South West Rocks is one of hundreds of small villages that dot the Australian coastline. You know the ones. They all have that laidback vibe with Norfolk Pine-lined streets and a pub directly in front of the beach, but South West Rocks is unique. What makes this town different is when you take a boat up the river, through the heads and take a short ride over to Fish Rock.
On the surface, Fish Rock looks like your average island, but under the water it’s a different story. The diving here is special, with a mix of tropical and temperate fish, but the swim-through cave system is the star. At 120m long, Fish Rock has one of the longest ocean caverns in the Southern Hemisphere.
The cave entrance is around 24 metres beneath the surface. With your trusty flashlight in hand, you enter the cave mouth and are immediately greeted by sleeping Wobbegong and Grey Nurse sharks.
As you ascend through vertical chimneys, being careful not to bump the sides of the cave, you can spot rays, live cowry shells, bryozoan lace corals and more. A subtle clicking sound in the water alerts you to the huge population of painted lobsters that call the cave system home.
The further you pass through the cave, the shallower it gets. When you finally emerge from the darkness on the other side, you’re almost blinded by the light flooding into the cave system.
Thousands of fish, from small brim to protected Grey Nurse Sharks, are silhouetted in the cave opening. Schools of bullseyes swirl around the entrance, enjoying respite from the strong current that passes by the rocks.
A mass of broken shells and corals caught by the current provides a nice spot to kneel down, look around and take stock of the cave swim you’ve just done.
As a scuba instructor I’ve logged thousands of dives, and I’d freely say Fish Rock is up there as one of the best dives I’ve ever done – it’s unique. Beneath the surface it’s like another planet, and you’re boldly going where few people have gone before. For me, this makes SWR a must-visit for any keen diver.
When You Go
Where is South West Rocks:
South West Rocks is around half way between Sydney and Brisbane on the NSW Mid North Coast, just 35km north east of Kempsey and 100km from Port Macquarie. Port Macquarie is serviced by Qantaslink and Virgin Australia.
Where to dive:
Fish Rock Dive Centre
An old-fashioned dive centre providing good quality service and equipment, while still letting you be a diver and not babying you (too much).
134 Gregory Street, South West Rocks NSW 2431
Where to stay:
Seabreeze Beach Hotel
The aforementioned pub located directly in front of the beach offers good value accommodation with a fantastic onsite restaurant and bar.
Cnr Livingstone & Prince of Wales Ave, South West Rocks NSW 2431
What else to do:
South West Rocks has incredible natural beauty and an intriguing convict past. Trial Bay Gaol, a convict built prison designed to house inmates constructing the town’s breakwater, is a fascinating ruin just to the east of the town. Smoky Cape Lighthouse, one of the oldest and tallest in NSW, is also worth a look. Horseshoe Bay is a safe swimming option for families.
– We visited as guests of Seabreeze Beach Hotel & Fish Rock Dive Centre.