Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Oak Park
Located at the end of the Cronulla Peninsula on the southern outskirts of Sydney, Oak Park is a very popular dive location, especially for learners and novice divers. Oak Park is an excellent "easy" dive for beginners and experts alike and is also a top night dive. This dive site begins at the end of Jibbon Street, Cronulla, adjacent to Oak Park.
The dive site itself is basically a wall which runs in an arc from the shore, first towards the east and then north-east and finally north. The wall is about two to three metres high and has numerous low caverns or overhangs that are home to many beautiful fish. This site is also home to the friendliest blue gropers that you will ever find on a shore dive. The site is fairly protected from southerly winds and seas, but very big swells from that direction and basically anything from the east or north can wipe out this site from an entry/exit point of view. After prolonged periods of heavy rain, Oak Park can be affected by stormwater from Port Hacking, the mouth of which is only a few hundred metres away. Visibility can range from 3 up to 15 metres, averaging 7 to 8 and is marginally better on an incoming tide.
After arriving at the site, you should walk down towards the ocean and while standing above the ocean pool to the right of the beach, examine the sea conditions. Entry and exits can be made from two spots. Normally, I enter the water from the small inlet behind the north-east corner of the pool but at high tide I generally use the right hand (southern) side of the pool as even small swells can roll over the platform, with the potential to knock you off your feet. After deciding on your entry point, gear up in the street or park and then walk down to the water's edge.
|An aerial photo of Oak Park on a very clear and very calm day|
Entry and exit point is either below the pool or top right of pool
This was taken in 1970
For most dives, and especially at low tide, it is better to use the entry/exit point behind the pool (Entry 1 in the above photo). If you enter here, swim out about 20 metres to the south-east before descending. Keep an eye on the seafloor as you snorkel and you will pass over the edge of the wall. Descend here.
|A satellite photo of Oak Park on a very clear and very calm day|
Entry and exit point is either below the pool or top right of pool
This was taken in January 2010 - compare reef to the one above, it has not changed hardly at all
If you are entering through the southern side of the pool (Entry 2), take care when getting in and out as the water is normally very shallow here and there are many rocks on the bottom. Snorkel out at least 10 metres past the end of the pool before dropping to the bottom. The depth here is about 3 metres. Start the dive to the north-east and you will soon encounter the wall at about the same spot as the previous paragraph. There is an alternative dive which starts at this location and I will describe it after the first dive.
Follow the wall to the east, examining all the overhangs. The wall is very well defined for about 25 metres before it breaks up a bit. In this area you can follow one of the cracks or skirt around the edge. After 20 metres the wall is again easy to see and it takes a prominent kink to the north-east. The depth is about 5 metres and ahead you will see a sandy patch. Further on, the wall turns to the east and is very obvious and has the best overhangs.
|A map of Oak Park - Click to enlarge|
Note this map was drawn in the late 1980s
and is not as accurate as I might have liked. The reef
curves a bit more to the left than shown and
you go more towards north for a lot of the dive
|The walls at Oak Park are covered in sea squirts|
If you are not already being followed by one or more blue gropers, they will soon find you and stick right beside you till you leave the water or another diver comes along. There are some nice sponge gardens in this area and about 80 metres from where you started, a low rock ledge goes off to the right with a sandy bottom to the south. This is the bottom of the dark bit under the words Main Wall. The depth here is 7 metres. Note: the sandy bottoms mentioned above are not here in 2009 as the sand has been washed away by big storms, the bottom is rocky reef.
I prefer to follow this ledge and then return via the main wall. Small overhangs can be found along the ledge and excellent sponge gardens on the top. The ledge starts to the south-east but gradually turns to the north-east, sometimes coming very close to the main wall, until eventually you are heading due north. On the way you will pass some large boulder-like formations that are home to many fish. By this time you will have been in the water for 20 to 30 minutes and the ledge has become less prominent. It is over 300 metres from the entry to here.
Until 2009 this took you to the end of the first reef but in 2009, a lot of sand was removed from the lower reef and exposed more rocks. If you follow the lower reef till it ends, you will end up seeing The Sword. This is a mock sword standing upright in a metal base. It is very heavy. I believe that this was put here by a local dive shop. From here, if you head due north, you will hit the start of the second reef.
If you have ended up on the main reef (that is not followed the lower reef to the end, you head due east from here (over the sand) where you will find another wall running north-south about 25 metres distant (Second Reef on photo). When you meet this second wall, follow it to the south and it turns sharply on a corner towards the east and goes for quite a way. Until my 30th dive here, I had not gone more than 50 to 75 metres past this corner.
If you go about 50 metres past the corner and then go up over the wall onto the reef top you will see a smaller wall/ledge. This runs at 45° to the main wall (roughly in a north-easterly direction). If you follow this it comes to a drop off called "Fish Soup". This is 20 minutes constant swimming from the pool. There are normally large schools of old wife, bastard trumpeter, luderick and bream here. Follow the ledge back to the corner. If you have been to Fish Soup, you should head straight back to the shore as this is about all you will manage on your air.
If you have only gone a little way along the second reef, you can explore a bit more in this area. Head back along this reef/wall to the west. From the corner go to the north with the wall on your right. It continues in this direction for 30 to 40 metres before petering out and after another 15 metres it reappears. If the visibility is good, you will see the main reef to your left. Until July 2007 there was a urinal on the sand here but about then it was moved about 75 metres to the south-west. It would have been a hell of a job as it is an old vitreous china urinal. I was originally told that it came from the old Northies Hotel in Cronulla. However, I now know that it came from an old church that was being demolished. This was near Cronulla Dive which was on The Kingsway (where Aquatic Explorers is now). The owner of the dive shop, Neil Robinson, salvaged it before the church was bulldozed and together with some of his divers, he put it out here as a bit of a lark. The urinal was moved back to this location on 6 December 2007.
About 20 metres past here is "Meditation Cave" (to left of the notation Cave on the photo above). This small cave is able to hold four divers at a squeeze. For a long time there was a gnome in here but in June 2001 he had lost his head and since January 2006 he is not there at all.
Past here both this wall and the main wall meet, but as the depth has decreased, they virtually disappear and you end up on the top of the reef. To get back to the pool, you will have to back track. After examining the cave, go back towards the corner with the wall on your left. About 45 metres past the cave you will see a low ledge on your right, follow this now (on your right).
|A huge dusky flathead at Oak Park||A sea dragon at Oak Park|
You will soon see the main wall. As indicated above, at first it is not very distinct (it is easy to get confused in this area at night) but basically the left edge of the thick kelp bed marks the wall. On the photo above, the wall is the bottom of the white colour. Keeping it on your right, follow the wall back towards the shore.
You will meet more overhangs along the wall. These frequently contain crayfish, cuttlefish and eastern blue devilfish as well as firefish. After 50 metres you will come across a section of the wall which extends out a bit over the low rock ledge. Here you can go out to the sand or follow the crack which runs in the same direction (west) as the wall. Past here are some very large boulders which make interesting canyons. Keep following the wall until you meet the spot where you started. Return back to your entry point underwater.
After entering the water south of the pool, head south-east over the rocky kelp covered bottom till you hit the sand. This will take about five minutes and the depth will be about eight metres. You will be to the left of the Deeper Wall notation on the photo. Turn left and follow this reef edge. The reef edge becomes a small wall with overhangs and the depth increases to about 10 metres. The edge runs north at first but then turns east for quite a while. It then turns to the north-east and then finally north. The wall is fairly prominent in spots with some large boulders off the edge in at least one place. However, for most of the length it is quite low. There are some sponges and sea tulips along this section. The edge ends a few times but you merely have to swim at right-angles to your left (mostly north) and you will pick it up again. There is a rocking horse from a council park on the sand near where this wall meets the ledge. As mentioned above, in 2009 a lot of sand was removed by storms and the reef goes further east than before. Where it ends you will see The Sword. From here it is about 20 metres due north to the Second Reef.
Finally, you will be heading north and after about 20 to 25 minutes you will be approaching the second reef. As mentioned, now you are more likely to end up right on the second reef. Go over to the second reef and follow this to the north (left) to Meditation Cave. Return as described in Option One above.
Crimson-banded wrasse, maori wrasse, beardie, yellowtail, herring cale, black-spot goatfish, ladder-finned pomfret, common bullseye, mado, cuttlefish, white ear, sergeant baker, red morwong, orange-lined wrasse, velvet leatherjacket, rough leatherjacket can be seen. Especially prominent are the blue groper, including Aristotle (this groper has a notch out of his back from a spearfisher - he has been at Oak Park since at least 1989 and I have seen in 2006), which are extremely friendly and will follow you around seeking a meal of sea urchins. Under the overhangs you may see eastern blue devilfish, moray eels, knightfish (pineapplefish) and quite often firefish. On the sand you may see angelsharks (beware, they bite), rays and numbfish as well as flathead and blue swimmer crabs.
One of Sydney's easiest but still interesting dives. We do this a fair bit as a night dive and afterwards have a barbecue using the free electric barbecues in the park.