My weekend in the Barrington Coast checking out the best ocean attractions.
The Barrington Coast is an ocean lover's dream, it’s teaming with epic scuba diving, stunning shore based snorkeling, glassy uncrowded waves, and to top it off some of Australia’s best whale watching.
Whether you’re above or below the water the Barrington Coast has you covered for the perfect weekend adventure.
As a group of keen scuba divers and snorkelers we set out for an action packed weekend exploring Forster’s underwater world. Our mission was simple, soak in as much of Forster’s marine wildlife as we could in the two days we had. Before we get going, I should mention that this is a shark fuelled adventure, it may get your heart racing, it may get the adrenaline flowing, but it’s important to remember it’s all perfectly safe!
Alright, so it’s Saturday morning and today is all about sharks. We geared up and headed to Dive Forster at Fisherman’s Wharf to start the day with a double boat dive out at Latitude Rock and The Pinnacle. These sites are home to some of the world’s largest populations of Grey Nurse Sharks, a critically endangered species found along the NSW coastline. These sharks look fierce, they grow up to 4m in length, have a row of outward facing teeth, and the pregnant females look almost as wide as they are long. However, contrary to their appearance, these sharks are incredibly docile and are non-aggressive towards humans, feeding exclusively on small fish. To ease matters further, these large, docile sharks are actually easily spooked by humans, and will swim away from divers should they get too close.
As an avid shark diver, I am well aware that there’s not too much I can say that will calm your beating heart without you getting in the water for that first time. As you descend down through the clear blue water what you’ll come across is nothing short of breathtaking. Aggregations of up to 40 Grey Nurse Sharks reside at The Pinnacle, Latitude Rock and majority of the other 18-25 dive sites frequented by local dive operators in peak season (November to May), with some sites like Big Rock at Seal Rocks holding up to 200 sharks. While it’s always recommended to dive in peak season, aggregations of these sharks call Forster home year round. Having said that however we dove these sites well outside peak season and even still as we dove down we came across a school of 20-25 Grey Nurse Sharks who seemed completely unfazed by our presence.
As an avid shark diver, I am well aware that there’s not too much I can say that will calm your beating heart without you getting in the water for that first time.
While the sharks which we found at both dive sites were the main attraction, Forster’s also home to an enormous population of Eagle Rays, Bull Rays and Wobbygong Sharks, as well as the more tropical marine animals like turtles and a decent number of Lion Fish.
As we explored the dive sites, inbetween being awe-struck by the sheer number of Grey Nurse Sharks, we also came across numerous Loggerhead and Green Sea Turtles, as well as sandy patches with congregations of over 10 Eagle Rays.
With an epic two dives under our belt we refueled at the local burger shop and headed down for a sunset snorkel at Seal Rocks, for you guessed it, more sharks! Aside from being one of the most pristine and unpopulated beaches on the NSW coastline, around 100m offshore lies the infamous Seal Rocks, another aggregation site for Grey Nurse Sharks, turtles, rays and schooling fish. This site is special for a few reasons, firstly it’s extremely rare that snorkelers are able to swim with Grey Nurse Sharks as they often live in deeper waters only accessible by scuba, secondly, you can walk in right off the beach!
As far as shore snorkeling goes it doesn’t really get any better than this.
As far as shore snorkeling goes it doesn’t really get any better than this. We swam out as the sun’s golden hour rays lit up the surface of the water and almost immediately came across three Grey Nurse Sharks sitting only 2 to 3m deep.
As we followed the rock around we came across a number of turtles swimming over the shallows, some only centimeters away from the surface. In addition to the year round population of Grey Nurse Sharks that reside at Seal Rocks, expect to also come across Blue Groupers, Eagle Rays and Wobbygongs. For safety’s sake, this snorkeling site is one best kept for calm days and it’s best to avoid the channel between the island and the headland just in case there’s a current.
For our second day we were given the option of either sleeping in, or heading out for a sunrise surf before our mid-morning whale watching tour. Needless to say, we grabbed our boards and headed out to Tuncurry Beach for a quick wave before meeting the crew at Amaroo Cruises in the hope of seeing some whales.
I should mention that I’m an ocean baby through and through, I’ve seen countless whales while surfing, on scuba diving boats and on headland walks, yet I’ve never actually been whale watching. Part of me didn’t really know what to expect, was seeing a whale while whale watching that much better than seeing a whale on a headland or in the distance on a dive boat? I honestly wasn’t sure. But having come out the other side I now am fully aware of what I’ve been missing out on. It’s way, way better than anything I previously imagined.
Humpback whales are known for their curiosity, and as this playful display continued the whales slowly gravitated towards the boat
Seeing our first whale was pretty incredible, but this was only the beginning. No longer than 20 minutes after we left the pier we’d already spotted our first pod of whales playfully slapping their pectoral fins and tails on the surface. As we slowly approached our skipper Matt disengaged the engine, and we sat and watched as this pod of 4 Humpback Whales that were no more than 40 meters away from us continued to play, tail slap, roll onto their bellies, and even ‘spy hop’ and vocalise their excitement.
Humpback Whales are known for their curiosity, and as this playful display continued the whales slowly gravitated towards the boat, continuing to play and poke their heads above the water in an attempt to check us out. What eventuated was a breathtaking display with members of the whale pod breaching only meters away on the port side of the boat, with the remaining whales on the starboard side continuing to playfully slap the water with their white bellies on full display. This continued for the duration of the tour, before we returned to port with a pod of dolphins bow riding on the front of the boat. I’m converted, whale watching at least out of Forster is epic!
After some wild ocean experiences both above and below the water, it was unfortunately the end of our action packed weekend on the Barrington Coast. Rest assured, I have a strong feeling this will become a regular trip!