1. Gordon’s Bay, Clovelly
How to get there?: Only about a 20 min drive from the CBD. Plenty of free parking but can get packed on a hot summers day. Alternatively, you can catch the 339 bus from Central train station which takes you to the car park.
When to go?: Gordon’s Bay is usually fairly calm but can be affected by big easterly and east-south-easterly swells. Check coastalwatch and look at the Sydney surf forecast before heading off. Avoid for at least 3 days after heavy rain or storms as all sorts of garbage tends to collect in the bay from nearby storm water drains.
What’s it like?: Fantastic! There are two main points to enter the water. In calm weather, you can use a path that starts at the southern end of the car park and leads up to the waters edge on the rocky Northern shoreline. If it’s a bit choppy entering from the beach is a safer bet, which is reached by a 10-minute walk up the steps. Once in
Close to the shore of Gordon’s Bay is shallow, rocky, with many boulders for fish to hide under. Towards the middle and out the back, the depth reaches a decent 18m.Great for a bit of free diving! Visibility varies from about 8m on a bad day to about 20m on a very good day. Gordon’s Bay is one of the most popular places in Sydney to learn to scuba dive and even has a chain that is anchored to the bottom which forms a circuit around the bay for divers to follow (sort of like an underwater bush walk!) Gordon’s bay is not patrolled.
Expect to see big Blue Groupers, schools of Garfish, Sand Whiting, Bream, Schools of Squid, Sting Rays, and if you are lucky maybe even an octopus.
2.Clovelly Beach, Clovelly
How to get there?: Exactly the same as Gordon’s Bay, they are next to each other and even share the same car park. Just walk left from the bus stop instead of right.
When to go?: Clovelly is almost completely sheltered thanks to its man-made banks and breakwater at the entrance, but don’t be fooled into thinking it can’t get rough here. When an Easterly swell is running, Clovelly can turn into a washing machine! As with Gordon’s Bay, Clovelly can fill up with garbage after heavy downpours.
What’s it like?: Great! Clovelly probably is Sydney’s best-known snorkeling spot, for good reason. It is typically packed full of fish. Think of it like a more concentrated, more compact version of Gordon’s bay.
You can enter the water from stairs all around banks but avoid in rough weather as the stairs can be very slippery. Enter from the beach instead. The bottom is covered with lots of rocks and is mostly about 2m deep but increases towards the far end to about 8m-10m. Visibility can vary from about 8m to 20m.
Clovelly can get very busy and can be swarming with inexperienced/young snorkelers who don’t look where they are going and swimmers who don’t look where they are going either so keep an eye out to avoid an aquatic collision.
Fishwise, Clovelly is most known for it’s very friendly Blue Groupers, which can let you get close enough to pat them! Big schools of Garfish can also be found as well as Bream, Whiting, small Stingrays, colourful species of Wrasse and even the occasional pufferfish among other things.
If you are an experienced snorkeler and the weather is very calm you can venture out past the breakwater but beware, there can be very strong ocean currents running down the coast. I’d recommend sticking close to the Northern headland in the shallows if the waves look calm enough as this seems to protect you from the current.
3.Shelly Beach, Manly
How to get there?: You can catch the Manly ferry from wharf 3 at Circular Quay. The trip takes about 45 min and gives you great views of Sydney Harbour, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Once you get to Manly simply walk straight down The Corso till you reach Manly Beach. Then just turn right and follow the path (Marine Parade) that hugs the coastline around. Keep an eye out for Water Dragon lizards that sit perfectly still along the side of the path. The walk takes about 45min from the ferry to Shelly Beach. On the way back you can always grab some fish and chips for lunch. Great day out if you are a tourist. Straya mate! Get into it!
Alternatively, if you want to save a few bucks you can also drive to Manly which takes about 40 min from the CBD but beware of morning and afternoon traffic! You can usually find some free 2 hr parking around the Bower Lane area and then walk along Marine parade till you reach the beach.
When to go?: Whilst some of Shelly Beach is always protected, to get the full experience you should avoid if an Easterly swell in excess of 2-3 ft is running.
What’s it like?: This is my favourite spot in Sydney to snorkel. Simply enter the water from the beach and snorkel along either of the banks. The eastern bank is essentially a big rock wall, which steeply drops off from the surface to about 10m. The western bank is a bit flatter and shallower, 0-6m and has some thick seaweed that fish like to swim through.
On most days you should be able to follow the western bank around to the little beach and swimming pool you passed on your walk. On exceptionally calm days I have even followed the western bank almost to Manly Beach or followed the Eastern bank out and around the corner, sticking to the rocky shoreline.
Very friendly big Blue Groupers can be found on the eastern bank. The usual Whiting and Bream can be found in abundance. Schools of big squid can be seen in the distance. Massive schools of Yellow Tail (hundreds of them), Leatherjackets, Flute Mouths, Sting Rays, Garfish, even the occasional Kingfish.
The main attraction of Shelly Beach is, without a doubt, it’s sharks. Very popular with scuba divers, snorkelers can also enjoy the rush of seeing wild sharks right on Sydney’s doorstep. Shelly Beach is a Dusky Whaler nursery and towards the end of summer and into autumn and winter, big schools of up to 20 juvenile Dusky Whalers can be spotted. They usually can be found along the western side of the bay, slightly back from the shoreline.
They grow to about 1-1.5m before they head out to sea where they can exceed 3m in length. If you see them don’t freak out, they are not naturally aggressive towards people, just curious.
As with any shark, it is best not to approach them. Give them their space and let them come to you. Don’t corner them, try to touch them and never try to feed them. They will initially circle around at a distance but will slowly get closer and closer to you as they get comfortable with you being there. Believe me, it gets the heart pumping when one swims right past you and looks you right in the eye!
Big, docile Wobbegong sharks, occasionally the odd Port Jackson shark and in the cooler months, Giant Cuttlefish
4.Collins Flat Beach, Manly
How to get there?: Collins Flat Beach is probably best reached by car. A few free parking spots are available at the end of Collins Beach Rd. There is also a car park(meter parking) at Little Manly Point as well as some free parking in and around Stuart St. If you are fit you can walk from the ferry, turn right and follow the Esplanade until you reach the sailing club and then turn left and walk up Stuart St (very steep) until you reach the end where you will find a track that leads to the beach on your left. Walk takes about 40 mins.
When to go?: Collins Flat beach itself if completely protected from rough, onshore waves. This makes it ideal if it is too rough to snorkel along the coast. The only time it can get a bit dodgy is if you follow the shoreline on the Eastern end of the beach and there are strong westerly winds blowing. Some inner harbor choppy waves can form which can wash you onto the rocks. Avoid when a strong westerly is blowing. You should also wait at least 3 days after rain as the visibility here goes almost to zero.
What’s it like?: Collins Flat beach is one of Sydney’s great hidden beaches. A million times more pretty and nowhere near as crowded as Bondi, it even has a small waterfall at its far end! I usually don’t bother snorkeling down the western shoreline as it’s a bit boring and there are usually idiot kids jumping off the cliffs into the very shallow water (once I unfortunately watched a teenage boy break his neck here and have to get choppered out)
So, as I was saying keep to the Eastern Shoreline. Visibility, as with any place inside Sydney Harbour is not the best, typically not exceeding 10m and getting much worse if it has rained recently. Boat traffic here can be a big issue, especially on hot summer weekends. I tend to stay very close to the shoreline to avoid boats and always keep my ears peeled for the “sshhhhh” sound of a boat propeller. This limits the max depth of this site to about 5m. The shoreline is very rocky, with lots of overhangs and gaps between the rocks for fish to hide in
How far you snorkel is really up to you. If you follow the eastern shoreline around you will reach Store Beach. This beach is only accessible by boat or by swimming and at most only ever has a couple of people on it.
If you are a snorkeling sadist (like myself) you can keep snorkeling around to the next beach, which is the location of Sydney’s old Quarantine Station (now a museum that runs spooky ghost tours). There tends to be a fair bit of boat traffic as well as a ferry which arrives about every hour, so again stick close to shore. By now you will probably want a break from snorkeling as well as to stretch your legs so snorkel around to the gap between the trees. It will look like a big pile of rocks.
By now you will probably want a break from snorkeling as well as to stretch your legs so snorkel around to the gap between the trees, which looks like a big pile of rocks.This is a headland called Cannae Point. You can get out and climb over the rocks, to get a fantastic and unique view of Sydney and it’s harbor, which can only be reached by snorkeling.
As you can tell this trip is pretty epic and should only be attempted if you have some experience and are fairly fit. Expect about a 3 hr round trip. Your legs will be sore the next day!
As for sea-life, Blue Groupers can be found hiding between the rocks, occasionally Wobbegong Sharks can be found sitting still on rocks or sand, big schools of Bullseyes can be found hiding under overhangs, Sand Whiting can be found in the shallow sandy parts, Moray Eels can be found between rocks and shy Squid can often be seen in the distance. If you are doing the big swim to the Quarantine Station, keep an eye out for any old artifacts on the bottom. I once found what I think was a small old ceramic Rum bottle which looked about 150 years old.
5.Fairlight Beach, Manly
How to get there?: Fairlight Beach is an easy 25 min walk from the ferry. Simply turn left and follow the coastal path which goes past the Aquarium and Delwood Beach (another snorkeling option but not as good in my opinion). You could also drive, with free parking in the streets behind the beach.
When to go?: This is the great thing about Fairlight Beach, it is always calm. Sheltered in the harbor from all directions, it is usually flat as a tack in everything but a raging storm.
What’s it like?: If you are inexperienced at snorkeling or you want to try snorkeling for the first time I would strongly recommend you try Fairlight Beach. As mentioned above, waves are almost never an issue here. It is also not very daunting in terms of depth. A fair amount of the bay is shallow enough to stand in, with the water out near the edge of the ocean pool being only about 2m deep. Out the “back” it reaches about 8-10m max, but really the best snorkeling for this location seems to be in the shallower areas.
Water visibility is quite good for the inner harbor, usually being around 10-15m. The bottom is very rocky with lots of little holes and a fair amount of marine vegetation and even some coral.
In terms of sea life, Fairlight Beach often has big schools of very large Flute Mouths, Garfish, lots of Gobys and if you are very lucky you might spot an Octopus hiding under a rock.
Admittedly, Fairlight beach probably isn’t Sydney’s most exciting snorkeling spot. Underwater it is quite flat and just doesn’t have as wide a variety of fish as some of the other options on this list. What it lacks in excitement it makes up for in practicality as it is always available, even if the surf is cranking. It is also not intimidating for the novice snorkeler and is probably one of Sydney’s least crowded beaches.
6. Bare Island, La Perouse
How to get there?: There are a total of 6 different bus routes that can get you to La Perouse (393, X94, 394, 399, L94, X99),all of which you can catch from either Circular Quay or Martin Place. It’s Also very easy to drive here with heaps of free parking.
When to go?: La Perouse is sheltered from direct ocean swells but can still be affected by Easterly or South Easterly swells. The distance between Bare Island and the headland of La Perouse is quite small which means that it kind of acts as a choke point. When the tide is either coming in or going out, the current can be very strong. If you are a strong swimmer it is OK but a hard slog.
To best enjoy this spot I would recommend either entering the water when the tide is completely full or completely out, giving you a period of “slack water”. Check http://www.coastalwatch.com/ the day before for tidal information to plan the best time go.
What’s it like?: Interesting! Bare Island was originally part of Sydney’s coastal defenses and was completed in 1885. Believe it or not, back then there was a fear that Russia was going to invade Australia! A series of fortifications were built along the coast of Sydney, Bare Island being the last line of defence, stopping ships from entering Botany Bay. Of course, the Russian ships never came…
Anyway enough of the history lesson, what’s the snorkeling like? There are two good entry points for this location. You can enter from La Perouse Bay Beach, follow the shoreline and swim under the wooden bridge, then around the shoreline of Bare Island or La Perouse. If the tide is coming in, this way is easiest, as you swim with the current instead of against it. You can get out at Bare Island and climb up the steps and walk back to the beach if you don’t want to swim back.
The other entry is from Bare Island. Walk Across the bridge then go down the stairs and walk under the bridge. This side of the Island is usually fairly calm and an easy entry point into the water. You can then swim across to the shoreline of La Perouse and then under the bridge towards the beach.
Along the Shoreline is fairly shallow (only about 1-2m), but drops of to about 8m in the centre. The shoreline is very rocky and the centre is sandy with boulders and lots of sea weed. Visibility is OK, typically around 10m, 15m if you are lucky.
Expect to see Gobys, Wrasse, Stingrays (some of them very big), Blue Grouper, occasionally a Puffer Fish and if you are very lucky you might see a Weedy Seadragon Seahorse near the pylons under the bridge. Just be careful around the pylons of the bridge if there is a strong current, it is fairly easy to get sucked into them (they are covered in sharp oysters). Keep a distance from them if you feel the current towing you through.
A final word of warning. You can swim around from around La Perouse Beach to the next beach around, Little Congwong Beach. The snorkel along the rocky shoreline is decent but the beach itself as I found out to my surprise, is a nudist beach. Believe me, you only make that mistake once!