Home is Where the Fish Are: Snorkeling in Sydney



If you are like me and lack the common sense to live in an air-conditioned house in Sydney, where temperatures in summer are regularly in the 90’s and upwards, getting wet is one of the best ways to cool off. Sure, a cold shower would do the trick, but there’s not much marine life in your bathroom (one would hope), nor is a great way to enjoy Sydney to its fullest. Might I recommend snorkeling- other than the ability to breath and float, no skill is required, and it’s surely the best way to stay cool while having fun.

With over 100 beaches in Sydney, you’re not likely to run out of room to kick your flippers. However, some beaches are better than others- for example, pick a surf beach and you’ll (a) get tossed around and end up with a mouth full of saltwater and (b) probably not see many fish in the turbulence.

Here’s my top picks for Sydney snorkeling:

Clovelly Beach, Eastern Suburbs– Clovelly is a mecca for snorkelers. Thanks to man-made barriers, it is a secluded and narrow bay mostly untouched by rough surf, situated on Sydney’s Eastern Beaches, just a few kilometres from the famous Bondi. The calm conditions make for a pleasant environment for coral and kelp to grow, creating homes for a wide variety of fish and marine life.

Common fish seen here include wrasse, trevally, rays, octopus, and possibly eel or lobster. However, the star of the show is the famous blue groper, known affectionately as “Bluey”. (How many “Blueys” are actually out there, I am not sure). The large blue gropers are hard to miss- while harmless, I imagine they could give a scare to someone who turned around to find themselves eye to eye. Note the larger and blue varieties are male, and the slightly smaller females are a green color. On my last visit, I spotted “Bluey” being trailed by about three females, so insert your own misogynist joke there.

A happy blue groper. Photo courtesy of TimeOut Sydney.

And before you think to yourself, damn, a fish that size would do well to be part of tonight’s barbie, remember this- the Eastern Blue Groper, as he is formally known, is considered the state emblem fish of NSW, and is protected at Clovelly. According to the NSW Department of Fisheries, penalties extended to fines of $11,000 and jail time.

After your snorkel, there’s a lovely restaurant and snack bar (though expect long lines on hot days), and a rock pool is also adjacent to the beach, if you feel like another swim with a break from the fish.

Gordon’s Bay, Eastern Suburbs– Just past Clovelly, if you’re heading towards Coogee, is Gordon’s Bay. Another top spot for snorkeling, this beach is a stunning spot which sparkles turquoise on sunny days, and doesn’t always attract the crowds as Clovelly does.

Expect to see similar marine life as nearby Clovelly, the selling point here is the underwater nature trail that has been laid out by the local dive club, and leads you from point to point. Probably best viewed as a diver, but great for snorkelers as well.

A rough map can be seen here:

Clovelly and Gordon’s Bay could both be easily visited in one day, as the Bondi to Coogee Walk goes right past both beaches.

The calm waters of Clovelly Beach.

Bare Island, La Perouse– This island, connected by footbridge to La Perouse, featured in Mission: Impossible II and is also an old military fortress, so it goes without saying that it must be great for snorkeling. Described by Captain Cook as “a small bare island”, the name obviously stuck around, but the sea surrounding the island is anything but bare.

It’s actually a fantastic place for both divers and snorkelers, and very popular with both- expect to see a lot of folk with wetsuits and tanks slugging tiredly back up the hill to the parking lot, especially on the weekends.

The marine life here is amazing. On recent trips, I’ve seen the (harmless) Port Jackson sharks, cuttlefish, rays, the elusive weedy sea dragon, and a wide range of fish. If you’re standing on the bridge and look to your left, hugging the rock line of the island is a great place to snorkel, and it is where the sea dragons can be found in the kelp, if you look close enough.

If you’re after something different after your snorkel, there are some great seafood restaurants nearby (is it wrong to eat seafood after snorkeling?), such as the Boatshed, and you’re also just a hop, skip, and jump away from Sydney’s most popular nudist beach…snorkels optional.

There are many other great spots around Sydney, such as Balmoral, Shelly Beach near Manly, and Chowder Bay, but you can’t go wrong with any of the above. You’ll thank me on the next hot day, I promise.

Bare Island. Photo courtesy of theaustralian.com.au
Bare Island. Photo courtesy of theaustralian.com.au

5 thoughts on “Home is Where the Fish Are: Snorkeling in Sydney

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