South West Rocks

Before my trip to South West Rocks in March I have been indulging in conversations about South West Rocks, Fish Rock and the Grey Nurse Sharks followed by the disbelief that in my 11 years of diving that I have never been to South West Rocks.The conversation always ended with “Man, you just have to go!!!!”.Normally we head overseas, but in the current economic climate it was decided that there will be more Road Trips up and down the New South Wales Coast, first stop South West Rocks.

South West Rocks has been described as a sleepy coastal retreat at its barefoot best that is an oceanfront holiday town on north-facing Trial Bay.

Set on cliffs high above the sea, Trial Bay Gaol was built in the 1880s to house low-security prisoners who worked to build a breakwater around the bay below, but the project was abandoned when it was only partially completed. The prison was closed in 1903 but it was re-opened in World War I as an internment camp for men of German and Austrian origin who were resident in Australia, even though some of them were second or third generation Australians.

Two kilometres offshore, Fish Rock Cave is a local divers’ delight and one of the best cave dives in the country, a 125 metre passage through the centre of a small island, with an amazing variety of marine life including grey nurse sharks.

Getting There There are a few ways to get to South West Rocks.

From Sydney it is a 6 hour Trip up the Pacific Highway, it is hoped that once the Pacific Highway is upgraded and finally finished it will take less than 6 hours.

You can fly to Port Macquarie or Coffs Harbour and both are an hours drive from both respective airports if you decide to hire a car.


On this trip we stayed at the Costa Rica Motel. The place was very nice and the rooms were clean and comfortable. The rooms all had ensuites and TVs, and there was a kitchen and common room available elsewhere in the hotel. The hotel includes a small outdoor swimming pool, a spa, sauna, gym and tennis courts though I was too busy diving to use any of these facilities. A few nights we ordered take away from the restaurant in the hotel and also used the outdoor BBQs available.

There are a many other options for accomodation such as caravan parks as well as camp sites, caravan parks units in the town and above the dive shop.

Dive Package

To avoid the crowds we decided to travel there mid week and the cost of the mid week package was $545 and included accommodation from Sunday to Friday morning and eight dives.

For divers this trip is a great local destination and fairly cheap considering how good the diving is.

The Diving

The dive centre ran an excellent operation it was hard to find any fault, each morning we met at 8am and the boat was packed up to take us to the dive sites.

The boat is launched from a wharf on the Macleay River and to get to the dive sites the boat had to navigate the sand bar at the mouth of the Macleay. If you suffer from Sea Sickness please take any precautionary measures.

The dive sites were mostly about 35 – 40 minute boat ride.

After the dives there were wash tubs available along with a lock up available where your dive gear can be left to dry overnight.

The Visibility on the dives ranged from about 5m to 20m, depending on the dive site and conditions, keeping in mind we were there after rainfall and flooding of Northern New South Wales in January. I was assured that it can get up to 20 or 30m generally, I would like to see that!!!.

Water temperature averaged 21-23 degrees Centigrade.

All the dives had the option of following a guide or doing your own thing, but going through the cave does require a dive guide.

The Shark Gutters or the Deep Entrance

The depth of this dive was between 15m to 30m. 15m at the entrance of the cave with 24m as the gutter spreads out.

Is a lot darker here but really worth it. If you are a photographer there is definitely no way you will go into the cave!!!!

This place is made for Shark Viewing with 40+ sharks swimming around you all at once. A photographer’s delight.

The Dives

The Aquarium or The Shallow Entrance

The depth of this dive was between 14m to 24m. 14m at the entrance of the cave with 24m as the gutter spreads out.
There were sharks, Grey Nurses and more sharks, Swimming Wobbegongs, once the Nurses got used to you they did get closer and stuck around, I had a young male swim around more than twice.

If you are a photographer there is no way you will go into the cave, well at least the entrance for that silhouette shot.

Other fish life at Shallow entrance included turtles, morays, lionfish, nudibranchs and a very large grouper.

Green Island

The depth of this site was between 6m and 18m and all you have to do is follow the reef and rock wall.

Located away from Fish Rock near the Smoky Cape Lighthouse and you pass it on the way and back to and from Fish Rock.

The dive site is in a more sheltered area and was utilised if conditions were not ideal at Fish Rock.

Fish Life at this site was totally Macro and included Pineapple Fish, Porcupine Fish, Turtles, Eels, Wobbegongs, Shovelnoses, Cuttlefish and ornate ghost pipefish, I missed the last one though.

Another dive site that was used when conditions at Fish Rock were not ideal. The depth range of this site ranged between 8m and 20m to the sand.

Black Rock was similar to Green Island in marine life. Though one highlight is the cowries are located on rocks and I was able to watch one laying some eggs.

There was also a school of striped catfish, many stingrays, batfish and schooling pomfreys and bat fish. The batfish were addicted to the Fruit Cake.

What else to do

For both divers and non divers there is more to do at South West Rocks. There are a number of places to visit at South West Rocks, the Lighthouse and the Gaol to name a few.

There are heaps of restaurants and cafes, you will not go hungry. Grab some Fish and Chips and have them by the sea on the sand at the beach or in the park there is a great view.

“Man, you just have to go!!!!”.

South West Rocks and it doesŅ