Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Secluded Cemetery
One of the most undived sections of the Sydney coastline is the area immediately to the north of Botany Bay. There are a number of reasons for this, the main one being that up until the very early 1990s the main Sydney sewerage outlet used to be located a couple of kilometres from here at Malabar and the resultant filth made the area a hazardous dive location. In addition, there is no easy access for shore diving along a large section of the coast and no dive charter boat operates out of this area (at least every weekend).
Although in the past there were two boats that used to dive from here, they have now both ceased to operate. The first was a large rubber ducky that went by the way because it was over-priced considering the level of comfort on the boat. The other boat only operated out of Botany Bay on occasions. When it did, it mostly concentrated on the wreck dives of the Kelloe, the SS Woniora and Malabar. In recent years a couple of boats have run out of Botany Bay but mostly to shuttle divers from Malabar to the grey nurse sharks at Magic Point, South Maroubra. These boats include Sydney Dive Academy at Matraville and Frog Dive.
I have always found this situation to be quite amazing considering the quality of diving to be found in this area. Many years ago I often chartered Les Caterson's Cat Dive (when he owned it) to travel up from Port Hacking to dive the reefs and wrecks of the south-eastern suburbs. We used to dive Wedding Cake Island, Mahon Pool at Maroubra, the back of the Long Bay Rifle Range, the MV Malabar, Cape Banks and Henry Head. From my shore dives and this boat diving I knew that there was far more to offer, but I did not have the means to explore the area further.
In the years after Les sold Cat Dive and devoted more time to diving himself, we have explored the southern coastline of Sydney in more detail using the boat that we jointly own. We have only visited those sections of the coast that are not available to shore diving and that we have not dived before.
One of the sites we found we named the Secluded Cemetery. On the boundary of St Michael's Golf Club at Little Bay (about 1.5 kilometres from the tip of Cape Banks) there is a very old cemetery that houses the remains of people who died in the old Coast Hospital (Prince Henry but now almost closed down). This site is located straight off the southern end of the cemetery and can be found by running in on a small distinctive post that is on the skyline on the top of the cliff. This is just before the high cliff drops down to a lower cliff.
The reef here comes up from a sandy/rocky bottom at about 25 metres to about 18 metres in a couple of steps. While the bottom here is mostly sand, there are heaps of rocks around and the main part of the reef actually goes down to 50 metres in a very slow, gradual slope. Only a 150 metres or so off the shore, the actual site is in pristine condition. After anchoring on the edge of the wall, it is easy to explore the wall to the north and south as well as the rocks out on the sand bottom. In some places there are some quite nice sponge gardens and a couple of small overhangs. On the times I have dived along this section of the coast, the fishlife has been quite prolific. Black reef leatherjackets, bream, yellowtail, silver sweep, one spot pullers and sea pike are to be found as well as less common species like blue morwong, fiddler rays, yellowtail kingfish, eastern blue devilfish and sea dragons.
The top of the reef is mostly covered in kelp and is fairly flat as it rises towards the shore. The first drop is about four metresor so and the bottom of the wall has large rocks scattered over the floor. Another smaller wall of a metre drops to the sand. Generally the wall runs north-south parallel to the shore but in some spots it turns in towards the land and makes a large bay before again returning to the main orientation. It is possible to start your dive in the deeper water and, if the seas are calm enough, finish in the shallows to gain the most time from your dive.
An alternate to diving in just this area is to do a drift dive from here to the south. With a following slight current it is possible to pass by the Pistol Crack and end up almost at the end of Cape Banks. It is easy to get as far as the spot where Cape Banks breaks from the "mainland" which gives a dive of about 800 metres.
On my most recent dive here we had excellent visibility, say 25 metres. A slight current from the north meant we could do it as a drift dive and enjoy the whole area.