Mention Australian diving destinations and most people will first think about the Great Barrier Reef in tropical Queensland.

by Dr. Klaus M. Stiefel

But don’t overlook the Sydney area, which also has some great, albeit lesser known, dive spots. One such spot is Bare Island, located on the north head of Botany Bay, just across from Captain Cook’s original landing spot. It’s a great dive, only about a 20-minute drive from the exotic food in Sydney’s Chinatown, the art galleries in Surry Hills and the pubs around Central Station. The island is connected to the mainland by a short, wooden bridge, and holds a defunct military installation, which was featured in Mission Impossible II. But the real action is happening underwater: Diverse fish life, including sharks and plenty of nudibranchs, as well as kelp and rocky reefs with healthy sponge and soft-coral cover, are all there for divers to enjoy. The fish fauna includes such Australian endemics as the red Indianfish, the Sydney pygmy pipehorse, and the occasional weedy seadragon.

A large wobbegong shark sometimes rests on the rocks, unimpressed by divers passing by, and in the winter months, Port Jackson sharks and small horn sharks hide in some of the cracks and crevices around the island. But the most entertaining fish around Bare Island is probably the eastern blue groper, which is actually a wrasse. These fish hatch as greenish-brown females, and some will turn into blue males once they reach maturity. About the size of a large dog, they are big and confident enough to not be afraid of divers. They are highly curious, and will sometimes follow a group of divers throughout half of a dive. I’ve had more than one macro shot photobombed by a blue groper, curious about where I was pointing my camera. Bare Island is my go-to dive site — if I haven’t planned anything special and would just like to get wet on a Saturday morning, Bare Island does the trick. But sometimes the most special sites are right in our backyard.

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