Diving in Australia isn’t limited to the Great Barrier Reef – read on to discover some of the best dive spots around the country.
By Ashlea Wheeler
The Great Barrier Reef attracts divers from all over the world. It’s really no surprise – the reef is awash with vibrantly coloured corals and a spectacular selection of marine life. But did you know that Australia’s dive sites extend beyond this natural wonder of the world to nearly all of our country’s states and territories? From our spectacular coral reefs to purposely sunken ships, here are some of the best dive spots that Australia has to offer.
The Great Barrier Reef is the heart and soul of diving in Australia. This 2,300-kilometre (1429-mile) stretch of interconnected reefs and islands has a huge selection of dive sites. From Cairns or Port Douglas, you can access the exclusive Outer Great Barrier Reef on a liveaboard dive boat with Pro Dive Cairns. In the Southern Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island has more than 20 nearby dive sites to choose from, all of which have an abundance of tropical fish and corals. Lady Elliot Island gives you the opportunity to swim with manta rays, and nearly all the resorts on the Whitsunday Islands will offer diving trips out to see the natural beauty of the reef. Take your pick of destination and get diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
You might be surprised to know that Queensland’s coast offers more to dive enthusiasts than the reef. From Townsville, you can do an exciting dive out to the Steam Ship Yongala shipwreck, which sunk during a cyclone in 1911. The wreck, which is still mostly intact and lies 14-28 metres (46-92 feet) below the surface, wasn’t found until 1958. It’s been an attraction for divers ever since. A day trip with Yongala Dive will allow you to do two dives to explore the historic underwater remains.
The Tangalooma Wrecks are another great option for shipwreck exploration. Located just off the shore of Moreton Island, this long chain of ships were deliberately sunk in 1963 to create a safe mooring area for boats. Dive tours and equipment hire are available to book through Tangalooma Island Resort, which is only an hour away from the city of Brisbane via ferry.
Australia’s second largest coral reef, Ningaloo Marine Park, sits just off the coast of Western Australia. This reef offers a unique opportunity to swim alongside whale sharks, which pass through this area between March and August each year. Daily dive tours depart from the town of Exmouth with Dive Ningaloo.
If you’re looking for an exclusive dive experience, this is it. Rowley Shoals is a group of three ring-shaped reefs located about 300 kilometres (186 miles) off the coast of Western Australia. Divers who are keen to explore these pristine and remote reefs must take a charter cruise from Broome, which generally last between four and eight days.
Christmas Island is located far off the coast of Western Australia, and while its location is remote, it actually hosts some of the most amazing dive sites in Australia. Not only is the island surrounded by coral reefs, it’s also perched near the rim of the Java Trench (the Indian Ocean's deepest point), which means that you can take a trip out with Wet n Dry Adventures to access some of the longest drop-offs in the world just a short distance from shore.
If you’re feeling adventurous, cage diving with great white sharks is sure to get your adrenaline pumping. Port Lincoln, which is just a 50-minute flight from Adelaide, is the only place in Australia where you can have this unique dive experience. A day trip with Adventure Bay Charters will take you out to the Neptune Islands where you can see these majestic creatures up close in their natural environment. Tour operators will lure the sharks with bait or via acoustic attraction to swim around the metal cage.
On the outskirts of Adelaide, Glenelg offers multiple dive options for beginners to pros. For a shallow dive, you can swim out from the shore to explore the jetty which holds a variety of marine life including nudibranchs, crabs, and sea stars. For a deeper dive, head out to the Glenelg Dredge and Glenelg Barge wrecks with Adelaide Scuba, or visit the Glenelg tyre reef which was set up in 1983 as a fish breeding ground.
This shore dive site is just a stone’s throw away from Manly – one of Sydney’s most popular beach suburbs. Shelly Beach provides a maze of boulders and sea grass to wind through, and the nearby dive site of Fairy Bower is another popular spot with frequent sightings of eels and rays. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the resident octopus or blue groper. Go out on your own, or explore the area with Dive Centre Manly.
This collection of rocky islands is located off the coast of Coffs Harbour (a short flight or just under a six-hour drive north of Sydney). There are plenty of spots to dive around here, but South Solitary Island is the most popular with nine dive sites. Some dive options include Manta Arch, where there are often more than 30 grey nurse sharks hanging around, or The Gantry, where you can seek out the wreckage of a collapsed crane that was once used to load supplies on to the island. It’s easy to get to the Solitary Islands from the coast by booking a half-day trip with Jetty Dive.
As there are only 400 tourists allowed on Lord Howe Island at any one time, it’s nearly guaranteed that you will have the dive sites all to yourself. The jagged rocky outcrop of Balls Pyramid, accessible via boat with Pro Dive Lord Howe Island, is a popular spot for divers. Here you can explore caves lined with rocky columns and reefs that hold deep-sea species of Ballina angelfish, which are usually only found at depths of over 100 metres (328 feet).
Victoria has several piers that are great for diving, and Portsea makes a name for itself as one of the best. This jetty on the Mornington Peninsula is easy to enter from the shore or from ladders along the pier and is known for sightings of weedy seadragrons and seahorses. Some other great options are Blairgowrie Pier, Rye Pier, and Flinders Pier.
There are plenty of interesting dive spots in Port Phillip Bay, including over 50 shipwrecks, four WWI submarines, and a 136-metre (446-foot) guided missile destroyer. Departing from Portsea or Queenscliff, Red Boats can take you out to see some of the wrecks hidden beneath the surface of the bay.
With nearly 20 local dive sites, Bicheno is one of the best places to dive in Tasmania. As the waters here are temperate, the visibility may be less clear than Australia’s tropical waters, but the increased levels of plankton mean that there will be plenty of marine life around.
The Tasman Peninsula is known for its large colonies of fur seals. If you want to check out these playful creatures in their natural habitat, sign up for a scuba with the seals through Eaglehawk Dive. This area also has giant kelp forests, underwater caves, and deep water sponge gardens.
There are more than 90 shipwrecks scattered throughout Darwin Harbour, many of which were sunk during the WWII bombing of Darwin. Access to the wrecks can be tricky to time perfectly with tides and variations in water clarity, but when you do get the chance to head down, you can explore remnants of the Mauna Loa, the USS Peary, the Zealandia, or the Catalina 4 with Sea Darwin.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to dive into an ocean sinkhole, here’s where you can try it. A two-hour boat transfer from Darwin with Sea Darwin will take you out to the Vernon Islands, where it’s possible to see sheer cliffs of coral descending into the depths, all while swimming alongside the rays and turtles that live in these sinkholes.