The best snorkelling in NSW

With a mix of temperate waters and seasonal tropical currents, there is fantastic snorkelling to be found along the NSW coast. Here are some of the best spots.

Deborah Dickson-Smith

Dive Expert Deborah Dickson-Smith

Aug 2021 -
min read

Cook Island

Cook Island is located off the coast of Fingal Head, close to the Queensland border, a small rocky island swarming with subtropical marine life. It was once known as Turtle Island, as its rocky reefs are home to a large population of sea turtles.

Located 600m offshore, the island is easily accessible in a quick run out from the Tweed River. All around the island are rocky reefs in depths from 5m to 20m, with the Northern Ledges one of the best places to see turtles. On the top of this wall are coral gardens, sea anemones full of anemonefish, abundant small reef fish and countless green turtles. Turtles gather in this area to get cleaned, and it is common to see a dozen or more lingering in the shallows.

Woman freediving with a local sea turtle in waters off Cook Island, Fingal Head

Cook Island, Fingal Head

On the sand flats beyond the reef, you may see larger creatures such as wobbegongs, blotched fantail rays and shovelnose rays. In summer, leopard sharks gather here and can be seen resting on the bottom.

Julian Rocks

Julian Rocks is a pair of small rocky outcrops located 2.5km off the main beach at Byron Bay on the north coast of NSW.

This subtropical location is the southern-most point for many warm-water species, including loggerhead turtles, leopard sharks and manta rays, while also providing a northern holiday for cool-water critters like grey nurse sharks.

School of leopard sharks near Julian Rocks, Byron Bay

Julian Rocks, Byron Bay

Forming a small part of the Cape Byron Marine Park, Julian Rocks has been fully protected from fishing since 2006, so the site is incredibly biodiverse, but it’s the larger creatures snorkelers come to see, with over 20 species of sharks and rays found here. Late summer tends to have the warmest water, best visibility and large numbers of tropical sharks and rays.

Anemone Bay, North Solitary Islands

The North Solitary Islands are located on the NSW Mid-North Coast between Coffs Harbour and Grafton, and what makes these islands so special is their proximity to the East Australian Current, which, passing close by, brings with it warm water and tropical species.

Anemone Bay is particularly famous for its enormous beds of anemones and colourful pink and purple soft corals, which cover the entire sea floor in parts. In the warmer months, snorkelers will often see leopard sharks and manta rays, and in cooler months, migrating humpback whales.

North Solitary Islands soft coral - Coffs Harbour - North Coast

North Solitary Islands soft coral, Coffs Harbour - Credit: Talia Greis 

Seal Rocks

Located on the NSW mid-north coast, the best snorkelling at Seal Rocks can be found just 100m offshore around a small rocky outcrop. In the clear water surrounding this small island, you’ll see turtles, several species of sharks and rays including Port Jackson sharks, wobbegongs, fiddler rays, eagle rays, large smooth stingrays and schooling fish.

However, what makes this site really special is that it’s one of very few places you can walk right off the beach and snorkel with grey nurse sharks, with a large aggregation found here year-round.

Seal Rocks grey nurse sharks, Forster and Taree Area

Seal Rocks grey nurse sharks, Forster and Taree Area - Credit: Talia Greis

Martin Island

Martin Island is located off the coast of Port Kembla, roughly an hour and a half drive south of Sydney, near Wollongong. The main attraction here is the large colony of playful Australian fur seals. If you’re not too distracted by the seals, scan the shallow sea floor where, in between the seaweed and boulders you’ll likely see large smooth stingrays, fiddler rays and Port Jackson sharks.

Couple snorkelling in Bushrangers Bay Aquatic Reserve, Shell Cove near Shellharbour, South Coast

Snorkelling, Bushrangers Bay

Bushrangers Bay

Located in the Bass Point Aquatic Reserve near Shellharbour on the south coast of NSW, Bushrangers Bay Aquatic Reserve is shaped like an amphitheatre, providing a sheltered habitat for various fish species. As you swim over the fields of kelp, look carefully for weedy sea dragons, very well camouflaged in the swaying weed, and under the rocky overhangs for eastern blue devils. Other marine life found here includes blue gropers, smooth stingrays and giant cuttlefish and grey nurse sharks.

Aquatic life in Bushrangers Bay, Shellharbour.

Jervis Bay

Marine encounters at Jervis Bay, on the South coast of NSW will likely include Port Jackson sharks, rays, eastern blue gropers, weedy sea dragons, eastern blue devilfish and wobbegongs.

The Bay is also home to a playful colony of Australian fur seals, always a joy to snorkel with, a large pod of dolphins that usually follow the boat, and between May and September there is also the opportunity to swim with migrating humpback whales.

Dive Jervis Bay - diving with seals - South Coast - Credit Jordan Robins

Dive Jervis Bay - diving with seals - South Coast - Credit: Jordan Robins

Montague Island

Off the coast of Narooma on the NSW south coast, Montague Island is home to the largest fur seal colony on the NSW coast, with both Australian and New Zealand fur seals populating this tiny island. Take a snorkel tour here and you’ll also very likely see dolphins, Eastern blue groper, fiddler rays and Port Jackson sharks.

Seal swimming off Montague Island

Seal swimming off Montague Island

During the cooler months, dive with up to 1,800 fur seals, pods of dolphins and listen out for whale song from migrating humpbacks. Most seals frolic in three to 15 metres, making this an accessible experience for divers of all levels. Around 200 to 500 seals stay around for the summer months and in the winter months, look out for humpback whales.

Snorkelling highlights


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