Fish Rock Cave and Other Dive Sites
Discover some of the top dives in Australia!
Fish Rock is located 2km off the coast of Smokey Cape, South West Rocks. With the proximity of South West Rocks to the Australian continental shelf (closest mainland point on the east coast), we have an incredible diversity of marine life. With a unique mix of temperate and tropical species that amass around this beautiful dive site. We have the Grey Nurse shark here all year long and often get big pelagic species around the site, making Fish Rock a truly spectacular and unforgettable dive site.
Fish Rock Cave
The island of Fish Rock gives no indication of the splendour that lies underneath. At 120 metres long, and well known as one of the largest ocean caverns in the southern hemisphere, Fish Rock Cave has attracted divers worldwide. Enter the deep end of the cave at a depth of 24 metres where thousands of bullseyes hang suspended.
Dive into the tunnel entrance over huge wobbegong sharks and a large bull ray resting on the bottom. You’ll pass by clusters of live cowry shells, a large Spanish dancer, bryozoan lace coral and sea cucumbers to name but a few.
Ascend up one of the two vertical chimneys with only your torchlight piercing the darkness and see the many glowing eyes from hundreds of painted crayfish following your progress. At the right time of year, giant cuttlefish lay their eggs in the cave and the huge male is a spectacular sight with his colours flashing. Pop up into the bubble cave for a quick chat before emerging into the light zone.
The shallow end usually stops people in their tracks. The deep blue opening is a vision people have seen in many photographs, magazines and books and it still doesn’t prepare them for the spectacular beauty. Silhouetted in the opening are thousands of bullseyes, gorgonian coral fans, trumpetfish, black cod and many other species of fish.During most of the year, grey nurse sharks are regularly sighted silhouetted in the opening making it a photographers’ paradise. There are also nudibranchs, bright orange zoanthids, moray eels, anemonefish and their associated anemones….and all this before emerging.
It is situated on the northeastern side of Fish Rock, in the massive rock gutters between the main rock and the exposed Pinnacle. The dive site lies in the path of the ocean current that usually runs from north to south. As such, this dive site can only be dived when the current is not too strong.
Sometimes dived as drift dive often starting at the (submerged) Pinnacle and ending on the mooring in the Shark Gutters this can also only when it has little or no current, can be dived as a deeper multilevel dive site either using the wall of Fish Rock or the Pinnacle to finish the dive.
||This side of Fish Rock is dominated by huge gutters and canyons through which you can cruise marvelling at the topography and the aquatic wonders around you.|
Look out for the giant boulders home to schools of fish huge stingrays, loggerhead, hawksbill, and green sea turtles and countless macro critters. As you move south there is a large rock separating two gutters – if possible check out both sides of this rock as the Grey Nurse Sharks are often in one or the other gutter.
The sponges growing here are incredibly lush and the largest cowries at Fish Rock are also found here. Common sights are very large Jewfish and King Fish which can provide a great hunting spectacle as they come in to feed. At times large schools of beautiful Moorish Idols will sweep through – so do look up and around and keep an eye out for the shy Black Cod and Queensland Groper that will come in to check you out! Also a popular place for basking giant sized Wobbegong sharks who sometimes create a stir when they swim – these are a particularly beautiful creature as move at speed effortlessly gliding over the rock bottom.
The Shark Gutters site can be accessed right from our mooring and has an average depth of 24m. Grey nurse sharks are very commonly seen in the gutter where they majestically cruise along. To experience the shark gutter the diver should refrain from diving in the gutter, rather diving on either side of it, which gives the diver a panoramic view of the shark action.
Fish Bommies is situated on the SE corner of Fish Rock at the bottom of the gutter which leads to the deep entrance of Fish Rock Cave. A deeper dive (max 32 metres) this dive can be experienced in a number of different ways depending on the dive plan – a square profile plan will allow greater time at the Bommies but a multilevel plan beginning and ending at the moorings in the main Shark Gutter will allow time to explore the Shark Gutter and also provide an orientation to the deep entrance of Fish Rock Cave.
If dived from the moorings, the descent is made to the bottom of the moorings where in season large numbers of Grey Nurse Sharks may be seen just cruising the Gutter or resting there. The Grey Nurse Sharks are quite content to be viewed by divers – look for small juveniles without scaring them and then compare them to the large adults who gather here – some up to 3 metres in length.
Look out for the black coral trees that grow on the Gutter walls – they are usually white or sometimes a pinkish orange! Turn left at the black coral tree or at the end of the Gutter and make your way towards the large (some are semi-trailer sized!) boulders ahead of you.
Take your time as the seafloor is home to many amazingly coloured sponges and nudibranchs. Also look out for the smaller boulders – one of these boulders is likely to be one of the giant loggerheads who makes Fish Rock his home (also seen regularly during our surface intervals as he comes to the top for a breath or two). You may find that the giant boulders of the Bommies are obscured by the huge swirling schools of bullseyes and other fish that congregate here. Don’t forget to look up and around – you may see huge kingfish and other pelagics hunting the smaller fish – an amazing sight.
Spend a little time exploring the Bommies – check out the overhangs and crevices for large cuttlefish and octopus; especially look out for the large Cod that hide in the darkness.
|Watch out for the Wobbegong sharks “sunbaking” on the tops of the boulders – there are two resident species – Ornate and Spotted wobbegongs.|
The jumbled boulders offer great hidey holes for large moray eels and beautiful large lionfish and along the ledges, the red morwongs take their ease. The Grey Nurse Sharks are a common sight here too, their beautiful grey/bronze shapes hanging in amongst the smaller fish over the sea bottom.
Moving away from the Bommies either head over to the shallower ledges of the Shark Gutters to finish the dive with clownfish, anemones, feather stars, colourful tropical and secretive octopus – your safety stop can be done on the wall of Fish Rock in calm seas – or cruise up the gutter leading to the deep entrance of Fish Rock Cave. The vertical walls are encrusted with colourful sponges and small hard corals. Large eastern blue groupers (wrasse) will undoubtedly greet you and you may see one of Fish Rock’s green turtles munching on the sponges! If you take the latter option again finish the dive by making your way back to the shallows of the main Shark Gutter and either conduct your safety stop on the wall of Fish Rock or on the boat mooring.
The Pinnacle is a spectacular (submerged) rock formation rising from 30 – 35 metres up to about 8 metres where there are two peaks. It is situated on the northeastern end of Fish Rock in the path of the ocean current that usually runs from north to south. As such this is a special dive site that can only be dived when the current is not too strong! If you get the opportunity do not miss what is one of the best dive sites at Fish Rock.
We often start drift dives at Fish Rock from the Pinnacle heading either along the eastern or western side of the Rock to end the dive at the Shark Gutter or the Aquarium or sometimes the Shallow Entrance to Fish Rock Cave. However, if the current is weak or not present the Pinnacle is a whole dive in itself.
The Pinnacle is a favourite spot for the Grey Nurse Sharks that are found at Fish Rock. It is not unusual to be able to drop down the sheer walls, find a vantage point and see 20 to 30 plus sharks in the sand gutter below. The northern side of the Pinnacle is also a favourite with some of the largest Ornate and Spotted Wobbegongs that we see at Fish Rock, plus green and loggerhead turtles munching the sponges that encrust the Pinnacle.
|Either near the beginning or end of you dive check out the “Turtle Cradle” – this is where the Pinnacle joins to Fish Rock at about 16 metres and there is a favoured resting spot for one of our resident loggerheads – even if he is not present this is a good spot for large lionfish (or firefish) and large stingrays (“bull rays”).|
The sheer sponge walls of the Pinnacle are perfect for searching out elusive octopus, nudibranchs of every hue, juvenile slipper lobsters, painted crayfish and for hanging out watching the fish life – look out for large schools of bannerfish and southern fusiliers plus bait fish being hunted by the pelagics. Occasional sightings of schools of Eagle rays and very large Queensland Groper and Black Cod – usually shy however one of the residents has an unnerving habit of peering over the shoulders of photographer’s intent on macro photography!
Finishing this dive at the top the Pinnacle usually accompanied by a variety of colourful wrasse, leatherjackets and the ubiquitous batfish and bullseyes plus many more.
The Aquarium at Fish Rock is situated at the southwestern corner of Fish Rock close by to the Shallow Entrance to Fish Rock Cave and leads into the main Shark Gutter.
This dive site is a very popular choice for all divers from beginners to experienced due to the amazing abundance and diversity of marine life that congregate here especially when there is current present. Look out for the inquisitive white-eyed moray eels that live in the small boulders here plus the resident green and loggerhead turtles who like to rest in and around the Aquarium.
|Often the turtles are relaxed enough that you will be able to get a very close look at them or even take a shot or two with your camera.|
As with all the sites at Fish Rock, the macro life is superb – for example juvenile boxfish, numerous and unusual nudibranchs including large Spanish Dancers, banded coral shrimp. Other highlights are the very large pelagic such as King Fish that are seen hunting the smaller fish – if the small fish suddenly hide look up and around and you will probably see these awe-inspiring creatures. And of course, Grey Nurse Sharks are often seen here. The Aquarium is also a great place to view octopus, cuttlefish, anemones and clownfish, feather stars, butterfly fish, angel fish, southern fusiliers, friendly blue groper (Eastern Blue Wrasse) …… and much more.
Save some film for this dive site.
This 40-metre wall features spectacular sponge growth, giant Queensland Groper, giant Black Cod, enormous schools of fish including pelagics, cruising whalers and hidden caves, as well as the usual Fish Rock selection of tropical, subtropical and temperate marine life! This is a site for the adventurous diver who won’t be disappointed.
Land of Giants
Off the eastern side of Fish Rock lies one of the most magical dives sites this area has to offer - the infamous Land of Giants. This incredible dive site is only accessible on the best of conditions; flat seas, little to no current and no swell. This site begins at the northern side of Fish Rock, at The Pinnacle, a twin-peaked mountain that rises up from the depths of 30-35m. Glimpsed below on the sponge and sea-squirt covered sandy bottom are gracefull Grey Nurse sharks and wobbegongs. Following the gradually sloping wall coming out from Colorado Pass here, it begins to slop to 40m, and divers will start glimpsing the magnificent life this dive site has to offer. From the shadows huge Giant Queensland Groupers lurk, and silver schools of many species of fish, yellowtail kingfish, bream, black drummer and eastern rock blackfish will circle divers in the open. Schools of long-finned bannerfish swirl down from the shallows with hawksbill, green and loggerhead turtles glimpsed if lucky! This dive site is recommended for experienced divers only, as it has depth, and divers need to be very good on-air, plan for a dive up to 45minutes with the inclusion of deco and safety stops.
Upon exiting the shallow entrance of the cave, if conditions allow, divers can visit Larry's ledge (named after our dear guide Larry). Larry's ledge is a flat set of rocks with an average depth of 14m. It is quite often protected from the current, allowing divers to relax and observe the environment around them.
|Larry's Ledge is a fantastic location to observe the action of hammerheads that patrol the area during the warmer months.|
Outside Shark Gutter
Outside shark gutter is the perfect place to wait and watch for hammerheads and other big pelagic species. With its proximity to our mooring, this site is perfect to give divers more time to watch for the big majestic animals and hunt for the gorgeous macro life in the area. A beautiful place to sit in the water column and watch the big schools of fusiliers or play with the batfish.
Green Island is situated just north of Smoky Cape Lighthouse (south of Gap Beach in Hat Head National Park) and can easily be seen from the Lighthouse car park looking north. The island is only a little way off the shoreline – unfortunately difficult access from the mainland means the dive site is only accessible by boat!
The most popular part of Green Island for diving is the northern and eastern sides as this is where the overhangs, ledges encrusted with colourful sponges and rocky reef provide a protective habitat for a wide variety of marine creatures. Edged by sand the reef hugs the island as you swim or drift south (see below). Explore the boulders where cuttlefish, blind sharks and wobbegong sharks lie, check out the overhangs where you may find a resting loggerhead or green turtle (residents here), large black sting (bull) ray or very large wobbegong. We always recommend taking a torch as there are so many critters hiding in the walls or in amongst the boulders – juvenile lionfish, myriad varieties of nudibranch, moray eels, tiny yellow boxfish.
But don’t forget to look up and around as divers can sometimes be treated to sights such as very large shovelnose sharks/rays out on the sand and spotted eagle rays flying overhead (these are often also seen right on the southern tip of the island where the wall of the island becomes sheerer and there are two very narrow gutters). Of course, Green Island is also known for its fish – large schools of colourful tropical and temperate. You are more than likely to see small fiddler rays especially on the sand edge of the reef, plus dusky flathead, bream, yellowtail, southern fusiliers, leatherjackets, wrasses (especially the very friendly large eastern blue wrasse or blue grouper), luderick and morwongs. Look out too for the schooling Benito, jewfish and kingfish plus of course the Grey Nurse Shark
Since 1 December 2002 Green Island is (in addition to Fish Rock) a Critical Habitat for Grey Nurse Sharks which will hopefully assist in the protection of these magnificent but threatened creatures. However even without spotting one of these creatures Green Island is an amazing place.
Fish Rock Dive Centre often runs this dive as a drift dive as there is usually a north to south flowing current here and we find it more enjoyable and safer to plan a drift dive with our boats picking the divers up off the southern end of the island – this dive plan has ended up making one of Ally’s dives at Green Island something very special as she and her divers where treated to underwater sights of a female humpback whale with two juveniles).
|Green Island is an excellent alternative to the dives at Fish Rock, and is often requested by our regular divers – dive it and you’ll see why!|
Average depth 14 metres though varying between 6 metres (northern end) and 18 metres (southern end).
The starkness of these two rocks above the surface gives no indication of the beautiful coral garden below. The two rocks are situated off Smoky Cape beach which sweeps southwards from Smoky Cape Lighthouse towards Hat Head in the south. Though there are two rocks the surge in the gutter between prevents safe passage through them on all but the calmest days. Also as a matter of safety, we encourage diving within visual surface sight of the boat and therefore the skipper's watchful eye! Usually, this means Black Rocks is split into two different dives.
Fish Rock Dive Centre usually uses the centre of the natural bay formed by the two rocks to begin this dive allowing divers to explore the bay up to the rocks and out to the reef edge. Close into the rocks you will see in around 6-8 metres small crevices and larger boulders which get smaller in size as you swim away from the rocks towards the reef edge on the sand (14-16 metres). A large part of the reef here is made up of large plate coral – Black Rocks is the southernmost point at which you will see plate coral growing in such abundance.
Everywhere you look you will see friendly moray eels, beautiful lionfish, obscure nudibranchs, feather stars, active octopus and juvenile fish darting in and around the boulders and hard coral. Take your time on this dive and ensure you look under the overhangs and in the cracks – you will be rewarded by the variety of marine creatures you see. The fish life at Black Rocks can be as abundant as at Fish Rock – look out for the huge schools of bullseyes and baitfish plus the tropicals adding dashes of colour. There are also small gutters or areas of sand in amongst the reef which is worth a closer look particularly to see (hiding just under the sand!) numerous white-spotted shovelnosed rays and also flounder. Bigger fish are also seen by divers at Black Rocks – Grey Nurse Sharks, large kingfish and jewies are all visitors here.
A particular highlight at this dive site is the amazing egg cowries that live on the coral and rocks – look out for a bright white shell partially or almost completely covered by the black mantle – the small white dots on the mantle are reminiscent of diamonds on black velvet! Another top spot is the resident loggerhead and green turtles that may join you on your dive – particularly look out for the large three flippered loggerhead who is resident close into the rock. Plus if you have the time on your dive do check the sand edge of the reef – very, very large black stingrays (also known as bullrays) are seen here at times.
This dive is a popular alternative to the dive sites at Fish Rock and is suitable for all levels of diver. The bay is also a pleasant place to spend the surface interval and have a hot drink and snack!
Average depth 12 metres varying between 8 metres close to the rocks and 16 metres out on the sand slope.
Similar in topography to the northern side this side of the rocks offers greater depth at the reefs outer edges – down to 20 odd metres in places. Again Fish Rock Dive Centre usually begins the dive in the centre of the small bay created by the two rocks. Large boulders and small sand gutters create habitats for numerous juveniles, octopus, egg cowries, lionfish, scorpion fish and inquisitive eels. As you swim along the main rock keeping the rock to your left look out to the ocean to catch a glimpse of more of the large visiting pelagics – kingfish, jewfish and occasional bronze whalers!
Turning back towards the boat keep an eye out for the turtles that make this area their home – sometimes hard to spot through the myriad fish life that gets in the way! Huge schools of pomfrets and bullseyes are well known here with passing schools of long-tailed bannerfish making regular appearances.
Again a popular alternative to the dive sites at Fish Rock and suitable for all levels of diver. Snorkelling is popular during the surface intervals.
Average depth varying between 8 metres close to the rocks and 20 plus metres on the sand.
Wreck MV Fairwind
Bait Reef is situated close to shore just off Trial Bay Gaol (the historic gaol). The reef is approximately the size of two tennis courts and lies lengthways parallel to the shore with two or three small bommies lying next to the main reef on the landward side. Bait Reef can usually be seen easily from either shore or as our dive boats drive by on their way to our other dive sites as she has a max depth of 10 metres on the surrounding sand and comes up to approximately 5 metres from the surface in her centre.
A perfect site for photography because of the depth and variety of aquatic life Bait Reef is popular with our regulars. Highlights include the resident Green turtles that can be found often in abundance here. Also look under the small ledges for Pineapple fish and Lionfish. Covered in most part by abundant growth do take the time to look closely at the weed – home to anglerfish, numerously varied nudibranchs, sea hares, juvenile fish and molluscs. Bait Reef is a treasure trove of marine finds and with the shallow depth you have plenty of time to explore
The Reef is usually swept by shoals of bait fish (hence the name!) and also schools of squid. Other visitors are Humpback Whales in season – often seen over the Reef during their annual migration up and down the coast – though very rarely spotted underwater whole dives can be made to the accompaniment of male Humpbacks singing.
Other regular spots: Spotted and Ornate Wobbegongs, fiddler rays, shovelnose sharks or rays, schooling juvenile catfish, bright yellow and black catfish, numerous moray eels often many in the same hole, large and miniature cuttlefish, small rays and also very large black stingrays, loggerhead turtles.
In the calmest of sea conditions this can be dived from the shore but requires a rock entry and exit or a long swim around the breakwall – also don’t forget your dive flag on a float as this area is very popular with boats and fishers. A great second dive or night dive location we often try to take divers who have done a number of days diving with us to this site as they always rave about it later.
Turtle wall is a beautiful and easy dive site for both snorkelers and beginner divers. A great spot for a shore dive with easy accessibility from the Gaol caravan park. This site lives up to its name and you can often spot juvenile green and hawksbill turtles, as well as many wobbegongs (adult and juvenile), pufferfish, porcupine fish, stingrays, shovelnose rays, moray eels, and a whole variety of other fish species.
Lady Reef is a small, tennis court size, reef off the Front Beach in South West Rocks. She is a great spot for a shore dive, for night dives and also for beginners. Expect to see moray eels, catfish, feather stars, resident fish including puffers, soft corals and sponges and possibly a juvenile Wobbegong shark or Port Jackson shark.