|Diving Nelson Bay||
Halifax Park is one of the premier shore dives in Australia with amazing sponge gardens and extraordinary biodiversity and is situated just a short swim off a beautiful white sandy beach. This beach, however, is a recent addition to the site and the sand that makes up the beach is causing big problems below the water. Divers who visited Halifax Park more than 12 months ago, will remember the site as being on a rocky headland, with entry requiring wading out along a path through oyster covered rocks as shown by the satellite photo from 2006 below. Over the last 9-12 months however sand has been settling at the site burying the rocks, and covering some areas of the sponge gardens as shown by the newer image from 2010 below.
Large parts of the site however are virtually untouched, and the beauty of the sponge gardens is still there for all to see, with the site covering many hundreds of square meters on both sides of the entry area. The shallows now mainly consist of sand, with some barren rocks and lots of long spined urchins. At around 5m there are 2 cairns which are used as a good spot for a safety stop after a dive. The cairns contain some pipes which often harbour Eels, Wirrah, and Maori Cod. These cairns also act as a magnet for tropical fish visiting the area and you will often see Moon Wrasses, Rabbitfish, Emperors, and Cleaner Wrasse nearby. Below 5m the rocks start to become covered in kelp and sponges and the numbers of urchins decrease. As you move deeper the kelp cover decreases, and sponges, small gorgonian fans, ascidians, and telesto corals form a vibrant carpet on every available square meter of the seafloor. This mass of invertebrate life extends for as far as the eye can see, from 5m down to depths of more than 25m. In amongst the carpet of sponges the keen observer will be able to find a huge variety of nudibranchs, cryptic fish, and other hidden treasures. Of course the massed invertebrate life on the bottom attracts huge numbers of fish and the site is renowned for the volume and variety of fish species that can be observed.
The site is suitable for all levels of divers, although it is swept by fierce currents between tides. It is best dived at slack water on a high tide, although drift dives are possible between tides. The visibility is best at high tide when the clear ocean water entering the bay sweeps past the site. Visibility at high tide averages around 8m with more than 12m on exceptional days, but it can be as low as 3m when heavy runoff, strong onshore winds, and small tides reduce water clarity throughout the bay. Visibility at low tide is typically 3m or less, so diving on the low tide is really only an option for divers who enjoy macro diving and are good at navigation.
Halifax Park is well supplied with amenities. There is a caravan park immediately behind the site, so you can gear up and walk to the divesite from your tent site if you are staying there. There is a toilet block and outdoor showers just down the road at Little Beach, and the Café at the Caravan Park “Bites by the Bay” is a great place to get coffee and food and chat about the dive once it is over.
Halifax Park in December 2006
Satellite photo courtesy of Google Earth
Halifax Park in November 2010
Satellite photo courtesy of Nearmap.com