Sydney's underwater wonderland: top five diving sites in the city
Want to escape the summer heat and discover a glorious underwater world brimming with fish, colourful sponges and even stingrays and the odd turtle? The good news is you don’t have to book a trip to north Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, you don’t even have to leave Sydney. All of this is available on your doorstep.
One of Australia’s most experienced scuba divers, Michael McFadyen, says Sydney is an overlooked underwater wonderland.
McFadyen has dived in every state in Australia, across the Pacific and around the world, but says it wouldn’t bother him if he could never dive anywhere else except for Sydney. Since 1998, the amateur diver has notched up about 3900 dives and spent 3095 hours underwater, or 128 entire days. But he still loves diving in Sydney.
“It’s really underrated. People think you have to go to the barrier reef to see anything good, but it’s just not the case. The variety is the biggest surprise.”
McFadyen, who operates a website about his diving and sailing adventures, said Sydney’s waters were full of sponges, extensive fish life and even shipwrecks.
“I’ve swam through schools of fish on wreck dives that are so thick, I’ve had to ascend just to see my buddy,” McFadyen says.
One of his highlights is finding the rare nudibranch Donut Nembrotha. Nudibranchs are colourful sea slugs and McFadyen was rapt when he spotted five on one dive.
“There are so many treasures out there. I even know people who have discovered species, for instance the Pygmy Pipehorse [first identified by Akos Lumnitzer].”
The former National Parks worker says that over the years he has seen many types of fish come and go, small and large. “For instance Wobbegong sharks seem to be on the decline now, but tropical species are becoming more common.”
He says one of his top dive sites is Bare Island, in La Perouse, where divers can see a small colony of sea dragons among many other species.
“At first it takes you ages to spot the sea dragons, but now I can see them a mile off. Bare Island is a terrific site and it always turns up something unexpected.”
One of the easiest dive sites in Sydney is the shore dive at Shelly Beach at Manly, where dusky whaler sharks have been spotted. For southern Sydney residents, Oak Park in Cronulla is another easily accessible site. For those willing to put a bit more effort in, you can join a club, such as the St George Scuba Club, or find a commercial operator to take you into the waters off the coast. Here you’ll find deeper sites, more abundant fish and marine life, and the 30-odd shipwrecks.
To make your life easier McFadyen reluctantly – “there are so many good ones” – selected his top sites.
Remember, you need a ticket to dive and should always check sea and wind conditions before you go.
Sydney’s Top 5
BARE ISLAND, LA PEROUSE
There’s a pygmy pipehorse in there. Photo: Michael McFadyen
Shore dive. Up to 19 metres depth. An abundance of marine life. Red Indian fish, Pygmy pipe fish, sea horses, nudibranchs, flathead, anglerfish (there is a Bare Island anglerfish named after this site), fire fish.
THE COLOURS, SOUTH HEAD
Boat dive. 30 metres. Experienced divers only. Wall dive. Gorgonia sponges, sea squirts, ascidians, seapike, silver sweep, bream, black reef leatherjackets, large mosaic leatherjackets.
CLIFTON GARDENS, SYDNEY HARBOUR
A Moray eel peers out from home base at Clifton Gardens in Sydney Harbour. Photo: George Evatt
Shore dive. Up to 10 metres. Sea horses, piped angler fish. Blue-ringed octopus, cuttlefish, goatfish.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA SS Tuggerah?dive site. ?Credit- Michael McFadyen Popular underwater dive sites in the Sydney area. Diving story Photo: Michael McFadyen
Part of the wreck of the Tuggerah, located off the coast of the Royal National Park, south of Sydney. Photo: Michael McFadyen
Wreck dive. 45 metres depth. Experienced divers only. Grey nurse sharks, seals, sunfish, king fish, nannygai.
The Apartments, Long Reef
Boat dive. 15-18 metres. Larger fish including red morwong, bream, leatherjacket, silver sweep, yellowtail, sea pike and sergeant baker. The cathedral swim through.
The story Sydney’s underwater wonderland: top five diving sites in the city first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.