A little critter paradise, only a short drive from Sydney, just of the shore.
Sometimes when I read in magazines about Muck diving, I have to smile and think how lucky I am to live a short drive from Nelson Bay. The blue ring octopus, various seahorses, cowries, different nudibranchs or anglerfish are high on the list for many critter lovers and that's the stuff you might find on a shore dive at Nelson Bay. Nelson Bay is home of around 140 different species of " Nudi's ". On my personal account, I have over 90 different nudi's, seahare and flatworms ticked off over the past few years, still counting and there are still some undiscovered species to be found. Nelson Bay has even his own anglerfish (Histiophryne sp.), however elusive he might be. Nelson Bay, around 223 km north of Sydney, is a small coastal resort town with plenty of accommodation and a population of 5000 with all the necessary amenities for a relaxed holiday. From the fabulous scenery typified by volcanic peaks along the coastline to crystal clear bays fringed by golden sand Nelson Bay has lots to offer. For a day without diving, but who would want that anyway, the hunter valley with its world class wine, vineyards and picturesque countryside is only a day trip away. Nelson Bay has a reputation for their resident Bottlenose Dolphins and for Whale watching during the months of June to mid November. On a boat dive you might encounter pelagic species of Grey Nurse sharks, Bull rays, kingfish and more.
However, there is an incredible fascinating underwater world of bizarre creatures just a step off the shore. A lot of divers reckon Nelson Bay might have the best shore dives in NSW or even Australia for critters. Muck diving is about discovering small creatures who playing a game of hide-and-seek for survival. It often takes place in shallow water. The visibility is not that important because photos are taken as close as possible to the subject. You need a keen eye and a lot of patience to approach these creatures. The shore dives are quit shallow so that the dive time is limited only by you air consumptation, how cold you feel and the high of the tide. There are some reasons why to dive only at high tide. Firstly, only then there is a good change for reasonable good visibility from 2 meters (bad) up to 15 meters at expectional days. Secondly and more important, the current would be simply too strong and might sweep you away. Best is to ask the guys at Pro Dive when to jump in and it is generally said 10 to 20 min before high tide so you may dive up to 70 or 80 min depending on your experience and skills. Or simply join a guided shore dive from the dive shop if you feel unsure. The Pipeline is past the marina and ProDive at the break wall. The weekend is sometimes quite busy, however not only with divers. The entry/exit is located past the fish shop where after less than a 1 min walk you will find some steps leading into the water. ProDive has maps of all shore dives at the shop.
The Pipeline is most likely the best muck dive in NSW and once your eyes are adjusted you might find a variety of different critters. For a start there are plenty of seahorses and pipefish. It is also a playground for many different and often rare nudibranchs. Other highlights would include blue ring octopus, sea hare, sea spiders and cowries and of course, the Holy Grail, the nelson bay angler fish. If you get lost 330 degree brings you back to the break wall.
The next dive side, Fly Point, offers a more diverse dive with better visibility. From the Information Centre in Nelsons Bay, drive further along the road for around 1 km, then turn left into the road which continues to follow the beach to the top with some parking. There you might encounter the resident green turtle, shovelnose rays, tomato cods, old wife's, snappers, Wobbegongs sharks, blind shark, moray eels and a group of Pineapple fish hiding under a ledge at 12 meter. Apart from all the fish life, again, there are all kind of different critters just keep your eyes open. At night, it is a spot to find different sea spiders, the pyjama squid and all sorts of little shrimps, lobster and other weird stuff.
The 3rd shore dive is Halifax Park . The dive side is very exposed to current and should only be dived for 50 minutes before the tide turns. There are some unusual critters hidden between all the colourful sponges, however, large schools of fish hovering around 18 to 20 over the bommies. I would advise to reserve this dive site to the times when visibility is at least above 10 meters. After the diving there is a hot shower right next to the dive shop and a tap to clean the gear. The water temperature range from 14 (winter) to 23 degree(summer). Prodive Nelson bay provides shared accommodation at their house. In my opinion the diving at Nelson Bay should not be missed and if you are a critter lover you must do the shores dives. It’s easy, fascinating and the dive shop has all the equipment you might need to rent. For more photos visit me on my Facebook page or drop an email to mattsdivephotos(at)yahoo.com.au.
Cheers and keep on diving