By guest blogger Dr. Klaus M. Stiefel
The coast of New South Wales, Australia, including Nelson Bay, is a beautiful stretch of shoreline, ranging from a temperate-water Eden near the Victorian border in the south to subtropical Byron Bay on the northern border with Queensland. Like so much of Australia, it is sparsely populated, and offers ample pristine natural settings, both on land and underwater, to enthrall the outdoors enthusiast.
After diving up and down this coast since moving to Sydney in 2011, I’ve fallen in love with Fly Point in Nelson Bay. Just north of Newcastle, a 3-hour drive north of Sydney, Nelson Bay is a narrow body of water connected to the open Pacific Ocean. It seems as if the orientation of the mouth of the bay is capturing a lot of marine animals’ larvae traveling in the coastal current from the tropical north —there are organisms that I’ve only seen in Indonesia and in Nelson Bay. Large parts of the Bay are also a marine protected area, which undoubtedly adds to the rich and diverse underwater life.
One thing is very important when diving Nelson Bay: know your tides. You can only dive here around high tide, otherwise your dive will turn into a shore-based drift dive, wherein you’d better bring some cash for the cab when being carried inlands or some flares to alert the coast guard when being carried into the open ocean towards New Zealand. Australian paper money is in fact waterproof, and the Aussie coast guard is very reliable, but the preferable alternative surely is to ask at the local dive shops for tide tables. Fly Point is a few minutes by car outside the town of Nelson Bay, in a park where a few steps lead down to the dive site. Normally I concentrate intently on the dive briefing, but at Fly Point, dolphins, sea birds and painterly sunsets tend to distract.
Once underwater, you will be amazed. The landscape is covered with sponges, tunicates and hard and soft corals. Fat scorpionfish rest in the barrel sponges. Nudibranchs abound. Wrasses, gropers, breams and morwong swim along the rocky reef. On the sand, large flatheads and stingrays rest, only to swim off when a diver comes too close. Once in a while, an eel sticks his head out of the sand. In between the rich invertebrate cover, especially at night, tiger shrimp and a variety of crabs crawl. Especially entertaining are the decorator crabs, which stick sponges and anemones onto their bodies to camouflage and protect themselves. For some reason, these curious beasts are rather abundant in Nelson Bay.
If you’ve had enough of this macro paradise, the local dive shops will take you out to the offshore rocky islands, where you’ll see lots and lots of grey nurse sharks, also known as sand-tiger sharks. When it’s difficult to spot them, it’s not because of the bad viz, but rather because of the extremely dense schools of bullseyes and yellowtail scad clouding your vision. Nelson Bay is a must-dive if you’re in the Sydney-Newcastle area.