First published on 14 Dec 2009. Updated on 23 Nov 2012.
You don't have to head north to the great, fading Barrier Reef to catch sight of some colourful underwater scenery – Sydney is home to several hotspots that veteran pipe-breathers reckon are among some of the best snorkelling sites in the country. (Or, at least, sites that will tide you over until you get your Summer holidays).
Where are these great snorkelling spots?
To find out, we enlisted the help of the good people at Snorkel Safari, who run scuba-diving courses and "snorkel trips" from several locations across the city. They gave us their picks of the five best places to bury your face in the water in Sydney, from a strange little island in La Perouse to Shelly Beach at Manly.
Fact one: Bare Island was used as the set for the finale of Mission Impossible II. Fact two: the old fortress-slash-island is also one of the most exciting snorkelling spots in Sydney. It's suitable for beginners to advanced snorkellers, so you can take your own "mission" to explore the waters around the island and the surrounding reefs. Expect to see sand rays, nudibranchs (a shell-less sea snail), colourful sponge life – and maybe even the resident turtle.
When James Cook pulled his boat into Botany Bay, he probably had little idea of the teeming world of under-da-sea-life beneath his feet (Banks probably had a better idea). This site, located just inside the National Park, has a rocky entry – so is suitable for intermediate snorkellers – but there's a lot to see, including Sydney's Weedy Sea Dragon.
Snorkel Safari assures us this is a great site for all the family as it's safe and protected in most conditions. There is easy entry and exit from the concrete steps near the Surf Club and when you get in and around the weed beds, overhangs and reefs, tonnes of good-looking marine life. Bluey the famous blue groper is a highlight, but there is also octopi, moral eels and schooling fish. For a sense of adventure: try it at night.
This Cronulla park and pool is popular for snorkelling and scuba diving for beginners through to experienced. Enter on the right-hand side of the pool and snorkel along the arc-shaped wall – there are overhangs and crevices to explore. You'll likely find yourself followed by a friendly groper, and spot some cuttlefish and crayfish. It's always an interesting site.
North of the Harbour, Shelly Beach is a protected haven for marine life. It's a gorgeous location, safe for all the family and there is easy beach entry and exit. Snorkel Safari suggests you snorkel the reef to the right-hand side of the beach, or enter at the boat ramp and snorkel along following the walkway towards the fairy bower and back. The clear waters make this site a must-do for all Sydney snorkellers.