South West Rocks

In May 2021, we took advantage of a break in pandemic lockdowns to visit South West Rocks, a sleepy coastal town in New South Wales, round about halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. This was where we could dive with a critically endangered population of grey nurse sharks. Known to be docile in nature, grey nurse sharks have a mouth full of curved needle-like teeth making them pretty harmless to humans unless, of course, provoked! 

Our dive operator - the longtime family owned and  operated South West Rocks Dive Centre - had top quality gear for hire and a large, comfortable vessel, which took us on a half-hour voyage out to a rocky islet known as Fish Rock. Touted as Australia's  "only true ocean cave dive", this is a truly unique dive site and well worth a visit! 

Before we left the dive shop, we were each given a pair of gloves which would be useful for "climbing" the rocky "staircase" towards the deep entrance into Fish Rock. These would come in very handy as we found ourselves against in fairly strong current carefully picking our way over rocks studded with spiky sea urchins. Though gloves would not have helped at all if we accidentally grabbed one of them and the spiky buggers were everywhere!

Once we got to the calm waters inside the cave, there were huge black cod, an abundance of rock lobsters and big wobbegong sharks, a pair lying entwined on the floor at the mouth of the cave. Around us, schools of smaller fish milled around, sometimes blocking out the daylight. 

Outside the cave, along a sandy trough, were the stars of South West Rocks - the grey nurse sharks - whom we had come to see. On one dive, we saw over thirty individuals patrolling the boulder-strewn gutter. Other times, there were about a dozen. Rock walls on this side of Fish Rock kept the waters incredibly still and sheltered, so it felt like you were watching the sharks in an aquarium. Overhead, colourful wrasses swarmed and when we were doing our safety stop, a big blue parrotfish came in close to say hello. 

On our final dive, we entered Fish Rock Cave to traverse the 60+ metre tunnel that runs right through it. In order to reach the tunnel, divers must first enter a narrow cavern that is pitch black, then travel a few metres up a chimney in total darkness. If you miss the chimney, you'll know because eventually you'll reach the back of the cavern - I did this by accident and the beam of my torch found two wobbegongs curled up here, giving me a fright. But once you're in the tunnel, it's quiet, peaceful and upon exiting it, you are met with the breathtaking sight of sunlight flooding down into a cavern that's simply bursting with marine life. 

Due to wild weather, we only had the opportunity to dive in this location over two days but from what we saw, I'd expect this region to offer some exceptional dive experiences. For instance, I saw numerous green turtles swimming around our boat and in summer, hammerheads are known to visit so make sure you stay a few days to make the most of it!