As the weather warms up and the summer holidays inch closer, it’s time to start planning where to #holidayherethisyear. And if you’re like most people, you’ll be looking to escape the heat with a getaway by the water.
However, if the thought of crowded beaches puts you off, why not plan a holiday around exploring the vast open spaces underwater! Australia is home to some pretty spectacular reefs that make for great scuba diving – and we’re not just talking about the Great Barrier Reef. No matter where you’re located in the country, there’s plenty of underwater treasures just waiting to be explored. So, to help you plan your holiday accordingly, here are the best places to scuba dive around Australia, compiled by the experts at Diveplanit Travel.
New South Wales
Weedies, whales and the world’s whitest sand. Jervis Bay is three hours’ drive south of Sydney – it’s already Insta-famous for having the world’s whitest sand at Hyams Beach and the underwater world in the bay itself is pretty special as well. With over 60 dive sites, divers can expect to see weedy sea dragons, wobbegongs, grey nurse sharks, Port Jackson sharks, beautiful sponge gardens and, in season, swim with humpback whales.
Lord Howe Island
Lord Howe Island is absolute heaven for an adventurous scuba diving holiday. Divers have the option to stay close to shore and explore the long reef that sits around a lagoon or venture further out and explore the gullies and arches. There is also some sharp drop-offs and a few other small islands for a variety of dive sites. Plus, Lord Howe Island is the only place you can become a PADI certified Exploratory Driver.
A 10-15 minute boat ride from Byron Bay lies Julian Rock, home to regular species found year-round including wobbegong sharks, eagle rays, cuttlefish, kingfish, trevally, mulloway, and three different species of sea turtle – loggerhead, green and hawksbill. There is also an abundance of hard and soft coral and the occasional manta rays, grey nurse sharks, and leopard (also called zebra) sharks.
Whether you’re interested in the big stuff, or teeny-tiny macro delights, you’ll find it here in Nelson Bay, Port Stephens, which has long been a popular NSW seaside retreat. Some locals will tell you that if you haven’t dived North Rock or Looking Glass (think large schools of grey nurse sharks), you don’t deserve to call yourself a real diver. Conversely, others might say: ‘If you haven’t done Fly Point or Pipeline then likewise!’ (home to nudibranchs, seahorses and all sorts of macro wonders).
Coffs Harbour diving opportunities include the marine reserves of the Solitary Islands and South Solitary Island in particular. Among boulders, walls and gutters, you will see anything from mantas to handfish, and everything in between. And at the nearby Split Solitary among coral and kelp, you will see many species of resident fish, as well as eels, turtles and grey nurse sharks. In season (May to September) you can also swim with migrating humpback whales.
Venture to the Outer Reef on a three-day liveaboard trip run by Pro Dive Cairns. During this trip, you’ll have the chance to dive up to 11 times at a variety of 19 dive sites over four reefs: Flynn, Thetford, Milln and Pellowe Reefs. Witness the diversity of marine life and look out for giant clams, turtles, stingrays, reef sharks, an incredible variety of tropical fish and impressive coral formations, all the while, enjoying consistent underwater visibility.
Ribbon Reefs and the Coral Sea
There’s never been a better time to dive the pristine, rarely-visited dive sites of the Ribbon Reefs and the Coral Sea as you’ll be sharing them with a very small group of divers. For a guided dive experience, Mike Ball Dive Expeditions has just announced four brand new Great Barrier Reef itineraries to the Ribbon Reefs, Cod Hole, and in the Coral Sea, Osprey (shark city) and Bougainville Reefs.
Townsville and Magnetic Island
In recent years the stunning Central Great Barrier Reef has played second fiddle to the reefs out from Cairns and Port Douglas, but there are two great reasons to rediscover beautiful reefs such as John Brewer and Lodestone reefs. The 100-year old wreck of the Yongala and a new underwater installation by world-famous sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor; Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA).
Heron Island, in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, reached by helicopter or ferry from Gladstone, is famous for its spectacular coral reef and a sanctuary for a wide variety of marine life. Accommodation here ranges from rooms set amongst a leafy forest, to beachside rooms with immediate water access teeming with nesting turtles, reef fish, rays, reef sharks and more. Twenty dive sites nearby are easily accessible by boat within minutes of the jetty.
Lady Elliot Island
Lady Elliot Island is one of those rare gems that exist through the serendipitous combination of location and human intervention. The island is located just 10 km from the edge of the continental shelf and the East Australian Current. This means there is frequent pelagic action such as manta rays, migrating whales and nesting grounds for green and loggerhead turtles. And human intervention? Lady Elliot Island sits within the Green (no-take) Zone of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which is why the corals are in perfect condition and over 1,000 marine species can be found in the waters around the island.
Lady Musgrave Island
Lady Musgrave, like Lady Elliot Island, sits close to the continental shelf, so attracts impressive pelagic action including leopard sharks, reef sharks, turtles, all sorts of rays including mantas and the occasional migrating humpback whale. It is also where you can find the ex-HMAS Tobruk dive wreck which was only scuttled a couple of years ago but has already attracted large schools of Jacks, barracuda, batfish, a couple of resident turtles and Queensland gropers.
The Coral Coast’s Ningaloo Reef is a pristine aquatic wonderland that is home to an abundance of marine life including dolphins, manta rays, turtles, humpback whales and of course the whale sharks. If you fancy swimming beside these underwater giants, Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks are whale shark tour pioneers, with the experience, knowledge and reputation that will ensure that your day will be an ‘experience of a lifetime’.
Exmouth Navy Pier
Exmouth Navy Pier was voted as one of the top 10 dive sites in Australia, and one of the top shore dives in the world. Dive Ningaloo is the only dive centre with access to the world-famous dive site and they specialise in small groups, personal service and adventure diving in the best, remote and beautiful places, travelling to remote Muiron Islands and untouched reef.
The Rowley Shoals is a chain of three spectacular pristine coral atolls which rise up from the ocean floor 400m below on the very edge of Australia’s continental shelf, hence one of the most remote dive locations in Australia – diving Rowley Shoals is seasonal with trips only available around October each year. Dive surrounded by giant clams, shellfish, giant potato cod and Maori wrasse. Trevally, mackerel and tuna hover in large schools around you, and you can discover over 200 species of coral and over 650 species of fish. Visibility in excess of 60 metres is also common.
Dive Christmas Island, Australia’s own Galapagos in the Indian Ocean, with pristine coral reefs and plenty of pelagic action including schools of silky sharks, mantas, eagle rays and whale sharks. Being so remote, you’ll be diving with small groups, with pristine reefs, forests of enormous gorgonian fans and plenty of sea caverns to explore. Plus, during surface intervals, swim with spinner dolphins.
Cocos Keeling Island
Dive Cocos Keeling Island is a little jewel in the Indian Ocean, with pristine coral reefs and mantas, eagle rays, schooling reef sharks, pods of dolphins, a resident-friendly dugong called Kat. Plus, (officially) Australia’s most beautiful beach at Direction Island – also home to one of the world’s best drift snorkels.
To see a great white shark in the wild is absolutely grand and rare, but to come face to face with one underwater is one of the most exciting experiences available to divers today! Come and ‘hunt with cameras’ the world’s best known and most feared shark with world-renowned Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions. On a four-day liveaboard trip, you can also encounter New Zealand fur seals and an abundance of birdlife, dolphins and other unique fish and wildlife.
The beautiful Fleurieu Peninsula is home to one of the world’s most unique species of marine life, the leafy sea dragon. These stunning creatures are found nowhere else in the world except the Great Southern Reef of Australia.
Each winter, tens of thousands of Australian giant cuttlefish gather to mate and spawn. This mass event happens nowhere else in the world. These cuttlefish are endemic to South Australia and have a very short life cycle of two years, which means the need to mate in such large numbers ensures the success of generations to come. A great way to see both leafy sea dragons and giant cuttlefish, and learn how to photograph them, is on a tour with award-winning photographer Scott Portelli.
Kangaroo Island is a nature lovers dream. With large, resident pods of bottlenose dolphins, it is the ideal location to immerse yourself with these playful mammals. According to underwater photographer Rosie Leany, “Getting buzzed by a pod of highly intelligent mammals who are just as curious about you, is an amazing feeling.” Shore diving at Kingscote Jetty will also reveal a wide array of macro wonders, from blennies and angler fish to the odd leafy sea dragon. Scott Portelli is also running photography tours here early next year.
Feature image: Cairns, Great Barrier Reef diving © Tourism and Events Queensland
Find out more: Diveplanit Travel