While it’s well known for the Opera House and Harbor Bridge, you might be surprised at the marine life you can find under the waves in Sydney Harbor. From the biodiversity at Sydney’s (only) marine-protected area in Shelly Beach, to the fantastic muck diving at Chowder Bay, here are a few of the best shore dives in Sydney.
Cabbage Tree Bay
Fairy Bower and Shelly Beach dive sites, both within Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, are fantastic for both a day or night dive. Depending on the time of year, you’re bound to run into cuttlefish, Port Jackson sharks, wobbegongs, stingrays of various description, and seriously large schools of fish. You will always be accompanied by friendly blue grouper — the marine symbol for New South Wales — which follow you around on your dive like puppies.
You could spend hours here and never cross the same path, yet still encounter over 200 species of fish and rays. And you never know who’s coming to visit. One day it’s a dolphin, next day it’s bronze whalers and sometimes the odd eagle ray or turtle streams through.
Follow the shoreline east from the beach around the heads, watching for weedy seadragons in the grass, and look out for the motorcycle on the way back.
This muck dive seriously rivals Lembeh for weird and wonderful macro critters. In the soft silt of Chowder Bay in Clifton Gardens, you’ll find several species of frogfish, seahorses, pipefish, octopus, squid, blennies, nudibranchs and the site’s signature species: decorator crabs.
It’s best to access the site from the end of the jetty, which runs alongside the shark-netted swimming area. Spend plenty of time exploring the net and pylons for seahorses and decorator crabs, and swim out toward the buoy and the rubble of an old wreck where you’ll find blennies, pipefish, moray eels, octopus and flying gurnards.
Kurnell Steps and Monument
There are two dive sites at Kurnell: Kurnell Monument and Kurnell Steps, both relatively easy. Monument faces northwest and is essentially a drift along the beach side. Kurnell Steps faces northeast and is more exposed to tidal flow in and out of the harbor.
It’s usually easy to find a few weedy seadragons here, as well as resident pygmy pipefish. As it’s a shallow dive, there’s plenty of light and amazing color as well.
There are two dives here: Left Side is best, but a bit tricky in even a mild southerly swell; and Right Side, where you’ll dive when there is a mild southerly swell.
Look for lots of soft coral and sea stars and plenty of nudibranch action. The sponge gardens are especially pretty and be sure to look closely for pygmy seahorses and pipefish.
Maximum depth here is about 40 feet (12 m), but you’ll see the most interesting stuff at around 23 feet (7 m).
There’s a list of the top 20 Sydney dives here if you want to explore a little further.