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Diving ocean caves - Fish Rock and Cathedral Caves

Written by Agnes Milowka   
Tuesday, 21 December 2010 00:00

Ocean caveYou don't have to be a cave diver to get a taste of diving inside an overhead environment. Ocean caves offer a chance for those curious about caves to see what all the fuss is about, without getting too far away from the light zone and safety. Even if cave diving isn't you, the abundant marine life that often inhabits ocean caves  and caverns should keep you enthralled and entertained.

Two of Australia's best ocean caves spring to mind; Fish Rock Cave in New South Wales and Cathedral Cave down in Tasmania. These sites are amongst my favorite ocean dives in Australia. I dived them before I became a cave diver and continued to dive them even after getting cave certified. No reason not to, these ocean caves are simply incredible.

Fish Rock cave is just off the coast of South West Rocks in NSW. The cave runs straight through the center of a small rocky island and at a 125m (412ft) it is the longest ocean cave in Australia. A typical dive sees you descend into the gutters and down to 24m (79ft) where the deep entrance of the cave is located. This bit is awesome; you descend down in between these huge boulders and big sheer walls and come face to face with a bunch of the resident grey nurse sharks! A close encounter with these sharks is an incredible and very special experience.

Grey nurse sharks are an endangered species and Fish Rock is a safe heaven for some of them. These sharks might look fierce and ferocious but in reality they are gentle creatures and pose no threat to humans. Unfortunately because of their vicious looks and reputation as a man-eater they were killed indiscriminately for many years by recreational spear and line fisherman and their numbers were decimated. Despite the fact that the species has been protected since 1984 (in fact this was the first shark in the world to become a protected species) numbers have been slow to bounce back. It is though that less than 500 grey nurse sharks remain in the east coast waters of Australia today. To see them in their natural habitat and in such large numbers is quite unique. And there really isn't a more exhilarating feeling than coming face to face with a shark, even if you know it's not going to bite you. 

Once you enter the cave it is quite dark inside and a light is a useful addition to the dive kit. It means you can look around the nooks and crannies and you swim through the cave. There is a lot to see, everything from crayfish and crabs to large wobbegong sharks. Once you ascend up one of the narrow chimneys and enter the main section of the cave life seems to overwhelm you. There is an incredible amount of color and a huge variety of fish life. Colorful gorgonian fans adorn the walls of the cave, as do yellow zoanthids, Christmas tree worms and various types of beautiful coral and anemones. There are all kinds of fish, from a wall of bullseye that guard the entrance to the cave, to lion fish, goat fish and blue gropers. Then there are the super cute cuttlefish, large turtles and feisty moray eels to check out and enjoy.

The fish life is overwhelming as there is just so much to see. My favorite part however was simply looking out of the cave at the silhouetted divers and the hundreds of fish… it was just lovely.

Further down south, located in Waterfall Bay on the Tasman Peninsula is Cathedral Cave. This place is no less mind blowing and not just because of its awesome size. Spectacular sea cliffs rise vertically out of the water all around the Eagle Hawk Neck area and this cave has been eroded out in the cliff face by the constant pounding of the waves.

The 16m (52ft) high walls are covered in an array of invertebrates, which means that the inside of the cave is a sea of color. There is life everywhere and you can spend hours looking at the walls; they are covered in everything from yellow zoanthids, anemones, small and large sponges to gorgonians. Then there are the creatures big and small; an abundance of cray fish and hermit crabs, sea spiders, starfish, basket sea stars and nudibranchs, as well as octopus and jellyfish. There is a bunch of different fish too, from leatherjackets, cow fish and butterfly perch, to one of my favorite fish, the long snouted boarfish. Draughtboard sharks swim through the cave and sometimes you can even bump into their egg cases

I still remember my first dive in Cathedral Cave. I was completely overwhelmed and could not believe how big and incredible this place was. The sunlight was streaming in through the huge entrances, of which there are several, which was absolutely stunning. Then to top it all off a cute and friendly seal joined us inside the cave and did acrobatics all around. It was one of those magical dives and the site has remained on my favorite dives list ever since.

Cathedral Cave goes beyond the large chamber and there are a range of tunnels and passageways that lead off deeper into the cliff face. Some of these are quite small and tight and are only a one-man show and when poking around them, wearing more than just a single tank is probably a good idea. There are off course a whole variety of ways you can hurt yourself in an ocean cave, just because the water is salty and there are multiple exit point does not mean you are not in an overhead environment and are completely safe. I guess a specific ocean hazard to be mindful of is swell, when the swell is up small caves on the side of a cliff face are obviously not a good place to be.  

A bunch of different charters head to both Fish Rock and Cathedral Cave, so if you are up for a 'caving' experience with a difference, an ocean cave might be a good choice… and you'll get to meet some of the cute, cuddly and colorful marine creatures out there as an added bonus.