Snorkeling Fun - in Sydney

You don't have to drive out of Sydney Australia to have snorkeling fun. So if you are a tourist who loves the sport - read on!

There are some very worthwhile swim spots within Sydney where underwater visibility is good and fish enjoy eyeballing you.

One such area is at Manly on the North Shore ... in Cabbage Tree Bay. The bay is an aquatic reserve and beautiful Shelly Beach is the major attraction.

Blue groper grow up to 1.2m and are quite inquisitive. They can still be seen at Shelly Beach. Photo by Renata Pronk.

Safe and scenic - with lots of fish

This is a great place to bring the kids snorkeling - and it's very safe if they are new to it. The water is calm, mostly not deep and certainly not scary.

If you've got the holiday time to get the family involved in snorkeling fun, find accommodation at Manly (there's lots) so you'll be real close to Shelly Beach.

It's a big advantage to be able to go snorkeling from the shore whenever you like, without the need for a boat. And with little kids involved they may only want to look underwater for 10 minutes or so at a time.

A tip for first-timers: Before your trip get the little ones snorkeling in the bath-tub so they'll be comfortable with mask and snorkel when you hit the beach. Snorkeling fun can be huge for kids - even those as young as five and six years.

Marine life in abundance

More than 160 species of fish have been recorded in the waters of Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve ... plus 50 species of marine invertebrates.

In my years of snorkeling (mainly in New Zealand and Fiji) the numbers and variety of fish were so vital to keep my interest alive. And that's why Shelly Beach ticks all the right boxes for snorkeling fun in Sydney. 

In some parts of the bay there are rocky ledges to look under. Butterfly fish, cuttlefish and some bigger shapes (like the blue groper) are bound to keep you excited.

Only a short swim from the beach is the Fairy Bower reef which has many schooling fish. And it's here where young dusky whaler sharks can sometimes be seen.

How to get to Shelly Beach for snorkeling fun?

If you're coming from Sydney CBD take the harbour ferry to Manly - a very enjoyable scenic ride. You'll have a brief walk from the ferry wharf to Manly Beach through the commercial hub that's called The Corso.

Now just follow the walking path along past the Manly Surf Life Saving Club. It's a very easy 15-minute walk to the calm waters of Shelly Beach.

They're beautiful and they're protected. This is the weedy sea dragon which calls Cabbage Tree Bay home. The bay has one of the largest colonies of sea dragons in NSW.

Snorkeling fun means don't touch!

For newcomers to Australia the unusual looking wobbegong (carpet) shark is always interesting. Among protected species found in the bay are the weedy sea dragons, elegant wrasse and black rock cod.

The sheltered, shallow environment and clear water make Cabbage Tree Bay ideal for Scuba Diving as well as snorkeling. Dive schools regularly bring students here to experience the temperate and tropical marine life, rocky reefs and sea grass.

When enjoying snorkeling fun here, the rule is to be a good observer of the fish life but not to take anything away, nor to feed marine life or to move any rocks. Authorities are keen to preserve the biodiversity of the bay.  

Some weedy sea dragon facts:

  • They are closely related to seahorses.
  • Their eyes can move independently ... so they can look forwards and backwards at the same time.
  • Their bodies are covered in bony rings - not scales.
  • Apparently women's lib came early to weedy sea dragons. It's the male who looks after the eggs - carrying them under his tail

A warning: For tourists who don't know our dangerous beasties, leave the little octopus with blue rings alone. Don't even think about handling it. The blue-ringed octopus bite can kill.

So while Shelly Beach is a great place for family snorkeling fun, the kids especially need to know it's where you "look but don't touch" rather than pick up any sea life.

Look out for the Little Penguins

Keep your eyes open for penguins - Little Penguins!

This species lives up to its name. Little Penguins weigh only about 1kg and stand just 40cm tall as adults. In fact they're the smallest penguins in the world.

They swim and forage for food in Cabbage Tree Bay and you're more likely to see them early - around day break.

Their scientific name, Eudyptula minor, means "good little diver" and that's exactly what they are.

The Little Penguins in the Manly area are endangered and have been listed as a threatened species since 1995. Predation by dogs, cats and foxes is the main problem, but disturbance of their nesting areas by humans also takes its toll.

Stingrays and kelp at Gordons Bay

Gordons Bay in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs is also popular for scuba diving and snorkeling. It is just south of Clovelly Beach and north of Coogee.

The waters of the bay (also know as Thompson Bay) are protected from sea swell and maximum depth is 12m. Dive schools use the area and there's an underwater marine nature trail (just follow the anchor chain).

For tourists just wanting to get the head underwater and see Sydney's marine life, there are stingrays, occasional blue groper and schools of small fish and other marine life. Some nice kelp beds too.

Clovelly - the hidden gem

Clovelly Beach is one of Sydney's hidden gems. You can reach this delightful little spot by taking the 360 bus from Bondi Junction. They depart every 20 minutes.

Clovelly is probably the easiest place for snorkeling fun in Sydney. It is protected by a reef and you can often see big blue groper and schools of other fish.

It's best to enter the water here from the sand rather than the rocks where you might brush into sea urchin spines.

The bay is walled off giving great protection to what is a family safe and friendly beach.


Little Bay - for squid, sea urchins

Little Bay Beach can be a great underwater playground - especially for beginners or families. It's a sheltered tranquil spot in Sydney's south-east. Randwick Council describes it as one of Sydney's "undiscovered jewels".

You'll see squid in the clear calm waters, lots of small fish, colorful anemone and spiny sea urchins (are any sea urchins not spiny?).

The beach is protected well by headlands of 10-15m high sandstone cliffs. Little Bay is semi-circular and the narrow entrance to the open sea gives shelter from prevailing sea conditions.

There are two beaches each about 100m long and they face east. The southern beach is the most popular, rising up to the Randwick Golf Course. These calm waters are a good place to build diving confidence.

Access to the secluded beach is via a steep timber staircase. Take Pine Avenue off Anzac Parade and there is parking on the street. A café is located in the Prince Henry Centre towards the top of the beach near the chapel.

Public toilets and change rooms are located on the timber staircase about halfway down to the beach.

Return to Best Sydney Beaches.

To Home Page.