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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 without a doubt! A small sheltered bay protected for more than 15 years, with renowned species to come across like the Eastern blue groper or the Port Jackson shark … all of these amazing qualities create the perfect setting for snorkeling!

Dusky flathead at Shelly beach
The dusky flathead (Platycephalus fuscus) is common is Shelly Beach, but can be hard to spot when well hidden in the sand.

How to get to Shelly Beach for snorkeling?

We can access Shelly Beach mainly from Manly, Sydney’s famous seaside resort. At the southern tip of Manly Beach, there is also a small, well-sculpted path along the seashore that leads you to Shelly Beach on foot (10 minutes).

Shelly Beach snorkeling map, Manly

Entering the water in Shelly Beach for snorkeling

Enter the water from the beach.

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 off as completely sandy from the beach (↕0.5-1.5m), and then begins to change between algae meadows, sand, and rocks (↕1.5-3m).

When you reach the center of the bay, you will find deeper areas (↕4-5m). When the sea is calm, it is possible to do a snorkeling trip between Shelly Beach and Manly Beach, along its rocky coast (about 800m).

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 (Achoerodus viridisis).

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 see.

This is where you’ll spot Maori wrasse, mado fish schools, rock cal, and the famous Eastern blue groper as well. The male, which can reach 90cm 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 (Monacanthus chinensis) appreciates relatively deep seagrass meadows.

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

Restaurants and accommodation nearby

Here on Shelly Beach, there is a restaurant located on the beachfront. You can also reach Manly Beach by a ten-minute walk. Here, you can find a lot of restaurants, lodgings, 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.