Outside of Australia, few divers will have heard of Fish Rock, yet it consistently appears on divers’ lists of top 10 Australian sites. This rocky outcrop, off the Mid North Coast of New South Wales (NSW) is equally famous for both its challenging sea cavern and incredible biodiversity and biomass.
It’s a sleepy town by anyone’s measure, five hours’ drive north of Sydney on the NSW coast, but South West Rocks is a big name in Australian diving circles, commonly ranking in the top 10 dive destinations in Australia.
No more than a 30-minute boat trip from South West Rocks marina is a tiny, unassuming island. It blends in perfectly with the surrounding coastline; rocky, jagged, and completely isolated — Fish Rock. The island isn’t huge but there is a lot more here than meets the eye, with a mixture of sharks, rays, turtles and huge schools of fish waiting just beneath the surface. Don’t underestimate its charms; you’ll want to spend a few days here – don’t underestimate its charms.
Diving Fish Rock
The feature everyone raves about is the cave itself, which runs straight through the island starting at 79 feet (24 m) and progressing up to around 39 feet (12 m).
The cave is substantially narrower, darker and more ‘cave-y’ than you might expect, so it’s definitely not for the claustrophobic or nervous diver. But this isn’t just a cave — it’s full of life. From the moment you descend to the entrance, you are completely surrounded by gray nurse sharks. These gentle giants coast up and down the gullies almost as though they are protecting the cave entrance.
Once inside the cave, you’ll be greeted by schools of bullseyes (small diamond shaped fish) that school in their thousands. As you swim through you pass crayfish peeking out from the crevasse, stingrays and wobbegong sharks blanketing the floor with fish of all colours, shapes and sizes. Narrow to start, you sometimes have to bend and shift (especially if you have a camera) to avoid scraping against the walls and then in the distance the deep blue glow of Fish Rock Cave comes into view.
This is the real hero, the shallow opening filled with silhouettes of the Grey Nurse Sharks. The cave opens up into a basin, appropriately called ‘The Aquarium’, with so much life you won’t know where to look (or put your hand down. On the floor of the basin, wobbegongs, Port Jackson sharks, morays and octopus. All around, grey nurse sharks circle along with large schools of fish.
Sadly, whilst the grey nurse sharks seem to be in healthy numbers in this area, looks can be deceiving. These sharks travel up and down the coast and the population hasn’t ever really recovered since they were slaughtered due to their scary looks back in the good old JAWS days, only becoming protected in 1984. When you are lucky enough to find a congregation site as seemingly healthy as this, you are likely observing a huge portion of the living population, and that’s a pretty scary thought.
Given the breeding cycle and the current population there isn’t a lot of hope that these incredible animals will be around long term. Thanks to grey nurse shark advocates like the team at South West Rocks Dive Centre though, there is still time to be one of the lucky people who will have a story to tell about diving through an island cave full of sharks.