Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - The Gutter Sponge Gardens
The Bass Point Reserve is one of a number of dive sites in the Shellharbour area which are regularly dived by Sydney divers. Located only 105 kilometres south of the centre of Sydney (no more than one and a half hours drive from most spots) on the southern edge of Wollongong, Shellharbour is very popular with divers, especially those from the southern and western suburbs of Sydney. The most popular dive sites are found in or off this reserve which is just to the south of Shellharbour township. The dive sites include Bushrangers Bay, The Gutter, The Arch, The Holes, The Gravel Loader and Beaky Bay as well as the remains of the ships SS Cities Service Boston, Alexander Berry and Our Own.
One of the great things about diving at Bass Point is the fact that the reserve is an excellent place to stay for a whole day, doing two or even three dives with a barbecue or picnic lunch on the grassy lawns. Note: no barbecues are provided but there are picnic tables. Also note that since December 2001 the council has been closing the whole Bass Point reserve (as well as some parts outside) during periods of Total Fire Ban. Ridiculous!!! (Note that I am a professional bush fire fighter so I think I can comment on this decision).
From Sydney, you travel to Shellharbour by following the southern tollway south from Waterfall, past the Wollongong exit and take the Five Islands Road. Follow this over the Lake Illawarra entrance past Warilla, Wingdang, Barrack Heights till you approach the huge Shellharbour Workers Club. Just before this, you will see a sign pointing to Shellharbour off to the left. This road takes you into the town's main street. Prominent signs lead you to Bass Point Reserve. The area's two dive shops are located in the main street. I can recommend Shellharbour Scuba Centre for service and price for your airfills. They are located at the bottom of the street.
|The Gutter The entry and exit|
points as mentioned by me are middle left
|The Gutter is the very obvious crack|
You will see the gravel loader as you approach the reserve. Right at the loader is the entrance to the reserve. Follow the dirt road for almost two kilometres until you see a parking area on your left. Try to park as close as you can to the north-western corner of the car park as this will give you the shortest walk to the start of the dive.
The Gutter gets its name from quite a large incision into the rock platform and grassed area. If you have a copy of Tom Byron's Southern NSW book do not be fooled by the diagram of the site as it gives a false impression of the dive site. In reality, The Gutter itself is quite small and is not a dive site except as far as being an entry and exit section to a larger dive site. Really you only spend a minute or so in it while entering and exiting the water. After walking across the grassed area you cross the rock platform and, depending on the tide, enter the water at the most suitable location.
This dive is a variation on the normal Gutter dive. It goes to the sponge gardens which are located far further north than you normally would go.
Once you are in the water, descend to the bottom where it is about three or four metres. Start swimming to the north along the bottom of the prominent gutter. As you go the width of The Gutter increases and eventually you will lose sight of one side or the other. I suggest following the western side (that is, keeping the wall on your left). The bottom is composed of small rocks and they are covered by kelp. In fact, the kelp has increased dramatically over the years since I first dived here, probably because divers have been (and still are) killing sea urchins to feed the fish. The urchins feed on kelp and used to keep them under control. DO NOT KILL SEA URCHINS!!!
You should not linger as you head out to the Sponge Gardens. On the way back you can go slow as you will have a better idea of how much air you have left. As you go the wall on the left becomes a more gentle slope and it is a bit barer. It has some sponges and sea squirts on it and generally there are many bulleyes and ladder-finned pomfrets. After a 100 metres or so there is a small canyon on your left. The depth here is about 18 metres. Keep following the wall.
|Some sea tulips at the spnge gardens||An angleshark with Kelly McFadyen|
This angelshark followed us for about five minutes
The natural way to go is pretty clear and you follow the slope till you come to the end of the wall. This will take you less than 10 minutes. From here, swim due north for about 40 metres. This will take you across some sand with large and small rocks on either side. The depth drops to 20 metres and soon after to 22 to 23 metres. When you encounter the sponge garden, zig-zag around and look at all the rocks. There are many beautiful scenes. Most of the marine life are sea tulips, many different colours. There are also a few small gorgonias. I have seen a alrge bull-ray in this area and in mid-2006 I saw a small angelshark. Cuttlefish are also commonly seen. I would head east from where you first hit the garden.
|Kelly and some more|
of the The Gutter Sponge Gardens
After about 25 to 30 minutes you will probably need to start back. Take your time unless you have not much air left. Head south until you hit one of the Gutter's walls. Follow this back to the main section of The Gutter. You may see some sea dragons as you go.
Gradually the depth comes up from 22 metres to 14 then 8 before you enter The Gutter where it is five metres. When you are in three metres, surface and find a good exit spot (in low tides, on the point, high tide further up the gutter). It is a fairly easy exit.
On this dive you will not usually see big fish, although the usual red morwongs, striped seapike, various leatherjackets and bream are often seen. The big attraction of this dive is the smaller fishlife and macro-life, including nudibranches. Cuttlefish, squid, moray eel, eastern hulafish, pygmy leatherjacket, old wife are commonly sighted. There is nearly always a large ray at the mouth of The Gutter.
This dive site is protected from southerly winds and even in gale force southerlies, you can dive here in comfort. However, due to the depth and distance from shore, I would not recommend this for inexperienced divers.
If you are going to dive Bass Point, I suggest taking a picnic or BBQ lunch and resting after your first dive on the grassy area. There are toilets but no water so bring all you need. A great spot for a relaxed, family double dive.