Monday January 2nd, 2017
Because of the famous Great Barrier Reef, Sydney is often overlooked as a dive destination, but dig a little deeper and the variety of year-round diving is clear to see. Further south where the water is more temperate lies a range of pristine sites, as well as an area of southernmost coral reefs with more than 60 sites to enjoy.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to travel too far, but after seeing in the New Year in Sydney, we were delighted to start 2017 in the water with a couple of shore dives north and south of the central business district. Sydney’s varied diving locations surprised us both, and with so many to choose from, picking two was hard. There are also areas that are perfect for beginners or indeed non-diving partners who want to give scuba a try. Because of the day’s weather and water conditions, we settled on two locations, Bare Island and Camp Cove.
Bare Island is an islet in south-eastern Sydney, about 16km from the central business district. It’s home to a fort structure built in the early 1880s, and offers spectacular scenic views. For divers, the eastern side of the island has better visibility and shallower depths, while the western side offers more marine life.
Crossing the bridge to the island, going down a flight of stairs and turning left across the rocks, we began our descent in slightly rough conditions along a cut out in the rock that looked like a small boat ramp. Although it’s a great entry and exit point, the dive can get off to a difficult start when the waves are high (as they were when we went). Underwater is a huge carpet of sand and some gentle slopes, punctuated by rocks and small walls decorated by soft coral and seaweed. Visibility is not always flash, changing from one day to the next, but when it’s good, it’s a treat for the eyes. We swam down a gentle slope decorated by rocks, coral heads and a variety of features from seaweed patches to more sloping sandy bottoms. The waters host their incredible marine life in and around these rocks, scattered among the seaweed and soft coral growth that populate the shallows. The highlight of the dive soon came when a huge blue grouper appeared from the deeper depths and began swimming with us. Clearly interested in divers, it came in for a close look, but, not too sure what to expect, darted off shyly, before returning and staying with us until our safety stop. The island is also a haven for macro lovers. Look closely and you can spot weedy sea dragons lurking among the kelp and seaweed, a fantastic display of anemones, as well as starfish, crabs and nudibranchs to keep you interested.
Camp Cove is a small beach at the southern entrance to Sydney Harbour. Popular for swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing, it’s a good spot for shore diving because the variety of marine life is more accessible to divers compared to other sites. As the beach is also quite sheltered, it remains protected from adverse weather apart from northerly winds and swells, and is an easy and relaxing dive site suitable for all levels. After the challenging entry and exit at Bare Island, we were delighted to walk into the calm waters of Camp Cove, put on our masks and fins and begin our descent through clear blue. Visibility was good at around 10-15m and clear sand spread out into the distance. I finned over the sandy carpet and soon spotted a porcupine fish nestling against a small rock. We then swam for a few minutes to the north reef, where we came across some rocky structures whose walls fell onto the sandy carpet. Kelp and seaweed covered the top at around 4-5m. There was a lot of small stuff to be seen here — starfish, crabs, nudibranchs and beautiful anemones. Soon, I looked down to see a couple of sting rays gliding gracefully below before settling on the sand. This was clearly a good spot for them to feed, and we could feel the mild current as we swam through and around a cluster of huge rocky structures. Hovering above, we were able to marvel at their beauty. With gentle sloping sandy reefs and more dramatic walls and pinnacles, there is plenty here to keep divers hooked.
Moving along the reef, we took our time examining the cracks in the rocks and the small overhangs. On and around the structures were more crabs, pipe fish, wrasses and some small red fish with huge eyes that I couldn’t identify. Underwater conditions couldn’t have been more benign, and the site is more than suitable for novice divers needing to be comfortable in the water. Cruising back towards the beach at the end of the dive, I spotted a tiny, well-camouflaged cuttlefish hovering over the sand and seaweed, and a frogfish sitting still close by.
Visibility in Sydney may not always be crystal clear but when it’s good, prepare to be impressed by the marine life that has colonised the area. If you’re looking for easy, leisurely dives at no more than 20m and plenty of photo opportunities, Sydney’s shore diving won’t disappoint.
• We booked our dives with Dive Centre Bondi (https://www.divebondi.com.au) on Bondi Road near the famous beach. Divers make their own way there by 8AM to show cards, log books and make any outstanding payments. We paid a deposit online beforehand.
• Two guided dives cost AUD$55. Full equipment rental (mask, boots, fins, wetsuit, tanks and weights, BCD, regulators and computer) is AUD$120, full equipment rental excluding mask, boots and fins costs AUD$100, while two tanks and weights rental costs AUD$50.
• At the back of the shop is an area to prepare gear, a changing room to try on wetsuits, store tanks, and sit and write up log books. There is also a car park, with two vehicles belonging to the shop.
• After preparing and loading gear into the vans, we drove to our first dive site.
• Note that no tea, coffee, snacks etc are provided. Divers must bring their own lunch, snacks, drinks etc.
• At Bare Island, we put on our gear at the car park and walked over the bridge wearing our tanks and other gear. The descent is down a small line provided by an SMB. Divers gather at the bottom of the line, before swimming out behind the guide.
• After the first dive and before the second, divers must dismantle their equipment and take off their wetsuits (no wet items in the vans).
• At Camp Cove, we also geared up at the car park and walked into the water, walked back out and removed gear at the car park.
• After the second dive, everyone returns to the shop. One hose is available to wash gear, but divers are responsible for their own gear only, not for anything they have rented.
• There are no showers, shampoo, conditioner etc available for customers. Customers are expected to go back to wherever they are staying and clean up there.
• The day ends around 3PM, and there are usually 6 available places for shore dives (maximum 6 divers and one guide)
Dive No: 237, Bare Island. Entry time: 10:45, depth: 12.3m, dive time: 37mins, exit time: 11:22, water temperature: 20C, water visibility: 5m, start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 100 bar, rented 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest, used an 11L aluminium tank, 6kg weight belt. Saw blue grouper, nudibranchs, seaweed
Dive No: 238, Camp Cove. Entry time: 13:25, depth: 5.5m, dive time: 33 mins, exit time: 13:58, water temperature: 20C, water visibility: 10-15m, start pressure 200 bar, end pressure: 100 bar, rented 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest, used an 11L aluminium tank, 6kg weight belt. Saw: cuttlefish, pipefish, stingrays, frogfish, seaweed, sea urchins, sponges, porcupine fish.