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NSW might not have the same reputation for snorkelling as Western Australia's Ningaloo Reef or Queensland's Great Barrier Reef, however, according to local know-how and my personal experience, there are some still great snorkelling opportunities to be had in the southern state.
Here's a taste of where you can go and what you can see beneath the sea. What's your own experience and what you can add to the list?
Government protection (since 1998) has helped conserve the creatures of the sheltered bay. As a result, Jervis Bay National Park remains one of Australia's best places for snorkelling.
Where is it? About 180 kilometres south of Sydney on the South Coast.
Where to head The best spots for snorkelling are the Murray's Beach boat ramp and Hyams Beach (famous for its white sand).
What you'll see Different species hang out in different parts of the bay. For example, Hyam's Beach seems to be a hangout for squid and cuttlefish. I've also seen piped seahorses (they look like stripy worms), a Port Jackson shark and starfish snorkelling off the beach. Though it's probably not what you had in mind, a Great White shark was also spotted there once and appeared in the daily paper, which freaked me and a lot of others out. While people rave about Greenpatch, this part of the bay is best for swimming and not huge on snorkelling opportunities, although I have seen many sting-rays here. Murray's Beach, near the boat ramp, is a good site for large sting-rays and gropers and other tropical fish.
If you're lucky, you may catch sight of the dolphins or the whales that visit the bay. Seals and penguins also live in the area.
Tip Bring your own snorkelling gear, food and drink as there are no shops here.
On land, be beguiled by the friendly kangaroos and keep your lunch well hidden from the feral parrots.
Jervis Bay - One of the best snorkelling locations in NSW
LORD HOWE ISLAND
The high-end option – as it will require spending a fair bit to get and stay there, but as one of the world's most beautiful islands, well worth it. The World Heritage Listed island remains a largely untouched paradise and a cornucopia for unique flora, fauna and sea-life and is the world's southernmost coral reef and NSW's only fringing coral reef lagoon.
Where is it?
The island lies 600 kilometres off the NSW North Coast in the Tasman Sea at the same latitude as Port Macquarie. It's around a 2-hour flight from Sydney airport, which is how it's typically accessed. Unless you want to take your own yacht.
Where to head
The whole area is a protected marine sanctuary and set up for snorkelling and tourism. Measuring just 11 x 3 kilometres, the island is full of easily accessible snorkelling sites like Erscott's Hole, Neds Beach, and Lagoon Beach. Take one of the islands snorkelling tours or enjoy the sights from a glass-bottomed boat.
What you'll see
Coral, fish, reef sharks, parrot fish, stingrays and potentially dolphins, turtles, marlins and rarer, more unusual species like Spanish dancers, double-headed wrasse, and Galapagos whalers.
The beach is actually a narrow channel of sea held between two projecting fingers of rock. As such, it's a safe and calm spot, popular with families with a laid-back, casual atmosphere. While it's not as flooded with sea creatures as some other sites, it's one of the most popular and well-known snorkelling spots in Sydney and is worth a mention here as a great spot for beginners and children. The marine life here are used to humans ogling at them, which means you can also get close. However, don't be that person who once illegally spearfished one of the popular, friendly gropers, igniting the anger of the local community and robbing many more of their snorkelling pleasures.
Where is it?
Clovelly is a small Eastern suburb of Sydney located 8kms south-east of Sydney CBD. Clovelly Beach is located on Clovelly Road. There is parking in the residential streets surrounding, but there's also a designated parking area (accessed via Victory Street at the end of Clovelly Road) with spaces for 300 cars.
What you'll see
Gropers, octopi, schooling fish and sea plants including sea sponges. In a crevice of the rock ledge under the water, an octopus and I once engaged in a stare-off here, which was rather unnerving.
Unless things have changed since my last visit, shade is virtually non-existent, so bring sunscreen, quality hats and so on. Fold-out chairs and picnic rugs are also a good idea.
Facilities include toilets and showers and an eatery – the Seasalt Café and Kiosk.
There is also a small swimming pool alongside the bay. If snorkelling and swimming aren't enough, check out the views and coastal flora along the Coastal Walkway.
Clovelly is a patrolled beach with its own surf life-saving club.
There's wheelchair access to the rock pool.
According to experts, other great places to snorkel across NSW include the following. If you've visited, or are an experienced snorkeler, feel free to add to the conversation. And if you know of another great spot, add some info in the comments.
Julian Rocks Marine Reserve, Byron Bay
A rock platform about 2.5 km off Byron Bay's shore is the site of a thriving marine reserve).
The seaside town has great snorkelling offshore at Fly Point or take a boat trip out to Broughton Island and check out the channel in the middle of the island. If at Fly Point keep away from oyster rocks – you don't want to be caught there when the tide comes in.
Located in the Bronte-Coogee Aquatic Reserve between Clovelly and Coogee, Gordon's Bay has a dedicated underwater nature trail.
It's home to snapper, kingfish, gropers, anemones, cuttlefish and nudibranch and other species.
Easily accessed from the beach and safe for children. It's next to the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve and a 20-minute walk from Manly Beach. The underwater creatures include squid, Port Jackson sharks and more.
Cabbage Tree Bay
Lies in between Manly and Shelly Beach. It's a protected marine sanctuary and a good site for giant cuttlefish, yellowfin bream and stingrays.
Bare Island, La Perouse
Bare Island is off the coast of La Perouse. See Sydney Pygmy Pipehorse, puffer fish and if you're lucky the Red Foreheadfish.
Located in Sydney's south-east, Little Bay is also suitable for beginners and families and home to schools of small fish, anemones, squid and sea urchins.
Solitary Islands Marine Park, Coffs Harbour
The third largest marine protected area in New South Wales. A number of tour operators offer snorkelling and dive tours off the islands of the park.
Tathra boat ramp
Tathra is a seaside town on the far South Coast. If you're lucky you might glimpse fur seals or fairy penguins from nearby Montague Island.
Long Reef Aquatic Reserve is located next to Collaroy Beach, on Sydney's northern beaches about 20 km north of Sydney city. Snorkelling is usually done from Fisherman's Beach.