Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Balmoral Baths
The Sydney suburb of Balmoral is located on Middle Harbour. Middle Harbour is located right opposite the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Balmoral is one of Sydney's more exclusive locations, with views from some parts right across Sydney Harbour to the Heads. The waterfront at Balmoral has some very nice spots. There is a pathway that runs right along the water's edge and opposite there are some nice cafes and even a very good and pricy restaurant closer to the water.
Balmoral has a couple of netted swimming enclosures. The first is located opposite the main "town" area and the other is further north. Both are good dives but one is better. The first one is a more traditional swimming enclosure, with a timber wharf and boardwalk being the supporting structure for the shark net. These nets (for non-Australian readers) are very common in places like Sydney Harbour, Botany Bay, Port Hacking and Pittwater. They are meant to protect swimmers from sharks but, in reality, they are more of a "security blanket" to swimmers (see later why I say this). This enclosure is called Balmoral Baths. It is probably best dived at night but it also makes a good day dive.
To find Balmoral Baths, follow these instructions. There are a number of ways to get there but this is one I know works. From Sydney or North Sydney, head along Military Road till you reach the intersection with Spit Road. Go straight ahead on Military Road and around to Mosman shopping centre. Turn left into Raglan Street. Follow this right to then end and you will come to a T intersection. This is The Esplanade. Turn right and you will see that on the left is the water. This is Middle Harbour and you can probably see out towards The Heads.
About 200 metres along you will see some right-angle parking on your left. This is a very good spot to park. There is more parking opposite and also along further and in daylight hours you may need to park in these spots. Once parked, walk to the baths and have a look at where you will enter and exit the water as well as get an appreciation of the length of the dive. Even though the bathing enclosure structure appears to be constructed of a number of straight and right-angled sections, the actual bathing nets does not have these right -angled bits. The net is curved and this can lead to some confusion if you are expecting to come to a corner. I would recommend that you start at the south-eastern corner and work your way around the net in an anti-clockwise direction.
After gearing up, walk down to the water's edge and into the water from the sand. The water is quite shallow here, only a metre or so. Drop to the bottom and start following the net. The net is composed of a large mesh on the inside and outside there is (in parts) a much finer meshed net. There are also pylons on the inside of the net, giving a gap of about one to two metres. Straight away you should see sea horses on the netting. These are nearly all White's sea horses. The sea horses are sometimes quite small, in June 2005 there were quite a few only 20 mm long. As you go, the depth increases to just over four metres. Maximum depth is probably only five metres at high tide.
You will notice that there are lots of sea horses. On a night dive in June 2005 I counted 87 sea horses on the dive. Other things you will (may) see are blue-ringed octopus, heaps of pygmy leatherjackets (some tiny, say 5 mm long), fan-bellied leatherjackets, sole, small yellowtail and seapike. There are also bream and other larger species swimming around.
You will notice that there are plenty of holes in the "shark" net. Some are huge, large enough for the biggest white pointer to fit through without touching the net. In June 2005 there were at least a dozen very large holes and 20 or more smaller holes that permit large fish to get inside the net. Hence, my comment at the start of this article that the nets really just provide a security blanket for swimmers. Most of the shark nets in Sydney are similar, holes galore.
Anyway, as I mentioned, the net runs in what appears to be a straight line (especially at night or in poor visibility) but it actually has a slight curve to it that goes right around 180°. At night you will see lights above and in daylight you should be able to see the timber pool structure to give you some guide. It will take about 40 minutes to go right around the baths. If you are keen, you can go back over the route you have travelled. Otherwise, exit the water on the beach and walk back along the promenade. There is a tap/shower on the steps to the right of the wharf structure where you can wash some of the sand off your booties.
After the dive, you can have morning tea/dinner at one of the cafes, makes a nice after dive relaxation. A very good night dive and not a bad day dive. Worth doing regularly, especially if you like sea horses.