Australia In a Nutshell


The Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea offer tremendous volume and diversity of marine life, well managed marine parks, professional dive operations and diving suitable for all experience levels. There is great diving at every depth and a variety of marine life including sharks, minke whales and large potato cod (potato grouper).



Marine Life / Diving Conditions


Australia doesn't hold the best macro opportunities.  It is better known for its "big stuff" like sharks and whales, and some great wreck dives.  Best time to dive fluctuates for what area of Australia you are diving. Numerous areas are accessable year round, but the south parts can have bad weather between May - Oct.  Although you can take day trips out to dive - in general, the further you go the better the diving becomes.  Due to this, liveaboards are typically better to properly experience what all Australia diving has to offer.  In gerneral, the Great Barrier Reef is the most popular, but the Coral Sea is better. Water temperatures can be anywhere between 70 - 87 degrees.  Visibility on day trips will be between 50 and 100 ft. while further sites reached via liveaboard can be up to 150 ft.  Majority of divesites will be relatively shallow, 30 - 60 feet.


Topside Activites


Due to Australia's size, it is near impossible to cover all the things you can do while visiting Australia.  It is also dependent on what areas you are visiting. But to touch on a few; no trip can be complete without learning of Australia's Aboriginal culture, try taking a hike to the sacred site of Uluru to catch the sunrise or sunset.   For you city lovers, climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge or see a show at the iconic Sydney Opera House.  Or just take a drive along The Great Ocean Road - a scenic drive you won't forget.


Ribbon Reef / Osprey reef video


Potato cod at 2:20, minke whales at 2:46, sharks at 3:24

0:15 - Schooling fish; 0:23 - snappers; 0:30 - Minke whale; 1:14 - table corals; 2:14 - trevally; 3:42 - sea snake; 4:00 - snappers





Reviews (10)


Location: Byron Bay (Julian Rocks)

Byron Bay is probably my favorite place in Australia. Byron Bay is an amazing little beach town in northern NSW. It is somewhat of a surf town, and it is popular among young backpackers. Byron Bay has a wide selection of accommodation from camping, and cheap hostels, to bed and breakfasts, and beach side hotels. It also has a great selection of bars and restaurants that are open late into the night.

Cape Byron is the most eastern point of the Australian mainland. All of the diving in Byron Bay is concentrated on a large rock formation just off shore, known as Julian Rocks, and is easily visible from the beach. During the summer months tropical species can be found out at the dive sites, and during the winter, colder water species are found. During the winter months the rocks host a large population of the endangered Grey Nurse sharks. The winter months also bring migrating humpback whales. Although you will probably not see a humpback on a dive, it is common to hear them, and come across them on the short boat ride out or back from the rock. During the summer months when the water warms, the tropical species move in, and it common to see Leopard sharks, as well as manta rays. Other tropical species such as eagle rays, lion fish, bat fish, and colorful reef fish can also be found. Year round inhabitants of the rocks include two species of Wobbegong shark, green and loggerhead turtles, massive bull sting rays, guitar fish, king fish, and big friendly Blue Gropers. Being a temperate dive location, visibility and conditions can vary greatly and change quickly. Visibility can range from just a few meters to 25+ on a great day.

The most commonly visited site at the rocks is called the nursery. The nursery is a shallow site that bottoms out around 12 meters at the deepest. It is the most sheltered site, and this is where any classes are usually held. The needles is on the south side of the rock and is about 15 meters in depth. The currents are stronger at this site. The currents draw large schools of fish, and lots of rays. One of my favorite dives is to start in the nursery and end in the needles. Hugo's trench is on the opposite side of the rock from the nursery. This site is more exposed and not visited nearly as much as the nursery side. The site is about 15-20 meters deep. The trench runs perpendicular to the rock and is home to a huge amount of life, and interesting rock formations.

Byron Bay is great town, and should not be missed in Australia. Few travelers go there just for the diving, but if you do visit, I highly recommend doing a day or two of diving.

Visited on 08/2012 - Submitted on 09/27/2015

Location: HERON ISLAND (Great Barrier Reef)

Heron Island is a small coral island located about 90 km off the coast of Gladstone in Queensland, AUS. The island is amazingly beautiful, and looks like a postcard. The island is also very small, you can walk around the entire island in about 20 minutes. Heron Island is home to one resort, and the University of Queensland's Great Barrier Reef Marine Research Station. I have not stayed at the resort so I cannot comment on the resort itself, but I was lucky enough to stay at the Marine Research station for 2 weeks while I was studying at UQ. The resort is small and so is the marine research station, so you will never have to worry about crowds or busy dive sites. The island is home to 100,000+ nesting sea birds, as well as a nesting site for green and loggerhead turtles between the months of March and October. Whales can be seen moving through the deeper water off the island during the winter months. The island is surrounded by an unbroken picturesque white sand beach and a shallow coral reef shelf.

There are several options for getting to the island. There is a boat that runs from Gladstone a few days a week. There is also a helicopter pad on the island if you wish to use a faster (and much more expensive) travel mode. Sea plane is the other option.

The resort dive operation is the only dive operation open to the public on the island. The diving on Heron Island is absolutely amazing. Most of the dives are relatively shallow, very few are below 20 meters. The reefs around the island are very healthy; I have never seen so much healthy stag coral anywhere else. The reefs have an abundant amount of marine life. I will never forget that I saw my first Manta ray here, as well as my first tiger shark. Turtles, sharks and rays were seen on pretty much every dive I did. White tip sharks, Grey reef sharks, the occasional tiger shark, manta rays, green turtles, logger head turtles, barramundi cod, coral cod, huge numbers of rays, barracuda, sea snakes, countless colorful reef fish, coral trout, octopus, spotted eagle rays etc. are all found at the sites around the island. The currents at some of the sites can be swift, so there are a number of drift dives done around the island. For the non-divers in your group, the shallow reef surrounding the island is also perfect for snorkeling. There is also a channel cut through the reef to allow boat access to the dock. Snorkeling in this trench in the late afternoon after any boat traffic has stopped is great. In this trench in the evening it is common to see large number of white tipped reef sharks prowling the trench, as well as sleeping turtles, and schools of small bait fish. At the end of the trench is a large intact ship wreck, the HMAS Brisbane, that is only partially submerged, most of the wreck is above water. This island truly is a divers paradise, and I cant recommend it enough.

Visited on 10/2008 - Submitted on 09/12/2015

Destination Nelson Bay
Nelson Bay is the heart of beautiful Port Stephens on the New South Wales coast, approximately 2.5 – 3 hours’ drive north of Sydney. Being a popular tourist location there is a myriad of accommodation options from back packers to 5 star resorts. One of the two dive shops in town even has a house used for bunk style accommodation at a very reasonable rate. Non diving activities include dolphin watch cruises year round, whale watch cruises in season (May – November), mountain bike rides, sand boarding, go karts, quad bike tours to name just a few.

Diving options are almost as varied as the accommodation options with shore and boat dives available. Port Stephens and Broughton Island are part of the Port Stephens Great Lakes Marine Park which covers approximately 98,000 hectares. Some of the dive sites are in sanctuary zones and the diversity is amazing.

Starting with the boat dives you can travel about one hour by boat to Broughton Island where there is a resident colony of Grey Nurse Sharks (Carcharias taurus), aka Sand Tiger or Ragged Tooth. These sharks are listed on the IUCN Red List as “Critically Endangered” for the Australian east coast population. The dive sites at Broughton Island include North Rock Gutters, North Rock Bommie, Elephant Rock, Shark Gutters, East Head, Looking Glass and Cod Rock. Some of the marine life seen at the boat dive sites include Grey Nurse Sharks, Eastern Blue Groper, Port Jackson Sharks, Wobbegong sharks both Spotted and Ornate species, Eastern Frogfish, Bullseye, Eastern Pomfred, various Leatherjacket species, Bull Ray, Eagle Ray, Red Morwong and Snapper. If you’re lucky Red Indian fish, Weedy Seadragon, Angel Shark and one of the prettiest fish in the sea the Eastern Blue Devilfish can be also seen.

There is also four islands just outside the heads to Port Stephens. These islands (Cabbage Tree, Boondelbah, Fingal and Little) all have dive sites around them. Plus there are a couple of wrecks to dive on. Cabbage Tree Island is the most popular of these which is where the rare Donut Nembrotha (Nembrotha rosannulata) is often sighted along with a couple of small wrecks. This is also a popular snorkelling site of an afternoon with divers and snorkelers sharing the boat.

The two most popular sites at Broughton Island are North Rock Gutters and the Looking Glass. North Rock Gutters has been seeing increasing numbers of Grey Nurse over the last few years with estimates being over 100 individual sharks on a couple of occasions. This site consists of one main gutter running almost north/south and a couple of other smaller gutters. The sharks tend to gather at the southern end of the main gutter and are best viewed by staying within an arm length of the gutter walls and the bottom. By abiding by the rules divers can spend an entire dive sitting and watching the sharks, but go into the middle of the gutter and the sharks will leave. The max depth here is about 20m. The Looking Glass is a large crack that runs all the way through the Looking Glass Isle. This site is in a sanctuary zone and is another popular site for the Grey Nurse. The dive plan is always to swim to the far end before turning around and returning to the boat and the max depth is 23m although if you decide to follow the wall to the east you can get down to 37 – 38m. There is a swim through inside the looking Glass and several others at each end just outside. Australian Giant Cuttlefish and Eastern Blue Devil fish are sometimes seen here while Eastern Blue Groper are here on every dive.

The shore dives are inside Port Stephens and three of the five are in sanctuary zones. The sites are Halifax, Little Beach, Fly Point, Seahorse Gardens and Pipeline. All sites are great macro dives and regarded by many well-travelled macro photographers as being right up near the top of the list. All shore dives must be conducted at the slack at high tide due to the current movements. At Seahorse Gardens you can get in up to three hours before the high tide but beware that it WILL be very dirty and that the current can and does change here without warning. The most popular site is Fly Point which has a huge sponge garden. There has been over 100 different species of nudibranch sited at this one site alone. If you’re extremely lucky on a night dive you might get to see an Upside Down Pipefish (Heraldia nocturna). I’ve even had dolphins buzz me on a couple of occasions here. The Pipeline is another very popular dive site with numerous nudibranch species, Blue Line Octopus (a type of Blue Ring), Whites Seahorse (Hippocampus whitei) and numerous cowrie species are found here along with Sydney Octopus and Striped Pyjama Squid. Lucky dives might see a Nelson Bay Anglerfish (frogfish) which are endemic to Port Stephens. Pipeline gets its name from an old unused sewerage pipe that runs about 200 – 250m out into the bay. It is possible to follow the pipe all the way out to the very end but be careful as some parts are covered in sand and/or sponges. The max depth at the pipe is about 18m while most dives are conducted at depths no greater the 10 – 12m.

All in all the Nelson Bay, Port Stephens area of New South Wales, Australia is a fantastic place to dive and take the family. The best time to dive here is from February to May when the Eastern Australian Current can be felt. Water temperature usually ranges from 17˚C during winter to 23˚C in the autumn. The visibility is very dependent on the weather conditions and can be as bad as 1 – 2 meters during storms and heavy rains and gets to over 30m at Broughton Island on those special days. Even in winter when the water and air temp is colder you can still have some great diving conditions and great dives. Nelson Bay is good all year round.

Visited on 10/2014 - Submitted on 10/26/2014

LOCATION: Lord Howe Island

I've been fortunate enough to have several trips to Lord Howe Island and do a fair bit of diving there. Lord Howe is a World Heritage listed area and regularly features as one of the best holiday destinations in the world. It is a truly unique place. The Island is located about 600km (370mi) east of Port Macquarie on mainland Australia. So it's part of Australia, but a long way from anywhere. The whole island is about 10km long and between 0.3 and 2km wide. No more than 400 tourists are allowed on the Island at any one time and it's accessible by flights from Sydney, Brisbane and Port Macquarie. There is no mobile phone coverage and limited internet access so it's really an escape from everyday life. A dozen people in the one place is a big crowd for Lord Howe Island. It's relatively expensive. Flights and accommodation are relatively expensive. There are very few shops on the Island but they can supply all your basic needs. But once you are there you are in paradise, above and below the water. There are great walks, beaches, lot's of birds, fishing. It's not an action adventure destination, it's a relaxing laid back place.

There is great snorkelling right off the beach, particularly at Ned's Beach. You can also do some real nice snorkelling sites in the lagoon but they are better done via a tour with one of the local operators. They are all good. There are two dive operators on the Island. There are a range of boat dives you can do, mostly a short trip away. Some of these are just outside the lagoon, others off the Malabar headland or the Admiralties (a group of rocks and very small Island now far from the main island). Diving around the Island is generally in 12-18m. There is a lot to see and around the Island you can take your pick with wide-angle or macro photography. Arguably the best diving is at Ball's Pyramid which is about 23km SE of the Island and when the weather is good boats head out there for a days diving. Ball's Pyramid is a 562m high rocky outcrop which is the tallest volcanic stack in the world. Diving at Ball's is in around 30m plus and is like swimming in an aquarium. A good day there is the equal of just about any dive site in the world. Bring your wide-angle for Ball's because everything is scaled up!

The dive shops have all the equipment you need but it's basic diving only (i.e. no nitrox or rebreathers etc that I'm aware of). They will have very basic spare parts and items for sale (mask's, snorkels, things for basic repairs) and they will go out of their way to fix a problem with your gear. But because the Island is so remote and everything comes in via plane or the small cargo ship that supplies the Island they keep it pretty simple.

The Island is the southern most reef in Australia and has an interesting mix of tropical and temperate conditions. You'll need a wetsuit to dive even in summer, and definitely in winter. The marine life is incredibly diverse as there are over 90 species of coral and 500 species of fish inhabiting the reef: turtles, reef sharks, morays, lobster, clown fish, angelfish, nudibranchs and more. I was even lucky enough to be on a trip that swam with a young whale shark we encountered on the way to Ball's Pyramid several years back.

Visited on 01/2014 - Submitted on 08/04/2014

Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef - a general overview of the diving:


Coendozn's review of the Great Barrier Reef is pretty close I think. Perhaps he (or she) hasn't been brutal enough in saying that if you are an advanced diver, don't go on a trip to the inshore reefs, and particularly don't go on a trip that is still teaching students. The further out reefs, and more expensive tips, are the ones to go on.


Ningaloo Reef (on the other side of Australia - the west side) also has some great great diving. You can dive out of Exmouth, or out Coral Bay, which is about 150km south of Exmouth. Ningaloo is about equivalent to the outer reefs of the Great Barrier Reef. It is more wind dependent, but all reefs are close to shore and are done as day trips. Not lots of night life, but enough. Good onshore facilities and good dive operators.

The Elbow at Coral Bay is amazing sometimes. Pretty often really amazing. Big animals, sometimes bigger than you might prefer. I had dives there on consecutive days with amazing mantas barrel rolling so close that you could have touched them sometimes.

The whale sharks are a seasonal thing, and it is just snorkeling. It can be expensive but worth it as a one off. Whale shark season is about March to maybe June or July, it can vary.

Exmouth has more sites than Coral Bay and more options if the wind is from the west. It also has some good hiking in the ranges nearby. It is not quite like Colorado, but you wouldn't have come to Australia for Colorado scenery. On that subject, the land based activities in the Cairns and Port Douglas areas are excellent, and much better than in the west.

A trip combining Exmouth and Coral Bay would be a very good trip.

Coral Bay and Exmouth get seriously hot in our summer (Dec, Jan, Feb). Think in terms of hotter than Texas in summer.

Visited on 06/2008 - Submitted on 05/25/2014