As well as being the site of the tragic shipwrecks SS Catterthun and SS Satara, Seal Rocks on the Mid North Coast of NSW is famous for its grey nurse sharks. Seal Rocks is one of the few locations in NSW where grey nurse sharks can generally be seen every day. The best sites for diving with the sharks are Big Sea Rock and Little Seal Rock which are located to the south-east of Seal Rocks Lighthouse.
There aren’t really any services at Seal Rocks, you must use dive operators from Forster. It is about 42 kilometres from Forster to Seal Rocks and it takes about 35 to 40 minutes to drive the distance.
Water temperature ranges from 18 to 24 degrees.
Little Seal Rock
15m to 28m
Little Seal Rock is an offshore spire that rises to a peak just below the surface. The rock surface is mostly bare but the gutters, overhangs, caves and bommies are very diverse and interesting. They attract grey nurse sharks, wobbegong sharks, Port Jackson sharks, groper, and black cod. Clouds of pelagic fish hover over the site. The grey nurse sharks are particularly relaxed and will readily approach divers. Little Seal Rock is exposed to the prevailing swell and the East Australian Current running north to south. Visibility is generally good. This is one of the best dives at Seal Rocks.
Big Seal Rock
12m – 26m
Big Seal Rock is an exposed rock on the northern most end Seal Rocks. It is mostly bare rock but the gutters and crevices attract grey nurse sharks and large schools of pelagic fish. A pronounced rock overhang to the south east called the Eastern Gutter is the site of a very active grey nurse aggregation with up to a dozens of sharks being present. The eastern side also offers a dropoff over a series of steps into 37m. It can be affected by strong currents.
The southern sides of the rocks offer excellent diving along a diverse area of crevices and gutters. Its shallow but the fish life is still very diverse. There are other deeper gutters around the site but they tend to be more current affected.
These two bommies lie to the north of Sugarloaf Bay. The site is often protected from currents and offers big boulders and overhangs. Grey nurse sharks, and sometimes bronze whalers, come by following the big schools of pelagic fish in the area. The deeper sections also have nice sea fans and sponges.
White Top Rocks
This is a small outcrop off Boat Beach at Seals Rocks that is often sheltered from the swell. It can be dived from the beach as a shore dive by fit parties. It is a very long swim and more safe and comfortable by boat. The northern side offers gutters and a nice sea cave. Marine life is generally small and the usual temperate reef fish can be seen.
7 – 34m
Edith Breaker is an large rocky reef on the South East of the headland at Seal Rocks. It covers over 200 square meters and has gutters, swim throughs, and caves. Patches of soft coral growth including black coral trees can be seen. It is home to black cod, grey nurse shark, nudibranchs, moray eels, wobbegong sharks, Port Jackson sharks, blue groper and schooling pelagics. Edith Breaker is exposed to the prevailing swell and will break in moderate swells, but often gets shelter from the current due to the headland to the North. Visibility is generally good. It is one of the best dives in the area.
Outer Edith Breakers provides a number of caves including the popular, Jimmy’s Cave. This cave is usually entered using a 10 metre long vertical chimney from the rubble pile above, but it has many entry and exit points and isn’t especially tight. It opens out into a large cavern called the Ballroom. Outside the cave there are huge schools of yellowtail and silver sweep and lots of wobbegong. The nearby gutters have black coral trees. The gutters have plenty of mados, red morwong, leatherjackets combfish, blue gropers and crimson-banded wrasse. Jimmy’s Cave is a fully enclosed cave dive for more experienced divers.
Only a stones throw from Jimmy’s, on the other side of the Trench, lies another set of joined caves. The caves are deep and dark and bring a torch or two. The area outside the caves is also good with plenty of fish and sponge gardens below 30M. Grey nurse sharks can be seen but they tend to be timid for some reason.
There is a deep gutter running 50 meters in a North to South direction. If you follow the trench heading south there is a large black coral at about 25 meters depth.
10m – 16m
Located just off the headland at Seal Rocks, has sheer sides that drop to the sand at 12 metres depth. A pronounced overhang often shelters wobbegong sharks, Port Jackson sharks and cuttlefish. Bommies and gutters in the surrounding rock reef attract a small but consistent number of grey nurse sharks. Light growth of kelp and sponge decorates the rocky terrain.
Status Rock also makes a good sheltered second dive after another, more exposed dive around Seal Rocks.
Divers should stay generally within visual range the rock reef, and avoid straying too far onto the sand as it may be difficult to navigate back to the reef. In some conditions, funnelled swell can become a problem close to the narrow gap between Status Rock and the headland. Otherwise this is generally a comfortable spot, sheltered from swell and current.
Wreck of the “Satara”
32° 28′ 50″ S 152° 31′ 11″ E AUS66
The SS Satara was a passenger steamer of 410.8 feet long that was built in 1901 by William Denny and Brothers, Dumbarton, Scotland. In 1910, the SS Satara left Newcastle bound for Gladstone. A disagreement over the course between the Captain and pilot saw her sail between Seal Rocks and Sugarloaf Point. The Satara hit Little Edith Breakers, a reef seven metres below the surface located four kilometres south-west of Big Seal Rock. A decision was made to beach the Satara but she was taking on too much water. At 1.10 pm the Satara sank, but everyone made it shore safely.
Today the wreck lies upright with the stern on reef and the bow on sand. There is huge three cylinder engine, twin boilers and a lot of flattened steelwork. On the wreck there are grey nurse sharks, wobbegongs and red morwong. This wreck site entails a long boat ride as she is half way between Port Stephens and Forster. She is also exposed to strong currents. As a result it is rarely dived.
Wreck of the “Catterthun”
32° 25′ 57″ 152° 34′ 38″
The SS Catterthun was a 2179 ton, 2 metres long, iron steamer built in 1881 by W. Doxford and Sons, Sunderland. shipyards of for the Eastern and Australian Steamship Company. In 1895, the SS Catterthun left Sydney Harbour in big seas for Hong Kong. Chinese passengers were onboard on their way home from the Australian goldfields. While ofs Seal Rocks the crew on the bridge alerted the captain to the closeness of the land. A short time later breakers were seen ahead. They veered away from Big Seal Rock and hit Little Seal Rock instead. She continued to sail on but was filling fast. The Captain decided to try to beach the ship in Seal Rocks Bay. Then a huge wave engulfed the ship washing the Captain and two others off the bridge, leaving the ship motoring along out of control. Some lifeboats were launched but 55 people drowned when she finally sank.
She is a wreck that most of us will never dive. The SS Catterthun lies in a deep, current-affected spot, exposed to southerly and south-westerly winds. It is a difficult dive for experienced technical divers. The wreck lies upright and fairly intact. It is noted for the huge engine, twin boilers, coal and winches. The bow is broken off from and has fallen on its starboard side. Horse bones litter the wreck. Renowned for having some gold sovereigns onboard, the wreck is now protected and items cannot be removed.
The Mid North Coast twin towns of Forster/Tuncurry are located four to five hours drive from Sydney.
Forster has fame for its scuba diving sites. The main attraction of Forster is to get access to the grey nurse sharks of Seal Rocks. However, there are a number of other locations that are as good, The Pinnacle, Latitude Rock and Spot A.
A lot of the inshore sites are shallow and the reefs fairly small and wave-swept. In good weather they make for easy beginner’s dives. In good weather, the area north of Cape Hawke has a number of great dive sites in a relatively small area. They include Spot A, Colours and Latitude Rock. Of these, Spot A is considered the best and Latitude Rock also excellent.
Idol Bay is located just West of Latitude Rock and makes an excellent second dive. It is a jumble of bommies just below the surface. The shallows are covered in kelp but the crevices hold colourful sponges and a wide variety of marine life including blue gropers, moray eels, pineapple fish, nudibranchs and colourful shrimp. Blue spotted stingrays are very common on the sandy bottom between the rocks. The site is also occasionally visited by eagle rays, bull rays, yellow tail kingfish, and turtles. Idol Bay is relatively sheltered from current and swell.
Bennetts Head Bommie
8m to 10m
This isolated 80m long rock formation sits just below the surface off Bennetts Head. On the ocean side there is a small swim through cave. The rocks are home to anemones, soft corals, moray eels, cuttlefish, nudibranchs and shrimp. Around the bommie are red morwong, eastern blue gropers, luderick, surgeonfish, leatherjackets, old wife, and long snouted boarfish. On the sand you may see shovel nose rays, bull rays and turtles. .
24m to 28m
32.09.230 152.32.360 WGS 84
Forster Barge is an old garbage barge located near the estuary entrance. It would usually be an average dive, but the variety of life and closeness to boat ramps makes it perhaps the most popular spot in Forster. The high nutrient content of outgoing fresh water may result is reduced visibility at times, but it also encourages diverse marine life. Forster Barge is a grey nurse shark aggregation site. There are often different water layers where the cold and murky estuary water meet the sea, and grey nurse sharks and schools of big eye will float over the barge at the border between these water layers. Dozens of sharks can be seen on a single dive in the autumn/winter period when grey nurse sharks are prevalent. The barge rests on low-profile reef covered with barnacles, worm tubes, sponges and seaweed. The overhangs hold turtles, catfish and wobbegong sharks. Some hull sections have collapsed. Moray eels can be seen inside. Tidal currents affect the site and there can be heavy boat traffic in the area.
24m to 40m
32° 13′ 48″S 152° 36′ 02″E (AUS66)
32.13.747 152.36.009 WGS84
Located three kilometres off Cape Hawke, this submerged rock lies in the middle of an otherwise sandy bottom and it attracts fish from everywhere. On the way down, bull rays circle the mooring line and large schools of fish often cloud over the reef. The rocks are bare in the shallows but the base of the bommie in areas deeper than 30m it is covered in sponges, sea tulips (tunicates), sea whips and gorgonia sea fans. The reef is one of the primary grey nurse shark aggregation sites on the East Coast and was declared a sanctuary zone. Now, both wobbegong shark and grey nurse shark populations have recovered. Up to 30 can be seen on a dive in the autumn/winter period when grey nurse sharks are prevalent. They are mostly located in two deep gutters at the site. Schools of jewfish and kingfish also collect around the rock. Firefish, red morwong, silver sweep, leatherjackets, combfish and blue gropers are also seen. As an offshore dive site the Pinnacle is moderately exposed to current. It is possible to reach 50 metres here, but the average depth is in the 35 metre range. It is considered to be the best dive site at Forster. This is for the experienced diver only.
10m to 18m
32° 12′ 36″S 152° 33′ 52″E AUS66
This isolated reef is a tall sloped rock running east-west, on a sandy bottom. The rock extends 15 metres above the water’s surface. The southern side is flat kelp-covered sloping rock down to the sand containing several gutters. It is kelp-covered down to about 12 metres. Red morwong and schooling baitfish can be seen. The northern side has as a wall with several gutters, overhangs, cracks at the base. This side had lots of sponges, sea tulips and smaller life, octopus, cuttlefish, nudibranchs and eastern blue groper. There are lots of eels on the site and several different species can be seen. Grey nurse sharks, kingfish, trumpetfish and rays also patrol the bottom. This area is often dived when conditions are poor at other sites.
The Bait Grounds
32.10.750 152.31.310 WGS84
The Bait Grounds is a reef about 75 metres along and 20 metres wide. This site is very close to the ramp and is often resorted to when the weather is poor, or the shop owner doesn’t want to go too far with a load of beginners. It is a good introductory reef and is also good for kids snorkel trips. There are small undercuts on the reef that have some smaller life, moray eels, maybe an octopus, bait fish (at times) and wobbegongs.
One Mile Gutters
This is a good boat dive for beginners or snorkelers. The dive site is made up of kelp covered granite reef that forms a series of gutters. It has a diverse range of temperate reef fish including groper, rays and wobbegong, but not much grows on the rocks other than kelp. Large schools of squid can be seen at various times, along with Port Jackson Sharks in the late Winter. Fit parties can even attempt it as a shore dive.
33° 12′ 26″S 152° 33′ 30″E (AUS66)
The Colours is an easy, shallow dive on three bommies only 50 metres off the foreshore rocks and about 200 metres or so from a tiny beach. It offers some good fish life, turtles, wobbegong, rays, moray eels, eastern blue devilfish, groper, yellowtail, bream, leatherjackets, sweep and the odd turtle. Calm seas are needed as it gets surgy in this shallow site.
This is a close and shallow snorkel or shore dive based (for fit parties) around is a large rocky outcrop situated between Pebbly Beach and Forsters’ Main Beach. It is more comfortable and easy to do it as a boat dive. The rock lies about 150 metres off the headland. Blue groper, moray eels, rays, pufferfish and shrimp can be seen.
Bennett’s Head Bommie
Another close and easy dive that could be shore dived by fit parties. The reef is about 80 metres along the ocean floor and breaks the surface. The rocks are covered in kelp with small crevices that house smaller fish and invertebrates. It can be a good night dive.
This site lies off Wallabi Point to the north of Forster. It is a fairly flat bouldery reef but in the deeper areas has good invertebrate life including black coral trees.
This reef lies about 500 metres off Halliday Point, just south of Boulder Reef. It has similar types of invertebrate life to Boulder Reef, along with an aggregation of grey nurse sharks, sea pens and lots of nudibranchs.
This reef lies further offshore than most and so suffers from currents. It has good invertebrate life in the deeper areas and attracts fish. It usually has good visibility but isn’t often dived as there are easier spots offering similar fare.
The Ballast Heap
Lying just off Forster this low boulder reef doesn’t always enjoy good visibility. It is an interesting formation and was thought to be a pile of ballast stones dumped by visiting ships. Instead it appears to be a natural feature.
A very straightforward snorkel or night dive can be had here on an incoming tide, if you stay away from the boats. The marine life is small and the visibility sometimes challenging.
32° 12′ 39″S 152° 34′ 09″E AUS66
Spot A is located off Cape Hawke perhaps a kilometre from the land, and close to Latitude Rock. Spot A is a reef that runs in a north-east to south-west direction. On the kelp-covered southern side the reef gently slopes down. On the northern side the reef drops in a couple of vertical walls containing some small crevices. A sand-filled dip in the reef provides an interesting feature. Eastern blue devils, eels. octopus, cuttlefish, leatherjackets, blue groper, combfish, wrasses and rock cale can be seen. The sponge and marine growth on the rocks is reasonably good. On the sand there are flathead and rays. Above the reef in mid-water are schools of silver sweep, mado, bullseyes, yellowtail and stripeys. The blue groper are especially friendly as they get fed by divers. Tropical butterflyfish are seen in summer. Visibility can be restricted some times, but the dive is otherwise easy.
This isolated offshore rock lies about 500 metres offshore and north of Boulder Reef. Being distant, it is rarely visited. It has some growth, but is bare compared to other nearby sites. It does offer very large schools of pelagic fish as well as the usual temperate reef species. The site can be affected by dirty water at times.
This reef lies to the South of Halliday’s Point and gets its name from the blanket of sponges, sea fans and white soft coral found in the area. There is good fish life in the deeper gutters.
This fairly sparse boulder reef also offers a cave on the southern side that is often home to grey nurse sharks. There is some interesting fish life on the reef.