Your mission: Discover Queensland’s best diving. Your cover: the sea.
As an adventurous traveler, you might just be eager to don a mask and flippers and take this assignment on. It’s not a bad one, when you consider the silent, technicolour paradise awaiting you under the sea. Whether you are an experienced diver or have never taken an underwater breath, you’ll love this secret agent scenery: a kaleidoscope of reefs, shoals, coral cays and shipwrecks teeming with tropical marine life. However when planning your mission, keep in mind that visibility is said to be best from June to August and you may need to protect yourself from stingers between November and May.
To properly scope this underwater world, you’ll need to farewell life on land for a while. Remember, Queensland has the Great Barrier Reef at its door. Extending along its coastline for more than 2,000 kilometres, this World Heritage-listed wonder is the largest expanse of living coral on the planet.
Being so huge, the question is where do you start your mission? Get smart and slip amongst the crowds of tanned tourists in Cairns, the most popular gateway to the reef. Here you’ll find countless dive schools and day or live-aboard tours. You can snorkel or dive on the edge of the continental shelf at Agincourt Reef, feed giant cod at the Cod Hole or explore the waters surrounding a secluded coral cay. If you’d like to change your base, hop on a live-aboard dive boat or book into a resort on Green, Fitzroy, Lizard, Dunk or Bedarra Islands. You can explore dive the Coral Sea further north at Port Douglas, where rainforest and reef meet.
When it’s time to move south, set out for coastal Townsville and beautiful Magnetic Island. From here you can explore the wreck of the SS Yongala, which sank in 1911, as well as the underwater canyons, caves, gullies and sensational wall dives of this section of the Great Barrier Reef. In the spirit of espionage, the diving spots here have names like Fish Bowl, the Corridor, the Zoo, Magic Passage, the Cabbage Patch and Atlantis.
The gig gets better when you arrive in the Whitsundays – 74 palm-fringed, mostly uninhabited, tropical islands. Head to Hamilton Island’s Whitehaven Beach, a postcard-perfect stretch of white silica sand surrounded by clear, turquoise water. From here you can contrast and compare pristine reef locations like Elizabeth, Black, Fairy, Net, Knuckle, Oublier Reefs and beyond. Good luck picking the best. The warm water makes diving and snorkeling comfortable all-year-round.
Keep heading south down to Mackay, which has day and extended trips for snorkellers and divers. Head out to uninhabited Scawfell Island and its pristine coral gardens or explore the historic 'Llewellyn' shipwreck, which wasn’t discovered till 80 years after it had sunk.
The Central Great Barrier Reef sits slightly under the radar in tourist terms, so it’s up to you to properly discover the shallow coral gardens, pinnacles, deep channels, gutters and caves. You might want to take your underwater camera - there are swarming olive sea snakes, endangered and vulnerable loggerhead, hawksbill and green turtles, moray eels, sharks and manta rays to see.
Explore Capricorn and Bunker Reefs with dive operators from the mainland port of Gladstone, or as pampered guests on Heron and Wilson Islands. At Fitzroy Reef you’ll find a large, protected lagoon teeming with sea stars, crabs corals, molluscs and other marine treasures. Take on some of the region’s best drift diving at Wistari Reef, swim through the large cave at Harrie’s Bommie or discover the lesser-known reefs near the Keppel islands from Yeppoon.
By the time you reach the picturebook Coral Coast at the southern tail of the Great Barrier Reef, normal life will seem a long way away. Slip underwater straight from the shore in the spectacular Woongarra Marine Park. Swim past big fish and vivid coral canyons near Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave Islands and don’t miss the region’s real attractions – the marine turtles which nest and hatch every evening between November and May at Mon Repos Conservation Park.
The Great Barrier Reef may have finished but your mission is still going. Southern Queensland has a whole new dive landscape for you to dissect. This world of wreck-based artificial reefs, giant pelagic fish and rock shelf havens stretches from the Fraser Coast to the Gold Coast. See surfing dolphins, grazing dugong, loggerhead turtles, colourful reef fish and corals and even the rare Grey Nurse Shark. Swim through bommies and caves on Flinders reef, see the marine life that have set up home in the scuttled former HMAS Brisbane, or snorkel next to the world's second largest sand island, Moreton Island.
You’ve kicked your way down Queensland’s coast through a marine world more magical than anything you could have imagined. You’ve shallow-dived, drift-dived, wall-dived and swum though lagoons, caves, coral gardens and shipwrecks. You’ve met manta rays, turtles, sharks and peculiar fish. You’ve had more underwater adventures than Sean Connery in Thunderball, but are you any closer to naming Queensland’s very best dive spot? We thought it might be mission impossible.