The Best Snorkelling in Sydney

Sydney’s beaches and coastal inlets are dotted with many great snorkelling spots, and the diversity of marine life will surprise and impress avid snorkelers.

Deborah Dickson-Smith

Dive Expert Deborah Dickson-Smith

Sep 07 -
3
min read

Palm Beach

Palm Beach is the northern most of Sydney’s Northern Beaches, with a striking headland at the end of a narrow peninsula, separating the calm waters of Pittwater on the west, and a surf beach on the east. The best snorkelling is at the southern, sheltered end of the surf beach, with an easy entry point near the rockpool.

Swim through the shallows over fields of sea grass and kelp, explore the nooks and crannies of the rock formations for cuttlefish and octopus, and on the sandy sea floor, you’ll likely encounter several smooth stingrays.

On the Pittwater side, take a ferry from Palm Beach to The Basin, a remote little protected bay in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The star attraction is sea horses, but you'll also cross paths with starfish, cuttlefish, bream, leather jackets and, during the warmer months, tropical species.

Smooth stingray at Palm Beach

Smooth stingray at Palm Beach  - Credit : Pete McGee

Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach is located in sheltered Cabbage Tree Bay in Manly on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. The bay, an aquatic reserve, is teeming with life and surprisingly biodiverse, much to the delight of the swimmers, snorkelers and divers who frequent it every day.

From the beach, swim to the right, hugging the rocky coastline towards the tip of the reef and watch out for Eastern blue gropers, giant cuttlefish, wobbegongs and Port Jackson Sharks. If the water’s clear, search the sea floor for the ‘wreck’ of an old motorbike near the end of the reef.

Snorkelling the left-hand shoreline of Shelly Beach can be more interesting, especially in the shallows where you pass over fields of cray weed and sea grass swaying in the tidal flow, and likely encounter giant cuttlefish, squid, large schools of juvenile fish and several species of ray on the sand. In the warmer months, look out for juvenile dusky whaler sharks. Turtles and dolphins are also seen frequently.

Clifton Gardens

Clifton Gardens Recreational Park is the access point for snorkelers and divers keen to explore the underwater world of Chowder Bay. This small, protected bay is located on the Harbour foreshore in Mosman, in Sydney’s lower North Shore. The jetty and swimming enclosure here provide habitat for a number of critters, most notably White’s (Sydney) seahorses and decorator crabs, but there are also several species of leatherjackets, nudibranchs, squid and cuttlefish.

The seahorses can be found on the nets around the swimming enclosure, and the local population of this endangered species was boosted recently by 90 aquarium-bred juveniles and the installation of ‘Seahorse Hotels’, wire cages that provide a sheltered habitat, to prop up the population of this endangered species.

Look out also for well-known moray eel couple, nick-named Murray and Ellie by local scuba divers, who co-habit a hole in one of the jetty’s pylons.

Whites Seahorse at Chowder Bay in Mosman, Sydney North

Whites Seahorse, Chowder Bay - Credit: Jayne Jenkins

Clovelly

Located in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs just south of Bondi, Clovelly is a great site for snorkelers of all ages as it's safe and protected in most conditions, with easy entry and exit from the concrete steps near the surf club.

Swim out over beds of seaweed and the fringing reef and look closely for octopuses, cuttlefish and moray eels hiding under rocky overhangs. Clovelly is inside the Bronte-Coogee Aquatic Reserve, so you’ll encounter lots schooling fish and likely be joined for your snorkel by at least one friendly Eastern blue groper.

Eastern blue groper at Clovelly in Sydney East

Eastern blue groper, Clovelly - Credit Talia Greis

Gordons Bay

Hidden between Clovelly and Coogee Beaches, in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, Gordons Bay is the only snorkelling destination in Sydney with a dedicated underwater nature trail. The underwater trail is a series of sunken drums, linked by chains, each of which gives you information about local marine life, from starfish, sponges, urchins and anemones to cuttlefish, spotted goatfish and garfish, wobbegongs and Port Jackson sharks.

Boats moored at Gordons Bay in Coogee, Sydney East

Gordons Bay, Coogee

Bare Island

Just north of Kurnell, near the mouth of Botany Bay, lies Bare Island, one of Sydney’s most popular scuba diving sites and it is equally enjoyable on snorkel. A footbridge connects the island to the mainland, with steps leading down to an easy entry point on a flat rock platform.

On the western side of the island, you’ll find vibrant sponge gardens teeming with life, including seahorses, pipefish, nudibranchs, Red Indian fish and flying gurnards, while the eastern coast is hugged by a rocky reef.

Sponge garden sea star and leatherjacket at Bare Island in La Perouse, Sydney East

Sponge garden sea star and leatherjacket, Bare Island - Credit: Pete McGee

Oak Park

This sheltered beach and rockpool in Cronulla is a great spot for snorkelers and divers of all levels. Enter on the right-hand side of the pool and snorkel along the arc-shaped wall where you’ll find overhangs and crevices to explore and vibrant bunches of sea tulips and other sponges. Look out for large schools of fish, the occasional ray, Eastern blue gropers, old wives, cuttlefish and crayfish.

Giant Cuttlefish in shallows in Oak Park, Cronulla

Giant Cuttlefish in shallows in Oak Park - Credit: Pete McGee

Wattamolla

Wattamolla Beach is at the southern tip of Sydney in the Royal National Park, a very photogenic spot complete with beach, lagoon and waterfall. The lagoon is great for beginner snorkelers, while more experienced snorkelers can venture out from the beach in search of rays, Port Jackson sharks, cuttlefish and wobbegongs, while the whole fringing reef is covered in colourful sponges, sea squirts and gorgonian fans.

Crowds enjoying Wattamolla Beach in the Royal National Park

Wattamolla Beach, Royal National Park - Credit: Dee Kramer Photography

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