Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Sydney - Simply the Best
Over the years I have met many divers who told me that there are no dive sites in Sydney worth diving and that they would never consider diving the waters off Australia's largest city. These people have declared to me solemnly that they are only prepared to dive overseas or on the Great Barrier Reef. This is a source of constant astonishment to me, as some of the best dives I have ever done have been within a few kilometres of the centre of Sydney.
While it is true that we do not have the coral reefs of Queensland, a massive shipwreck like the SS President Coolidge or the water clarity of Papua New Guinea, what we do have is an amazing multitude of dive sites that are enormously different from each other but still carry a distinct Sydney flavour.
Since 1988 I have averaged just under 100 dives a year in Sydney waters. Therefore, I think I am well qualified to comment on the quality and availability of diving in the Sydney area. I am yet to meet someone who has dived Sydney (real dives, not instructing) more than me over this period, although I am sure that they exist. Despite claims by some, people do not laugh at my comments on Sydney dive sites (I have had more than 400 articles published about Sydney diving) and in fact I receive many favourable comments about my views and articles and have never received an adverse comment.
I do not dive Sydney to have 40 metre visibility, for the average diver will never be able to experience this on a reef dive. Even 25 metre visibility is not all that common, although it does occur a couple of times a year on reef dive sites. Nor do I dive the wrecks to be able to find some trinket. Why do I dive Sydney?
Firstly, I do it because I enjoy diving, whether it is in a swimming pool (not that I ever do this) or in a dirty estuary. I can gain a great deal of pleasure from relaxing while underwater. I have been known to spend minutes laying on my back watching the exhaust bubbles rise to the surface. Try it sometime, you will find it good therapy.
Secondly, Sydney has some of the most colourful sponge life you will ever see. Whether it is in the shallow estuary waters of Shiprock in Port Hacking, the shore dive of Shark Point in the Eastern Suburbs or the deep ocean site called The Wanderers off Cronulla, the sponges are prolific and colourful and harbour a wealth of life.
Thirdly, you can find copious amounts of fishlife at some dive sites. These include Marley Point and The Balcony off Cronulla,The Apartments (The Wall) at Long Reef, Pistol Crack off Botany Bay and Shiprock as well as the southern wrecks of the SS Tuggerah and SS Undola. Even dive sites in Sydney Harbour can have huge amounts of fishlife. I have even dived (well, snorkelled) with a southern right whale and her calf off Manly Beach!
Fourthly, some sites have incredible macro life, especially Camp Cove, Parsley Bay and Clifton Gardens in Sydney Harbour and Shiprock in Port Hacking. These sites have such amazing life they can keep you fully occupied for more than 60 minutes every dive.
Finally, the terrain of the dive sites can be fascinating. While Sydney does not have vertical walls of 20 metres, it has some great drops of up to five metres. Barrens Hut off Cronulla has a great wall as well as a tunnel and cave. Nearby, The Split has a crack that runs for 40 metres or so and has some other cracks running off it. The Container Wharf Wall in Botany Bay, although not natural, has an amazing series of caves and the overhangs of The Balcony, the small walls of North Head and the caves of The Apartments make remarkable places to explore.
One thing I find about the people who complain (and I have NEVER done this) about Sydney diving is that you must dive to suit the location and conditions.
For example, there is no point swimming around Parsley Bay or Clifton Gardens looking for huge schools of pelagic fish. However, if you look on and under everything you see, you will have an amazing experience. I once dived a southern Sydney dive site from a charter boat and had a mind-blowing dive. All the divers on the boat had similar experiences except for two loud-mouthed individuals who exclaimed over and over that it was the worse dive they had ever experienced. When I asked them if they had seen the dozens of Port Jackson sharks, the wobbegongs, the wandering anemones, the huge flathead, the numerous species of nudibranchs, the two eastern blue devilfish, the conger and moray eels, the sea horses and sea dragons, they said that they had not seen one of these things. I do not know what they did while they were diving, but they were obviously not diving to suit the location. They must have swum around looking up for huge swarms of fish.
I have dived in New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Chuuk, Palau, New Zealand, the Philippines, Tahiti, Ireland, Scotland, Norway and Queensland. The quality of diving in Sydney is as good as any of these places, so long as you dive to suit the site and location. Even if I was to never dive overseas again, I would not be particularly worried so long as I could dive Sydney.
If you are a Sydney diver, get out there and enjoy what there is on offer. If you are from outside Sydney, consider a visit to dive some of the best diving you will ever find.