Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef attracts scuba divers, snorkelers, and more general tourists from all across the world, but while the water further down the coast in New South Wales isn’t quite so warm, there is plenty to enjoy there too. The marine life may not be quite so brightly coloured but the coastal waters between Sydney and Melbourne are home to a diverse population of sharks, stingrays, anemones, octopi and squid, and countless different species of fish.
So, where to go? There are dozens of excellent dive sites to choose from, and the best strategy is usually to ask at the local dive shop. They’ll know which spots are most likely to be calm and safe in which conditions and where you can find particular things. As always, there’s no substitute for local knowledge.
The Gantry is a typical south-eastern dive site and it offers a good flavour of what divers can expect on this stretch of coast. So named because of the old loading and unloading dock near the little town of Bawley Point, New South Wales, divers here drop straight off the rocks and into deep water- the sandy bottom is about 14m down and the slope is steep. Even on calm days there is wave action around the point but in reasonable conditions the water calms down as you go deeper.
Like many sites in the area, The Gantry is an excellent place to find large octopi, rock cod, huge red sea urchins and small, brightly coloured tropical visitors swept down by ocean currents in the warmer months. There are also two very large stingrays that almost always make an appearance. The biggest, a local celebrity by the name of Stumpy, is about 4ft across and either one will gratefully accept any fish scraps you might have brought along.
Combining The Gantry with a dive at nearby Guerilla Island makes a perfect scuba weekend, but any diver could spend at least a week exploring the protected marine reserves around the town of Jervis Bay. On good days divers, swimmers and snorkelers can enjoy world-class visibility. You can see up to 120ft underwater, and lucky visitors may well encounter dolphins. Often quiet, calm, and shallow, Jervis Bay is both beautiful and a friendly beach dive site.
At the other end of the scale, adventure seekers should head for Fish Rock, just off Smoky Cove. This is a more serious dive site and most people go for one reason- grey nurse sharks up to 11.5ft (3.5m) in length. While the grey nurse can’t eat anything bigger than the chunks of cod you’ll find in the deep-fryer of the local chip shop, their impressive bulk and rows of razor-sharp teeth still look very scary indeed.
Coastal towns like Bateman’s Bay, Narooma, and Ulladulla all have their fair share of dive shops and schools (and first-class dive sites), so airfills, gear hire and expert instruction are never far away. It’s also very easy to find boat operators to take you a little further from the coast. Whether you’re a beginner diver or a qualified Dive Master, you won’t be disappointed by Australia’s south east coast.
Jess Spate began diving off the south east coast in 1996. She now lives in the UK and writes travel articles for a number of websites, some of which offer hotel deals and other useful information. This December she’ll be back in the water at Bawley Point.