Quick facts about diving The Apartments
- Location: North-East of Fisherman Beach off the north point of Long Reef on Sydney’s Northern Beaches
- Diver Qualifications: Open Water Certification (minimum 10 boat dives recommended)
- Depth: 8m to 21m
- Recommended Gas: 21% or Nitrox
- Dive time: Between 25 mins and 60 mins or 4hr double dive
- Visibility: 10m to 40m
- What you’ll see: Grey nurse sharks, thousands of southern pomfrets, old wives, large cuttlefish, wobbegong sharks, friendly groupers, octopus, mackerel tuna, Australian bonito, kingfish and large bull rays.
- Best season to dive: Grey nurse sharks are found at The Apartments all year round, but numbers start to increase from around December peaking in April/May.
The best recreational dive site in Sydney, Australia
Several factors align to make The Apartments Sydney’s best dive site. Firstly, its location and depth range is perfect for sea life and recreational divers. The depth starts at 8m and has a maximum of 21m, ideal for the first certification divers obtain such as Open Water certification. The dive site is located at the edge of a rocky plateau with a drop off or wall that features many caves and swim through’s, which give small and large sea life safe areas to live or retreat to when large predators cruise through looking for lunch.
A rich underwater valley to explore
The valley is a must to explore for Sydney divers as it is usually one of three places near Sydney Harbour where the grey nurse sharks congregate. The valley is usually shrouded and filled with thousands of southern promfrets and divers must swim though them. When the fish part, divers typically encounter dozens of grey nurse sharks in a very small area – a magnificent sight to behold.
A unique dive with sharks in Sydney
Divers will often swim into the valley from the shallow top of the reef, either side of the valley rim considering the wind and sea conditions or opt to enter the valley from the boulder field just east of the wall. Once in the valley divers will head in a north western direction where they’ll find large schools of southern pomfrets. This is the area where grey nurse sharks will be encountered.
Divers can continue to the sand patch to find the main body of sharks then kneel and hold the edges of the reef keeping out of the way of the sharks. Eventually the sharks will move off either over the valley rim heading for the big rock in the east or they may opt to move west into the 12m avg depth area of the reef plateau (an area composed of rock, kelp and sand.)
When divers return from this shallower area looking for their boat it is quite easy to miss the valley entrance and enter a false valley which heads more to the north east. If divers do this, they will need to turn right at the smallest part of the wall and head south until they reach the boulder field and the entrance of the valley proper.
Entering the Cathedral
On the far side of the big rock is the area that divers will reach around 21m. The entrance to the cathedral is located to the northern side of the big rock and is often shrouded by schools of southern promfrets. The big rock is located in the Apartments, approximately 30m east of the valley entrance or the wall/drop off which runs north-south through the area know as the Apartments.
All the surfaces in cathedral are covered by colourful hard corals and divers must ensure their buoyancy is good so as not to damage these fragile coral polyps (which are basically a jellyfish sitting upside down in a limestone cup.)
Close encounters with sharks
Large sharks are often seen in and around the boulders surrounding the shallower (northwestern) side of the cathedral entrance and grey nurse sharks and giant cuttlefish can be encountered in the cathedral tunnel proper.
Once divers leave the tunnel via the eastern end, they ascend over a large rock turning right to drop down into the area of the big rock. Often divers will stop prior to going into this area as this is a prime location for grey nurse sharks to congregate. It’s a great place to watch while using the rock as cover to watch the sharks discreetly.
Swimming with large cuttlefish and wobbegongs
Once divers drop down next to the big rock, they can either go under a long ledge with lots of colourful growth heading north with the ledge on their right, then slowly turning left heading to the valley entrance. If the divers head straight to the west across an area on flat rock with medium sized boulders, they will eventually reach The Apartments’ wall proper.
To the left, scuba divers will find a large swim through/cave network just before the wall makes a sharp 90 degree turn to the west. This network of tunnels has several entry and exit points, large and small, with several exits that finish as dead ends. Divers will need to back out of if they explore this network of swim throughs.
Scuba divers will commonly encounter one or more giant cuttlefish and large wobbegong sharks, usually at the very bottom, which is the easiest area for scuba divers to exit with a fair amount of room to manoeuvre around the sharks and/or to get the camera out to film the giant cuttlefish before exiting into the area of the wall floor.
Cave diving and friendly groupers
Air and diver comfort permitting, we typically enter the cave. Alternatively, we can make a right turn (north/east) to make our way back to either the valley to see more sharks or back to the boat.
Dive times can be as little as 25min or more than 60min depending on diver air consumption. The valley has several resident green, brown and blue groupers. The Blue Grouper is known as ‘Wally’. He is very friendly and will approach divers much like a pet dog would to nudge regular divers.
Interesting fact: The green and brown female groupers will change colour and sex and turn into blue male groupers when the males leave the area or are eaten by a predator.
Finding Sydney’s octopus garden
Divers will also see octopus located in the rocky edges of the valley. These invertebrates have no backbone but are highly intelligent. Their closest relatives are the cuttlefish and the squid. The Octopi will collect small rocks, sinkers and/or shells to make a small wall around their home and may have one item that they will use for protection if they are threatened by a predator. During their mating season they may touch divers with their tentacles, the suckers leaving small scratches with their small fishing-type hooks nestled inside the sucker pad, which they use to help catch and hold prey.
Diving in small caves and swim throughs with very affectionate cuttlefish
Giant cuttlefish are found throughout this area usually in the small caves and swim throughs located in the boulders field at the valley entrance. These cuttlefish are highly intelligent and very interactive. Between February through to May, they are mating and are generally quite active.
Cuttlefish change their their body colours and use their front two centre tentacles to communicate and will often touch or gently grab a scuba diver’s hands in an attempt to mate! A cuttlefish’s two centre tentacles will raise, extending out in a question mark type shape. If divers mimic what the cuttlefish is doing by raising their fingers, the cuttlefish will often move closer and touch or gently grad the scuba diver’s hands in an attempt to mate.
Interesting fact: Cuttlefish use their two centre tentacles and change their colours to communicate.
Diving with Sydney’s beautiful and varied sea life
The valley opens to the west into a wide area of small boulders, sand and kelp in around 13m. This area can also have many grey nurse sharks depending on the time of year. No matter the season, divers are sure to encounter a great variety of sea life in the rocky structures and in the open water.
Other pelagic fish life found are mackerel tuna, Australian bonito, and schools of kingfish of several hundred or roaming around in smaller groups of a dozen or so (these smaller groups generally are the larger fish over 65cm.) Grey nurse sharks are commonly found under large schools of southern promfrets next to the big rock. We’ve encountered 25+ sharks here on recent dives!
The return of kingfish
Kingfish are only just returning to the Sydney area and The Apartments dive site. After being wiped out by overfishing in the 80’s and early 90’s (they were targeted by mid water fishing traps and it only took around 5 years to wipe out schools of hundreds of thousands of fish!)
Sydney harbour’s south head
Throughout the eighties, at the Apartments and along the Sydney Harbour’s South Head, it was a common sight to have a large school of 6-8ft kingies swimming past in one direction for the entire duration of a 60 to 80-minute dive! Those were the days… And may they return in years to come! Nowadays, we see kingfish schools of around 400 to 800 individuals. They’re usually 40cm in size (often referred to as rats), but number are growing each year which is very encouraging.
Diver Safety at The Apartment’s dive site
Large numbers of fishing boat are encountered at The Apartments and this can be a problem when it comes to diver safety. A surface marker buoy, or SMB, is an important safety accessory for every dive and is recommended for all dives at The Apartments.
Grey nurse sharks are found at The Apartments all year round, but numbers start to increase from around December peaking in April/May as they congregate to mate. Divers will commonly see sharks with scratching around the head area as they bite while mating. Numbers can reach 25 to 30, but in the 80’s grey nurse shark numbers were in the hundreds, so there’s work to do to help save this magnificent shark species in Sydney.
Grey nurse sharks were killed (power headed) in the hundreds in the eighties in the name of swimmer protection and displayed along Fisherman Beach (which is the beach just north of the point of Long Reef where The Apartments are located.)
Whilst at The Apartments, you must dive The Cathedral
The Cathedral is the largest and longest tunnel or swim through found in the area of the Apartments, this and the many other swim throughs and caves features the largest hard corals found in Sydney.
Sydney’s marine life on display
Large hard corals found at The Apartments are found in the caves and swim throughs. They grow large due to the water volume bringing plenty food such as plankton. Smaller tropical and sub-tropical fish can be seen using these corals for protection when divers pass by!
Old Wives (found in pairs as they mate for life) are often found in schools just prior to summer. They’re seen on almost every dive sight. Their dorsal spines are poisonous, so as with every marine creature we encounter on our Sydney Apartment’s dive… It’s best to look and not touch the animals!
One or two large black bull rays with wing spans of up to 3m are also a welcome sight at The Apartments.
The Apartments (and The Cathedral) – The very best dive site in Sydney
With a stunning plethora of marine life – large and small – every dive brings new experiences; and best of all, it’s accessible to open water divers.
Book a Sydney Dive with us!
For a fabulous Sydney dive at The Apartments, book a single or double dive with the experienced crew at Sydney Dive Charters. You’ll be glad you did!