Snorkeling Through New South Wales
Since our arrival in September, we were excited to dive into the southern bit of the Pacific Ocean. Alan got us both a set of fins, goggles, and snorkels for Christmas, and we couldn't wait to use them. Once the water got warm enough, we jumped in and were amazed at the abundance of sea life so close to the Sydney CBD (Central Business District). We traveled up and down the coast and hit as many spots as we could before the end of summer. Here are our experiences with the eight trips out and about in New South Wales. Feel free to click on the map to go to my personal Google Map. I'll be updating it as we continue to explore Australia's waters.
“The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish.”
— Jacques Yves Cousteau
Working on the map from north to south:
1. Terrigal | The Haven
'The Haven,' just south of Terrigal Beach was an excellent place for snorkeling, bbq-ing, and fishing, though we did only one of those things. You can enter the water on each side of the boat ramp, but watch out for lots of boat traffic and jet skis. If anything goes wrong, fear not, because Marine Rescue couldn't be closer.
Once you hit the water, you'll start to see fish like the adorable bullseye, some pomfret, and yellow scad amongst the seagrass. There are so many more to list, but I'm still learning the names of Aussie fish.
As you continue toward the rocks, you can see it teeming with life. We were lucky to see a squad of baby squid that sparkled in the sunlight. We've heard there are Crested Horn Sharks, Port Jackson Sharks, and Wobbegongs, but we didn't see any on our two visits. We came to shore through the boats and saw some sea hares and these strange, orange brain-looking things we later learned were Wandering Sea Anemone.
We went two separate days, but our second day was at low tide, and the visibility was terrible. Try to go at high tide! Be sure to check out the south side of the parking lot for some amazing tide pools and awe-inspiring rock formations!
The beach is shallow and not great for lounging. It has a stone amphitheater that allowed us to put our towels and bag instead of the sand. The town itself is bustling for its size, and we enjoyed a fantastic burger at Chop N Grind to warm ourselves back up a bit. Amazing quality beef and crispy but creamy fries were perfect.
2. The Basin | Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
We made a terrible decision to go to the Basin during a holiday weekend, and it was not ideal. There was barely any room left on the ferry, but luckily we squeezed in up top. Side note, there is no ticket booth/machine for the ferry from Palm Beach Wharf; you'll pay a sun-laden 16-year-old with a sweet summer gig on the boat. Anyway, there were lots of people, the most prominent tents, and a bunch of wallabies trying to get any scraps of food from you.
People have mentioned that a shark net guarded the inlet, but much to our surprise, the "shark net" was merely there to deter boats. Don't fret though, it's entirely safe, and the little kids around you could attest to that. As soon as we hit the water, we were greeted by schools of small fish, and we were excited by the abundant sea life. As we swam further out, the visibility dropped tremendously. It was cloudy and hard to see in the middle of the estuary.
As we moved closer to the rocks, we saw it teeming with life. We made a couple of fish friends that followed us around until we headed back to shore. It was a great place to go if you've never snorkeled before since the water is relatively flat and you'll be sure to see plenty of critters.
3. Shelly Beach | Cabbage Tree Bay
I'm constantly amazed by Sydney and its beautiful beaches so close to the CBD. Shelly Beach is no exception, and we go even during the holiday season because it's just that worth it. Just south from the more touristy Manly Beach, Shelly is a small, but beautiful alcove of happy, sun-kissed people and the smell of bbq in the air. Adjacent to the beach is Cabbage Tree Bay which is an aquatic reserve, so it is no surprise to see that it's some of the most pristine water around Sydney.
It's almost overwhelming to see so many species of fish, and just as you're pointing out something cool, another cool thing swims along. There's a local celebrity Blue Grouper named Geroge (or Harry...big dispute) that you're pretty much guaranteed to see while you're out. We're still on the search for a Weedy Sea Dragon, but the squads of squid, rays, and other colorful fish will keep you enthralled. Look out for Moray Eels and Lionfish too!
4. Gordon's Bay
We headed out at low tide to follow the anchor and chain trail, and boy was that an experience. I wish I could say that I was as graceful as a mermaid, but honestly, I was a spider on skates. The entry is covered in moss and is slippery as you make your way down into the water. Once you get to the bottom, you'll either be free to clamor over the large boulders or have to wait for a large group of novice scuba divers to make their way out.
If you do get past the few obstacles, you'll find that it's worth it all. There are loads of urchins in the rocks and schools of needlefish. I thought I saw the butt-end of a Moray, but it turned out to be an eel-tailed catfish. Ugly as sin, but still cool to see amongst the rocks. The chain is easy to follow until you get near the dropoff and visibility gets a bit foggy 14 meters down. Keep a lookout for large groupers down there. We stayed close to the coastline and braved our way back toward the slippery boulders and found a rock to bask in the sun since there's no sandy beach in this area.
5. Botany Bay | Krunell
We heard so many great things about Kurnell; it's famous for being the site of Captain Cook's landing after all. It's a quiet area with plenty of free parking on the weekends, which is incredible in itself. As soon as we slip-slop-slapped our sunscreen on, we were running down the sand of Silver Beach and ready to meet some aquatic friends.
Maybe we bought into the hype, or perhaps we were unlucky, but we were genuinely disappointed. Botany Bay has made it on almost every single list about Sydney snorkeling we could find and yet it was one of the least exciting we've been to, however. We saw a few Trevally and Bream, but nothing too out of the ordinary. We'll be back to see what the hype was about.
While you're there, take a walk along the boardwalk and learn about the history of the Indigenous peoples and the consequences of Cook's landing. There's plenty of beautiful artwork and plaques for a great afternoon.
6. Hyams Beach | Jervis Bay
I've never seen sand so powdery and white in my entire life, and I can still hear the sound of squeaky footsteps all around me. The water is gentle and barely has any waves, making it an excellent place for kids to splash around.
It was moderately crowded, and the water was filled with snorkelers, which means it's also filled with fish! The water was ridiculously clear, and we had no trouble finding aquatic neighborhoods to spy on. The best part was when we stumbled upon four sharks. SHARKS! We estimated them to be just over a meter long. We kept a safe distance and watched the graceful creatures glide through the water.
We took a second dive off the north end of Iluka Beach and found just as much beautiful sea life. We recommend this place to anyone and everyone willing to go out of their way for gorgeous sand and even more brilliant wildlife. Oh, and did I mention free parking?
7. Murrays Beach| Jervis Bay
To start, when you type in Murray's beach into Google, it sends you to a spot on Bowen Island. To my knowledge, that island is off-limits, but follow the signs, and you'll reach Murray's. It's really hard to get lost there. Once you park, it's a short walk on a bush track to get to the beach.
About a 30 minutes drive from Hyams is Murray's Beach. It has a thinner, more stretched out coastline that gives everyone a bit more room to have their own perfect patch of sand. There are little nooks with lots of trees and vegetation throughout, so if you want a little shade, you can get it. It's one of my favorite beaches I've ever been to.
The water is a brilliant blue-green that we only dream of. The entry is easy since the sand is fairly shallow to start and drops off as you head out. The rock formations are so dynamic and give hiding placed to smaller sharks and rays.
Note: be sure to bring some cash as you enter the national park and you'll need to pay entry fees.
8. Guerilla Bay
If you've ever dreamed of being a Bond villain, Guerilla Bay is the perfect place to set up your lair. If you head to the end of Bay Street off Beach Parade, you'll reach a tiny, 8-car carpark. As soon as you walk down to the sand, a jagged rock form grows in front of you and presents itself with two separate beaches. It's incredible.
On the right-hand side is the larger part of the bay and sandy bits intermittent amongst large, smooth rocks. It's a rough entry and exit if you're determined to go through the rocks. There are healthy kelp beds with plenty of critters to follow. The swell of the ocean invariably brings in fresh, cold water that makes you do a little shiver.
The left side, also known as "The Pot," is for the slightly more experienced snorkelers as the swells are larger and there are plenty more rocks that disappear right beneath the surface. Be careful on entry, but get ready to see lots of rays, sponges, and fish. We were lucky enough to see a White-spotted Eagle Ray on our second dive; they look bigger in person. There's a cave that you can swim into (I did not, I chickened out) that apparently has lots of crabs.
At high tide, the spit of land between the two beaches disappears, and you can take shelter on either the beach or just under the large rock form. If you want to warm up a bit outside of the water, scramble up the rocks to get an incredible view of the entire bay.
9. Broulee Island
I had my first ever snorkel at Broulee Island, and I was excited to use my Christmahannukah gear. Contrary to the name, Broulee Island is not an island and is connected by a beautiful spit of sand that's been overgrown with beach grass. Nevertheless, it's a sanctuary zone in Bateman's Bay Marine Park, so the wildlife is thriving. It has plenty of soft, white sand to lounge on after a satisfying dip.
We explored the water on both the north and the south side, mainly depending on which was less windy at the time. Even in the least vegetated, sandy bits, you can find loads of rays that are calm and undaunted by visitors. This is an excellent area for novice snorkelers because there's so much room to tread water without disturbing little neighborhoods and you can take your time with fixing gear in the calm water.
I knew very little of the native fish population there when I went, so I can't tell you exactly what I saw other than the rays. Rumors are though that you can find some green sea turtles, weedy sea dragons, and some easter blue devil fish. Broulee is a wonderful little town that has charm and friendly, barefoot locals.