and the diverse, colourful species that inhabit this subtropical wonderland, from wobbegongs to giant cuttlefish to seahorse and grey nurse sharks, Sydney really has it all!
Sydney is not tropical, but not cold in diving terms, it's temperate. Ranging from 15 to 24 degrees, this water temp sustains all types of unique underwater life, including amazing kelp beds.
The visibility ranges due to the storms and large swells that batter the coastline, but it averages between 10 and 15 metres, with settled periods experiencing up to 30 metres, particularly in the winter.
Let's get this out of the way, Australia is known for its sharks and not for a good reason. Thankfully, most of the best Sydney snorkelling locations are inshore, shallow and sheltered close to the coast. Because of this, it is highly unlikely that you will bump into the bigger species like tigers, bulls and great whites, however it is a possibility, you are in the ocean after all! Once you have come to terms with this, you are free to explore the incredible coastline that Sydney has to offer.
One shark you may bump into , if you are lucky enough, is the grey nurse shark. Also called a sand tiger or ragged tooth shark, they pose no threat to divers, although they do have a menacing smile and can grow to about 3m (9ft). They are rather large grey to grey-brown in colour with reddish brown spots. They are a slow, docile creature and incredible to snorkel with.
At certain times of the year, Nurse sharks aggregate close to shore in bays all over Sydney. Jump in at any rocky, kelpy bay with a sandy bottom and you are likely to find them, even if you are new to snorkelling. Sharing the water with these magnificent creatures is something you will never forget!
If you are lucky enough to happen upon a Nurse shark, it's important to be responsible and don't spook them. Don't block their movements or exits, don't descend straight down on top of them. Do try to stay in the same spot, breathing quietly and making minimal noise, they don't like lots of bubbles and noise, so staying still and quiet will improve your experience. Do enjoy the experience! It wasn't long ago that Nurse sharks were fished to the brink of extinction, you are incredibly lucky to see them!
Cabbage Tree Bay
Cabbage Tree Bay is an incredible 20 hectare marine reserve between Manly's southern end and the northern tip of Shelly beach headland. The visibility is generally good and it is a super convenient spot for a beginner.
Simply walk down past the smoothie stall to where the old boat sheds are. Walk down the concrete stairs on to the rock slabs below and begin your adventure. In the shallows there is plenty of seagrass which sways with the tidal flow. Drummer and juvenile fish are found here as are multiple types of stingrays. Further offshore, Giant cuttlefish, turtles and dolphins are also seen frequently at certain times of the year.
Keep an eye out for wobbegongs, they will generally hangout under ledges and in caves, you might just see a botchy tail sticking out! As tempting as it, don't touch them! They are known to be snappy.
Shelly Beach is located in Manly and part of Cabbage Tree Bay. I have decided to split these dive sites as you could really spend a full day on either side of the bay. Part of the marine reserve, Shelly Beach is just as amazing as the sidewalk swim, and with a maximum depth of 12 metres and beautiful white sand, Shelly Beach is perfect for all levels of experience.
Following the reef along the right hand side of the bay gives you the opportunity to see flounder, flathead, goatfish, old wives, fiddler rays and sharks — namely Port Jacksons, wobbegongs and, between January and June, young dusky whalers. If the water’s clear, search the seafloor for the ‘wreck’ of an old motorbike near the end of the reef.
As a bonus, take a walk along the bush track, up to the headland which offers incredible views of Sydney's northern beaches. There is a café, showers, toilets and a BBQ area, making it the ideal spot to spend a day. The downside is that it gets pretty busy, so arrive early to find parking. The crowds also spook the fish, but head just a little bit further offshore, or head out early in the morning, and you will be rewarded.
Between Clovelly and Coogee Beach is a hidden gem. Located in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, Gordons Bay is one of the best snorkelling spots in Sydney. It even has its own underwater nature trail, giving you information on the local marine life. Starfish sponges, sharks and hundreds of types of fish inhabit the bay.
Of most interest is the gorgeous Eastern Blue Groper. These huge, friendly blue fish spend their days looking for molluscs and tasty morsels around the kelp-covered bays of Sydney. They are super friendly and can get really really big. They are awesome to share time with in the water and are a great intro to snorkelling with kids.
Access to Gordons Bay is via an unlikely looking track through surrounding streets. Eventually you will arrive at the coastal walk which takes you down to the bay, a popular dive and picnic spot. This place gets pretty busy. Protected by an offshore reef, the calm clear water of Gordons Bay is well worth a visit whilst in Sydney.
Dan's Top Tips
Sydney has so many spots to explore you would need a lifetime just to visit half of them! It is an underwater photographer's dream, with everything from huge sharks and rays to tiny macro subjects, you will never be bored, take all your lenses!
. This is a great place for information and recommends a number of other dive/snorkel spots.
Don't try to rush around visiting them all, just pick out a few depending on the time of year that you are there and make the most of them.
Take a wetsuit! I went in the peak of summer and they had an unusual cold snap meaning the water was more like its winter temps. Due to its geographic location, Sydney is hit with cold currents at random times, so always take a wetsuit no matter what season you are going.
Water temps are roughly:
Jan- Mar 19-24°C
Apr- Jun 15 -24°C
Jul- Sep 15-18°C
Oct- Dec 17- 20°C
Make sure you take your own mask and snorkel and fins, rentals are pretty expensive and at peak times are sold out. Its best to go prepared with your own gear so that you can work with your own schedule.