South West Rocks
South West Rocks is a bit of a paradox. It basically has one high class dive but is very popular and has supported a dive shop for many decades. The reason is that Fish Rock is an outstanding dive, and a ‘must do’ for divers in NSW. It is considered to be as good as any overseas site and perhaps the best site in NSW, if not one of the best in the country.
The downside of having all your eggs in one basket is that when the weather it adverse, it is a long wait. Fortunately there are other worthwhile sites, even if not of the same class.
30.94005 153.09673 24 WGS 84 (shallows)
Fish Rock lies two kilometres south-east of Smoky Cape. The visible part above water is easily dwarfed by the large field of underwater gutters and pinnacles that surround it. Although the Rock is usually prone to current, it is this current that brings the nutrients to the area and attracts the fish life. It is easy to plan your dive to minimise or take advantage of the current
Fish Rock has a unique ecosystem. The western fringe of Fish Rock is washed by currents that bring in a diverse range of marine life to the area and you can expect to see heaps of pelagic fish and turtles. Colourful filter feeding invertebrates also dominate some large sponge gardens.
The rocks are often split by deep gutters that are an important aggregation habitat for grey nurse sharks.
The eastern side of Fish Rock offers walls down to 30 metres in an area that is rarely affected by currents. Boulders along the sea floor attract clouds of fish.
On the northern side of Fish Rock a pinnacle rises 30 metres from the sea floor to within 7 metres of the surface. This is one of the best dives at Fish Rock and is home to turtles, Grey Nurse Sharks, Queensland groper other fish life. Fish Rock is very often affected by a current and diving can be difficult. It can be drift dived by experienced parties.
You will see silver sweep, seapike yellowtail, silver sweep, ladder-finned pomfret, firefish rainbow runners, red morwong, banded coral shrimp, pipefish, bullseyes, rays, wrasse, blue gropers, combfish, kingfish, silver drummer, luderick and dozens of other species.
This area can be dived dozens of times without tiring of it.
Fish Rock Cave
30° 56′ 27″S 153° 05′ 57″E AUS66
The area’ premier dive is the tunnel that runs 125 metres east to west right through the rock. The temperature inside the cave is always at least one degree warmer than the ocean outside and the water always clear. The eastern end is the shallow entrance at about 10 metres, where most divers are taken on their first dives here. The shallow entrance of Fish Rock Cave is a large naturally lit cavern. There are pink gorgonian sea fans around the entrance. Grey Nurse Sharks also rest in the shallow entrance of the cave. Fish Rock is a critical habitat site for Grey Nurse Sharks, which can be found here in large numbers most of the year
The eastern end is much deeper, being around 25 metres. It is Also dark and a torch is needed. Near the exit there is a bubble cave in 5 metres. Don’t breathe the air for long. Outside, there are some very large black coral trees on the northern wall of the gutter. There can be a lot of ladder-finned pomfret, yellowtail, black cod, wobbegongs, black rays and giant cuttlefish in this area and grey nurse sharks in the nearby gutters. The shallow end of the cave can be current affected at times.
30.87550 153.07100 22 WGS84
Popular when southerly winds are blowing and ruling out Fish Rock. This small reef is 100 metres off the Trail Bay Gaol. Bait Reef is only about 25 metres wide and 40 metres long and one to four metres off the bottom. Although small, you can expect to see quite a few fish, rays, bream, leatherjackets, eels and bulleyes. There are lots of different species of molluscs at the site. It can be done as a shore dive with entry from the western side of the gaol.
Back Creek is located on the western side of the township. On incoming tides, clear water allows for an explore around the wharf, moorings, bridge piles and creek bottom. It is surprisingly rich with marine life, firefish, flutemouth, flathead, luderick, bream and moray eel. The site does silt over and then get flushed out again by big floods. Check with the locals.
30.94834 153.07611 WGS84
These two small visible rocks lie to the south of Fish Rock. It can have moderately good fish life including schools of yellowtail, seapike, silver sweep and pomfret, nannygais, bullseyes, kingfish, silver drummer and luderick. Turtles and rays can be seen along with the usual species of temperate reef fish. This site tends to sit closer to the coast than Fish Rock and is more sheltered from the swell. The downside is that it is more affected by river outflows and can suffer from poorer visibility. The rocks are largely bare except for clusters of well-developed coral communities more like the far north of NSW.
30.90995 153.09066 23 WGS84
This area is similar to Black Rock except it’s even further inshore and shallower, so it tends to be kelp covered reef with patches of sponges. A very low reef extends back to the east and then south as it rounds the island. The reef has small rocks along the sand edge. Towards the south-eastern corner the reef has a couple of narrow gutters and some overhangs. It is popular during rough weather as it is more sheltered than Fish Rock. The fishlife here can be quite good, especially in the shallows on the eastern and south-eastern sides of the island. Fish species include, turtles, fiddler rays, bream, leatherjackets, wrasse, sand whiting, firefish, drummer, flathead, yellowtail, blue morwong, luderick, eastern blackfish. You can also do this dive as a drift dive, with an experienced party and a good lookout on the boat.
Wreck of the “Agnes Irving”
30.7519202009545 153.005119508841 WGS84 (supplied DEH)
30° 48′ 29″S 153° 00′ 14″E AUS66
The iron paddle steamer Agnes Irving, 440 tons and 203 feet in length, was built in 1862 at Deptford Green, London. At 1pm on Christmas Day 1879 the PS Agnes Irving left Sydney for the Macleay River with passengers and general cargo. At that time the Macleay River broke through to the sea five kilometres north of the current entrance at South West Rocks. While trying to enter the Agnes Irving hit bottom while crossing the bar and became stuck on the South Spit. She now lies off the small town of Stuarts Point. The wreck is remarkable intact in the bow area, boilers, engines and parts of the paddle mechanism are also visible although the site is very sandy. The site’s main drawback is the slightly ordinary visibility, but it isn’t dark, only a cloudy 5M. Wreck fanatics will love it.
Macleay River Drift
Tries often when the weather it adverse outside it is a surprisingly good dive, well worth a special trip. You should enter the water about 20 minutes before the published high tide for Fort Denison (Sydney).
You may see eagle rays, huge flathead, leatherjackets, bream, sergeant majors, silver trevally, kingfish, conger and moray eels, mangrove jacks, luderick, blackfish, moon wrasse, damsels, butterflyfish, mulloway blue gropers and three or four species of surgeonfish
Ladies Reef is located straight off the main headland in front of South West Rocks township next to the South West Rocks Surf Club. It is dived in southerly weather when other sites are iffy. It is beach entry so the waves need to be small. Descend at Stingray Rock about 110 metres off the beach. Large schools of bream, yellowtail, luderick, silver sweep and trevally are often there. Rays can also be seen on the sand.