Incredible underwater wildlife experiences

Escape the city, dive into the big blue and meet these wild and wonderful creatures of underwater NSW.

Destination NSW

Destination NSW

Feb 2022 -
min read

You don’t have to jump in a spaceship to visit another world, there are plenty of exotic lifeforms living a lot closer to home – in the waters of NSW.

If you want to feel as free as a dolphin, as playful as a seal or as weightless as a weedy sea dragon, there’s only one thing for it: join them in their realm and get a taste of what life is like beneath the surface.

Leopard shark at Cook Island Aquatic Reserve. Image Credit: Craig Parry Photography, Tweed Tourism Group Australia

Leopard shark at Cook Island Aquatic Reserve - Credit: Craig Parry Photography, Tweed Tourism Group Australia

Snorkel with turtles

Cook Island, a volcanic outcrop less than a kilometre off Fingal Head, on the Tweed coast, used to be known as Turtle Island. And if you head out there with Watersports Guru, you’ll discover why. Three of the world’s seven species of sea turtle live here, and on a Snorkel with the Turtles experience, there’s a good chance you’ll get to swim with all of them: the hawksbill, the loggerhead and the most abundant, the green turtle, which can have a 1.5m-long shell and weigh in at a whopping 300kg.

Spending time in the world that these majestic creatures inhabit is a real privilege, made all the more special by the fact that you might encounter everything from rays to octopuses to giant Queensland groupers as well.

Local sea turtles around Cook Island - Fingal Head - North Coast

Local sea turtles around Cook Island, Fingal Head, North Coast

Swim with seals at Montague Island

Is there any creature more graceful in the water than a seal? Or any that looks like it’s having more fun? One of the best places to get close to them is around Montague Island, 9km off Narooma in the Eurobodalla region on the NSW South Coast. On an excursion with Underwater Safaris, you’ll pull in to a sheltered bay and jump in the water with some of the resident Australian and New Zealand fur seals to experience first-hand just how amazing these animals are.

You can snorkel or scuba dive (no experience necessary) with the seals, who will swim below and around you, come up close to check you out with their big dark eyes, leap out of the water, and just generally frolic in a way that will make you feel glad to be alive and lucky to be able to share some time with them. Other operators include Montague Island Discovery Tours and Narooma Charters.

Woman scuba diving with a seal at Montague Island, Narooma, Batemans Bay

Montague Island, Narooma

Dive off the shore on the Sapphire Coast

You don’t have to go kilometres out to sea for an amazing dive experience. You don’t even have to get on a boat. Down in the far south of NSW, there’s an incredible underwater world to explore right by the shore. Guided dives with Dive Eden start on the beaches or wharves of the spectacular Sapphire Coast.

Dive Eden in Eden, Merimbula & Sapphire Coast, South Coast

Dive Eden, Sapphire Coast - Credit: Louise Kelly

Just a stone’s throw from normal life, you’ll descend into a hidden realm that’s home to octopus, seahorses, stingrays, Port Jackson sharks, moray eels, nudibranchs and weedy sea dragons. It’s an eye-opening experience – and if you don’t fancy the scuba bit, you can explore on a snorkelling tour instead. Dive Eden also does wreck and cave dives, as well as diving and free-diving courses.

Be part of a dolphin pod in Port Stephens

What would it feel like to be part of a dolphin pod? The nearest thing to it would have to be heading out into the waters of Port Stephens with Dolphin Swim Australia. It’s pretty exciting when a pod of dolphins joins you for a bit of fun, riding the bow wave of your 54-foot catamaran, but then things get really interesting. The boat slows to a halt, you drop into the water, attached to a rope, strung between the bows, and the boat sets off again.

Couple enjoying a day out on the water with Dolphin Swim Australia, Port Stephens

Dolphin Swim Australia, Port Stephens

Dolphins are famous for being inquisitive, intelligent and playful, and you’ll discover exactly how they got that reputation as they dart around you and make eye contact – and often plenty of noise, with those distinctive clicks and whistles. It’s an experience that moves some guests to tears. And it’s entirely on the dolphins’ terms – when they get bored, the boat moves on, to find a new pod that’s in the mood to play.

Free dive at Julian Rocks

Diving unencumbered by a scuba tank can be a liberating experience: you’re more mobile, you feel freer, and some say the marine life is more accepting of you. Whether you’re an experienced scuba diver or a novice, you can learn to free dive on a three-day course with Byron Bay Dive Centre.

After practising breathing and relaxation techniques, you should be able to hold your breath for 3min or longer and free dive to a depth of anything from 10 to 20m. On your two dives at Julian Rocks, just a 5min boat trip from Byron Bay, you’ll be fully immersed in a wild world in which the appearance of a 1.5m-long kingfish scatters the smaller fish, turtles float by serenely, and, in winter, grey nurse sharks give off a real sharky vibe. More than 600 species of fish live here; it really is like escaping to another planet.

Scuba diver watching a turtle on a scuba dive at Julian Rocks in Byron Bay, North Coast

Julian Rocks, Byron Bay


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