Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Pizza (Fish) Reef
South-western mark Line white mark to left of notch on skyline
As I have often stated, the best diving in Sydney is located off the southern side of the metropolitan area. The protection offered by Royal National Park, the world's second oldest, has kept the reefs virtually pristine and unaffected by civilisation. The Hacking River which flows into Port Hacking is the only source of freshwater in the area. As the majority of the river's catchment is within the national park, there is very little run-off from suburban streets. This contributes to the cleanliness of the ocean in this area and therefore, the excellent condition of the reefs as little silt is deposited on the marine life.
Just outside Port Hacking is Jibbon Bombora. This submerged reef is a well known feature and dive site. Just off the south-eastern corner of the bombora there is a site that until recent years was not well know. It is called Pizza Reef or Fish Reef (not to be confused with the older dive site called Fish Reef that was located just south of Jibbon Bombora). I prefer to call it by the name Pizza Reef as this is a very descriptive and apt name as well as being more original.
Pizza Reef is located at a GPS Reading of 34° 05' 03"S 151° 10' 43"E. Note that all the GPS Readings on my Web Site are taken using AUS66 as the map datum. If you use another datum you may be about 220 metres off the wreck. See my GPS Page for more details and how to convert readings. This site can be quite difficult to find at times. This is due to the small size of the reef. Basically, it is a round or oblong shaped reef that rises from a sandy bottom at 27 metres to about 22 metres.
Bastard trumpeters in front of the cave
Robyn Hewitt and sea tulips
Line up the north-western mark as shown above (these are two blocks of units at Cronulla) and run towards it till the other mark lines up. The other mark is the located by finding the notch in the skyline to south-west and lining up the white mark (actually sand on a walking track) to the left as shown. You should see the bottom go from flat sand (27 metres) to a low reef (25 metres), rising till 23 metres and then dropping in one go to 27 metres. In northerly winds anchor here. In other winds, turn around and anchor on the reef top.
The main part of the reef is about 70 metres long (N-S) and perhaps 30 metres wide (E-W). There are small overhangs virtually all the way around, with some bigger ones here and there. On the northern side of the reef there is a larger cave that can be entered. There are a number of cracks and small canyons that criss-cross the reef. One runs from near the cave along the eastern side and a large gully runs north-south right across the middle of the whole reef (breaking the reef into two). This even smaller adjacent reef is located 10 metres to the east and runs about 50 metres north-south and 30 metres east-west. It is easy to swim right around the whole reef, doing a figure 8 so you go down the gully. I would suggest heading to the sand once you reach the bottom and follow the reef in one direction. When you come to the gully, you can explore that and at the other end, either continue around the section of reef you are on or go around the other one in the opposite direction. Eventually you should end up back where you started.
The average depth on a dive here would be more than 25 metres and therefore you only get about 22 minutes or so on the bottom using the average dive computer. This is more than enough time to explore the whole reef.
Long-snouted boarfish at Pizza Reef
Phil Rose and a large gorgonia at Pizza Reef
Off the south-eastern, eastern, north-eastern, north-western and western sides there are many small boulders that are also interesting. The reef out to the east and north-east is very good and perhaps the easiest to explore. Follow the reef out this way and then return back to the main reef. The eastern and southern edge here is quite distinct and not easily able to confuse you. If you go to the north from the main cave you will hit another reef. You can follow this to the west (and north). This is called KFC (since there is always one near a Pizza Hut).
The top and sides of the reef are literally covered with fixed marine growth. Gorgonias of many colours can be seen on the sides of the reef, especially in the small gaps between the rocks. Sponges, sea squirts and ascidians are plentiful and very colourful. This site has some of the most colourful life you will see anywhere.
An eastern blue devilfish at Pizza Reef
A clavicle of a whale, probably a humpback
As for fishlife, the area in front of the small cave on the northern side is always home to a large school of bastard (Tassie or Tasmanian) trumpeters. If they are not there, they will be about 15 metres to the east at the head of the gully (80 here in June 2001). There are also some normally found over the rocks on the south-eastern corner and sometimes on the eastern side (I saw about 70 there in April 2001 - 20 in June 2001). There are also some mosaic leatherjackets around as well as black reef and six-spined leatherjackets. Together with bream, seapike, trevally and yellowtail, they move over the reef in perpetual motion. The yellowtail and seapike are very prolific, specially on the southern and western sides.
There are also lots of nudibranchs to see. Of interest, starting in about 2015 we have been seeing the rare donut nembrotha. These used to be only seen at Cabbage Tree Island at Port Stephens as they live and feed on purple ascidians which were also only found there. In 2010 we started seeing them at nearby Barrens Hut/The Split. Now these ascidians are all over the lower sections of Pizza Reef, mostly on the north-west, western and southern sides. We have seen as many as six donut nembrothas on a dive. Check out the flat rocks off the southern end of the reef.
In March 2002 I saw a tiny sea dragon, 30 mm long, in front of the cave, on the eastern side between the first isolated rock and the main reef. This is the smallest one I have ever seen and means that this was hatched only a few days before. Unfortunately, it was not there on subesquent dives. For more information about sea dragons, see my Sea Dragon Page.
In June 2002 we had three humpback whales swim right past the boat as we were about to anchor. One swam under the boat (we could see it from the surface) and the other two surfaced only five metres in front of the bow. Amazing! Over the years we have found many bones from a whale, probably a humpback. We have seen huge ribs and vertebrae. These have been seen on the southern and western side of the reef. In mid-2006 we found a huge clavicle from a whale on the southern side. It seems that these bones get buried and unburied by sand.
These are donut nembrotha nudibranchs - these are normally only found at Cabbage Tree Island at Port Stephens. After first seeing them at a nearby site in 2010, we now see them here as well
Under the small overhangs you can always see some small cuttlefish and moray eels and on the sand there are often serpent eels and numbrays. Eastern blue devilfish can be found under the small overhangs on the northern and western sides as well as in the gully. There is normally one at the northern or southern end of the gully. I have seen blind sharks on the northern side. In winter there are often Port Jackson sharks all over the reef.
In October and November 2000 we saw a seal on this site. I saw it on the bottom, swooping through the fish and then, while doing our safety stop, the seal came right up to us, only two metres from us, and looked us over for more than a minute. Since then we have seen seals quite regularly here.
All in all, this is one of the best reef dives in Sydney.
A video made using timelapse photography on 5 May 2012. First part is in front of the cave.