• The public boat ramp is completed in front of the area which will become the marine business precinct.
    The public boat ramp is completed in front of the area which will become the marine business precinct.
  • Building the breakwall is a painstaking operation requiring precision and some careful lifting.
    Building the breakwall is a painstaking operation requiring precision and some careful lifting.
  • Eventually the harbour will be allowed to fill to a depth of 5 metres in places and with room for up to 300 berths.
    Eventually the harbour will be allowed to fill to a depth of 5 metres in places and with room for up to 300 berths.
  • Marine Business editor Simon Enticknap with one of the excavators being used to create the harbour.
    Marine Business editor Simon Enticknap with one of the excavators being used to create the harbour.
  • Under the boardwalk: Matthew Youell of Shellharbour Council on the bottom of the harbour next to what will be one of the public jetties.
    Under the boardwalk: Matthew Youell of Shellharbour Council on the bottom of the harbour next to what will be one of the public jetties.
  • An aerial view of Shell Cove showing the new breakwall and groyne as well as the harbour in the centre, partially flooded after heavy rain.
    An aerial view of Shell Cove showing the new breakwall and groyne as well as the harbour in the centre, partially flooded after heavy rain.
  • Thousands of people at a community event took the opportunity to experience walking on the bottom of harbour before it finally gets flooded.
    Thousands of people at a community event took the opportunity to experience walking on the bottom of harbour before it finally gets flooded.
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Opening up Shell Cove

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The Shell Cove marina being constructed on the NSW south coast is a unique boating development. Simon Enticknap reports.

Earlier this year, thousands of people on the NSW south coast gathered to inspect the bottom of a great big hole in the ground. Sound exciting? Well, it should do because of what this hole represents, especially for the local marine industry, and how it will be transformed over the next year or so.

The community event was staged by the
developers of the Shell Cove Boat Harbour as an opportunity for locals to experience walking on the bottom of harbour before it finally gets flooded. If everything goes according to plan, this time next year where those locals were walking and scratching their names into the wooden piers for posterity will be four metres under water.

When that happens, the hole will morph into one of the biggest marinas in the region and the most ambitious new boating development seen in NSW for many years.

The Shell Cove residential development, 20km south of Wollongong and a two-hour drive from central Sydney, has been under construction for about 20 years. It already includes a substantial residential community and is now entering its final stage, called The Waterfront, of which the marina will be the centrepiece.

Uniquely for a project of this size, the development is a joint partnership between the developers, Frasers Property Australia, and Shellharbour City Council which owns the land. It’s unusual for a local council to be involved in a development of this size and scope and, over the course of the past two decades, it’s evidently not been without its ups and downs – more than once person involved describes it as being like a marriage. The result, however, is that the council has been able to manage the development and ensure that the community grows in a sustainable fashion without having to carry the burden of financing a multi-billion dollar project.

In addition to the houses and apartments, The Waterfront precinct will include restaurants and hotels, a waterfront tavern and a community centre/library, even a small beach for children to play on. A Woolworths supermarket is already taking shape on the site. The marina itself is a $150 million project in its own right. When completed, it will cover an area of 12 hectares, 30% bigger than Darling Harbour, and feature 300 berths for boats up to 30 metres in length.

Get in on the ground floor

More significantly for the marine industry, the plan for the marina sets aside an area for boating businesses to operate including a hard stand and haul-out facility, ship chandlers, maintenance workshops, fuel and pump out services. A brand-new public boat ramp has already been completed near the entrance to the harbour and the boating business precinct will be right alongside it. The council has yet to decide who will run the marina or whether it will remain council-operated, but for any business looking for a new south coast home, there’ll be opportunities in the coming months to get in on the ground floor.

Matthew Youell, director of Shellharbour Enterprises at Shellharbour City Council, said that while the land set aside for the boating business hub was perhaps more valuable as residential land, the council recognised that it was important to attract new businesses to the area which, in turn, will create jobs and provide the required services for the marina tenants. It’s a far-sighted view and one which characterises how the marina itself is being constructed in terms of scope and ambition.

In addition to the marina tenants, there will be public jetties and room for charter vessels and ferries to operate – not so much in expectation of a regular ferry service but rather to cater for day-trippers to the region. What better way, for instance, to visit the nearby Kiama Jazz Festival than to take a boat down to Shell Cove avoiding the traffic snarls on the Princes Highway? The vision is for Shell Cove to become a destination in its own right with entertainment, accommodation and events. Maybe one day it’ll even host its own boat show.

A work in progress

Certainly as it stands, the marina needs a bit of ‘vision’ in order to imagine what it will be like. The site is still very much a work in progress with dumper trucks and diggers working away shifting dirt. The bare bones of the place however are in place and it’s possible to see what an impressive location it will be when finished. The harbour walls are in place and the wooden piers for the public boardwalk are ready for the decking. Soon the contractors will move in to start installing the piles for the marina jetties although, in this case, they’ll be doing it straight into the dry harbour bed instead of in water as usually happens.

An impressive element of the construction is the new breakwall and groyne being built at the entrance which will provide a sheltered channel into the harbour. About 400,000 tonnes of rock is being transported to the site to construct the 467m breakwall and the 282m groyne, including granite from the south coast town of Moruya which is the same as that used in the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons. Each stone has to be carefully lifted into place to ensure it knits together with its neighbours, a painstaking operation. When finished, the breakwall will have a four metre wide roadway on top and from ‘tip to tip’ at the entrance it will be four kilometres by land, all public access.

Some time in early 2019, the harbour is finally expected to fill up. Anybody hoping to see the ‘damn’ burst and the seawater rush in will be disappointed however. The harbour itself fills naturally with stormwater run off and, in fact, the construction crews regularly have to pump it out. When the time comes, the pumps will be switched off, the harbour will fill and then the entrance will be dredged, opening up the channel to the sea.

No doubt the arrival of the first boat through the channel will be a sight to behold and the long-awaited vision for Shell Cove will finally become a reality.

This article was first published in the April-May 2018 issue of Marine Business magazine.

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