Diving in Australia - Bluewater Dive Travel

Best Diving in Australia - Top 10

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Scuba diving in Australia, the Land Down Under

Scuba diving in Australia, especially liveaboard trips to the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea, offers 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). In Adelaide, there is some exceptional diving off jetties, where you can see the leafy sea dragon. Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Ningaloo Reef all offer their own unique animals and experience. Australia waters hands-down offer some of the best scuba diving in the world, and is worth many trips back.

Interested in diving in Australia?  View the live availability of some of the best liveaboards in Australia and book online at the best price or check out our sidebar for specials and land-based options.


Here are some of the best scuba diving destinations in Australia:  

1. The Great Barrier Reef - World's biggest coral reef system

2. Ningaloo ReefBeautiful coral and best place to swim with whale sharks

3. South Australia The spot for cage diving with great white sharks

4. New South Wales - Dive sites with unique marine biodiversity

5. Victoria - Unique piers and great wreck dives

6. Western Australia - Lesser visited sites and home to some rare species

7. The Yongala Wreck - One of the best wrecks to dive in the world

8. Flinders Pier - Meet the weedy sea dragons

9. Osprey Reef - Best for diving with sharks

10. Fish Rock Cave - Best cavern and cave diving

1. The great barrier reef

World's largest coral reef system

On many scuba divers bucket lists, the world's biggest coral reef system has plenty of amazing dive opportunities to offer. Being so rich in marine life, it is not just one of the best scuba diving spots in Australia but it has become one of the best diving destinations in the whole world. Much of the reef is also protected, which is why it is also one of the best dive areas in Australia. The Great Barrier reef is home to many shark species including whale sharks and hammerhead sharks. The reef is also a great opportunity to spot whales like the dwarf minke whales or sperm whales. Much other fish like barracudas, giant groupers, blue-spotted rays, turtles and parrotfish can be seen. Besides big pelagics, the Great Barrier reef has offered some beautiful healthy coral, great visibility, and numerous dive sites for different levels of divers. Even though it is highly popular among scuba divers and scuba snorkelling as well, there are also some great dive sites that are rarely visited. 

Interested in diving with whales? Check out our list of the Best Places to Swim With Whales?

minke whale australia

Want to know more about diving the Great Barrier Reef? Read all about it in our Great Barrier Reef Dive Guide.


  • Diving Season: Year-round, with summer months having warmer waters and better visibility but winter months are best to see large marine mammals
  • Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced. 
  • Nearest Airport: Cairns International (CNS)
  • Topside Activities: Plenty of options like hiking, wildlife parks, water rafting, and more.

2. Ningaloo Reef

Whale shark encounters!

Located on the west side of Australia, the Ningaloo Reef is home to the second-largest coral reef and an area not to be missed. The Ningaloo Marine Park has also been listed as a world heritage site, why it offers good competition for the Great Barrier Reef. This area is not only great for its amazing coral, but it is one of the best places to swim with whale sharks. The highest chance of seeing these creatures is during the months of April and May. During the winter months, you can even see manta rays. Humpback whales, turtles, and dolphins can be seen very often. The Ningaloo Reef is also one of the best spots in Australia for macro as it is home to many beautiful critters. 

whale shark

Check out this article of Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef by Christine Shepard.


  • Diving Season: Year-round. Summer months are rainier, spring is best for seeing whale sharks, and the winter season is best for spotting big pelagics like mantas, dolphins, and even dugongs when lucky!
  • Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced. 
  • Nearest Airport: Learmonth Airport (LEA)
  • Topside Activities: Explore gorges or it's gorgeous beaches. 

3. South Australia

Great Wrecks, migration of cuttlefish and great white sharks!

Diving in South Australia offers true pleasure to all the wreck divers. Throughout the area, there are many shipwrecks to explore. This generally less visited dive area, it is great for escaping the crowds and discover some true gems. South Australia does not only have some nice boat dives but also some very good shore dives. The marine life is wonderful and you can even see some seals and leafy sea dragons in this dive destination. Besides that, from May to August you are able to witness a spectacular event, the migration of the Australia Giant Cuttlefish.

shark cage diving

Moreover, this is the spot where adventure lovers come to scuba dive with the great white shark. South Australia is considered among one of the world's best places to shark cage dive and the only place in Australia where you can meet these majestic creatures. For a thrilling adventure of meeting the ultimate apex predator of the seas, visit the Neptune Islands with Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions, the pioneer of shark cage diving. You can get real close with great white sharks and have the opportunity to surface or floor cage dive.  In Neptune Islands you can experience shark diving like never before. 


  • Diving Season: Year-round. The Australian Giant Cuttlefish can be spotted during the summer months only.
  • Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced. 
  • Nearest Airport: Adelaide International Airport (ADL)
  • Topside Activities: Visit national parks or try wine tasting!

4. New South Wales 

rare coral and fish species

Like the above-mentioned areas, New South Wales does not lack options for scuba divers either. One of the most popular holiday destinations, Byron Bay with some of the best beaches, great waves for surfing, and of course great scuba diving, is located there. Another UNESCO heritage site, the Lord Howe Island with rare coral and fish species offers absolutely amazing dives. The most southern coral reef with a mixture of currents of different temperatures has brought scuba divers some unique endemic species that cannot be seen elsewhere. The marine life and flora and fauna is truly wonderful. What is even better, only a limited number of tourists are allowed there, which means you are very likely to have the dive site for yourself! Some of the exciting marine life you can encounter in New South Wales are leopard sharks, cuttlefish, rainbow runners, moray eels, pufferfish, and sea spiders among many.



  • Diving Season: Year-round. During the winter season, the water temperatures can get quite low and reach around 50F (10C).
  • Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced. 
  • Nearest Airport: Sydney Airport (SYD)
  • Topside Activities: Visit Sydney, beautiful beaches or the Blue Mountains.

5. Victoria

unique piers and great wrecks

Fantastic variety of marine life brings you octopuses, seals, seahorses, eels, nudibranch, weedy seadragons, and plenty of others. Victoria has also some great dive sites for wreck divers. Some of the piers in Victoria have created some unique dive sites with a mystical atmosphere for marine life seeking shade and shelter. There are also many islands offshore where the underwater world is very beautiful and you can see plenty of colorful reefs. 



  • Diving Season: Year-round. 
  • Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced. 
  • Nearest Airport: Melbourne Airport (MEB)
  • Topside Activities: Visit museums & galleries or go hiking and discover its amazing nature

6. Western Australia

spot some rare endemic species

Down from Ningaloo Reef, the rest of Western Australia is rich in marine biodiversity. As a lesser-visited area, many rare and endemic species like to call it their home. Some of the marine life you can see in the area are sharks, cuttlefish, octopus, trevally, mackerel, squids, turtles, dolphins and the list goes on. There are more than a hundred islands there where the underwater world is waiting to be explored. Not only diverse marine life, while diving in Western Australia, scuba divers can also discover some amazing wrecks. Additionally, the marine reserve protects the area from fishing or development, which is why the dive sites are well preserved and truly beautiful.



  • Diving Season: Year-round. The water temperatures are the coldest during fall and go under 67F (20C), while early spring is the warmest and the temperatures rise above 74F (23C).
  • Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced. 
  • Nearest Airport: Perth Airport (PER/ YPPH)
  • Topside Activities: There are great museums and galleries to visit, beautiful beaches to enjoy and you can go and explore the outback.

7.  The Yongala Wreck

explore one of the best wrecks

One of the best shipwrecks to dive in the world, located near Townsville in Queensland. You can spot giant groupers, eagles rays, manta rays, sea turtles, sea snakes, huge schools of Barracudas, giant trevallies, and various species of sharks. Sometimes, during the summer months, some lucky divers have even spotted minke or humpback whales! Excellent hard and soft coral and gorgonians sea fans can also be found here. The bottom of the wreck reaches 108ft (33m) and the dive site has often strong current, which is why it is recommended for experienced divers. The wreck is still in great condition and thus, many scuba divers call it their favorite wrecks to dive. 

Interested in diving with manta rays? Check out our article about the Best Manta Ray Diving in the World.


  • Diving Season: Year-round. The calmest conditions are in September. The best visibility is during the winter months. The summer months are the high season.
  • Difficulty: Advanced. 
  • Nearest Airport: Townsville International Airport (TSV)

8. Flinders Pier & RAPID BAY JETTY


These popular shore dives will give you a chance to meet the peculiar weedy sea dragons. These relatives of the seahorse are perfectly camouflaged amongst their kelp habitat. Flinders Pier is also a great dive site to spot stingrays and eagle rays, cuttlefish, crabs, and different sponges. Unlike other piers, Flinders Pier has a grass bottom that attracts plenty of life and is why weedy sea dragons love this place. Rapid Bay Jetty may seem like an unassuming site on the surface, but below the waves the pier supports are a playground for schooling fish and home to some fascinating macro.

 weedy sea dragon


  • Diving Season: Year-round, but is weather dependent.
  • Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced
  • Nearest Airport: Melbourne Airport (MEB)
  • Topside Activities: Visit Melbourne streets to see the fantastic street art, go shopping or see the national parks.

  • 9. Osprey Reef 

    Best place to dive with sharks

    Located in the Coral Sea on a remote atoll called Osprey Reef, there are plenty of dive sites not to be missed.  North Horn is one of the most famous and is a proper shark hub. Grey Sharks, Silvertip, Great Hammerhead Sharks, and even the Tiger Shark can all be seen at North Horn. Besides diving with sharks, you can also meet other pelagics like barracuda, turtles, rainbow runners, trevallies, tuna, and sometimes even manta rays can be spotted here. Whales and dolphins can be also spotted by scuba divers. The conditions are generally calm, but the occasional mild current offers a great opportunity for a nice drift dive. Since it's a remote area, it is only accessible by a dive liveaboard. 

    Interested in diving with sharks? Check out our list of the Best Shark Diving in the World.


    • Diving Season: Year-round. The best visibility is from September to November.
    • Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced
    • Nearest Airport: Cairns International (CNS)

  • 10. Fish Rock Cave 

    Fantastic cave diving

    If diving caves and caverns are something that interests you, you must add Fish Rock Cave to your list. The dive site does not only display a cave, but the cave itself is full of marine life. The caves are covered with gorgeous pink coral. Diving through the cave you can meet nurse sharks, wobbegong, morays, octopus, lobsters, and turtles. Scuba divers can always expect to see a lot of marine life, which makes this cave unique. Different sharks are also pretty much guaranteed to see during each dive. The cave has two different entrances, a shallow large entrance with a lot of light coming through and a deep entrance. 


  • Diving Season: Year-round
  • Difficulty: More suitable for advanced divers
  • Nearest Airport: Sydney Airport (SYD)

Other great dive sites in Australia

Some of the best dive sites in Australia:

Navy Pier -  Located in Exmouth, close to the Ningaloo Reef. Wobbegong shark, the grey nurse shark, whitetip reef shark, nudibranch, flat worms, frog fishes, scorpions fishes, and stone fishes are often spotted there.

  • Shelly Beach - This shore dive will take you through some great big boulders with gorgeous reef, seagrass, and beautiful white sand. You can spot some rays and even wobbegongs. 
  • Cod Hole - Located on The Great Barrier Reef.  Besides the large potato cods and Maori wrasses, you can also spot whitetip reef sharks, emperor angelfishes, and triggerfishes.
  • Lonsdale Wall - This great wall dive provides scuba divers with exciting swim-throughs where stunning soft coral, hanging sea fans and sponges have taken over. A variety of fish like to take shelter under the ledges, overhangs or undercuts. You can spot cuttlefish, seastars, nudibranch, blue devilfish among many others. 

    There are many options for liveaboard trips in Australia. Most of them include the Great Barrier Reef. Joining a dive liveaboard will give you the ultimate diving holiday in Australia and will also show you some beautiful sites that dive boats are not able to visit. Australia also has plenty of dive resorts, which are more suitable if you want to also discover some of the great topside activities Australia has to offer. 

    See our live availability to some of the best liveaboards in Australia.

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    Australia Travel Information & Tips

    about the country

    The largest country in Oceania, but the smallest continent in the world, is located in between the Indian and Pacific ocean. Traveling and backpacking around Australia is extremely popular, not least because of sites like the Great Barrier Reef. From the northwest, it shares its borders with Indonesia and with New Zealand from the southeast. Australia is very biodiverse above and underwater and has some absolutely breathtaking places to see. Australia is divided into six states: Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia, and South Australia. All of the areas are provide excellent diving opportunities. 

    View Location on Google Map


    The continent located south of the equator attracts scuba divers all year round and mainly to dive the Great Barrier Reef. Nevertheless, the island itself is huge and offers countless of beautiful dive sites beyond the famous reef. The choices for scuba divers are endless from colorful coral reefs, wrecks, giant kelp forests, and big pelagics. You can even dive with the great white sharks! Besides enjoyable fun dives, Australia is also a great place to get your dive certification in the first place as it has dive sites for all levels of divers. More experienced divers can also upgrade their skills by taking some technical diving courses. 

    Check out diving the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef from Belize or the Yucatan in Mexico.

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    Most scuba divers go diving in Australia to see the world heritage area, the Great Barrier Reef, that is home to more than 1500 fish species. Though Australia has a very diverse marine life, the destination is still best for seeing big fish rather than macro life. You can spot lots of different species of sharks like blacktip, whitetip sharks or wobbegongs. Whales are also quite common and you can see some humpback whales and minke whales. The Great Barrier Reef is also home to all the six of the whole world's seven turtle species.

Here are some of the marine life you are likely to see when scuba diving in Australia: 

  • Sharks
  • Turtles
  • Whales
  • Manta Rays
  • Dolphins
  • Seals
  • Sea Lions
  • Giant Clams
  • Maori Wrasse
  • Clown Fish
  • Cuttlefish
  • Octopus
  • Seahorse
  • Goblinfish
  • Leafy Seadragon
  • Nudibranch


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The best time to dive fluctuates for what area of Australia you are diving. Numerous areas are accessible year-round, but the southern parts can have bad weather between May-October.  



  • Water Temperatures: Can be anywhere between 70 - 87 degrees.
  • Visibility: Visibility on day trips will be between 50 and 100 ft. while further sites reached via liveaboard can be up to 150 ft. 
  • Depth Range: The majority of dive sites will be relatively shallow, 30 - 60 feet.


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There are several airlines that fly non-stop between Australia and the US. The airport in Sydney offers the best options for international and domestic flights. Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide also have many international flights. 

Continue your travels with a trip to neighbouring Thailand.



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 general, the Great Barrier Reef is the most popular, but the Coral Sea is better. Many divers will visit as part of an Australia packages tour, often stopping off at various dive sites around the country.



Besides numerous underwater adventures, the country itself has great topside activities being home to some gorgeous beaches, unique wildlife, mountains, and rainforests. 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. Australia is an inspiring place to visit, find out all about it.

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Liveaboard availability

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The rates shown below are per person in USD. The actual rates provided by the operators are based in Australian Dollar (AUD). The pricing at the time of booking may vary depending on the latest AUD/USD exchange rate.


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Practical Information

  • Currency: Australian Dollar (AUD)
  • Electricity: 230V 50Hz
  • Language: English
  • Time Zone: Australia has 5 standard time zones: Australian Western Standard Time (AWST) - UTC+8; Australian Central Western Standard Time (ACWST) - UTC+8:45; Australian Central Standard Time (ACST) - UTC+9:30; Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) - UTC+10; Lord Howe Standard Time (LHST) - UTC+10:30
  • Entry Requirements: You must have a valid U.S. passport and a visa to enter Australia. Most U.S. passport holders traveling to Australia for tourism or business purposes for less than 90 days can obtain an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA).

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Reviews (12)


I had the chance to dive a variety of sites across Australia in 2007.

In terms of Marine Life, Australia is a large country with a large variety of marine life depending on the location you are diving. I had the chance to both snorkel (no diving) with the whalesharks in Western Australia, and spend time in the Great Barrier reef. However, my favorite site in Australia is Fish Rock (photograph below), which this review will largely focus on.


This dive site is located on the East coast of Australia, and is a bit of a train ride north of Sydney. However, the diving is great: 45ft+ visibility, and teeming with fish life. The water is not tropical, but a 5 mm wetsuit kept me warm. Also, there is a large population of nurse sharks that hover on the site, and allow you to get quite close. There were also large numbers of wobbegong sharks on every rock. Truly a wonderful shark dive.

Fish Rock is more suited to seasoned divers, who are comfortable in the water. The dive sit is best if you can go below 60 ft, and are comfortable with a bit of surge/current.

In terms of topside activities, Fish Rock is located in a small town, and I did not partake in any topside activities (nor am I away of any). Australia itself is a large developed country, and I do not think anything else needs to be said about the topside activities.

In terms of value, Australia is not cheap. The Australian dollar was doing quite well while I was there, and Fish Rock is in a relatively remote location. Nonetheless, I thought a weekend of diving was worth the cost, and would do it again.

Visited on 07/2007 - Submitted on 02/04/2014

Various room types with the basic type very close to the water and easy access to excellent snorkelling. Staff were pleasant although the resort has changed management a few times over the last 6 years so resort name may change. The food is set menus for all three meals but usually in buffet style so you can satisfy the appetite you develop while diving. Decent wine and drinks list as well with a nice bar overlooking the stunning reef stretching away from the island. It's not infinity style but nice none the less and has a few snacks as well if you get hungry outside of main meal times.

Excellent snorkelling with a great mix of rays (sting, shovel nose plus others) plus white and black tip reef sharks, in the larger marine animal range. Heron has a good turtle conservation mentality with a good mix of education and access to green and loggerhead turtles both laying (late in the year) and hatchlings (Jan - March).

Diving gave us access to numerous sites within 10 minutes from the jetty by boat with great variety and healthy corals and huge range of marine life from nudibranchs and all the species the GBR is famous foreigner up to the larger stuff. From turtles to sharks ( black and white tip reef, bull, grey nurse, and tigers) plus we I got to spend several dives (in March) surrounded by several Mantas.

There is a research centre with the university of Queensland there as well which means plenty of scientific expertise around to help identify what ever you catch on film.

Only downsides are it is in the higher price range and crossing the channel on the 3 hour ferry from Gladstone can hit some pretty rough water. There is always the helicopter option though and it's spectacular in terms of seeing how extensive the Great Barrier Reef really is. The distance is part of what makes it so well preserved as there are no day trippers to mix with. The fairly constant sea breezes make the lack of air conditioning ok but on a hot humid day fans get a workout.

Visited on 03/2013 - Submitted on 02/05/2014


Flinders Pier - Western Port Harbour, Victoria, Australia.
Flinders is a favourite site of mine, approx 2 hrs drive from Melbourne situated just around the corner of Western Port Heads in a sheltered location. Parking can be a bit of a hassle if the day is quite hot especially on weekends. There is no where close to get air/nitrox fills so make sure that you bring enough tanks to last the day. There is a great bakery at the top of the hill (very steep) so grab some food there before you go down to the pier. Diving is mostly done under the pier with a max depth of 8mtrs at high tide (low tide - 2mtrs) therefore check to see what the tides are before going. Visibility can sometimes be a bit of a problem especially after a storm. But most times it is approx 15mtrs. Beware of fishermen also. There is two entry points 1st is half way down the pier at the lower landing (giant stride) or entry from the beach directly under the pier. Exit points are halfway along the pier at the ladder or back up the beach. This site is fantastic for macro photography with nudi's, blennies, sponges and feathers. In abundance are Weedy Sea Dragons and the pier is also home to nursery fish which are great for wide angle photos. There is also the resident Bull Rays 3 of them. I have had the opportunity of watching these rays during mating and it was truely amazing. This is an easy site for diving and the shallow depth gives a longer bottom time for those that are taking photos. There is a fair variety of different areas around and under the pier ranging from sea grasses to rocky bottom, nearly at the end of the pier is a old engine which has a lot of critters and fish living in it and just off the end of the pier is an old shipwreck (not much left of it now). I have dived this site now on numerous occassions and have seen newbie divers right up to more experienced divers with 100's of dives under their belts coming back and saying did you see that great ............. or saying what a fantastic site wished i had known about this years ago. I love taking divers there just for their reactions when they get out of the water and are eager to go back under. As for topside there is not much for you to do between dives, have a walk down the pier and chat to the fishermen, watch the hanggliders take off from the top of the cliff or go for a walk around the rocky headland (which is also a marine reserve have not dived there yet) or just laze about on the beach or under a tree whilst the non divers are cooking up a BBQ on the free BBQ's supplied by Council. The small town of Flinders is situated at the top of the hill with some good shops, eateries and pub. There is also a golf course for the non divers to keep themselves occupied whilst you are have a nice long dive. And finally for the kids there is heaps of australian wildlife for them to spot especially the wallabies and kangaroos.

Visited on 02/2014 - Submitted on 02/06/2014


The destination I will be discussing is specifically Cairns (pronounced Cans) which is one of the main points to the Great Barrier Reef. I also spent a small amount of time in Port Douglas which is the other main entry point and I will discuss the contrasts further down. The discussion is mostly about the place vs the diving as it was the first dive experience I had so my judgement is too newb for people looking for vast information on the diving. The city is located in the state of Queensland which is the Northeastern state. It is very close to the equator and is a hot and very humid place. I was there in their late winter early spring season and it was still in the high 80’s with 80% humidity. Direct flights to Cairns is available from most major cities, I flew from Sydney which is about a two hour flight.

If you are looking for a lot of night life and energy, Cairns is where you want to stay. It has no shortage of hotels and hostels available and the downtown boasts a large area for nightlife. It is the city where Australians come for spring break type activities and there are also a lot of European travelers. There was a lot of restaurants to choose from and plenty of bars to visit. *As a warning, the term hotel can be also applied to bars or pubs so you need to make sure your looking at the right thing when doing internet research*

Cairns is a major hub for reef diving and liveaboard boats. The service I used was the Silverseries and their boat the Silverswift, we went out to the outer reefs. The boat was a spacious catamaran style boat which was configured with a spacious back deck for dive gear and a retractable platform which allowed easy entry and exit for snorkelers and divers. The crew was very friendly and helpful and they provided everything you need for the day. The conditions were not great, visibility was about 50 feet which is not the usual but we were not there for the prime season. The life I did see included small fish like clownfish, schools of barracuda, one turtle that swam away very fast, giant clams, and lots of hard coral. Topside activities I participated in was a tour of the Daintree Rainforest (a World Heritage Site), a saltwater crocodile safari, a hiking tour of Mossman Gorge, and lounging at The Esplanade which is a public lagoon pool at the main park. There wasn’t any great stretches of beach there for people to spend time on.


Port Douglas is very different from Cairns because it is geared towards either an older crowd or people looking for a quiet experience. The downtown was small and very tourist oriented and there was dramatically less bars. Luxury resorts are more common here and the food options were pricier.

Overall this is a great destination for getting both the opportunity for topside activities as well as scuba diving. There are liveaboards available for more serious divers and plenty of services for the beginner diver or snorkeler. Also the local dive operators raved about using one of the operators to travel to the White Sundays (pronounced the Whit-Sundays). I mixed in my visit to Cairns while also visiting Sydney and Melbourne and it is very easy to reach Cairns from those cities.

Visited on 08/2010 - Submitted on 02/11/2014
  • Top Reviewer
Brisbane, QLD

Far Northern Great Barrier Reef, North of Cairns – Day Trips from Port Douglas & Liveaboards to the Ribbon Reefs

I have made this review to look at a few of the aspects of this area that I feel are glossed over in trip reports and other reviews that I have read. A quick google search will tell you all you could need to know about specific sites and the diving in general.


The city of Cairns in Far North Queensland may be the most well know dive spot on the Great Barrier Reef and a prominent fixture on the East Coast backpacker circuit. The diving here is affordable by Australian standards and gives a fair indication of what the Barrier Reef has to offer while great rates for Open Water tickets ensure that more new divers are educated than nearly any other part of the globe. The reefs visited, however, are often chosen more for their suitability for these new divers & snorkelers and are closer to shore to keep the trip times down.

For the more experienced diver a trip North of this area will really pay dividends and show what the Barrier Reef is famous for. Isolated Pinnacles swathed in glorious hard coral, bountiful pelagics, enormous fish & even Whale encounters in season. Every trip here will take you to the very outer edge of the reef with the majority of the top dives being conducted on pinnacles between slivers of reef called the Ribbon Reefs. Starting with Agincourt Reef (more on this below) in the south of the area, these long, thin reefs are roughly orientated on a North-South axis and mark where the edge of the Australian continent shelves off into abyssal depths. The proximity to the open ocean water of the Coral Sea ensures reasonably reliable visibility & fantastic encounters with some incredible wildlife.

Be advised that scuba diving here is expensive. A 7 day liveaboard here is comparable with a week on a mid to top level boat in Komodo or Raja Ampat, and a 3 tank day trip will set you back close to US$300. As a disclosure of my experiences here I should advise that all my diving was done as a volunteer on various boats, working for free dives – in the case of the day trips from Port Douglas I was able to dive the sites numerous times in different moon phases and experience them in every type of weather & current. I was here over ‘the wet’ – Australia’s summer – where the conditions can be less than ideal, though I was rarely left in port due to inclement weather and never experienced a bad dive. The boats used here are sturdy, comfortable and most have stabilising features; however even so, those prone to debilitating seasickness would be well advised to keep a good eye on the conditions.

Port Douglas Day Trips:

Port Douglas is an old fishing village cum glitzy resort town on a spit of land protruding out from the area’s rainforest clad mountains. The vast majority of the accommodation here is in big name resorts and can be reasonably affordable for those wishing to live the pampered life for a week. There is also a large backpacker/dive themed hostel there for the more adventurous travellers who want to get away from the (admittedly so much fun that it should be illegal) Cairns hostel world. There are regular busses from Cairns and some of the operators will pick you up in their own company coaches. The price is only marginally more expensive than the Cairns boats and I would really advise everyone to head up here.

The Operators here tend to either visit the Agincourt complex of reefs, which are more numerous and in my opinion feature more varied and superior quality diving or Opel Reef to the south – though my favourite ever Great Barrier Reef dive, Split Bommie, is on Opel Reef but was unfortunately rarely visited in my time there. The moorings are privately registered with the QLD government and though a couple of the operators have agreements on shared usage of sites they do not swap reefs. A cursory glance on each companies’ website will confirm which reef they visit.

Most of the boats will feature a mix of snorkelers & divers and will visit 2 or 3 different sites in a day with both groups exploring the same site. One of the largest companies out there, Quicksilver Cruises, has a different approach; they maintain a static, floating pontoon to which the majority of the snorkelers and families are taken while a separate boat ‘Silverswift’ goes out with divers and more adventurous snorkelers and visits a selection of sites. All boats provide buffet lunches and are large enough for everyone to be able to sit comfortably at a table throughout the day when not in the water.

The sites in the Agincourt group are largely based around big bommies in the lee of the reef with slack currents and a few drift dives when water movement allows. You can expect to encounter plenty of Grey Reef Sharks, large predatory Groupers & Trevally and what I think of as one of the best aspect of diving in Australia: edible fish. Having spent a lot of time diving in Asia I love to come back to Australia and regularly dive with animals that are non-existent elsewhere. This is particularly true of the Agincourt Reefs; Napoleon Wrasse, Spanish Mackerel, Tunas, Giant Trevally, Barramundi Cod & more Coral Trout than you can shake a stick at. It is only once you have spent time on a truly healthy reef that you realise how much even the finest sites in most of Asia lack these animals.

By contrast, Opel reef is a separate large oval reef. Dives here are what I consider to be classic Barrier Reef dives; along the edge of the reef from 20 metres depth working up to the reef flat. It has great hard coral cover and looks fantastic in the shallows with the sun out. The aforementioned ‘Split Bommie’ site is set back slightly from the reef proper and features two large pinnacles joined at the base in around 30 metres of water. Being more irregular that the main reef the bommies feature plenty of nooks and hiding holes for a variety of creatures including two of the largest Cuttlefish I have ever seen. I’ve also heard talk of visits from Hammerhead sharks from time to time.


Liveaboard Trips to the Ribbon Reefs:

This is where the real magic happens. There are currently 3 operators regularly offering 3 day, 4 day & 7 day trips up to the famous ‘Cod Hole’ based at Ribbon Reef #9, off-shore from Lizard Island with the 4 & 7 day trips then heading out to the open ocean to visit the very sharky Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea for some good shark diving. The more pricey companies will fly you either to or from Lizard island for the 3 day & 4 day trips where the 7 day ones will start and finish at Cairns. I’m not in possession of the required robustness of bank account to have visited Osprey Reef but I can wax lyrical all day about the Ribbon Reef portion of the trips. You can expect anything and everything to turn up on these trips if your luck is in. Additionally, I think I enjoyed the feeling of travelling through and diving reefs that s2ee very little action as enjoyable as the dives themselves.

The sites are similar to those mentioned above but are deeper, the water clearer, the predatory fish bigger, schools of fish larger and feature far more of the little creatures than further south. My personal favourites are ‘Steve’s Bommie’ – though I think this is everyone’s favourite - and ‘Pixie Pinnacle’. Both are huge pillars of coral set back in the blue in between gaps in the Ribbon Reefs. Whilst on Steve’s Bommie I looked up from admiring a Frogfish & a couple of Stonefish to see the biggest Grey Reef shark I’ve ever witnessed swimming past. A special mention for night dives here – with the floodlights on at the rear of the boat night dives turn into carnage with bait fish attracted to the light and then brutally slaughtered by Giant & Black trevally and the odd shark. I was lucky enough to see a couple of enormous free swimming Moray Eels join the fun at one point too. All this with weather so bad we couldn’t even make it up to the Cod Hole.

Though the experience of these trips is very weather dependent and the financial outlay considerable I would still suggest a visit to anyone who appreciates witnessing a healthy reef system complete with all the top predators, coral in great condition and the feeling of scuba diving somewhere remote.

Visited on 12/2009 - Submitted on 02/19/2014


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