"Shiprock is a fantastic dive with prolific fishlife at most times"
Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Fly Point
One of the best dives at Nelson Bay (Port Stephens) is Fly Point. Fly Point is part of the Fly Point/Halifax Park Aquatic Reserve which extends from just south of Fly Point north to past Halifax Park and 500 metres seaward. Fishing is banned in the reserve (except from two wharves and the beach in between these wharves) as is spearfishing and collecting. Fly Point is located to the north-east of the main marina and is reached by going past the roundabout, along the beach front and where the main road turns to the right, go straight ahead. There is a small car park here opposite a large park where you can gear up. The car park can get busy and it is worth getting there early on summer weekends.
Fly Point - dive starts and ends at stairs middle left
Yellowtail Angelfish This photo taken at Shiprock but identical to one seen at Fly Point March 2005
Blue groper Photo taken March 2007
It is best to start the dive about right on high tide at Fort Denison in Sydney Harbour. This is actually about 20 minutes before high tide here and enables you to drift with the tide for 20 minutes or so before returning with the tide. It can sometimes go for about 30 minutes. Normally there is little slack time.
When tides are very high (say 1.8 to 2.0 metres), the water moves very fast but when the tides are about 1.5 metres it is quite easy to swim against. If there is a high low tide before and/or after the high tide, the slack period can last for over an hour. If you want to dive here before high tide, see the Fly Point Drift article or the Fly Point to Sewage Pipe Drift article.
There is a set of stairs at Fly Point that leads down from the car park to the water's edge where there is a path cleared of rocks into the water. Once in the water, descend straight away and swim out due north. You will see large schools of bream, small snapper, luderick, mullet, trumpeter as well as whiting and flathead.
Two of the gnomes that can be seen at Fly Point
Two sweet chromodorids mating at Fly Point
The bottom drops over a small slope at five metres and another at eight metres. Turn left here and drift with the current. You will be heading roughly west and you will get deeper to 11 metres and then drop again to 12 or 13 metres deep. There is a small wall here with some small overhangs. The reef runs to the west or south-west. The reef is not continuous and is broken up with sand spots and the wall in most places becomes a prominent slope.
You will find large schools of yellowtail, bream, snapper here as well as moasic and yellow-finned leatherjackets. Look under the the small overhangs and you may find other surprises. I have seen up to eight pineapplefish in one spot, two cowries and numerous moasic and moray eels here.
Two Pineapplefish at Fly Point Photo taken March 2005
Two more Pineapplefish at Fly Point Photo taken October 2006
In this area there are sometimes tropical fish such as small long-finned bannerfish, coral trout (or similar), yellowtail angelfish, other species of butterflyfish and other species that I have not been able to identify. I even know of someone who found 10 crayfish under one overhang, although I have only seen one at a time.
There is also a plaque in this area. I do not know what it says as the lettering is faint and not raised. It appears to be a poem about Fly Point (?). There is often some garden gnomes near the plaque or under the overhangs. In October 2006 there were three. There are also the remains of many scientific experiments on the floor. These are stainless steel rods in the shape of a box but they are now covered in heavy growth and as such, the experiment seems to have finished ages ago.
Another pineapplefish at Fly Point Photo taken March 2007
A close up of the pineapplefish at left Note the luminescent organ under the eye
You will have been in the water about 10 minutes. From here, drop a bit deeper to 16 or almost 18 metres and go with the tide. You will be heading mostly west and gradually it turns a bit to the south. After five or 10 minutes come up a bit (you will have started heading south) by turning left a bit and going east. At 13 metres you will come across a low wall or slope. Follow this south till the tide eases or till you have been in the water 20 to 25 minutes. Along the wall there are some small bommies off the wall. There are some spots where the fishlife is prolific. Luderick, bream and small snapper are very common in large numbers.
Yellow-finned Leatherjacket Photo taken March 2007
Moasic Leatherjacket Photo taken March 2007
Once you turn around, return back towards the start, staying on the top of the wall or slope. Look under the small overhangs as you go. You will almost certainly see some pineapplefish in this area (they sometimes seem to be a much brighter yellow than those from Sydney). Note the luminescent organ under the eye in the photograph above right. Although this appears to be orange or red in daylight, the glow is blue or greenish at night. Have a look at everything as you go, there is so much to see. Especially see all the orange finger sponges. Nearly every one of these seems to be home to at least one decorator crab as in the photograph below right.
Decorator Crab Photo taken March 2007
Colourful nudibranch Photo taken March 2007
A very small sea spider Photo taken May 2012
Red-lined flabellina Photo taken May 2012
Once back near where you started, head back into the shallows (look out for the scientific experiments and plaque to judge your location) by heading east for at least three or four minutes before turning south-east and then south.
This is a very good shore dive, but only suitable for more experienced divers or those under close supervision of experienced divers. Under no circumstances should you ever surface on this dive if you lose your buddy as there are dozens of boats traversing this dive site. Make sure that you head east until you are in less than two metres before surfacing.