There’s nothing better than a dive with grey nurse sharks and, in New South Wales, nothing safer. The local shark is the grey nurse shark (Carcharius taurus), also called a sand-tiger or ragged-tooth shark. Although they look fearsome, they pose no threat to divers. They grow to about 9 feet (3 m) and though it looks fierce there are no reported incidents of grey nurse sharks harming divers – or humans for that matter.
Grey nurse sharks often aggregate in NSW in numbers from a handful to a few hundred, in well-known sites, and usually around small islands not too far from shore. They swim very slowly during the day as well, in depths accessible even to new Open Water divers, which makes it easy to observe and photograph them. Here are our picks for the most popular sites to see grey nurse sharks in NSW.
Magic Point, Sydney
A few years ago, Magic Point, in the southern Sydney suburb of Maroubra, was the shark dive every new diver in Sydney talked about. The only known site around Sydney where grey nurse sharks regularly aggregate, dive shops used the site as an incentive to new divers to upgrade their skill level to Advanced Open Water (so they could dive it). But sadly, the sharks have moved on.
Many Sydney operators still include Magic Point on their weekly itinerary, even though the sharks are no longer there. Divers are taken instead to North Bondi, where grey nurse sharks have started to aggregate — it seems the name has been retained because people associate it so much with sharks. This is definitely a dive site to ask your chosen operator about before booking it.
Top Tip: Go with a small group of more experienced divers if you can.
Broughton Island, Port Stephens
Broughton Island is a small island and collection of rocks northeast of the entrance to Port Stephens, a two-hour drive from Sydney. Accessible only by boat, it is about 50 minutes from Nelson Bay Marina. There are a number of excellent dive sites, and two in particular are noted for shark encounters.
Probably the best known is North Rock, a site enclosed by large rocks and walls. North Rock forms a natural aquarium, with many vantage points to sit quietly and watch the grey nurse sharks cruise slowly past. Even without the grey nurse, these are still impressive dive sites.
The other, and certainly the one that leaves the biggest impression, is Looking Glass — a crack that runs right through one of the smaller islands. This spectacular site features a natural shark aquarium with stunningly atmospheric lighting from the vertical shafts of light.
Seal Rocks, Forster Tuncurry
Seal Rocks, roughly three-and-a-half hours’ drive from Sydney, almost certainly has the largest aggregations of grey nurse sharks in NSW. There are four different sites around Seal Rocks varying in depth from 30 to 120 feet (10 to 40-plus m). You must have a bit of experience under your weight-belt and ideally some recent deep dive experience to visit.
The absolute best time to see grey nurse sharks is around June, when the site is a favorite of the dive centers in Forster. Bait Grounds is another, more accessible site just off Forster Beach. Here you can sometimes find grey nurse sharks (particularly early in the morning) in just 27 feet (9 m) of water. It’s about 500 feet (150 m) off the beach, so it’s possible to do as a shore dive.
Fish Rock/Shark Gutters, South West Rocks
Further north, South West Rocks a five-hour drive from Sydney. This well-known dive is more famous for the cave than grey nurse sharks, but one I’ve never dived without encountering sharks. Often the first dive is through the cave from the lower rear entrance. Coming out into the Aquarium, early-morning divers will likely see a dozen or so grey nurse milling around.
Later in the day, you’ll find grey nurse sharks “around the back” at the end of Colorado Run. You’ll also see wobbegong sharks, rays and numbfish; even the occasional hammerhead makes an appearance.
Fish Rock is only accessible via boat, and Fish Rock Cave is rated as of Australia’s Top 10 Dive Sites — sharks or no sharks.
Grey Nurse Gutters, South Solitaries, Coffs Harbor
The South Solitary Islands are an uninhabited collection of small islands and rocks northeast of Coffs Harbor, six hours’ drive from Sydney. The islands are 40 minutes off shore. Here, you’ll find a dive site aptly called Grey Nurse Gutters. With a bottom around 60 feet (18 m) and typically great visibility, it is another good place to see grey nurse sharks.
Like the other sites mentioned here, if the sharks aren’t around the day you visit, or weather does not permit you to get to the northern end, there are a dozen other great dive sites that will make the trip to the South Solitaries more than worthwhile.
When diving with sharks, it’s important to dive responsibly and ensure you don’t spook them.
- Do not block a shark’s movement — ensure you are not in the direction that they are obviously going.
- Don’t block their exit, especially if they are inside a cave or under an overhang
- Do not descend on top of sharks
- Do not get close to sharks as this is ultimately self-defeating. A shark will move away from any diver that attempts to approach, possibly permanently.
To get the best of your time with sharks, try to stay in one spot for a while. Stay on eye-level with the shark, i.e., at the same depth, and control your buoyancy and breathing. They don’t like lots of bubbles.
Deborah Dickson-Smith is one half of Diveplanit. She manages the dive-travel website her partner Simon Mallender, based in Australia.