Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Nelson Bay/Port Stephens
The Nelson Bay area was one of the few areas of the New South Wales Coast that I had not dived when I first visited there in late 1992. Considering how close it is to Sydney, it is amazing that I had never been there before. Like so many other divers, I suppose other places seem more exotic than "home". For ages, well-known Newcastle diver, Bob Staddon had been asking me to come and stay at his place and to dive the local area. Finally I had the time and on a Friday night I drove the short distance up to the Newcastle area. The drive up the Sydney-Newcastle Freeway took just over two hours and it was only one hour the next morning to drive to Nelson Bay. Since this time I have been to Nelson Bay many times. It is only about two and a half hours from Sydney direct to Nelson Bay. Note that you can also dive most of the dive sites in this area from Hawks Nest/Tea Gardens which is the northern side of Port Stephens.
Virtually all my boat diving from the southern side (that is from Nelson Bay) has been with Nelson Bay Pro Dive. Their shop is ideally located at the marina and you gear up here and your equipment is taken in carts the short distance to one of their two boats. The smaller boat is a Cafer single hull (similar to many used in NSW) and the other larger boat a twin hulled diesel powered boat. This is very comfortable in design (with a hot water shower, great in winter) but, to be honest, a bit of a dog. It is underpowered and nose heavy and in big seas, it ploughs into rather than over the swells. However, unless you have really big seas, then this is unlikely to affect you.
After the diving, there are shower facilities right in front of the shop as well as gear washing facilities. All in all, very good facilities and good service.
Pro Dive can arrange accommodation in a house they own. It is ideally located opposite the Nelson Bay RSL Club and close to not only the dive shop, but close to Fly Point and Halifax Park dive sites. The house is nothing flash, but roomy and comfortable, with heaps of parking space, washing facilities, barbecue, undercover seating as well as the close attraction of the RSL Club. The Club is a perfect example of one of NSW's licensed clubs. There are a number of different restaurants and bars and a cheap bottle shop. Well worth visiting for dinner on a Friday night and a drink (or two). However, in October 2006 when we stayed here the Club's patrons put on a brawl out front at 12:30 am one night, kept us awake for an hour on another and were generally very anti-social.
Since about 2000 we have been staying at Soldiers Point Caravan Park a lot. This is a few kilometres from Nelson Bay but is quieter. The caravan park has some excellent cabins, the best I have seen in NSW, and the campsite is also very good, nice grass and lots of trees. There is an excellent BBQ area as well. However, in the mid-2000s it lost a bit of its appeal as it put in more on-site cabins and crammed a bit too much in. If you have your own boat, the ramp is next door and there the Soldiers Point Bowling Club is a short walk away for dinner and drinks.
In August 2007 I stayed at the Haifax Park Caravan Park. This is owned by the local council (as is the Soldiers Point one) and costs are similar. It is quite nice but in Summer I suspect it could be a bit crowded. In Winter, it is ideal. One big advantage here is that if you get a cabin or camp site on the car park side, you can easily gear up and walk to the Halifax Park dive site. We did this for a day and night dive and it only took about three minutes to walk the distance, it is easier than walking out to Bare Island.
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