Great Barrier Reef , Queensland
Australia's best diving spots
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 and Deborah Dickson-Smith
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 sunken ships, here are some of the best dive spots that Australia has to offer.
Explore Australia's best dive sites by location:
- The best dive spots in Queensland
- The best dive spots in Western Australia
- The best dive spots in Australia's Indian Ocean Territories
- The best dive spots in South Australia
- The best dive spots in New South Wales
- The best dive spots in Victoria
- The best dive spots in Tasmania
- The best dive spots in Northern Territory
The best dive sites in Queensland
The Great Barrier Reef
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 regions, each special for different reasons. From Cairns or Port Douglas, you can choose from a fantastic range of trips to the closer reefs which cater for all abilities.
To experience the more remote reefs, including the Ribbon Reefs, take a three, four or seven-day liveaboard dive boat with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions and you'll be in for a treat. Ribbon Reef is home to some of Australia’s most phenomenal seasonal experiences, including turtle nesting season and the congregation of dwarf minke whales. Book a special expedition during June and July to swim with these magnificent creatures – an experience exclusive to Australia.
The Southern Great Barrier Reef
Visit the lesser-known Southern Great Barrier Reef from the coastal city of Bundaberg, and you'll find idyllic islands surrounded by extraordinary marine creatures. Heron Island has more than 20 nearby dive sites to choose from, all of which have an abundance of tropical fish and corals, while Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave Island offer the opportunity to swim with manta rays, guitar sharks and leopard sharks. The nearby wreck of the HMAS Tobruk is also a drawcard for divers; scuttled in 2018, this enormous wreck has already attracted an incredible amount of marine life. Both Lady Musgrave Island and the Tobruk wreck can be dived on day trips with Lady Musgrave Experience.
SS Yongala Wreck
From Townsville, home to the extraordinary Museum of Underwater Art, you can do an exciting dive out to the wreck of the Steam Ship Yongala, 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 and in its 100 years underwater has attracted a wealth of marine life. It’s particularly famous for vivid soft corals and population of olive sea snakes. Book a day trip with Yongala Dive to explore the remains across two dives, or take a three-day liveaboard trip (which includes a night dive) with Adrenalin Dive.
Wolf Rock on the Fraser Coast is gaining popularity for its pelagic action as a tantalising mix of grey nurse sharks, several species of stingray, manta rays, leopard sharks and schooling fish are often seen in the area. Experience this incredible eco-system on a diving day trip with Wolf Rock Dive. A little further down the Queensland coast, the wreck of ex-HMAS Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast can be dived with Sunreef Mooloolaba.
The best dive sites in Western Australia
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 and migrating humpback whales, but the region is also famous for the Navy Pier dive site in Exmouth. The long jetty shelters marine life including giant gropers. Daily tours depart from Exmouth with Dive Ningaloo, and liveaboard diving is available with Sail Ningaloo from Coral Bay.
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. These reefs are famous for their strong tidal flows which make for exhilarating drift dives. The Shoals are only accessible for a very short time each year around October, so be sure to book a liveaboard cruise from Broome to see it for yourself.
The best dive sites in Australia's Indian Ocean Territories
Christmas Island is located far off the coast of Western Australia, and while its location is remote, it hosts some of the most amazing diving in Australia. This ancient pinnacle is perched on the rim of the Java Trench (the Indian Ocean's deepest point), its fringing reef dropping down over 1,000 metres (3,200 feet). Here, you can find large pelagic marine life including spinner dolphins, reef sharks, eagle rays, mantas and between November and April, migrating whale sharks. Take a trip out with Indian Ocean Experiences or Wet n Dry Adventures to access some of the longest drop-offs in the world, just a short distance from shore.
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
On the same flight path as Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are equally remote, and offer an excellent yet very different experience. Dive into the turquoise lagoon surrounded by sandy coral clays with Cocos Dive to explore shallow wrecks, pretty coral gardens and even a manta cleaning station.
The best dive sites in South Australia
If you’re feeling adventurous, cage diving with great white sharks is sure to get your adrenaline pumping. Port Lincoln (a 50-minute flight from Adelaide) is the only place in Australia where you can have this unique experience. A day trip with Calypso Star Charters will take you to the Neptune Islands to see these majestic creatures up close in their natural environment.
Many of South Australia’s dive sites are accessible as easy shore dives, offering great diving and the opportunity to spot the leafy seadragon – a creature found nowhere else in the world. Spot them on a diving trip on the Fleurieu Peninsula, and further afield in Edithburgh and Port Hughes Jetty. 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.
The best dive sites in New South Wales
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 seagrass to wind through, and the nearby dive site of Fairy Bower is another popular spot with frequent sightings of giant cuttlefish, weedy seadragons, wobbegongs, Port Jackson sharks and several species of rays. If you’re lucky, you might even come across playful octopuses or a friendly eastern blue groper – in fact, over 160 species have been recorded here. Explore the area with Dive Centre Manly.
North and South Solitary Islands
This collection of rocky islands sits off the coast of Coffs Harbour (a short flight or just under a six-hour drive north of Sydney). There are two main diving locations here: the North and South Solitary Islands. The South Solitaries are usually accessed from Coffs Harbour with Jetty Dive, while the North from Wooli with Wooli Dive Centre, about an hour’s drive north. What makes the diving unique here is the East Australia Current (EAC), which brings warmer water and tropical species to the islands. Dive with temperate species such as grey nurse sharks and wobbegongs, while swimming over a seabed covered with anemones and vibrant soft corals.
Lord Howe Island
With only 400 tourists allowed on Lord Howe Island at any one time, it’s almost 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 known for marine life including large schools of Galapagos Whaler sharks – seen nowhere else in Australia. 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).
Fish Rock Cave
Fish Rock, a small rocky outcrop off the coast of South West Rocks on the New South Wales Mid North Coast, is consistently voted one of the top 10 dives sites in the world. Dive into this 125-metre (400-feet) long cave with South West Rocks Dive Centre, and it’ll be one of the most exciting dives you’ll ever do. Feast your eyes gropers, lionfish, moray eels and wobbegongs before seeing grey nurse sharks and stingrays majestically cruise in a sandy arena known as ‘the aquarium’.
The best dive sites in Victoria
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. It's known for sightings of weedy seadragons, seahorses, several species of octopus and cuttlefish, and the very bizarre goblin fish, only found in these southern waters. Dive in with The Scuba Doctor.
Port Phillip Bay
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. The bay also has dozens of piers along its shoreline that offer wonderful shore diving.
The best dive sites in Tasmania
Home to nearly 20 local sites, Bicheno is one of the best places to dive in Tasmania, with good shore diving where you can encounter weedy seadragons, draughtboard sharks and other local species. One of the most spectacular reefs here is a site called the Golden Bommies, home to colourful sponge gardens and the bommies themselves, covered in vibrant yellow soft corals. While tours are limited in this area, experienced divers can hire equipment from the local dive shop.
Eagle Hawk Neck
The Tasman Peninsula has some of the most spectacular coastlines in Tasmania – above and below the water. Dive in on a day trip with Eaglehawk Dive and discover colourful sponge gardens, undersea caves, shipwrecks, large colonies of fur seals and giant kelp forests.
The best dive sites in the Northern Territory
Vernon Islands Blue Holes
A two-hour boat transfer from Darwin with Sea Darwin will take you out to the Vernon Islands and the little-known Vernon Island Blue Holes. These are not the usual marine sinkholes that are ringed by coral; these are blue holes surrounded by sandy banks, only exposed at low tide, creating a network of lagoons surrounded by horizontal waterfalls. Colourful coral can be seen from the surface, with staghorn forests disappearing into the depths, populated by angelfish, parrotfish and batfish, as well as schools of yellowtail fusiliers and golden trevally.