Abyss Scuba Diving

Shiprock Aquatic Reserve


Shiprock Aquatic Reserve

Sydney has lots of great shore dives with Shiprock at Lilli Pilli being one of them. This site is very different to most of the other sites as it is in the port hacking river so is always flat, it has an 18 meter drop off right off the shore and it was the first marine reserve in Sydney so there is lots to see. Ship rock is located at the end of Ship rock road, at Lilli Pilli. It is a small colder sac and at the end there is a walk through to the water.

The site has a gate at the entrance to the stairs you walk down. It is open 7am -9pm so can only be dives between these hours. There is a fair few stair to walk down and then of course walk back after the dive. They are wide and you can stop and have a rest halfway if needed. Year ago, it was a dirt track with a rope halfway along to pull yourself up. The new stairs are now greatly apricated by the divers. 

As the dive site is in the river it is very tidal. It needs to be dived on High tide, if you do not do it at this time, you will not be able to swim against the water movement and will be sent up the river or out to sea. The site is in a shipping channel, so you do need a dive flag. You need to make sure if you get lost you swim back over the wall and up into the shallow 5m area near the shoreline before you surface.  Well with all that safety stuff covered let’s go into the fun stuff.


The unique marine environment with string currents has made it is perfect dive site with over 130 species of fish that have been recorded in this small area. When we have the warmer water, tropical species drop into shiprock on East Australian Current, so expect the unexpected.

 Ship rock is a beautiful dive with so much to see. The wall just comes alive with decorator crabs (crabs with soft sponges on their shells) and soft sponges moving in the current. As it is a wall dive it is quite easy to navigate keep the wall on one side and then turn and keep the wall on the other on the way back. The base of the wall is in about 16m, there is some bommies just off the wall that are worth exploring. If it is your first time at the site just keep the wall in view so you do not get disorientated.

As you first drop over the wall, I normally keep the wall on my right and swim about 20m and you will see a flat rock on the ocean floor. This is where the is a bubble cave. Two divers can stand on the ocean floor and have there head out of the water in the bubble cave. Try not to breath the air in the cave, it can be stale. This site is not known for its amazing visibility although is not a site that you need great vis to enjoy a dive here. It is one that is great to have a light on to bring out the colour, also there is lots of little over hangs with creatures hiding.

This site is one you are not allowed to fish at. There is a big sign at the site saying no fishing, although sometime the fisherman sit on boats and may not see this sign. Sometimes I find I am so focused on the wall I forget to look up. It is definitely worth spending a min looking up as there is generally a lot of schooling fish mid water just off the wall.  One of my favourite creatures to see at ship rock is the pineapple fish. You will know when you see these ones as they do look like a pineapple. They are normally at the bottom of the wall under a ledge. I prefer a night dive at this site rather then a day dive. Using a light at night really focuses your attention to a lot that you miss during the day.

Remember after the dive head into the shallow water before surfacing as the actually dive site is in the shipping channel and you do not want a boat to take your head off. Also be careful at the exit there is some oyster on rocks just under the surface, so gloves are always good. Now for the walk back up the stairs to the car. I know there is a lot of excitement about what you seen on the dive with your buddy but please try and be quite when taking your gear down as it is a residential area and lets not upset the neighbours.

What Divers Say About Shiprock


By Rachael Fallon