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If we had to pick the most beautiful spot for snorkeling around Sydney, Shelly Beach would probably be our first choice! A small sheltered bay protected for more than 20 years by the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, with renowned species to encounter such as the Eastern blue groper, the Dusky flathead, or the Port Jackson shark… a top snorkeling location!

Dusky flathead at Shelly Beach
The Dusky flathead is common is Shelly Beach, but can be hard to spot when well hidden in the sand.

How to get to Shelly Beach snorkeling spot?

Shelly Beach is easily reached by foot from Manly, Sydney’s famous seaside resort. At the southern tip of Manly Beach, there is a small path along the seashore, the Marine Parade, that leads you to Shelly Beach on foot (10 minutes). If you come by car, there’s a parking lot in the back of the beach.

Shelly Beach - Cabbage Tree Bay snorkeling map.
Shelly Beach – Cabbage Tree Bay snorkeling map.

Water entrance for snorkeling Shelly Beach

The water entrance is from Shelly Beach (snorkel entry 1 on the map above), or the small Fairy Bower Beach, located on the Marine Parade, halfway between Manly Beach and Shelly Beach (snorkel entry 2 on the map).

Shelly Beach snorkeling tips and recommendations

You can explore the whole small bay, which is well protected in the north (to your right when you are on the beach, facing the sea) by a “barrier” of rocks. The seabed starts as completely sandy from the beach (↕2-5 feet/0.5-1.5 meters) and then begins to change to seagrass meadows, rocks covered with kelp, and sandy areas (↕5-10 feet/1.5-3 meters).

Shelly Beach, Manly
Shelly Beach, Manly.

When you reach the center of the bay, you will find deeper areas (↕12-15 feet/4-5 meters). When the sea is calm, it is possible to snorkel all the way from/to Shelly Beach and Manly Beach, following the rocky coast (about 800 meters).

Shelly Beach is part of the Cabbage Tree Aquatic Reserve, where fishing has been banned since 2002. The fish are plentiful, and not shy at all. The “barrier” of rocks is undoubtedly the most lively area to explore.

Snorkeling with blue groper at Shelly Beach
Shelly Beach is one of the very best places in New South Wales to spot the iconic Eastern blue groper.

This is where you’ll spot Maori wrasse, schools of Mado, Rock cal, and the famous Eastern blue groper as well. The male, which can reach 35 inches/90 cm in length, has a beautiful blue color.

In deeper areas, you can be surprised to find Dusky flatheads (often well camouflaged under the sand), the Port Jackson shark, or Wobbegongs. The Smooth toadfish is very commonly found near the beach. There are more than 60 fish species in total that can be seen at this spot!

Fan-bellied leatherjacket at Shelly Beach
Fan-bellied leatherjacket is usually spotted in relatively deep seagrass meadows.

Shelly Beach is very popular with snorkelers and divers. However, outside of the summer season, it is recommended to wear a suit to protect yourself from the cold.

Did you recently snorkel Shelly Beach? You can share your pictures in the photo gallery below.

Restaurants and accommodations nearby

There is a restaurant located on the beach. You can also reach Manly Beach by a ten-minute walk on the Marine Parade. There, you will find a lot of restaurants, hotels, and supermarkets to choose from.


  • Level required Beginner
  • Protected areaCabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve
  • Maximum depth20ft/6m
  • Water entranceFrom a sandy beach
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersHigh
  • Access costsFree
  • Restaurants nearbyYes
  • Public toilets & showersYes

MAP Spot

These snorkeling spots are accessible to beginners and kids. You will enter the water gradually from a beach, or in a less than 3ft. deep area. The sea is generally calm, shallow, with almost no waves or currents. These spots are usually located in marked and/or monitored swimming areas. It is not necessary to swim long distances to discover the sea life.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.