8 incredible NSW underwater wildlife experiences

You don’t have to travel far to visit another world: incredible creatures and ecosystems live in NSW’s waters. Here’s a guide on great spots to see underwater creatures and places to dive and snorkel.

Destination NSW

Destination NSW

Oct 2023 -
min read

Snorkel with turtles at Cook Island 

Cook Island Aquatic Reserve is a volcanic outcrop less than a kilometre off the shore of Fingal Head on the Tweed. It’s here you’ll find a permanent population of green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles, and Watersports Guru facilitates keen explorers to swim in their underwater world. 

Spending time among these majestic creatures is a real privilege, made even more special by a potential encounter with a ray, wobbegongs or giant Queensland groupers, all local to the reserve. Keep an eye out for harmless leopard sharks, reef fish and hard and soft coral, too.  

Local sea turtles around Cook Island - Fingal Head - North Coast

Local sea turtles around Cook Island, Fingal Head, North Coast

Swim with seals at Baranguba Montague Island 

Is there any creature that looks like it’s having more fun than a seal? One of the best places to see them in action is around Baranguba Montague Island, 9km off Narooma in the Eurobodalla region on the NSW South Coast. On an excursion with Underwater Safaris you can snorkel or dive with Australian and New Zealand fur seals, get up close – whisker to whisker – and right next to the playful and curious mammals. Narooma Charters also offers snorkelling and diving tours at Baranguba. 

Seal swimming off Montague Island near Narooma on the NSW South Coast

Swim with the seals, Montague Island

Join a dolphin pod in Port Stephens 

Want to know how it feels to be part of a dolphin pod? Dolphin Swim Australia out of Port Stephens delivers the next best thing. Board a 52-foot catamaran and sail out to sea, then drop yourself into the water, hang onto a rope that’s strung between the bows and glide through the water as the boat sets off again, your gliding body in tow. Dolphins are famous for being inquisitive, intelligent and playful, and you’ll discover exactly how they got that reputation as they dart around you and look you straight in the eye. 

Dolphin Swim Australia in Port Stephens - Credit: Dolphin Swim Australia

Dolphin Swim Australia in Port Stephens - Credit: Dolphin Swim Australia

Free dive around Julian Rocks Nguthungull Nature Reserve  

Diving unencumbered by a scuba tank can be a liberating experience: you’re more mobile, lighter and can feel closer to marine life. Whether you’re an experienced scuba diver or a novice, you can learn to free dive on a three-day course with Sundive Byron Bay – preparation for a free dive among the diverse creatures of Julian Rocks Nguthungull Nature Reserve.  

Just a five-minute boat trip from Byron Bay, you’ll be fully immersed in a wild world where the appearance of a 1.5m-long kingfish scatters smaller fish, turtles float by serenely, and, in winter, grey nurse sharks glide below. More than 600 species of fish live here; it really is like escaping to another planet. 

School of leopard sharks near Julian Rocks, Byron Bay

Julian Rocks, Byron Bay

Take a nighttime dip to see glowing coral at Lord Howe Island 

Lord Howe Island, a tiny island off the North Coast covered in lush greenery and surrounded by aquamarine waters, is home to an untouched coral reef teeming with marine life. This piece of paradise, one National Geographic named as one of the world’s best destinations, allows only 400 visitors at a time.  

Snorkelling off Lord Howe Island

Snorkelling, Lord Howe Island

Hit the island’s reef in a less conventional way on a nighttime snorkel with Lord Howe Environmental Tours. This summer-only activity will see you hop aboard a glass-bottomed boat and set out into the island’s lagoon. Here you’ll explore the reef using special snorkelling equipment fit with underwater torches that enable swimmers to view coral fluorescence (when the coral appears to be glowing) and any nocturnal creatures that join you on your swim. (The snorkel area is marked with illuminated markers to ensure you stick around the right spot.) 

If you’d prefer to cruise among the coral during the day, book into the regular snorkelling tour, or stay on land and walk one of Australia’s best day hikes, the Mount Gower trek.   

Mount Gower, Lord Howe Island

Mount Gower, part of the Seven Peaks Walk on Lord Howe Island

Be in awe of the Brewarrina Fish Traps (Baiame's Ngunnhu) 

The Brewarrina Fish Traps (Baiame’s Ngunnhu) are known as one of the oldest human-made structures in the world. The traps, nearly a half-kilometre long and an estimated 40,000 years old, are an ingenious invention of complex networks of river stones arranged to form ponds and channels for Aboriginal people to catch fish. While exploring them isn’t precisely an underwater experience, it is one you truly won’t experience anywhere else in the world. The Brewarrina Aboriginal Cultural Museum conducts guided tours of the traps with local Aboriginal tour guides, though the traps can also be respectfully explored on a self-guided walk.  

Stones in the Barwon River that form the ancient Aboriginal Brewarrina Fish Traps

Brewarrina Fish Traps, Brewarrina

Float among the whales in Jervis Bay 

Woebegone Freedive’s five-to-six-hour snorkel-freedive expedition in the Marine Park will see you enjoy up-close encounters with humpback whales up to 15m long (plus fur seals and dolphins), with an expert guide to accompany you on the swim. There's also a hydrophone available, enabling participants to tune into ‘whale radio’ whale sounds between dives. On the tour you’ll also see coastal waterfalls (after heavy rain) and the area’s ancient sea caves.  

Woebegone Freedive - Credit: Jordan Robins Photography

Woebegone Freedive - Credit: Jordan Robins Photography

Discover what lies beneath the bay in Manly 

Take in the undulating underworld of Cabbage Tree Bay on a 2.5-hour snorkel with EcoTreasures. On this guided exploration in Manly’s protected aquatic reserve, swim up close to the diverse sea life of the bay including gropers, grey nurse sharks, sea dragons, wobbegongs, rays and more, observing the native marine life and Australian ecosystem as you explore. After you snorkel head into the Boathouse Shelly Beach for a casual, beachside lunch where the menu focuses on modern Australian dishes and local seafood.  

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