I've been snorkelling and diving here for over 25 years and we're blessed to have some outstanding spots that are easily accessible with abundant sea life.

Now before I let you in on my favourite places to snorkel, I must remind you that as with any activity that involves the ocean, you must be aware of the changing environments. It's so important that you follow a few simple rules to ensure you enjoy your snorkelling as much as possible and stay safe.

Read my snorkelling tips here before hitting the water.

Here are five of my favourite local snorkelling sites and the conditions suited to enjoy your time in the water.

1. Breckenridge Channel, Forster

Located in the centre of Forster in Wallis Lake, this often-overlooked snorkelling site can offer some great wildlife encounters and is one of the easier places to access.

It's important to know what the tide is doing when you are snorkelling here. You want an incoming tide as this will bring clear water in from the ocean. An outgoing tide will bring dirtier water down from the lake and visibility will be greatly reduced.

The best place to enter the water are from the wharf on Memorial Drive (near the big turtle). Or for the more confident, from John Holland Park as this allows for a slightly longer snorkel, and you can pass under the Forster bridge. You should aim to exit the water at the Little Street baths.

Breckenridge Channel in Wallis Lake is ideal for all skill levels
Breckenridge Channel in Wallis Lake is ideal for all skill levels

Keep to edge of the channel as the boat traffic in this area can be busy. There is also not much marine life to see out in the middle of the channel on the sand. You want to be snorkelling over the rocks and the weed beds as this is where you are more likely to come across marine life.

You are likely to encounter several different species of sea cucumbers, starfish, octopus, sea urchins and if you look closely, even some small brightly coloured nudibranch. There is also a resident school of Kingfish that cruise this channel, and you may come across a turtle if you are lucky.

Very large flathead are quite common along this stretch of water also. You often see the larger females, with several smaller males lying close by.

This can be a very relaxing snorkel as the incoming tide will allow you to slowly drift along and enjoy the view.

It is very important that you are not tempted to pick up and remove old bottles and cans from the water as these may contain Blue Ring Octopuses.

This can be a very relaxing snorkel as the incoming tide will allow you to slowly drift along and enjoy the view.

The Tanks at Forster (photo: East Coast Photography)
The Tanks at Forster (photo: East Coast Photography)

2. Hayden's Reef & The Tanks, Forster

Along this stretch of coast in Forster is a couple of great spots to snorkel.

Hayden’s Reef which is situated off Second Head in Forster is another fantastic site close to the centre of town. The best way to access this is from Pebbly Beach. Be careful of the rocks as you enter the water. On the swim out to Hayden’s Reef you are likely to see some large rays lying on the sand. This is one of the sites where you are likely to encounter the gentle Grey Nurse shark. Stay on the surface and they are happy to just cruise along underneath you. You are also likely to see Banjo sharks (or Fiddler Rays), Wobbegong sharks, large schools of baitfish, kingfish and turtles.

The Tanks, a popular local swimming spot, is the perfect place to try out snorkelling in the ocean for the first time, perfect for the youngsters. If you wish you can stay within the sheltered protection of the rocks, and when you feel comfortable, it is easy to move out into the more open water.

Swimming at The Tanks, Forster

This is one of the dive sites where you are more likely to encounter a turtle. It is very common to see small Green turtles swimming amongst the weed covered rocks. It is good to remember, when you see a turtle, if you swim quickly towards it, the turtle will feel threatened and swim away quickly, much faster than you can. Just remain calm, try not to kick and splash too much and you will get more time to view the turtle. Port Jackson sharks are also very numerous here.

Confident swimmers can easily snorkel from the Tanks across to Pebbly beach and exit the water there.

3. Burgess Beach, Forster

Burgess Beach offers many interesting rock formations to snorkel around. Snorkelling along the rocks from the southern end of Burgess beach will take across some great weed beds and in amongst some interesting rock gutters. This is a site that is more exposed to swell and the open ocean, so ensure you are comfortable with your ability in the water. Keep an eye out and you are likely to see crayfish peering out from under the many rock ledges. Burgess beach is the perfect spot for a couple of snorkels on the same day, with the beach offering the perfect spot for a picnic between swims.

Again, you are likely to see many fish species here, with some very large Drummer residing among the rocks. Red Morwong are common to see here as well.

Burgess Beach South aerial
The southern section of Burgess Beach is ideal for snorkelling in the right conditions

4. Shelly Beach, Pacific Palms

A short walk through Booti Booti National Park, from the more popular Elizabeth Beach will bring you to the secluded Shelly Beach. When the wind and swell are from the south, this north facing beach offers the perfect spot to snorkel.

Head to the eastern end of the beach and snorkel out along the rock and over the weed beds, like at other sites, there is not much to see over open sand. Wobbegongs are very numerous here and you are likely to see some large specimens. As with all marine species, do not get too close, stay calm and enjoy being in the water with these wonderful animals.

Shelly Beach, Pacific Palms
The eastern end of the beach where you access the best snorkelling on Shelly Beach

Hopefully, this short guide helps you enjoy your snorkelling and encourages you to explore this beautiful stretch of coast. Remember to stay safe and to speak to the experts that run dive centres for the best equipment and more specific advice.

5. Seal Rocks, Myall Lakes National Park

Around 35 minutes’ drive south from Forster lies the small coastal village of Seal Rocks. With two north facing beaches, this is, in my opinion the best snorkelling site in the Barrington Coast. The first beach, appropriately called Number 1 Beach, has some fantastic green weed beds out along the point where it is very common to find both Hawksbill and Green turtles cruising around. The water stays relatively shallow for along way out into the bay and it is very easy to spend an hour or two exploring this dive site. Port Jackson and Wobbegong sharks are common, and you will usually come across a protected Blue Grouper or two as well.

Seal Rocks in my opinion is the best snorkelling site in the Barrington Coast

Around the head land lies Boat Beach, from which you can see Statis Rock, a small rocky island. This is only for the more experienced and capable snorkeller.

Be aware that when the tide is running out, the current between the headland and Statis Rock can get quite strong, and divers and swimmers have required rescue from here in the past. You want a small swell from the south, winds from the south and an incoming tide when you snorkel here.

Enter from the beach and swim across the sand and weed beds to the western edge of Statis Rock. Seal Rocks is a known congregation site of the endangered Grey Nurse shark and it is not uncommon to come across these gentle sharks while snorkelling here. Turtles, Blue Groupers, Wobbegongs and a large diversity of fish make this a day trip to remember. It is also very common for the resident pod of Dolphins to be hanging out in the bay, they quite often get close enough that you can hear their squeaks and whistles under water.

Big Rock, Seal Rocks
Marine life at Seal Rocks
Tom Park 9
Tom Park 14

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