Best dive sites around Australia

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With approx. 60,000km of pristine coastline, Australia is blessed with world-class dive sites offering some of the best marine and wildlife encounters in the world.

Living on the world’s biggest island surrounded by pristine ocean, it’s no wonder Australians enjoy watery activities. And Australian scuba divers are spoilt for choice with world-class dive sites dotted along the entire coast offering incredible underwater and wildlife encounters. Why travel overseas when we have all this awaiting a few steps from our front door? Dive specialist Diveplanit Travel have nominated their favourite dive sites around Australia in this comprehensive round up to inspire your next underwater adventures.

Queensland Dive Sites

Great Barrier Reef. Credit Tourism Tropical North Queensland

Great Barrier Reef. Credit Tourism Tropical North Queensland

Ribbon Reefs and the Coral Sea

There’s never been a better time to dive the pristine, rarely-visited outer reefs of the Great Barrier Reef with dive sites like the Ribbon Reefs in the Coral Sea accessible only by liveaboard dive boats. Mike Ball Dive Expeditions has just announced four brand new Great Barrier Reef itineraries to the Ribbon Reefs, Cod Hole, and in the Coral Sea, Osprey (shark city) and Bougainville Reefs. Choose a from 4 or 5-night trips to the Ribbon Reefs, Cod Hole and the Coral Sea, or explore the Far North Coral Sea on a 7-night Exploratory dive trip.

Cairns and the outer Great Barrier Reef

Pro Dive Cairns is running 3-Day/2-Night liveaboard trips to the Outer Reef each week with up to 11 dives, including two-night dives, on a variety of 19 dive sites over four reefs: Flynn, Thetford, Milln and Pellowe Reefs. You will encounter a wide diversity of marine life including giant clams, turtles, stingrays, reef sharks, an incredible variety of tropical fish, spectacular coral formations and consistent underwater visibility.

Townsville and Magnetic Island

The stunning Central Great Barrier Reef is sometimes overlooked in favour of its more famous northern cousins off the coast of Cairns and Port Douglas. But there are two great reasons to rediscover beautiful reefs such as John Brewer and Lodestone reefs. The 100-year old shipwreck of the Yongala along with a fascinating new underwater installation by world-famous sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor; Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA). Dive it by liveaboard with Adrenalin Dive, based in Ayr with Yongala Dive or base yourself on magnificent Magnetic Island.

Museum of Underwater Art. Credit Matt Curnock

Museum of Underwater Art. Credit Matt Curnock

Heron Island

Heron Island is in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, reached by helicopter or ferry from Gladstone, is famous for its spectacular coral reef and a sanctuary for diverse marine life. Accommodation on Heron Island ranges from rooms set amongst a leafy forest, to beachside rooms with immediate access to crystal clear waters teeming with nesting turtles, reef fish, turtles, rays, reef sharks and more. 20 dive sites nearby are easily accessible by boat within minutes of the Heron Island jetty.

Lady Musgrave Island & Bundaberg

Remote and completely natural, beyond a rudimentary campsite with compost toilets, Lady Musgrave Island sits far out on the continental shelf. Lady Musgrave, like equally remote Lady Elliot Island, attracts impressive pelagic action including leopard sharks, reef sharks, turtles, all sorts of rays including mantas and the occasional migrating humpback whale.

Accessible from nearby Bundaberg, the HMAS Tobruk was only scuttled a couple of years ago but has already attracted large schools of Jacks, barracuda, bat fish, a couple of resident turtles and Queensland gropers.

Lady Elliot Island

Lady Elliot Island is one of those rare gems that exist through the serendipitous combination of location and human intervention. Location is important as the island is just 10 km from the edge of the continental shelf and the East Australian Current. This means frequent pelagic action such as manta rays, migrating whales and nesting grounds for green and loggerhead turtles. And human intervention? Lady Elliot Island sits within the Green (no take) Zone of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which is why the corals are in perfect condition and over 1,000 marine species can be found in the waters around the island.

Lady Musgrave. Credit Tourism Australia

Lady Musgrave. Credit Tourism Australia

New South Wales Dive Sites

Lord Howe Island

Lord Howe Island is not the first place scuba divers think of when planning the perfect dive getaway. But the island out in the Tasman Sea is actually the perfect destination for an adventurous scuba diver to escape to for a week’s diving holiday. Lord Howe offers an idyll where tropical, sub-tropical and temperate ocean currents converge, a nice long reef around a lagoon, perfect for diving and snorkelling inside the lagoon with more adventurous diving outside in the gullies and arches. Then there’s sharp drop-offs and smaller islands with a variety of dive sites, making Lord Howe a divers secret paradise. With limited capacity to accommodate visitors, Lord Howe books up quickly with many divers returning annually.

Julian Rocks

Among the regular species found year-round at Julian Rocks, a 10-15 minute boat rude from Byron Bay, are wobbegong sharks, eagle rays, cuttlefish, king fish, trevally, mulloway, and three different species of sea turtle – Loggerhead, Green and Hawksbill. There is an abundance of hard and soft coral. You can also see Manta Rays, Grey Nurse Sharks, and Leopard (also called Zebra) Sharks at various times throughout the year.

Nelson Bay

Whether you’re interested in the big stuff, or teeny tiny macro delights, you’ll find it here in Nelson Bay, Port Stephens, which has long been a popular NSW seaside retreat. Some locals will tell you that if you haven’t dived North Rock or Looking Glass (think large schools of grey nurse sharks), you don’t deserve to call yourself a real diver. Conversely, others might say: ‘If you haven’t done Fly Point or Pipeline then likewise!’ (nudibranchs, seahorses and all sorts of macro wonders).

Jervis Bay

Weedies, whales and the world’s whitest sand. Jervis Bay is 3 hours’ drive south of Sydney – it’s already Insta-famous for having the world’s whitest sand at Hyams Beach and the underwater world in the bay itself is pretty special as well. With over 60 dive sites, divers can expect to see weedy sea dragons, wobbegongs, grey nurse sharks, Port Jackson sharks, beautiful sponge gardens and… right now is a great time to swim with humpback whales.

Coffs Harbour

Coffs Harbour diving opportunities includes the marine reserves of the Solitary Islands, and South Solitary Island in particular. There amongst boulders, walls and gutters you will see anything from Mantas to Handfish, and everything in between, and at the nearby Split Solitary amongst coral and kelp you will see many species of resident fish, as well as eels, turtles and grey nurse sharks. In season (May to September) you can also swim with migrating humpback whales.

West Australian Dive Sites

Snorkelling with whalesharks at Ningaloo. Credit Exmouth Dive and Whalesharks Ningaloo

Snorkelling with whalesharks at Ningaloo. Credit Exmouth Dive and Whalesharks Ningaloo

Whale Sharks and Whales at Ningaloo Reef

Swim with whale sharks and humpback whales and dive Ningaloo Reef from Exmouth. The Coral Coast’s Ningaloo Reef is a pristine aquatic wonderland that is home to an abundance of marine life including dolphins, manta rays, turtles, humpback whales and of course the whale sharks. Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks are whale shark tour pioneers, with the experience, knowledge and reputation that will ensure that your day will be an ‘experience of a lifetime’.

Exmouth Navy Pier

Also based at Exmouth, Dive Ningaloo is the only dive centre with access to world-famous dive site Exmouth Navy Pier voted as one of the top 10 dive sites in Australia, and one of the top shore dives in the world. Dive Ningaloo specialises in small groups, personal service and adventure diving in the best, remote and beautiful places, travelling to remote Muiron Islands and untouched reef.

Rowley Shoals

The Rowley Shoals is a chain of three spectacular pristine coral atolls which rise up from the ocean floor 400 m below on the very edge of Australia’s continental shelf, hence one of the most remote dive locations in Australia and diving Rowley Shoals is seasonal with trips only available around October each year. Dive amongst the giant clams, shellfish, giant potato cod and Maori Wrasse. Trevally, mackerel and tuna hover in large schools around you, and you can discover over 200 species of coral and over 650 species of fish. Visibility in excess of 60 metres is common.

Christmas Island

Remote and rugged Christmas Island is considered Australia’s version of the Galapagos. Closer to Indonesia than Australia in the northern Indian Ocean, Christmas Island has pristine coral reefs and plenty of pelagic action including schools of silky sharks, mantas, eagle rays and whale sharks. Being so remote, you’ll be diving with small groups, with pristine reefs, forests of enormous gorgonian fans and plenty of sea caverns to explore. Plus, during surface intervals, swim with spinner dolphins.

Cocos Keeling Island

Cocos Keeling Island is a little remote slice of palm tree-line paradise in the Indian Ocean, with pristine coral reefs and mantas, eagle rays, schooling reef sharks, pods of dolphins, a resident friendly dugong called Kat – and (officially) Australia’s most beautiful beach at Direction Island – also home to one of the world’s best drift snorkels.

South Australian Dive Sites

Kangaroo Island. Credit Tourism Australia

Kangaroo Island. Credit Tourism Australia

Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island is a nature lovers dream. With large, resident pods of bottlenose dolphins, it is the ideal location to immerse yourself with these playful mammals. According to underwater photographer Rosie Leany; “Getting buzzed by a pod of highly intelligent mammals who are just as curious about you, is an amazing feeling.” Shore diving at Kingscote Jetty will also reveal a wide array of macro wonders, from blennies and angler fish to the odd leafy sea dragon. Scott is running photography tours here in 2021.

Neptune Islands

To see a Great White Shark in the wild is absolutely grand and rare, but to come face to face with one underwater is one of the most exciting experiences available to divers today! Come and ‘hunt with cameras’ the world’s best known and most feared shark with the world’s best: Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions. On a 4-day liveaboard trip you will also encounter New Zealand fur seals and an abundance of bird life, dolphins and other unique fish and wildlife.

Fleurieu Peninsula

The beautiful Fleurieu Peninsula is home to one of the world’s most unique species of marine life, the leafy seadragon. These stunning creatures are found nowhere else in the world except the Great Southern Reef of Australia.


Each winter, tens of thousands of Australian Giant Cuttlefish gather to mate and spawn. This mass event happens nowhere else in the world. These cuttlefish are endemic to South Australia and have a very short life cycle of two years, which means the need to mate in such large numbers ensures the success of generations to come. A great way to see both leafy sea dragons and giant cuttlefish, and learn how to photograph them, is on a tour with award-winning photographer Scott Portelli.

More information: Diveplanit Dive Travel

About the author: Fiona Harper is a Queensland-based travel writer – follow Fiona at Travel Boating Lifestyle

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