Bigger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing on Earth visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is so huge that it wouldn’t be difficult to devote an entire article to its best dive spots. But there’s more to diving Down Under than this underwater wonder – in every state, you’ll find dives as exciting as they are varied. We take a look at some of the headline dive sites across this beautiful continent.
The Wreck of the SS Yongala, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland
What: It’s been over a century since the SS Yongala sank 90 kilometres offshore of Townsville in a cyclone, and today this artificial reef is one of Australia’s bucket-list dives. The heritage site attracts supersized sea life that rivals the far-flung and much less accessible outer reefs of Queensland.
Why: Big sharks, massive rays, huge groupers and potato cod, and masses of olive sea snakes – the Yongala wreck is a bustling marine metropolis that will have you coming back time and again.
When: Go in the winter months if you want to stand a chance of adding humpback whales to your list. While the water is cooler at this time of year, the visibility tends to be better.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia
What: Lying around 100 kilometres southwest of Adelaide, Kangaroo Island is one of just a few places where both Australian sea lions and New Zealand fur seals can be found. But the island is also the place to see one of Australia’s true beauties: the leafy seadragon.
Why: The leafy seadragon is the main draw, but make sure you enlist the help of one of the local dive guides, who are experts at finding these enigmatic creatures. You’ll also see colourful sponges and corals here, and a wide variety of reef fish such as scorpionfish, blue devilfish, wrasse and harlequin fish.
When: The ideal time to dive is between April and June.
Lizard Island, Northern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland
What: One of Australia’s and the world’s top dive spots, Lizard Island National Park also makes an excellent base for divers wanting to visit the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef, particularly the famed Cod Hole and Ribbon Reefs.
Why: As the name suggests, Cod Hole, on Ribbon Reef number 10, is a well-known spot to encounter the giant potato cod, 60-kilogram fish that have become very friendly as a result of years of being fed by divers. Expect triggerfish, sweetlips and trevally to join in during feeding time.
When: The Great Barrier Reef is a year-round destination, but you’ll usually have the best conditions from August to January.
Byron Bay, Near Brisbane, New South Wales
What: Julian Rocks Marine Reserve is situated at the intersection of northerly and southerly currents, which produces an eclectic mix of marine life. The reserve is an excellent place for beginner divers.
Why: As well as an array of multicoloured corals and sponges, you’ll see everything from sea turtles, manta rays and wobbegongs to dolphins, leopard sharks and humpbacks.
When: The humpbacks make their annual migration from May through to September, while leopard sharks prefer the summer months.
Fish Rock Cave, South West Rocks, New South Wales
What: Located a couple of kilometres off Smoky Cape at South West Rocks on the coast of New South Wales, the 125-metre-long Fish Rock Cave is Australia’s only true ocean cave. It is also an important habitat for grey nurse sharks, which are critically endangered.
Why: The grey nurse sharks gather at the cave in their hundreds to feed, mate and give birth. Silhouetted in the opening to the shallow end of the cave, the grey nurse sharks are joined by hundreds of trumpetfish, black cod, bullseyes, and countless other fish species.
When: Migrating humpbacks and their calves make April to November an ideal time to go.
Neptune Islands, South Australia
What: Australia might be synonymous with great white sharks, but if you want to get up close and personal with these majestic predators, the only place in the country you can do it is South Australia. And one of the best spots in the state is the Neptune Islands, made famous by shark experts Ron and Valerie Taylor.
Why: Which self-repecting diver wouldn’t want to be plonked in a cage and lowered into crystal-clear waters infested with great whites? Keep a look out for bronze whalers, makos, blues and hammerheads, too.
When: The cage diving peak season is May to October, though the water is colder at this time of year. There is still a high chance of seeing great whites from December to February, due to an abundance of seals, and the warmer water and calmer seas are a plus.
Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
What: While most divers flock to the east coast for the Great Barrier Reef, the west coast shouldn’t be overlooked. One terrific spot about halfway up Western Australia is a spectacular 260-kilometre fringing coral reef called Ningaloo Reef.
Why: In addition to boasting a few hundred species of coral and countless species of fish, Ningaloo Reef is a great place to find the planet’s biggest fish, the whale shark. Other possible sightings include loggerhead and hawksbill turtles, mantas, and humpbacks.
When: The whale sharks cruise by the reef from March to June, looking for a plankton snack.
Rye Pier, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
What: From Melbourne’s central business district, it’s just 80 kilometres south to get to Rye Pier and a surprising array of temperate marine life. The diving is easy and many city slickers do their first open water dives here.
Why: The pylons beneath the pier are where the action is: pot-bellied seahorses, blennies, ornate sponges and multihued nudibranchs all call this place home. But it’s on a night dive y
ou’ll find the most interesting critters, including the coveted blue-ringed octopus.
When: The warmer months from October to April make for the most pleasant dives. During winter, a thicker wetsuit or drysuit is necessary.