Australia is renowned for its diverse flora and fauna and the waters that surround it are no exception. Many folk assume scuba diving holidays in Australia are all about the Great Barrier Reef, and that is of course a huge draw, but there is plenty more for scuba geeks to enjoy along the 30,000 miles of coastline.
Let’s imagine we’re on a bespoke Australian scuba tour. We’re talking about some serious dive ambition.
So, what would the ‘must see’ spots be? There are LOTS, so it’s impossible to cover them all.
Here are my Top 10 Oz Dive Sites (or areas!) for starters.
We’ll start at the top left of the country in Western Australia in the Indian Ocean. It doesn’t get much better than being a World Heritage Site for outstanding natural beauty and marine life, but this is the status given to Ningaloo Reef, located near the beautiful Broome.
Ningaloo is Australia’s second great reef and runs for over 150 miles. It’s the stuff scuba dreams are made of. Coral as soon as you leave shore, manta rays, sharks, turtles, dolphins, dugongs and about 400 species of other fish.
Not forgetting from March to June it’s in a migration path for humpback whales and the gentle giants of the sea, whale sharks. I’ve never wanted to be a mermaid more.
Moving across to Queensland, but taking you to the most northern point of the country, The Torres Strait is a collection of cays, islands, reefs and atolls between the tip of Australia and Papua New Guinea. This is remote diving at its best, providing some excellent scuba diving holidays and diving in spots rarely visited.
Most sites are only accessible by live-aboards that usually start at Lockhart River. The RMS Quetta, a passenger liner that sank in 1890, is without doubt the most popular shipwreck in this shallow shipping lane. Visibilities at the inner reefs can be below 15m, but the strong currents provide for rich waters filled with marine life.
The channels near the outer reefs can have visibilities far above 30m. Here, where fishing is controlled, you will find huge fish such as large pelagic, mantas and sharks. Yippee! The best time to dive the Torres Strait is between August and December, with water temperatures of 29 degrees year around.
Beyond the tip of the country, you’ll find yourself on the popular east coast. My next stop would definitely be Lizard Island. It is deemed not just one of Australia’s best dive locations, but frequently listed as one of the top spots in the world.
It’s also an ideal base to explore the northern part of the Reef. Cod Hole is a favourite dive spot in the splendid coral underworld, as it provides the chance to cruise around with the several stately potato cod, which can weigh in at between 6-30 kg.
Much of these northern waters remain relatively untouched and in addition to the cod, you’re likely to see everything from manta rays, reef sharks, to giant 150-year-old clams.
Because we are in Great Barrier Reef (GBR) territory now, there is, unsurprisingly, a concentration of some rather spectacular scuba spots in this northeasterly part of the coastline.
With its 4 mile beach, the stunning Port Douglas offers some fabulous dive opportunities in the shape of Agincourt Ribbon Reefs, made up of 19 actual dive sites; Barracuda, Harrys, Nursery and Turtle Bommie are just a few.
With its gardens of coral and massive clams, divers can encounter colourful flat worms and nudibranchs, dopey turtles, the unique hump headed parrot fish, through to larger fish such as reef sharks.
Cairns – Ribbon Reefs
Cairns is a popular gateway to the GBR, so is a good base for all kinds of scuba diving holidays and diving excursions. Whether you’re looking for day trips or liveaboards, it is a great access point to endless dive sites.
Look out for Norman, Hardy, Saxon, and Arlington reefs and Michaelmas and Upolu cays. All about 90 minutes off Cairns. To amplify an already amazing experience, in June and July you can swim with dwarf Minke whales. Underwater heaven.
Slightly further afield, and so for liveaboard divers only, is the Coral Sea. Here, you’ll see sharks feeding at Predator’s Playground; 1,000m drop-offs into the Abyss; reefs covering hundreds of square miles; and tropical species not found on the GBR.
The sites feature spectacular walls, steep drop-offs and lone seamounts, rising thousands of metres from the ocean floor to just below the surface. The water is astoundingly clear, up to 100m! Super clear vision magnifies whaler sharks, barracuda, big eye trevally and rays as well as shy cuttlefish, sea hares and starry morays.
Sharks and schooling pelagics cruise through vibrant displays of gorgonians, sea whips, and bright yellow soft corals, while nudibranch, anemones, unusual tropical fish, invertebrates, and huge schools of fish provide outstanding diversity.
Still in the Coral Sea, but now off Townsville, Queensland, as we’re approaching scuba nirvana as we consider the wonders and delight of the SS Yongala. It sank during a cyclone in 1911, but a century later the 120m ship is again budding with life, albeit under water.
This enchanted shipwreck is listed as one of the top ten dive sites in the world due to the sheer variety of marine life. Schools of trevally, kingfish, barracuda, and batfish surround the wreckage; giant Queensland grouper live under the bow, lionfish hide under the stern, turtles graze on the hull, and hard and soft corals make their home on everything.
Arresting corals, fluoro fish, turtles, sharks, eels, snakes and more, this wreck offers more diversity than the biggest cities in the world, with its own unique cosmopolitan demographic. Winter months offer sightings of humpback whales and mantas and visibility is generally better, though water temperature is cooler.
These 74 breathtaking islands offer countless dive sites both among the islands and on the Outer Great Barrier Reef. The blue, blue water is incredible and because you’re most likely to be on a boat trip that offers diving, or a dedicated liveaboard, you can absorb the beauty of the coastline and the sugar like white sand that graces the islands. Almost every anchorage on the islands has amazing fringing reefs and drop off’s and a huge variety of marine life.
Has to be on here for it’s 20+ glorious dive sites. The island is a coral cay situated on the reef, so many of the sites are a short boat ride away and are generally all shallow – 18m or less – allowing up to 3 dives per day. Notable sites include Coral Cascades, the Blue Pools, favoured by octopus, turtles, and sharks and the famous Heron Bommie, with its rays, eels, and Spanish dancers. Simply stunning.
Another location of note in Queensland – last and by no means least – is Lady Elliot Island, a coral cay island off the town of Bundaberg. One word – mantas!
You could spend weeks, years or the rest of your life diving around Australia. Seriously, you’d need to grow gills. This is just a taste. Enjoy!
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