Catherine Hill Bay plan could unlock dive sites, say residents

A PROPOSAL to restore the Catherine Hill Bay jetty and build an underwater dive park could unlock some of the town’s historically popular dive spots, a residents’ group says.

A meeting in the town on Saturday discussed Lake Macquarie councillor John Gilbert’s plan for the council to acquire the dilapidated jetty from Lake Coal and build a cafe on it, as well as a six-hectare dive park for scuba divers and snorkellers.

Sue Whyte, president of the Catherine Hill Bay Progress Association, said locals were “enthusiastic” about saving the historic, 240-metre jetty from demolition.

The proposal also piqued the interest of divers, Mrs Whyte said, excited by the prospect of better access to the heritage town’s beaches and inlets.

“The town has some of the best diving in NSW, but since the [Rose Group 550-home Beaches] development it’s been hard to access Little beach, just south of the jetty,” Mrs Whyte said.

“You used to be able to take a car down there.”

Cr Gilbert intends to bring his plan before the council, though Lake Macquarie mayor Kay Fraser has already poured cold water on the proposal over its potential cost to ratepayers.

The jetty’s lease-holder Lake Coal offered to hand over the structure to Lake Macquarie council in 2010 and bequest a sum equal to its demolition costs, as an alternative to pulling it down. 

The council declined, following an internal review.

The Newcastle Herald understands Lake Coal still supports transferring the jetty to the council. Calls to the company were not returned.

Catherine Hill Bay is renowned among divers for the snorkelling and scuba diving sites tucked around its southern headland.

John Rigby, a dive operator in the Hunter for 20 years who has consulted Cr Gilbert, said the proposed “Whallara Dive Park” beneath the jetty would be “sustainable long-term”, barring any major sand movement.

The park would be built on the seabed at the foot of the jetty, with concrete swim-through pipes, statues, sunken train carriages and small boat or aircraft wrecks.

“This would be unique in NSW, in terms of people being able to access it without a dive boat,” Mr Rigby said.

“In the existing area there’s a lot of growth underneath the pylons.”

Shark researchers have previously identified Catherine Hill Bay as a so-called “shark cafe”, where sharks congregate to feed before continuing along the coast.

But Mr Rigby said he had been diving at Catherine Hill Bay since the 1990s, and only ever encountered wobbegong and reef sharks.


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