If you wish to submerge into the kaleidoscope of Seahorses and Seadragons, Blue Groupers and Cuttlefish, Nurse and Leopard Sharks, and even Fur Seals and Penguins, then you are welcomed to the coast of New South Wales (NSW).
NSW is located along the eastern coast of Australia between Queensland in the northern part and Victoria in the southern part. Sydney is the biggest city in the region and in Australia, and it is famous for the largest natural harbor.
There are several airports within the area of NSW. Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport is the main air gateway to that part of Australia. It is situated just 9km (5.5mi) from the center of the Harbor City. This is the only international airport while other 7 airports service only domestic flights. If you choose to travel by air within NSW, you can use such airlines as Qantas, Airlink, Regional Express, Aeropelican, Virgin Blue, Jetstar, and some others.
Most of NSW destinations are located within 3-hour reach from Sydney. You can travel by trains or coach lines. However, travelling by car is the most common way of transportation around the region.
NSW coastline stretches for 2137km (1328mi) offering fantastic opportunities of different dive spots. A large number of dive sites are concentrated in the Solitary Islands Marine Park. It covers 75km (46mi) from Plover Island in the north to Muttonbird Island in the south.
Five of Northern Solitary islands are usually accessed via the Clarence Coast from the town of Wooli. Southern islands can be reached from the Coffs Coast.
Some of the dive sites can be accessed from the shore while others are usually reached by boats. There are usually fewer people in this area than at the Great Barrier Reef.
The area is subdivided into Far North Coast with famous Julian Rocks Marine Park, Byron Bay, and Cook Island; Mid North Coast with South Solitary Islands and Coffs Harbor being the main attraction; Mid Coast and Newcastle which includes Port Stephens; South Coast with Shellharbour, Brush Island, Jervis Bay, and Black Rock; Sydney and Lord Howe Island.
Best Dive Sites Overview
Cod Hole (Byron Bay), Far North Coast
This dive site is located in one of the most picturesque places of Byron Bay. It is accessed by the boat. Cod Hole is an arch under the water with plenty of soft corals around the area. It starts from 15m (49ft.) with an entrance of 4x5m (13x16ft.) going slowly down. The maximum depth here is 22m (72ft.). Besides many small creatures, you can expect to meet Giant Cod, Turtle, Blue Grouper, Moray, and Grey Nurse Shark. It is also possible to meet Manta, Wobbegong Shark, and Leopard Shark here.
Julian Rocks (Byron Bay), Far North Coast
Julian Rocks feature several diving spots which are located 2km (1.2mi) from Byron Bay and they can be reached by boat. The legend around this place tells that the rocks are pieces of a canoe on which a female was travelling when her jealous husband broke it with his spear.
The area is made of various rock formations with small caves and swim-throughs covered with marine plants. The maximum depth here is 17m (55ft.). The residents of this area are Leopard Shark, Grey Nurse Shark, Stingray, Turtle, and Cod. Humpbacked Whales are often spotted here from the boats.
Fish Rock Cave and the Aquarium, South West Rocks, Mid North Coast
Fish Rock Cave is the most famous dive site in the Mid North Coast and it is admitted to be the best cave dive in Australia by most of the divers. It can be found not far from Smoky Cape at South West Rocks. The site is recommended only for experienced divers as the cave is 125m (410ft.) long. This is not just a diving spot; this is rather a small ecosystem with its own marine life, microclimate, and inhabitants. The visibility is usually crystal clear here while the water temperature is 1-2ºC (33-35ºF) higher than the water outside of the cave.
There is current bringing nutritious water for the inhabitants of the cave, and local dive clubs will recommend the best time for diving here. The entrance can be made either at 12m (39ft.) through Pink Gorgonia and Grey Nurse Sharks sleeping around or at the depth of 24m (78ft.). There are 2 bubble caves close to the entry and to the exit. If you proceed through the tunnel you will find an exit on the other side of the rock at the depth of about 22m (72ft.). The Cave offers fantastic photo opportunities with numerous Grey Nurse Sharks, Cuttlefish, Wobbegong Shark, Black Cod, Rays, Morays, Blue Grouper, and Bullseye Fish.
If you are an amateur of macro life and underwater photography, you can also enjoy a fantastic Aquarium dive site located near the shallow entrance into the Cave from the south-western corner. This part of the site can be accessed by the beginners. The visibility is usually very good here. You can expect to see such creatures as Morays, Turtles, King Fish, Cuttlefish, Angelfish, Octopus, Blue Grouper, Butterflyfish, Anemones with Clownfish, Spanish Dancer, Banded Coral Shrimp, and Seahorse.
Black Rock, Coffs Harbour South Solitary Island, Mid North Coast
This dive site can be found on the western edge of Solitary Island and it can be used for all levels of divers. The average depth in this area is 12-16m (39-52ft.). There are many overhangs, grottos, and crevices in this area. It might be a good idea to take a torch with you to explore grottos from the inside. There are many invertebrates and Feather Stars here. Fish is widely presented by Bullseye Fish, Juvenile Fish, Lionfish, and King Fish. At Black Rock, you have an opportunity to see Grey Nurse Shark, Octopus, Shovelnose Ray, Loggerhead Turtle, Green Sea Turtle, and Bull Ray.
Fly Point, Nelson Bay, Port Stephens Area
The coastal area along the Nelson Bay is the best area for shore diving in NSW. Fly Point is a part of Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park located on its western edge. The maximum depth here is 22m (72ft.). The area is famous for its Sponge Gardens and a countless number of fish and small creatures. Among them, you can expect to see Seahorse, Nudibranch, Pipefish, Blue Grouper, Pineapplefish, Lionfish, Old Wife Fish, Yellow Boxfish, Lizardfish, Cuttlefish, Morays and many others. It is also possible to spot Turtle, Wobbegong Shark, Blind Shark, Shovelnose Ray, and Napoleon here.
Seahorse Garden, Nelson Bay, Port Stephens Area
This dive spot is a critter paradise of the Nelson Bay. The dive site is usually accessed from the shore and the tide should be taken into consideration. It is a combination of a sandy bottom, seagrass, sponges, and soft corals. As the name suggests, you’d better look around for tiny creatures. Local experts have counted 4 types of Seahorses, 6 types of Pipefish, 2 types of Ghost Pipefish, as well as Seadragon and Seamoth in Nelson Bay. You might also be glad to find a great variety of Nudibranch, Anemones, and reef fish. If you are lucky, you might spot Angel Shark, Shovelnose Ray, or Blind Shark.
Even though Sydney is the biggest city of Australia with an intensive marine traffic, there are many interesting dive sites around this area. If you concentrate on macro life, then you’d better try Clifton Gardens, Camp Cove, and Parsley Bay in Sydney Harbour or Shiprock in Port Hacking. Here you can expect Seahorse, Sea Dragons, and countless fish. The area around Sydney is also famous for colorful Sponges. Most of the dive site feature Groupers, Port Jackson Sharks, Grey Nurse Sharks, Rays, and Eels.
If you are looking for some interesting rock formations and wall diving, you’d better head to Barrens Hut with a cave and a tunnel or to a crack at the Split dive site.
There are many wrecks in Sydney Harbour. Some of them are good for beginners while others can be accessed only by the technical divers.
Best Dive Season
The area of NSW is good for diving at any time of the year. Leopard Sharks prefer warmer water and they are often seen between December-March. The same period also gives higher chances to see Manta Ray.
When the water gets colder, you can see more of Grey Nurse Sharks. It goes together with the annual sight-seeing of Humpback Whales between May and September.
Water temperature in NSW is the main aspect which should be taken into consideration. North Coast is closer to the warmer waters of the Coral Sea, so here you can still expect 25-27ºС (77-80ºF) under the water. The average visibility is about 15m (49ft.).
As you move further to the south along the coast, the water gets colder. The Solitary Islands feature maximum of 25ºС (77ºF) during the warmest months. Visibility usually stays between 10-20m (32-65ft.) here.
In Sydney, the water temperature stays around 22ºС (71ºF) during the warmest months and 13ºC (55ºF) in winter. Visibility around Sydney is 5-15m (16-49ft.).
Depending on the area it is possible to witness strong currents in NSW.
The local dive clubs recommend using 5mm wetsuit with a hood during warmest months and semi-dry or dry suit in winter months.
A unique combination of warm tropical waters in the northern part of Solitary islands and cool streams from the deep waters at the edge of the Continental Shelf create a rare mixture of tropical, subtropical and temperate underwater environments in NSW. That is why different species coexist in this area making diving so interesting and diversified.
There are about 550 fish species in NSW. They include a large variety of reef fish as well as large pelagic. It is common to see Blue Grouper, Napoleon, Giant Cod, King Fish, and Bullseye Fish.
The area around Sydney bursts with small critters like Seahorse, Ghost Pipefish, Crab, Shrimp, Eel, Octopus, Cuttlefish, and many others.
Shark and Ray families are represented by Grey Nurse Shark, Leopard Shark, Wobbegong Shark, Blind Shark, Angel Shark, Port Jackson Shark, Stingray, Bull Ray, and Shovelnose Ray. There were cases when the Great White Shark was spotted around Pimpernel Rock at the northern side of Solitary Islands.
Among turtles, it is possible to see Green Sea Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle, and occasionally Leatherback Turtle. Yellow-bellied Sea Snake and Elegant Sea Snake are found in the area of NSW.
Among the biggest mammals, it is possible to see 2 types of Dolphins, Humpback Whales, Blue Whales, and Southern Right Whales. They can be spotted from the boats during migrations between April-November.
Dive Centers are usually not integrated with hotels and resorts so you can choose the most relevant accommodation in the location of your interest.
The Byron at Byron Resort and Spa
This luxury Resort is located next to the Tallow Beach in Byron in the northern part of NSW. The territory of Byron Resort includes 18 hectares (45 acres) of rainforest, a lake, swimming pools, a garden, a tennis court, an award-winning Spa, and sauna. You can stay in one of the Suites. Each of them has a kitchenette, a washing machine, and a verandah. There are daily yoga sessions at the Resort.
This is a stylish sub-penthouse in the heart of Sydney. It features 4 bedrooms to accommodate up to 8 guests. You will find 3 bathrooms, 2 lounge rooms and a dining room with stunning views over Sydney. The kitchen is fully equipped with Electrolux appliances. There is a big balcony with BBQ facilities.
Dive Hotel is situated next to Googee Beach which is one of the best beaches in the suburbs of Sydney. This boutique hotel features 16 Rooms, some of which have ocean views. All rooms have a kitchenette and free WiFi. Breakfast is included in the price.
Opal Cove Resort
Nestled in Coffs Harbor, this Resort provides accommodation in 2, 3, and 4 bedroom Villas. Each Villa has a lounge, dining area, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, a balcony or a terrace. You can enjoy pools, a restaurant, a bar, 9-hole golf course, Spa, fitness center, and tennis courts on site.
There are not many liveaboards servicing the area of NSW as diving is usually performed either during daily boat trips or from the shore. However, you can check with private charter operators about the possibility to include NSW dive sites into their itinerary.
Kalinda is one of the private charters which can accommodate up to16 divers aboard. The packages usually include all the meals, accommodation, and diving. It services South West Rocks including the most famous Fish Rock Cave dive site.
Other Activities For Non-Divers
There are many snorkeling spots along the coastline of NSW. The most spectacular snorkeling sites can be found on Lord Howe Island. If you prefer to stay in Sydney, then you’d better try Gordons Bay, Botany Bay, and Port Hacking. If you do not mind some travelling, then Montague Island is the best place to snorkel with Fur Seas and Penguins as well as to watch Dolphins and Whales not far from the shore.
Being the Harbor City, Sydney offers a great variety of water activities. If you wish to surf or taking surfing lessons, then Bondi Beach is the most famous spot to do it. Surfing schools operate 7 days a week. You can also rent stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, as well as take a surf lifesaving tour from the local professionals. There are many different boats to charter in Sydney including the coast exploration on a sailing vessel and fishing tours.