snorkel

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

LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY

EASE OF ACCESSIBILITY

WILDLIFE

SCENERY

OVERALL RATING


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.

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    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

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    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.

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

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

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    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)

EASE OF ACCESSIBILITY

WILDLIFE

SCENERY

OVERALL RATING


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. 

 

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


Level of Difficulty

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Ease of Accessibility

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Wildlife

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Scenery

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Overall Rating