Scuba Destinations



From its famous reef to the mysterious undersea mountains of the Coral Sea, Queensland offers everything . . . .
The east coast of Queensland (here's the map), particularly to the north, has Australia's busiest dive industry and most famous dive sites. Most of the scuba diving is tropical reef diving and popular diving areas are:

  • Cairns which is on the same latitude as Fiji, Tahiti and Acapulco. It has two World Heritage listed sites - Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest 
  • Port Douglas - just 1 hour's drive along the coast from Cairns in Tropical North Queensland, Port Douglas is perfectly located to visit the Great Barrier Reef, the tropical rainforest and the Australian Outback.
  • the Whitsunday Islands.

The Great Barrier Reef can be accessed from Cairns and Townsville in the North and the Whitsunday Islands further south.  It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is managed by The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).  It's so vast, it can even be seen from space; take a look at the pictures.

The reefs to the far north are generally visited by liveaboards rather than day trips. You can dive on the shallow Inner Reef or do shore dives from some of the islands in a day trip.  Week long liveaboards will take you to the ribbon reefs and the Coral Sea; huge tame potato cod and maori wrasse can be seen at nearby Cod Hole.

The wreck of the SS Yongala lies towards the south of the reef in open water. The SS Yongala sank in a cyclone in 1911 and by the time the wreck was properly identified in 1958 it had become a haven for sealife. Thanks to the currents, the wreck is populated by oversized reef species. Other commonly seen sealife includes sharks, turtles, Queensland groupers as large as small cars, rays and sea snakes.

The Southern Reef Islands have good diving on Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island.

The HMAS Brisbane was sunk off the Sunshine Coast in late July 2005 in order to create a diveable artificial reef in between 12-27 meters of water. Operators visit this site from Noosa and Mooloolaba.

Best time to go:

  • January to March is considered the cyclone season with amazing feeding and marine life action following the breeding season.  But, if the weather does not co-operate, the visibility can be poor, down to 5 metres.
  • April to September is winter, which can offer great visibility and beautiful weather but sometimes strong winds.
  • October to December also has wonderful weather with lots happening under the water as most coral reef species breed during this time.

[Photo Credit - Queensland Tourism]

What to see:
  • The Yongala Wreck which sank in 1911 with the loss of all aboard.  This wreck is totally protected and divers are no longer allowed to penetrate the wreck as the air bubbles trapped inside would cause damage.  The seas around the Yongala are notoriously rough.
  • Port Douglas: Among the fabulous dive sites off Port Douglas, north of Cairns, are Split-Bommie, with its delicate fan corals and schools of fusiliers; Barracuda Pass, with its coral gardens and giant clams; and the swim-through coral spires of the Cathedrals.
  • Lizard Island: Snorkel over 150-year-old giant clams in the Clam Garden.  Nearby is the famous Cod Hole, where divers can hand-feed giant potato cod.
  • Cairns: Moore, Norman, Hardy, Saxon, and Arlington reefs and Michaelmas and Upolu cays -- all about 90 minutes off Cairns for endless dive sites and great snorkeling.
  • Coral Sea: In this sea east of the Great Barrier Reef off north Queensland, you'll see sharks feeding at Predator's Playground; 1,000m (3,280 ft.) drop-offs in the Abyss; reefs covering hundreds of square miles; and tropical species not found on the Great Barrier Reef. Visibility is excellent -- up to 100m (328 ft.).
  • The Whitsunday Islands: As well as Blue Pearl Bay, these 74 breathtaking islands offer countless dive sites both among the islands and on the Outer Great Barrier Reef, 90 minutes away. Bait Reef on the Outer Reef is popular for its drop-offs.
  • Heron Island: Easily the number-one snorkel and dive site in Australia.  Take your pick of 22 dive sites: the Coral Cascades, with football trout and anemones; the Blue Pools, favored by octopus, turtles, and sharks; Heron Bommie, with its rays, eels, and Spanish dancers; and more.
  • Lady Elliot Island: coral lagoons, perfect for snorkeling, line this coral cay island off the town of Bundaberg. Boats take you farther out to snorkel above manta rays, plate coral, and big fish. Divers can swim through the blow hole, 16m (52 ft.) down, and see Gorgonian fans, soft and hard corals, sharks, barracudas, and reef fish.
  • Outer Rock: Eight miles north east of Great Keppel Island we find Outer Rock, a large isolated rock rising up from 16-20 metres.  There are 4 main areas that we dive.  On the northern side is a well sheltered bay which gives both protection and excellent diving.  To the east a large rock runs northwards starting at 5 metres of water and descending to 18 metres.  By following this rock around, navigation is very easy .  In the shallow water there is an abundant supply of small coral fish.  Whilst in the deeper waters larger pelagic fish are found roaming.  With lots of gutters in this area that you can swim into, it is great for exploring and you may be lucky to stumble across a large Maori Wrasse that inhabits this area.  Outer Rock has some of the prettiest coral of any of our dive sites.  Looking under the ledges we can sometimes find large Painted Crayfish.
  • Man & Wife Rocks: located between Outer Rock and Great Keppel Island, features a plateau near the islands that is in a depth of around 6-8 metres.  This then drops off to a depth of 18 metres as it is around most of the islands.  Twenty five metres is the maximum depth in this area.  With good coral in around 10 metres it makes for nice easy diving.  Along the rock face of the islands, you will find lots of different soft corals which is ideal for macro photography.  Up in the gutters we find Wobbegong sharks just waiting for their chance to make the front cover of SCUBA DIVER by that ever keen photographer.
  • Barren & Child Islands: Seven miles east of Great Keppel Island are Barren & Child Islands.  Diving these islands allows us to visit numerous sites ranging from 30 metres off Child to a very easy but extremely pretty area in 6-9 metres known as 'One Bum Beach'.  A drift dive in the passage between the islands is an experience, where we find large school of Spanish Mackerel, Tuna, Trevally, Black Kingfish and, occasionally, the odd Manta Ray may be spotted.  The fringing reefs around these two islands ensure an endless display of tropical fish life and spectacular corals.
  • Egg Rock: Australia's best kept secret: Egg Rock-a site of world class diving!  It is a Marine National Park "Green Zone" which means that these islands are totally protected.  This location is look-and-photograph only, and of undisturbed beauty, with wall dives to 30 metres on the seaward side.  Words just can't describe the numerous types of corals and fish life in the area, with some fish up to 60-70 kilograms in weight.  Coral Trout are in abundance and as big as medium size Estuary cod.  Clown Fish (the size of your hand) in their Anemones in patches up to 10 metres in diameter.  Sea Snakes as thick as your arm. Cod as big as a diver and schools of pelagic fish are constantly swimming around.  Bommies in 20 metres of water attract other species of fish like Barramundi Cod, Hussars, Sweetlip, Hump-Headed Batfish and Red Emperor just to name a few.  At Egg as at Child, there is a cave which makes for great exploration.  All in all this site is a photographer’s dream and with or without a camera, a dream come true location.
  • Great Keppe Island: A well sheltered bay located on the north east point of Great Keppel Island serves as an excellent site and is easily accessible in adverse conditions.  Great for such dives as Night and Drift Diving.  Big Peninsula has a horse shoe shape beach with golden sands and coral gardens, which is a popular location to spend some surface interval time and have lunch leading onto our second dive.  Out off the peninsula at 12-14 metres, large bull rays, numerous blue-spotted rays, sea-whips and sea-cucumbers can be found as well as a resident moray eel.  This makes this site a pleasant, leisurely dive site.

Thanks to David at Capricorn Reef Diving for helping us with this information.

Need to know:
  • In Australia, you must have a Recreational scuba diving medical to Australian Standard 4005.1 2000 (AS4005.1 2000).  The South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society lists doctors who have completed a Diving Medical Course and will be able to perform these Medicals. Medicals incur a fee which you pay directly to the doctor.
  • During Box Jellyfish season from November to May, it is not advised to swim outside of net protected beaches.
  • Coral Sea and the Yongala wreck are not day-trip destinations; many dive operators run multiday trips on live-aboard vessels.
  • Make sure you take diver locator devices when diving on the Great Barrier Reef.  There are so many divers that, combined with the strong currents, you can easily get disorientated.  So take a whistle, flag or large SMB - it could be a life saver.
  • Even though Queensland has a tropical climate, it is cool in the winter months (June/Aug) so take a 5 mm wetsuit!
  • If it's shore diving that you want, go to Bowen (part of the Whitsundays) where there is excellent diving right off the beaches. No boat trips to pay for, just walk in off sandy beaches to see ourfringing reefs which are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Useful stuff:
Language: English
Currency: Australia $
Time: GMT +10
Natural hazards: Droughts, floods, bushfires
Climate: North: Tropical
South: Temperate
Diving season: Year round
Water temperature: North: 29C (summer); 25C (winter)
South: 25C (summer); 19C (winter)
Air temperature: North: 24-31C (summer); 17C26C (winter)
South: 20-28C (summer); 9-20C (winter)

Australasia - Queensland: Latest User Reviews

Really Good Open Water Dives  Pure Dive, Queensland 4 Star Rating Added: 21st November 2014 by sarahicks
I did my Open Water with Martin & Bec and they were really friendly, knowledgable and made it fun. They really seem to love what they do, and it was pretty good value. I paid extra to do the learning online, and got mask, snorkel & fins from them which...
A professional and rewarding experience  Brisbane Dive Academy, Queensland 5 Star Rating Added: 6th August 2014 by Balo66
I undertook my Tec 40, 45, and 50 training with BDS and felt that Mick and Ben presented the content extremely well and conducted the practical assessments with professionalism and ease. With the added task loadings associated with Tec diving as compared to Rec diving at times I felt overwhelmed....
Disappointing Diving on the GBR  Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, Queensland 2 Star Rating Added: 16th March 2014 by ricktaylor
Tried out the diving at Lady Elliot Island on the GBR and once again I was disappointed with the diving. So much promise, but not delivered. If anyone is out there from Queensland Tourism or the Australian Tourist board that can show me what Australian diving is about, then let...
Great dive shop  Snorkel Safari Brisbane, Australasia 4 Star Rating Added: 4th March 2014 by Scubajunky
I did a trip to Cook Island. From the time I arrived at the dive shop in Brisbane, to the time I arrived back at the shop after a great day of diving, my experience was first class. The dive leader was great to deal with and nothing was too...
Excellent dive BUT EXPENSIVE!  Sunreef Dive Centre, Queensland 2 Star Rating Added: 30th September 2013 by nickc744
Great shop in an easy to find location just a spit from the boat mooring. We signed up for the double boat dive on the HMAS Brisbane which was just a short ride out from the Mooloolaba foreshore. The ride out was wonderful with plentiful sightings of whales who regaled...
Absolutely Terrible!  Nautilus Scuba Centre, Queensland 1 Star Rating Added: 15th January 2013 by Mailman
Nautilus is the worst dive company I have ever used. Between me and my partner we have almost 80 dives and have dived all over the world including developing countries. The experience began when we got on the boat and started filling out the disclaimer sheet to read that if...
Reef Experience of a Lifetime!  Reef Experience, Queensland 5 Star Rating Added: 27th July 2012 by re78
Our Reef Experience Dive trip was a present to our daughter, Leann, who at the age of 11 passed her PADI OW course...we couldn't think of a better 1st official dive than off the Great Barrier Reef. Our two dives were guided by two wonderful dive masters who made the...
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