Monday, 5 August 2013

Fish Rock Dive Center

Location: Fish Rock, South West Rocks, NSW, Australia. 

South West Rocks is located on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, Australia. With a population of less than 5,000 people, the tourist population of South West Rocks increases markedly during the holiday season. This is attributed to the beautiful scenery, numerous beaches, man-made attractions and awesome scuba diving sites.

One such dive site is the island of Fish Rock. Above water the island has a rough and jagged form carved by the rough open ocean swell. This appearance however gives no indication of the truly incredible diving that the surrounding ocean has to offer.

Fish Rock offers a number of diving options including a 120 meter long swim-through (pictured above). This swim-through is one of the largest ocean caverns in the southern hemisphere. Fortunately we had the privilege of enjoying four dives at Fish Rock - but it only takes one for you to realize - why it has repeatedly been voted one of the top 10 dive sites in Australia. Whats more, is you can dive this site over and over with every experience being unique. Coupled with the fantastic marine life and especially the close Grey Nurse Shark encounters is why Fish Rock has attracted divers from around the world.

Fish Rock boasts large wobbegong sharks, bull rays, painted crays, bat fish, decorator crabs, nudibranch, sea cucumbers, large schools of cow nose rays, moray eels, loggerhead turtles, green sea turtles as well as blue cod to name a few. Often humpback whales, dolphins and tiger sharks can be sighted at Fish Rock too.

The water temperature varies throughout the year with lows of around 17-18 degrees Celsius during winter months. Always call ahead before booking to find out what water temperature to expect. At these lows we recommend diving with Sharkskin including hood, gloves and boots. If you do not already own Sharkskin products you can purchase them from Fish Rock Dive Center, the local dive operator.

Fish Rock Dive Center  

Jon Cragg purchased Fish Rock Dive Center eight years ago, both because he wanted to share his passion for diving with others, and also, to promote the fantastic diving that South West Rocks has to offer. He has a keen interest in marine life and providing for low impact diving which is very important from a professional diver's point of view. This helps to maintain a very natural dive site that everyone can enjoy.

Fish Rock Dive Center caters for both local students and tourists. Whether you're interested in receiving your dive certification or enjoying a recreational dive they've got you covered.

Our dive experience with Fish Rock Dive Center is outlined below.

The Vessel

The boat is perfectly suited for 12 divers. Easily makes it out to Fish Rock. The bow is suited to tanning during the surface interval. On-board refreshments include; tea, coffee; cake, candy, soup and water. 

Fish Rock Dive Center cater for greater numbers by offering a second trip later in the day. The vessel has a step down/up ladder at the back making entry and exit from the water simple and safe. Most descents are controlled and performed down the anchor line. Depending on swell you may be required to perform a negative descent and meet your dive group at approximately 6 meters deep along the wall. 

Dive Breakdowns 

Fish Rock is approximately 15 minutes from where you board the boat. Once there you're provided with both a site and dive brief. The first dive we conducted was around Fish Rock to ensure that all divers can become comfortable with the diving conditions, including temperature, swell, marine life and to ensure their equipment is functioning correctly.

We conducted four dives at Fish Rock over two days. This allowed us to build an intimate understanding of the site - but left us wanting to dive more. It is highly recommended that if you make it to South West Rocks that you dive for as many days as possible. Aside from Fish Rock there are many other dive sites near by including Green Island which provided for fantastic marine life encounters too. 

We experienced favorable dive conditions on both days. Visibility varied significantly between 6 and 30 meters depending on our location at each point around the dive site. Despite the water being cold - the exciting grey nurse shark encounters kept every diver underwater for our maximum allowable time. 

Dive #1 - Trenches

Dive Details:

Maximum Depth: 28.3 (m) / 93 (ft)
Water Temperature: 18 degrees Celsius
Downtime: 44 minutes

Our first dive was along the South / South East wall of Fish Rock. From the start of our descent I could see the first Grey Nurse Shark. This dive site really does live up to its reputation. The shark moved slowly below unperturbed by our presence. By the time we settled along the bottom it had only just passed us by.

We moved East along the island reaching a maximum depth of 28.3 meters. Despite the visibility being a little low on this side of the island the dive site was still teeming with life. On two occasions a school of about 40 cow nose rays passed by. 

The marine life at Fish Rock is very inquisitive and tends to get very close. The ocean floor is littered with resting wobbegongs and grey nurse sharks can be spotted in almost every other direction including directly above you. 

Dive #2 - Fish Rock Cave - Deep-to-Shallow

Dive Details:

Maximum Depth: 22.4 (m) / 73 (ft)
Water Temperature: 20 degrees Celsius
Downtime: 45 minutes

The second dive required us to descend to ~ 6 m deep and move around a shallow ledge, before descending to a depth of 24 m taking us to the swim-through's deep opening. We were motioned to follow one another in single file leaving a couple of meters between each diver.

We required a torch for the first ~ 70 m of the swim through. From the opening you advance horizontally for about 20 m until you come to a noticeably large crack in the left hand side of the rock's wall. If you shine your torch down this side you will see the eyes of many painted crays reflecting the light back at you. 

When you are ready to ascend through the main chimney it is important to perform a controlled ascent and to release some air from your BCD. Ascending the chimney takes you from 24 m deep to 10 m deep. Not releasing air from your BCD can result in you ascending too quickly. 

After safely ascending the chimney you can see blue light glowing in through the swim-through's shallow exit. Making your way towards this blue glow is truly a breath-taking experience. Be sure not to rush to the other side and miss the largest bubble cave located approximately ~ 20 m shy of the exit. It is in this air space that you can remove your regulator and have a quick chat with your dive buddy before progressing further. 

Quite often the cave is packed with Grey Nurse Sharks entering and circling back out. I was fortunate enough to come eye to eye with one of these remarkable animals. Our eyes met for a while as we respected each other's presence. 

Once exiting the cave I suggest spending some time at the bottom observing the marine life and searching for shark teeth. Grey nurse sharks spend so much time around Fish Rock that you can find their old teeth lying among the coral fragments. They are difficult to find but are dime a dozen.

Dive #3 - Fish Rock Cave - Shallow-to-Deep

Dive Details:

Maximum Depth: 28.2 (m) / 93 (ft)
Water Temperature: 19 degrees Celsius
Downtime: 49 minutes

After diving the swim-through from deep-to-shallow we decided to see what the swim-through looked like diving from the other side. The swell had picked up slightly which required us to perform a negative descent to ~ 6 m where we gathered. 

We entered from the shallow side and progressed through the swim-through in much the same fashion as we did from the other side. Diving from this side allowed us to better understand the intricacies and layout of the cave - including the many crevasses in which marine animals were hiding.  

We were required to descend the chimney head first. It is important to give each other enough time to progress through each section of the cave and to experience the marine life around each corner - because there really is a lot to see.

Once we emerged from the swim-through on the deep side we explored the fish bommies. The swell was a little stronger as we exited but we allowed the current to carry us along the ocean floor. This was a relaxing way to finish the dive.

Dive #4 - Fish Rock Cave - Deep-to-Shallow

Dive Details:

Maximum Depth: 23.2 (m) / 76 (ft)
Water Temperature: 19 degrees Celsius
Downtime: 51 minutes

Jon of Fish Rock Dive Center asked us whether we wanted to dive a different site. However, we found the swim-through to be so enjoyable that we decided to dive it once more. Diving it from the shallow to the deep end gave us a further appreciation for the layout and hidden nooks and crannies. 

We progressed through the cave a lot slower wanting to prolong the euphoria one feels as you swim through the other side. When we emerged on the other side and moved around the left we were taken by surprise with how many grey nurse sharks there were. 

Over 20 individuals had chosen to position themselves in a calm ocean passage. This allowed the sharks to remain stationary as the current flowed towards them. At one time I could actually see six individuals lined up next to one another. They allowed us to approach to within half a meter, allowing us to take photos and videos until our dive time reached its limit. With all the exciting shark action we recommend making use of Nitrox so that you can enjoy longer bottom times. 

Here are some videos captured during our trip:

1) Grey Nurse Shark Approaches Frank Vorster 

2) Grey Nurse Shark & Two Scuba Divers

Overall Rating:

Jon is the embodiment of his dive operation - professional, fun, outgoing and a proud supporter of minimal interaction with marine life. Some scuba professionals encourage and part-take in physical interactions with marine life. This is not encouraged by Jon or his dive instructors. This sentiment is shared by professional divers who want to avoid damaging or manipulating the natural behavior of marine life.

'I believe in providing low impact scuba diving. Too many divers at a dive
site at once can negatively impact on the marine life.' - Jon Cragg

South West Rocks boasts a high number of dive sites. Fish Rock is the most popular of these dive sites. If you would like to dive Fish Rock I recommend that all divers who have not been diving within the last year do a refresher course and that all divers hold a minimum of 25 logged dives. The swim through is very enjoyable for those who are aware of what they are doing. Know your equipment, perform the right checks and do not rush through the cave. If you're more experienced or want to take many photos I recommend positioning yourself toward the back so that you have plenty of time to take the photos.

Dive Flag App proudly support Fish Rock Dive Center. I hope to be back diving with Jon and his team at the very next opportunity. If you're interested in visiting South West Rocks and experiencing their amazing dive sites contact them today! Otherwise for more information visit their website.

Dive Flag App Rating 9.5 / 10

Frank Vorster
Dive Flag App


  1. That's interesting! Can you please share more about it? Thank you.

    Scuba Diving in Andaman

  2. Lot of great information which can be helpful in some or the other way. Please update it more often. This topics is my interest.
    Phuket Diving | liveaboard similan