Why dive in a busy and often dirty urban estuary? In fact the harbour is not as dirty as it might seem although poor visibility can be an issue. The sites close to the Heads are partly flushed by fresh open ocean water and the sediments of the estuary can support some interesting marine life not found elsewhere. It is also usually sheltered from the wind and swell that can pound the exposed coast of the shoreline outside the heads. Harbour sites tend to be used for training and night dives, but they can also be of interest to the photographer and naturalist in their own right. They are also conveniently close to the city for impromptu shore dives when you don’t have a boat spot or would prefer to do your own thing without having to drive too far.
On the very tip of North Head there is a large area of sponge gardens in deeper water. The bottom consists of boulders bottom terminating in sand. The area is often sheltered from North and North Eastern weather. Further back into the harbour, the shallower fringing reef is home to a good selection of smaller fish life although visibility can be reduced at times. It is not too difficult to find wreckage as several vessels came ashore on North Head, but the exposure of the site to storms has seen most of the remains scattered and often buried under sand.
North Head – Green Wheelie Bin Reef
GPS 33° 49′ 35.2″S 151° 17′ 54.4W” (using AUS66)
The whole rocky shore of North Head offers good diving. The outer section of the entrance is known locally as Green Wheelie Bin Reef. On the shore, a WWII pillbox, near here is this offshore reef. It is a boat dive due to the steep cliffs. The bottom of the sloping reef offers, overhangs and holes full of blackfish, leatherjackets and cuttlefish. The deeper boulders are covered with very colourful sponges and sea tulips. The area can be affected by currents. It is best dive on an incoming tide at slack water.
The site is located at the mouth of the harbour north head. The shallow areas consist of big boulders with some swim throughs. This location is renowned for great sponge growth below 12 metres. The fish life includes leather jackets, blue groupers, cuttlefish
and other temperate water species. Visibility averages around 10m.
Old Man’s Hat – North Head Sponge Gardens
Approx 33° 49′ 18.9″S 151° 17′ 35.3″E (using AUS66)
The reef here consists of a lot of large and small boulders on the sand. The most spectacular feature of this location is the sponge gardens, full of sponges of all colours, sea squirts and sea fans. The fishlife is also very good, with blue groper, cuttlefish, lizard fish,bream, sweep, luderick, yellowtail, leatherjackets and sea dragons. Old Man’s Hat suits all levels of experience. This area can be done as a drift dive.
Old Man’s Shoulder – North Head
This site is located about 200 metres to the east of Old Man’s Hat. The wall drops to a gently sloping bottom covered in large boulders. The rocks are covered in sponges, sea tulips, gorgonias and lace coral. The reef teems with fish including, sea dragons, bull rays, wobbegong, six-spined leatherjacket, black reef leatherjackets, cuttlefish, squid, yellowtail, kingfish, one-spot pullers and ladder-finned pomfrets. This is one of the best dives in Sydney and is popular with charter boats. The area is affected by a moderate current. The best visibility is on an incoming tide.
Red Indian Point
33° 49′ 14″S 151° 17′ 01″E (using AUS66)
This site is renowned for sightings of red indian fish. It is a more sheltered site on North Head, suitable in NE winds. Go to the sand edge. If you follow the reef south, it will get progressively deeper. There are 3M high walls, gullies and swim throughs and the rock faces are covered in sea tulips and sponges. To the north it is shallower with better fish life including red indian fish if you are very observant. Fish life in the area includes flathead, Port Jackson sharks, silver sweep, pike, yellowtail and ladder-finned pomfrets, sea dragons, leatherjackets.
6 – 30 meters
This location is known for great sponge growth below 12 meters and in the shallower areas big boulders and swim throughs. You will see lots of leather jacket, blue grouper, giant cuttlefish, and the occasional big bull ray. The visibility averages around 10 to 12 meters.
Wreck of the “Catherine Adamson”
In 1857, this wooden sailing ship was blown onto the rocks of North Head while loaded with immigrants and cargo from England. I heavy seas the crew and some of the passengers made it off but 21 other immigrants drowned. The wreck lies almost onshore a little west of Old Man’s Hat. Only a jumble of smaller items of ironwork remain. There are many other smaller sailing ship wrecks in the area of North Head. Most are badly dispersed and few visible items remains.
Cannae Point – Flagstaff
Accessible via boat on the rocky headland near Manly and it’s an easy beginner’s dive. It is noted for weedy sea dragons. You’ll also find stingrays, blind sharks, cling fish and basket stars. It makes for a good night dive.
Manly Gas Works
The old gas works at Little Manly Point is now a council park offering an easy shore dive and interesting night dive. There are some steep entry points that require care. The bottom consists of sandy sediment with some boulders. There is some kelp and seagrass in spots. There are lots of interesting items including old beer bottles coal and broken china, thrown overboard from the colliers unloading their coal here. Fish at the site tend to be small with old wives, bream, luderick, cuttlefish, octopus and rays. Visibility is variable but is usually at least 5M.
This dive is a sheltered area of the harbour offering sheltered easy shore diving and night diving. It is good for macro photography and although it is quite bare, does offer some smaller critters to discover. There is the usual urban area litter in the water including two wrecked aluminium dinghies that have become a haven for small fish. Long-snouted boarfish, ladder-finned pomfret, yellowtail, and boxfish are likely to be seen. Visibility can be poor at times.
Wreck of the “Centurion”
33° 49′ 08.5″151° 16′ 47.6″
The Centurion was built by Walter Hood & Sons in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1864. She was 63 metres long and displaced 1004 tons. The ship was built for George Thompson and Company’s Aberdeen White Star Line to replace a vessel of the same name.
On the morning of Sunday 16 January 1887, “one of the most extraordinary accidents to shipping that has been recorded for a long time past happened…” The Centurion left its wharf at Dawes Point being towed by the SS Pheobe. The Centurion was loaded with 400 tons of coal and 60 tonnes of ballast stone for Honolulu via Newcastle (NSW).
As they neared Sydney Heads, the barque Manhegan was seen to be anchored right in the middle of the Heads and in the way. She was anchored here with her tug, the SS Young Bungaree, keeping Manhegan from dragging anchor and running aground in the bad weather and poor visibility.
The tug captain saw that if he kept going they would get tangled up with the Manhegan and put his engines into reverse. The tow rope went slack and got fouled around the tug’s prop. The Centurion drifted towards the rocks at North Head and very soon the tow line was cut by the prop.
The Centurion was now going towards the rocks so Captain Charles Taylor let an anchor go but in the strong southerly the ship was soon aground near Old Mans Hat (halfway between the Inner and Outer Head).
The pilot vessel, Captain Cook came to the aid of the Centurion but it was too late. The Captain Cook dropped two lifeboats and the crew jumped off the wreck to safety. Captain Taylor was the last to leave.
It is reported that within 30 minutes, the Centurion slipped off the rocks and disappeared. Neither the ship (valued at £9,000) nor its cargo (valued at £250) was insured.
The Centurion is now located just off Quarantine Point, well inside the Heads of Sydney Harbour. It is in about 18 metres of water on a sandy bottom, the wreck consists of twisted iron, masts, timber and some other pieces of the ship. The wreck is in two parts, with a major section of the wreck located under the sand.
Things to see include the remains of the masts, anchor chain, coal, the stone ballast, plating, beams and sometimes, timbers. While the actual wreck site is not very large and can be explored in 15 minutes or so, the wreck has attracted a lot of fish life which greatly adds to the quality of the dive.
Wreck of the “Centennial”, Taylor’s Bay
33° 50′ 58″ 151° 14′ 56″ AUS66
The 66 metre long iron single screw steamship SS Centennial was built in Greenock, Glasgow, Scotland, in 1863. In 1889 she collided with the collier SS Kanahooka off Bradley Head. Within six minutes the Centennial had sunk, with all saved. Today the wreck of the Centennial lies on the eastern side of Bradleys Head in Taylors Bay. The wreck is very broken up, buried in a sand bank and covered in millions of mussels. She is a jumble of ribs and hull plates. The fishlife on the wreck includes bream, some nannygai and yellowtail. The visibility in Taylors Bay is often poor
Sow and Pigs Reef
This rocky reef in Sydney Harbour, New South Wales, Australia. The reef is situated on the eastern side of the main shipping channel between Middle Head and South Head. It is 150 metres long and up to 70 metres wide. Originally the reef was exposed and resembled a sow and her litter.
The Sow and Pig’s reef divides Port Jackson into two channels which ships must negotiate. A number of ships have been wrecked or damaged after hitting the reef.
- · Joke, a schooner carrying a cargo of maize, ran onto the reef on 18th June 1821. The schooner was damaged beyond repair.
- · Phoenix, a 600-ton ship, was ashore on 1824, and was then salvaged and hulked after heavy damage.
- · The William Cossar, on 14th February 1825, after taking part in a towing operation in high seas, foundered on the reef.
- · The cutter Emma Kemp, was badly damaged when blown onto the reef in a southeasterly gale.
- · The Como ran ashore on the reef in 1848,
- · the wooden barque Fame, which came to grief on the Sow and Pigs in July/August 1857.
The reef has long been recognised as a navigational hazard, with architect Francis Greenway proposing in 1816 that a warning beacon be installed to mark it. However, it was not until 20 years later that the schooner Rose was anchored off the reef to provide a manned, lighted marker. The Bramble, a former naval vessel, replaced the Rose in 1856, and was in turn replaced by a purpose built lightship in 1877. Various fixed markers have followed in more recent times.
Explosives were used to reduce the reef. All this did was to make it a bit more dangerous as it is now covered in all but the lowest tides.
Michael McFadyen suggests divers anchor on the southern or western sides. The maximum depth here is almost 8 metres compared to 4 metres on the northern or north-eastern side. The location is a very popular fishing site and at times you may not be able to dive it due to the numbers of boats anchored. It is better dived on an incoming tide and as close as you can to high tide.
There are plenty of overhangs and cracks. Some are large enough to enter and there are even a couple of tight swim-throughs.
On the western side there is a huge concrete mooring block perhaps for a channel marker associated with the reef. On the southern and western sides there is a lot of metal. It is very old and some appears to be ballast.
The northern and eastern sides of the reef are not as prominent as the other sides. However, it is well worth going right around the reef. It will take about 30 minutes at the very least to circumnavigate the reef and 45 to 60 minutes would give a better dive.
There are lots of bream, luderick and similar fish. However, the fishlife is not as good due to the number of fishers here.
Visibility is normally five to seven metres. However, on a high tide when blue water is off the Heads, you could get as much as 25 metres. Worth doing if the seas outside are too rough.
In really big weather it is also popular with kayakers. Spectacular breaking surf give bouncing, broadsiding rides through the whitewater. Obviously, not great for diving in big seas.
Wreck of the T.S.S. “Currajong”
33° 51′ 24″ 151° 14′ 52″
The city’s coast and harbour have claimed more than 140 ships and hundreds of lives since 1788. As Sydney grew, accidents increased as the harbour was increasingly choked with shipping traffic.
On 8 March 1910, TSS Currajong left Bellambi Wharf with a load of coal from the Illawarra. Just before 9 pm that night, the Currajong entered Port Jackson and headed up the Harbour.
As the Currajong neared Bradleys Head, the 6,000 tons passenger liner, SS Wyreema, was on the wrong side of the channel. She hit the Currajong amidships on the port side. The helmsman was killed. Currajong sank almost immediately.
It was a ship with a record for causing mishaps. She was built in 1876 as The Clarence. In May 1878 she ran down the steam-hopper barge Schnapper in the Brisbane River. In 1899 she ran down and sank the ketch Lansdowne. In 1904 the Currajong collided with the paddle ferry Victoria.
The wreckage was not salvaged, but the masts and funnel were removed as they were considered a shipping hazard. Even as a wreck she caused problems, in 1911 snagging the tow line of the sailing vessel “Aldebaran” when it momentarily went slack. Part of the wreck was ripped off and the tug halted. The barque surged forward and nearly collided with the tug.
The Currajong now lies 230 metres off Bradleys Head in 26 metres of water, in the main incoming shipping channel for Sydney Harbour. Every incoming ship passes right over the wreck.
Sonar imaging of the wreck.
She is dived from the shore although the wreck is technically off limits. The sand has built up around the wreck for most of the length. The hull of the Currajong is almost completely intact and sits upright with the bow pointing straight towards Bradleys. The Currajong is a fairly large wreck, almost 70 metres long.
At the stern, there are huge schools of jewfish, bream and luderick. The two props are buried in the sand. The higher structures are now gone but a fair bit of the lower cabin areas still remains fairly intact. Schools of yellowtail, bream and one-spot pullers swarm off the wreck onto the sand.
The donkey boiler, large winches can be seen. She is full of mud and under the deck the clearance is usually only 30cm or so.
The visibility varies from a few centimetres to 10 metres or more. It is best done on an incoming tide, towards high tide. One of NSW’s best wreck dives but only for the experienced and it is in a very hazardous location. In recent years a dive operator started doing this as a dive after midnight.
Balmoral is located on Middle Harbour. The dive is around a swimming enclosure at the main beach called Balmoral Baths. White’s sea horses are found along the netting. Blue-ringed octopus, pygmy leatherjackets, fan-bellied leatherjackets, sole, yellowtail, bream and pike can also be seen. It makes a good night dive or macro photography spot. Visibility is variable.
Chowder Bay Wharf
This area near Clifton Gardens is good for night diving. Then you get to see more marine life, and after 8PM there is usually parking. The dive site is the wharf on the southern side of the historic Navy buildings, not the modern concrete wharf. On the muddy bottom there are a series of very large mooring chains. Interesting small marine life, including anglerfish are often seen in and around the links. Out deeper there are also anchors and a wrecked yacht and a wrecked launch. The site is often used for training dives. It is the variety and rarity of the smaller marine life that makes this a great dive for photographers and naturalists. The rest of you might prefer to head out to the open sea. Visibility can be variable and is often only 3M.
Clifton Gardens wharf
This dive is based around the wharf and bathing enclosure located just around from Bradleys Head. It can be accessed off Bradleys Head Road at Mosman. The dive is shallow and easy and makes for a good night dive. Marine life is generally small but offers nudibranchs and seahorses for the observant diver. It is also good for spotting rare and iconic fish like anglerfish and seahorses. There are steps down to the water near the end of the wharf for ease of entry. Visibility can be poor, sometimes less than 5M.
Bottle and Glass Point
The eastern end of Nielsen Park Beach is called Bottle and Glass Point (it is also known as Vaucluse Point). Fish life is very similar to other harbour dives but it tends to be slightly clearer in its position further out into the harbour. The rocky reef is flat with some small rocks. There is some smaller sponge life and a lot of kelp. You will see luderick, yellowtail, sweep, one-spot pullers, pike and flathead. It is exposed to strong north westerly winds but is usually quite sheltered.
This site is shallow and easy and is suited to macro photography or a night dive. Parsley Bay has a swimming enclosure. Near the net is a wharf with steps to the water. It is extremely silty on the bottom. White’s sea horses, moray eels, conger eels, pygmy leatherjackets, spider crabs and decorator crabs may be seen. Along the sandy bottom and other areas of the bay there is a wide variety of marine life, flathead, stingarees, cuttlefish, sole, flounder, numb rays, pipefish, lionfish, blue-ringed octopus, bream luderick, sand whiting, Sydney cardinalfish, striped dumpling squid octopus, old wife, morwong, Port Jackson sharks and surgeonfish. At 12M there are the remains of an old crane that seems to have been lost from a barge.
Watsons Bay Pool
This swimming enclosure offers an easy, sheltered spot with a rocky bottom is covered in kelp. The main attraction is Whites sea horses, but you can also see small sponges, crabs, cuttlefish, nudibranchs, leatherjackets and blue-ringed octopus. On the junk on the bottom and along the small overhangs you may see more novel fish like pineapple fish, anglerfish, or red Indian fish. Along the patches of sand there are whiting, flathead, small rays and flounder. You may even see sea pens from time to time.
Green Point/Laing’s Point, Camp Cove
Camp Cove is the most popular dive training and night diving spot in Sydney. It is very sheltered, especially in southerly weather. It has moderate visibility (up to 5M) except after rain. The greatest difficulty is finding a car park, especially in summer. Green Point is the dive along a fringing foreshore reef, on the south-western (city) end of the Camp Cove beach. The inshore area offers some rocky reef with a mixture of sand and sediment that is good for seeing unusual creatures, although they aren’t as densely aggregated as on the rocky reef. Some of the highlights can include sea pens and different kinds of small invertebrates for the macro photographer.
Along the reef, there are some overhangs and small caves patrolled by schools of luderick, pike and yellowtail. Sea horses, leatherjacket, blue-ringed octopus, blue swimmer crab, eastern kelpfish, blue groper, senator wrasse, old wife and blackfish are likely to be seen. Some novel fish that may be encountered include velvetfish, flutemouth, cuttlefish, pipe fish, combfish, surgeonfish, and mulloway. Try to avoid surfacing during the dive as the boat traffic is heavy.
Camp Cove NE end
This beach is often the starting point for dive courses and offers usually safe diving conditions although the visibility can be a challenge at times. High tide is better. Offshore there is a small reef in the middle of the bay as well as some rocky reef along the cliffs to the north east. The site is renowned for White’s sea horses, pygmy leatherjackets, cuttlefish, hermit crabs, octopus, squid, small cuttlefish and stingarees. Near the headland rarer fish can be seen in this area including pygmy leatherjacket, smooth anglerfish, eastern frogmouth and tiger pipefish. Try to avoid surfacing during the dive as the boat traffic is heavy.