Australia’s Nelson Bay, NSW
For natural beauty and ease of access to dive sites Australia’s Nelson Bay is hard to beat. But what really makes it stand out is its interesting inhabitants. We discovered this during a brief stop there while returning to Sydney from a visit to South West Rocks (see February-March issue #104 of this magazine). Our friends at South West Rocks told us of spectacular shore diving at this small community a
little over 200 kilometres north of Sydney. On our arrival a friendly dive operator provided us with hire gear and good advice on where and when to dive. Timing is important to avoid or take advantage of tidal currents in the bay. Currents can be a hassle for divers but also provide a conduit for food, bringing plankton rich water from the sea to near-shore reef communities. Currents can also provide great drift diving opportunities. Our first dive was at a reserve
about one kilometre from the town called Fly Point. We timed the dive for slack water at high tide. As we headed out from shore I noted that visibility was generally pretty good for I could see my buddy out to about 10 metres away. We swam across a sea grass meadow with patches of sand in-between grass and weed. This was home to nudibranchs and I was able to locate and photograph at least four species over several dives. As we swam into deeper water the meadow became a sandy bottom. At, I would guess, a distance of 50m from shore we encountered a pair of cuttlefish hovering above the bottom. One had spots on its back, a characteristic pattern for females. I guess they were on a date and still at the introduction stage. We were advised to go left from this position and swim parallel to shore.
This worked out well for we swam into a colourful reef in about 20m of water festooned with numerous large sponges, sea squirts and a host of other things. Sponges and sea squirts filter plankton from sea water and benefit from the tidal flows. Some of the fish, most notably large scorpionfish, were using the sponges like we would use a chair: to sit on. In amongst the sponges was a large wobbegong. This was quite a lot for one dive and I soon ran out of memory space on my camera. Subsequent dives included encounters with octopus, more nudibranchs, and colourful invertebrate and fish life. But this wasn’t all that Nelson Bay had to offer. Out through the heads there is some great ocean diving. We visited Broughton Island by boat,
about 20km north of the heads. The underwater landscape is superb with swim-throughs and 40m walls. For our first dive we were guided to a steep-walled narrow channel in the island. This was a meeting place for grey nurse sharks that patrol its length. We entered the channel, in approximately 18m of water, swimming in single file behind the guide. The grey nurse sharks maintained their patrol swimming along the other wall. Our presence didn’t seem to frighten them and some came within metres of us. On the way back to the boat we encountered large wrasses and a Port Jackson shark that was resting on the bottom.
During our second diveat a nearby location we enjoyed some great swim-throughs and wildlife. A large cuttlefish that I approached put on some sort of defensive posture with its tentacles. Our travel itinerary only permitted us to spend a few days there and I know that we only scraped the surface of what the place has to offer. Nelson Bay is well worth more than a casual stop and I will certainly return and explore this gem on the New South Wales Coast.