Waratah Bay

Waratah Bay, a small coastal town in South Gippsland two and a half hours’ drive southeast of Melbourne, is not a common snorkelling spot. So, who knew that hidden under the waves was an expansive brown kelp forest bursting with underwater life?

The ornate cowfish (Aracana ornata) is one of many colourful marine species to be found at Waratah Bay. Image: Cathy Cavallo

The ornate cowfish (Aracana ornata) is one of many colourful marine species to be found at Waratah Bay. Image: Cathy Cavallo

Wait for a calm day, then head to the main beach at Waratah Bay and turn right, walking down towards the rock pools before the point (and while you’re there, watch out for hooded plovers along the beach!). Begin your snorkel at the rock pools and head east; you’ll first come across some rocky reefs, home to colourful cowfish, sea stars and marble fish.

Soon the underwater landscape will change, morphing into a dense, brown kelp forest. If you are lucky enough to visit Waratah Bay when the sea is still and clear, you will be rewarded with stunning underwater scenery. You are also likely to catch glimpses of some of Victoria’s (non-dangerous) elasmobranchs – including Port Jackson sharks, southern eagle rays, and banjo sharks – gliding through the kelp beds. Simply unforgettable! 

If you're lucky, you may spot a Port Jackson shark at this serene snorkel spot. Image: Cathy Cavallo

If you're lucky, you may spot a Port Jackson shark at this serene snorkel spot. Image: Cathy Cavallo

SUMMARY:

  • A little known snorkel spot to be enjoyed away from the crowds
  • Close to Wilsons Promontory 
  • Impressive underwater scenery
  • Dense kelp beds rich with marine life

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Ella Kelly

Ella is a PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne, where she spends a lot of time thinking about why some quolls don’t eat cane toads (if only she could ask them!). She also enjoys talking and writing about science, and would ultimately love to have an actual impact on the conservation of Australia’s biodiversity.

You can find her on Twitter at @ecology_ella.

 


Banner image courtesy of Cathy Cavallo. 

Kitty Miller Bay

Situated on the ocean side of Phillip Island, this secretive splash spot is directly adjacent to the world-famous Phillip Island Penguin Parade. With more accidental visitors (lost tourists seeking penguins) than deliberate ones, this quiet beach is a snorkeler’s delight, and offers sites for newbies through to experienced snorkelers.

The western side of the cove is well protected from ocean swell, and is the perfect place for new or timid snorkelers, as well as young families, to enjoy. Enter the beach via the western stairs and head for the calmer waters in the shelter of the cliffs. Here lie sandy flats where toadfish burrow, seagrass meadows where impressive long-fin pike patrol, and diverse seaweed gardens that sway gently in the flow.

The peaceful Port Jackson Shark tolerates a close encounter. Image: Cathy Cavallo

The peaceful Port Jackson Shark tolerates a close encounter. Image: Cathy Cavallo

Experienced snorkelers may head for the eastern end of the cove, where rock promontories and islands carve the deep water into a wonderland of seaweed-covered rocky tors and cliff faces. Fields of Amphibolis seagrass between the crags shelter blue weed-whiting and leatherjacket species that will carry on with their business if approached slowly. Sheltering amongst the islands you will find eagle rays and young stingrays, as well as stingarees of several species. Dive down to investigate an overhanging ledge and you are likely to come face to face with a resting Port Jackson shark or two!

This coastline features some of the most pristine surge zone habitat in the state, and with that come a plethora of rocky reef fish, which are difficult for snorkelers to find in most other locations. Black and electric blue herring cale are a highlight here, as well as the angelfish-like old wives, Victorian scalyfin, zebrafish, bluethroat wrasse and magpie perch. Even if you weren't to spot a single fish, the diversity of algal and seagrass life would astound you.

Common toadfish are numerous in the western end of the cover and are an endless source of entertainment. Image: Cathy Cavallo

Common toadfish are numerous in the western end of the cover and are an endless source of entertainment. Image: Cathy Cavallo

Magpie perch are one of the prettier inhabitants at this reef, but cannot be compared to the herring cale! Image: Cathy Cavallo

Magpie perch are one of the prettier inhabitants at this reef, but cannot be compared to the herring cale! Image: Cathy Cavallo

A note of caution: this area is strictly for experienced snorkelers who are very strong swimmers. The water here is deep and less protected from the ocean surge. At this unpatrolled beach, danger is but one poor decision away. Never overestimate your abilities, or underestimate the power of the ocean.

Protected as it is by reef and cliff, this cove is still subject to strong swell, heavy chop, and dangerous winds from the south. The eastern arm should only be attempted when lower tides keep the ocean waves behind an outcropping reef. Quite apart from the obvious safety concerns, underwater visibility is shocking when the waves come in, and snorkeling in swell is downright unpleasant. Perfect conditions for Kitty Miller Bay come after several days of still weather or northerly winds. Enter on the receding tide, whenever it is safe to do so. The lower the tide, the more protected the waters, but some areas are better at mid-tide.

A young ray drifts inconspicuously amongst tumbled weed. Image: Cathy Cavallo

A young ray drifts inconspicuously amongst tumbled weed. Image: Cathy Cavallo

A common toadfish uses stippled patterning and digging to camouflage in the sand. Image: Cathy Cavallo

A common toadfish uses stippled patterning and digging to camouflage in the sand. Image: Cathy Cavallo

A site that never feels quite the same twice, Kitty Miller Bay will thrill experienced snorkelers and encourage even the most reluctant ones to explore. Pop down for a visit before heading to one of Australia’s biggest ecotourism attractions, or pair it with a stroll along one of the island’s fine bush and coastal tracks. If you pick the right conditions, you are in for a treat!

SUMMARY:

  • Snorkel spots to suit all abilities
  • Adjacent to the Penguin Parade
  • Pristine southern rocky reef habitat
  • Exquisite algal and plant diversity
  • Sharks and rays
  • Some areas are dangerous and inadvisable for inexperienced snorkelers. Exercise caution and common sense.

LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY

  • 2 on the west of the bay; 5 on the south-east arm (see below map)

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Cathy Cavallo

Cathy is a PhD student and science communicator with a passion for natural history, environmental engagement and photography. When she isn't running the Wild Melbourne social media, you'll find her working with little penguins on Phillip Island or underwater somewhere.

You can find her on Twitter at @CavalloDelMare


Banner image courtesy of Cathy Cavallo. 

 

Point Lonsdale: Glaneuse Reef

Glaneuse Reef in Point Lonsdale is an exquisite site situated approximately 1.5 hours from Melbourne and is home to some of the best rockpools along the southwestern coastline. The reef is part of the Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park, which also includes Swan Bay, the Mud Islands, Point Nepean and Pope’s Eye. The reef extends from Point Lonsdale Lighthouse (a historically important icon of the area) to a series of open rockpools that are easily accessible from the shore.

While the area is a popular holiday destination during January, the rest of the year it remains relatively uninhabited and is an ideal spot for both experienced and inexperienced snorkelers. The reef is easily distinguishable at low tide due to Neptune’s necklace (Hormosira banksii) covering the entirety of the reef.

For several reasons, the reef is best snorkeled approximately two hours before or after low tide to avoid waves and strong currents. During this time period, a series of rockpools and small tunnels become available, creating a perfect underwater garden to be explored. Amongst the rocky outcrops a multitude of species can be found including rays, wrasse, zebrafish, anglerfish, old wives, weedy seadragons, Port Jackson sharks and many more. If little or no ocean swell is present, a steep precipice (5 to 6 metres in depth) off the back of the reef can be explored. There, larger species of fish can be seen floating amongst the rocky crevices.

On a clear Summer’s day, this is a spot nothing less than magical and few spots match it in terms of accessibility, species diversity and picturesque landscape. So whether you are an experienced snorkeler or diver, or it’s your first time, this spot is a must-see.

Summary:

- Only a 1.5 hour drive from Melbourne.
- Easily accessible for unexperienced snorkelers or divers.
- Wide variety of species to be seen. 

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Cover image taken from Wikimedia Commons. 

Black Rock & Half Moon Bay

Black Rock Jetty and its surrounding rocky reefs and lush seagrass beds provide great snorkel spots, while also offering fantastic views of the sunken HMVS Cerberus.

Only a short drive or ride via public transport from Melbourne’s CBD, Black Rock is popular amongst snorkelers as a great place to explore some of Melbourne’s underwater world without having to travel too far.

Best snorkeled on westerly wind, the shallow waters around the jetty and rocky reef give home to a variety of marine critters, including numerous species of fish, sea stars (unfortunately, this also includes the northern pacific sea star!), urchins, anemones, fan worms, bryozoans, ascidians, nudibranchs and blue-ringed octopuses. Hiding in the sea grass beds you can find several species of fish including pipefish, flatheads, whiting, fiddler rays and, if you have a keen eye, you might spot the odd cuttlefish or squid.

The HMVS Cerberus served as a navy vessel from the 1860s before being sunk in 1924 in Half Moon Bay. Since its sinking, the ship has become an artificial reef structure and is currently covered in a range of settling marine invertebrates and algae. While the HMVS Cerberus is a fantastic sight, it is an unstable structure so be sure to keep to the regulation distance of at least 5 metres from the bow and stern, and 25 metres from the starboard and port of the ship for your own safety. For those less inclined to get in the water, you can also observe the wreck from the jetty or shore at low tide when a large proportion of the ship becomes exposed.

SUMMARY

  1. CLOSE PROXIMITY TO MELBOURNE

  2. LUSH SEAGRASS BEDS AND ROCKY REEFS

  3. GREAT VIEWS OF THE SUNKEN HMVS CERBERUS


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All images courtesy of Evatt Chirgwin


Evatt Chirgwin

Evatt is an evolutionary ecologist whose research focuses on how natural populations can adapt to environmental change. He is currently undertaking his PhD at Monash University.

You can find him on Twitter @EvattChirgwin

Blairgowrie Pier & Marina

A favourite among locals, this busy marina offers protected snorkeling and diving amidst an exquisite gallery of colourful sponges.

The Blairgowrie Pier and Marina is a bayside snorkeling and dive spot located at the Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron. About 1.5 hours out of Melbourne, with all day free parking and in close proximity to a good selection of cafes, this site is perfect for a day trip out of Melbourne.

The key feature of this site is the plant and animal life that has grown on the pier structure itself. The community structure changes with depth and distance from the beach, which means that each pylon reveals new discoveries. In the shallow waters close to the beach, a patient snorkeler might discover a seahorse hiding among the long brown algae. At mid depths, the pylons and pier wall are coated with changing communities of sponges and encrusting animals in many colours. Closer inspection of these might reveal a lolly-coloured nudibranch or two (a common sight here), camouflaging fish such as blennies or leatherjackets, or the transparent red-handed shrimp. Some pylons are absolutely covered in hundreds of tiny hermit crabs!

On the sandy sea floor, flathead, rays and even the odd stargazer lie camouflaged. Large schools of yakka, longfin pike and baitfish species can often be seen between the pylons, while leatherjackets and sea sweep stick close to the walls.

The best way to enjoy this site is to walk in from the beach and snorkel to the end of the pier, which has a ladder for exit. However, at a distance of about 280 metres, this swim may be too long for some swimmers. Conveniently, a second ladder midway along the pier allows snorkelers to choose to swim just the shallow or the deep half of the pier, and is an easier entry point for divers. Some divers may choose to get in at the end of the pier and investigate the 200 metre marina wall.

Protected on two sides by a concrete wall and cladding on their pier, this site can be enjoyed by snorkelers in most conditions. Divers should aim to visit the site at slack-water, since there can be a strong undercurrent. Snorkeling at different tides allows access to different environments.

Summary

 
  1. Diverse fauna found on pylons and marina wall

  2. Easy access with free parking

  3. Good for snorkeling and diving with two entry/exit ladders


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Diamond Bay

Strong currents make Diamond Bay unadvisable for beginners, but for experienced divers Diamond Bay provides an exciting underwater playground. 

Review

Located about an hour and half out of Melbourne on the Sorrento back beach, Diamond Bay offers an exciting underwater terrain for divers and snorkelers who are looking for something more challenging than shore dives within the bay.

Though Diamond bay is one of the more protected areas of the Peninsula back beaches, the fact that it is located outside the bay and exposed to open ocean means that it is subjected to large swell and strong winds, and is only possible to enjoy safely on days where the swell is low.

Note that even with good conditions rips and strong currents are still present. Those lucky enough to  visit Diamond Bay when the swell is low and the wind is light will be rewarded with a rocky reef habitat with red algae species and brown kelp making for a spectacular underwater tertian, which can get to an excess of 10m at high tide.

In addition to the stunning terrain, Diamond bay also hosts a range of underwater fauna such as cat sharks, rays, boarfish, crayfish, and various species of school fish. 


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 Summary: 

Location of Diamond Bay

Location of Diamond Bay

  1. Exciting and beautiful underwater terrain

  2. The presences of small sharks and large rays

  3. Good for diving with depths getting to 10m

  4. Challenging shore dive that should only be attempted with appropriate experience and under safe conditions.

Portsea Pier

Easy accessibility and a high diversity of marine life has made Portsea pier one of the most popular dive spots around Melbourne, particularly for beginners.

An hour and a half out of Melbourne’s CBD, Portsea pier is located right next to Portsea’s town centre and best dived on a weak southerly wind.

Shallow sea grass beds and kelp gardens on the west side of the pier are accessible to snorkellers, but with depths getting to 5m towards the end of the pier, the area is also a great dive spot - particularly for beginners. 

The area hosts a diverse range of marine fauna such as weedy sea dragons, smooth stingrays, banjo sharks, leather jackets, and the occasional wobbegong.

Colourful sponges growing on the pier pylons provided an ideal habitat for crabs and blennies as well as several species of nudibranchs including the impressive Verco’s Nudibranch.

It’s important to note that during the summer months the area can be busy with boat traffic, predominately on the east side of the pier, so appropriate awareness is necessary whilst using the area.

Furthermore, due to Portsea’s close proximity to Port Phillip heads, Portsea can be subject to strong surges. 

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Summary 

  1.        Great easy scuba dive for beginners

  2.         Great for snorkelling

  3.         Sea grass bed and kelp gardens

  4.         Home to weedy sea dragons

  5.         Easy access from Car-park

  6.         Busy during summer months

  7.         Can be subjected to strong surges

Location of Portsea Pier. 

Location of Portsea Pier. 

Flinders Pier

Flinders Pier is an iconic Victorian dive site. Lush fields of seagrass provide a home to a variety of fauna, including the stunning Weedy Sea Dragon.

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Just over an hour’s drive south from Melbourne with an easily accessible carpark positioned right of the pier, Flinders Pier is perfect for a day trip out of Melbourne.

Located in a protected pocket of the Mornington Peninsula coast, the waters around Flinders Pier are accessible under most weather conditions, although it’s best dived on a northerly winds below 20 knots on an outgoing tide, and best avoided when strong southeast winds are present.

Maximum depth across the pier is 7 metres, though interesting flora and fauna can still be found at shallower depths of 1 to 3 metres, making this an enjoyable site for snorkelers and divers alike.

Most people come to Flinders in search of the Weedy Sea Dragon, and for good reason; Flinders is arguably the easiest place in the world to find one of Australia’s most iconic marine creatures.

Whilst Weedy Sea dragons may be the main attraction, a wide range of marine fauna can be found here, such as cuttlefish, rays, banjo sharks, crabs and various fish species.

Summary:

  1. Home of a large Weedy Sea Dragon population

  2. Lush seagrass beds

  3. Great areas for either snorkeling or diving

  4. Easy access from carpark

Location of Flinders Pier

Location of Flinders Pier

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Wild Melbourne crew member, Christopher McCormack, gets a close encounter with a graceful Weedy Seadragon. 

Wild Melbourne crew member, Christopher McCormack, gets a close encounter with a graceful Weedy Seadragon. 

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All images courtesy of Evatt Chirgwin