A beginner’s guide to snorkelling: ‘Slow down … you see the most amazing stuff’

A beginner’s guide to snorkelling: ‘Slow down … you see the most amazing stuff’

Snorkeling is an inexpensive way to start your adventure. All you need is the right mask, wetsuit, and the place to snorkel.

Shelly Beach in Manly is awash with a mist of salty water as clouds roll over. The protected stretch of sand on Sydney’s northern beaches is throbbing with locals despite the grey skies.

Damien McClellan of EcoTreasures told our group that this area was an aquatic reserve. If you look back, you will see sandstone hills.

McClellan points to the left and across the water at weathered rock faces with layers of tan ridges. He says that Sydney’s sandstone coastline is stunning. I agree with the group.

Standing on the headland of Sydney’s North, we can see the bays and beaches that line the coastline. Cabbage Tree Bay, which is the closest bay, is the best place to start. The reef and rocks protect the bay, so it’s perfect for snorkeling or diving.

Our tour group will be heading there for a guided lesson on the former. We first struggle to get into our wetsuits. Next, we learn to get into the water.

McClellan says, “You will look over your shoulders and walk backwards up the ramp.” “Then dunk yourself under.”

This is my first snorkeling experience. Recent rains have made the water murky, and I am nervous about many things.

Flippers, goggles, and wetsuits are provided. Pool noodles are given to us as well, in order to keep us afloat and prevent our flippers from disturbing any sea life.

McClellan advises that when you fit your snorkeling goggles on your face, press down until there is a “suction.” He says that the strap should be placed on top of the head to make sure the goggles will not leak saltwater.

McClellan recommends that you rub baby shampoo on the lenses before putting them on your face. Rinse with water afterward. This will prevent your goggles from fogging up as you swim.

McClellan asked me: “Have You ever looked beneath the water before?” How long did you look for? What did you see?”

Answer: Yes (eyes shut, without goggles). Not much longer. Not much.

He laughs. McClellan says that people “too frequently” forget to breathe and “look” in the water.

He says, “You never know what to expect when you go snorkeling.” “And part is relaxing.”

He says that people go snorkeling “to disconnect.” You slow down as you concentrate on your breathing underwater. When you do that, the amazing things you see are revealed.

He’s right. All sounds are muted when your head and body are submerged. We float over a sea meadow with thick, flowing kelp.

Translucent blobs known as Jimble drift by. A stranger told me earlier in the changing rooms to “not be worried about them” because “they won’t sting you.”

The seagrass is awash with schools of small fish and large, friendly groupers.

If you are still, and if you let the water move you, you can see the purple rock that is unmoving beneath the kelp.

After I get used to the water, my flippers and goggles feel less awkward. Breathing through a snorkel is easier, and swimming becomes more natural.

McClellan remembers that a German tourist described the experience once as being “among the lungs of ocean.”

This is a perfect description.

McClellan receives our gear after the tour. I ask about the cost of future snorkeling lessons. They are $79 for adults on group tours. Next time, I will bring my family back to do it.

He claims that snorkeling is an “easy entry.”

People get nervous when they are involved in aquatic activities. It’s normal to feel anxious. Snorkeling is an excellent way to start something new and adventurous.

Many adventure activities can be strenuous. Snorkeling is a great activity for everyone, including grandparents, grandchildren, and parents.

It doesn’t cost much to get started. McClellan claims that a “good” mask will cost less than $80. Wetsuits range from $100 to 200; although not necessary, they will protect you from the heat of the ocean and allow you to stay longer in the water. McClellan adds that it will “last you for a decade.”

The water is also free.

McClellan’s favorite snorkeling spot in Sydney is Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve. McClellan says that conservation efforts are to thank for this.

Since then, this area has grown. More than 150 fish species live in the aquatic reserve, including threatened and protected species such as weedy seadragons or elegant wrasse.

Beginner snorkelers can also enjoy other aquatic reserves, such as Fisherman’s Beach and Clovelly in Sydney. If you’re looking to snorkel outside of Sydney, look for calm water and, ideally, a conservation status. This will ensure that there are plenty of sights.

McClellan describes Cabbage Tree Bay as “an awesome example of conservation management. We can do better.” Natural space such as this is priceless.

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