From West to East, dive on Australia's most preserved reefs, and discover an incredible biodiversity
We've searched for the most preserved reefs and sites offering the highest biodiversity to create this guide, taking into account the massive bleaching events that occurred in 2015 and 2016. Whether you're looking forward to go diving on a week-end or looking for a full week trip in a liveaboard, Australia has plenty of options.
Western Australia is home to three famous dive locations: Ningaloo Reef, the Rowley Shoals, and Christmas Island.
Ningaloo reef is Australia’s second largest coral reef and also the best preserved reef of Western Australia. With a length of 260 km (160 miles), it offers a variety of ecosystems and topography: coral gardens, walls and pinnacles and sea grass and sand areas. This UNESCO World heritage site has managed to escape bleaching and it's probably your best bet if you want to go diving in Western Australia. Between March and August, you can also snorkel with whale sharks. Coral Bay, south of Exmouth, offers plenty of opportunity to see manta rays.
Rowley Shoals as well as the remote Christmas Island have both suffered from the coral bleaching events of 2015 and 2016, and have not recovered yet.
Lighthouse Bay: the bay hosts several dive sites only 30 minutes from Bundegi Beach, Exmouth: the most famous ones being the Labyrinth, Gulliver’s, Dibley’s, Blizzard Ridge and Helga’s Tunnels. Most of the dive sites are shallow, with a maximum depth of 15 meters, offering lots of light on healthy coral and limestone formations. The marine life is very diverse and rich, with 250 corals and 450 species of fish. You'll get to see some trevallies, sea snakes, turtles, wobbegong and leopard sharks, dugong, rays, nudibranchs, some whale sharks and humpback whales in season.
Coral Bay: just one a half hour drive south of Exmouth, Coral Bay is the place to go if you're looking forward to swim with reef mantas rays. A population of more than 600 mantas has been identified there, with 6O of them seen on a regular basis in the cleaning stations. Bateman's Bay is the place to go to see them.
You can dive at Ningaloo Reef year round:
to see whalesharks, the best time to go is between March and August.
humpback whales are spotted between June and November.
Fly to Learmonth (LEA) airport with Qantas. The flight takes about 2 hours, and then drive to Exmouth (30 minutes) or Coral Bay (an hour 15 minutes)
The second shortest and cheapest option is to take a train from Perth to Exmouth. There are 14 trains a day, and it takes about 12 hours with 2 or 3 changes involved
You can also drive all the way from Perth. It takes about 13 hours and it is perfect if you can do it over a few days, stopping en route to visit the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park
Finally, you can always take a bus from Perth but prepare yourself for a long journey: it takes fifteen and a half hours to reach Coral Bay and seventeen and a half to reach Exmouth
You can dive on Coral Bay and Lighthouse Bay with a local dive shop
Corals reefs of the Great Barrier Reef were severely impacted by the 2015 and 2016 bleaching events and two severe cyclones. The Australian Institute of Marine Science survey of 50 reefs between September 2017 and May 2018 showed that the Northern part of the Great Barrier Reef has lost 50% of its coral cover. The central and the southern parts of the Great Barrier Reef have also been greatly affected. It usually takes coral reefs a decade to recover. This time, there is also a dramatical drop in baby corals, making the recovery more uncertain.
To see healthy reefs, scuba divers will have to go on the outer part of the Great Barrier Reef and further out in the Coral Sea. Due to its remote location, you can only access the Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea with a liveaboard (3 nights starting from ...).
The Ribbon Reefs, located on the outer reef of the Great Barrier Reef are made of 10 individual reefs with a diverse topography: you can see huge plate corals, some pinnacles, channels, caves and canyons.
Further out in the Coral Sea, Osprey Reef is an old volcanic atoll lying 220 km off the coast. You'll get to see there an abundant marine life with schools of pelagic fish, some reef-sharks, some manta rays and minke whales in season.
Finally, further south in Queensland, the SS Yongala, accessible in a long day, offers fantastic dives for wreck lovers.
Cod Hole, Ribbon Reefs: the site is located in the northern part of the Ribbon Reefs. It is home to a group of friendly giant potato cod, that can reach up to 100 kg. The depth of the dive site is between 10 to 30 meters (32 to 100 feet).
Osprey Reef, the Coral Sea: this submerged atoll offers some spectacular walls going down to a depth of a 1000 meters (3300 feet). North Horn is particularly known for its sharks and very healthy corals at depth. You'll also get opportunity to do drift diving, swim through tunnels, explore caves and do some memorable night dives.
SS Yongala Wreck: you'll reach the wreck getting out of Townsville, after roughly a 3 hours boat ride. Sank in 1911, the steam ship is still mostly intact. It has created an artificial reef attracting big schools of fish, some barracudas, turtles, rays and sharks. You'll need to have your advanced certification as most of the dive site is between 15 to 29 meters (50 to 95 feet).
January through April, the water temperature ranges: 29° (84°F)
May through August, the water temperature ranges: 24° (75°F)
September through December, the water temperature averages 27° (81°F)
To go to the Outer Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea:
fly to Cairns (CNS), in Australia, Queensland
take a 4 to 7 days liveaboard to the Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef (3 nights starting from ...) in the Coral Sea
To go to the SS Yongala wreck in South Queensland:
drive to Ayr and take a boat with a local dive shop. It takes 30 to 40 minutes to get to the wreck site.
if leaving with a dive shop from Townsville, be prepared to spend the day at sea as it takes 3 hours with a speedboat to reach the site.
Julian Rocks is only 2,5 km (1,5 mile) off Byron Bay, in Cape Byron Marine Park. The particularity of this site is that both tropical and temperate waters meet, bringing up to a thousand marine species: turtles, whales, manta rays, or leopard sharks to name a few. There are six dive sites you can explore at Julian Rocks.
Lord Howe Island hosts the planet's most southerly reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Reef. Located a couple hours flying from Sydney in the Tasman Sea, its marine life is very diverse, with no less than five majors currents joining in. There are more than 60 dive sites to explore, with 90 species of coral and 500 species of fish.
Julian Rocks, Byron Bay: a short boat ride from Byron Bay is Julian Rocks, named by James Cook in 1776. The rocks used to be an extension of Cape Byron. They are now separated by the ocean and the mix of tropical and moderate currents attract plenty of marine species. There are 6 dive sites you can discover, at a rather shallow depth: from 6 to 24 meters (19 to 78 feet).
Balls Pyramid, Lord Howe Island: this dive site is at the base of an erosional remnant of a volcano formed 6.4 millions years ago, 20 kilometers south of Lord Howe Island. Plenty of marine life including the rare Ballina angelfish, some amberjack, kingfish, marlin and dolphins are spotted there.
You can dive all year round in Byron Bay:
from June to November you can spot nurse sharks.
from December to May it's leopard sharks and manta rays season.
You can dive in Lord Howe Island from September to May.
To go to Byron Bay, you can either fly or drive:
fly to Ballina Byron Gateway Airport (BNK)
from Brisbane, it's a two hours drive
you can dive on Julian Rocks with a local dive shop
To get to Lord Howe Island, flying is the only option. The airport you fly into is LDH:
from Sydney (SYD), Qantas flies there once a day. It's a two hours flight
From Brisbane (BNE), Qantas flies there only once or twice a week
You can dive with a local dive shop
Currents can be really strong in Lord Howe Island and some sites of the Coral Sea, so bring along a surface marker buoy, and know how to use it. We also recommend you to have a Nautilus Lifeline, a GPS that could save your life if taken by currents.
We always recommend to have your own dive gear, well maintained, you'll be safer and more comfortable. Light and compact dive gear is particularly suited for travels.
Finally, remember to always use a reef-safe sunscreen
The Ghan, the train that goes from Adelaide to Alice Springs is a fantastic way to discover Australia's desert and travel slowly: the journey takes about 24 hours. From Alice Springs, you'll need to drive 5 to 6 hours to Uluru where there's a campground. Uluru or Ayer's Rock is so beautiful at sunrise that you'll be happy to have spent there a few days. You can combine this trip with a visit to the Olgas and Kings Canyon, two other aboriginal sacred sites. From Alice Springs, you can also take a tour that will take you to all three places.
Sydney offers plenty of walking trails. One we particularly like is leaving from North Sydney going all the way to Manly Beach. Perfect for a relaxed afternoon, this trail offers great view on the city and even some swimming opportunity. You'll arrive at Manly Beach for the end of the afternoon, after a 3 to 4 hours walk (10 km or 6 miles). Enjoy a cold drink at Hugo's or the Manly Wharf Hotel watching a beautiful sunset!
The Great Ocean Road starts at Torquay, approximately 100 kilometers from Melbourne, and finishes 244 km further west at Allansford. The highlight of the journey is the 12 Apostles, made of limestones. The view at sunset is particularly stunning. There is more than a spectacular scenery in the Great Ocean Road: you can also do great walks and surf along the coast.