When we talk about scuba diving in Australia, most of us instantly think about the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s biggest coral reef, and is found outside the Queensland coast in north-east Australia. The entire reef has been declared a World Heritage and it is one of the most popular diving sites in the world.
There is however more to Australia than the Great Barrier Reef. The entire 35,000 kilometre (21,748 miles) long coastline offers great diving opportunities. Just like the Great Barrier Reef outside Queensland, the Northern Territory and West Australia offers tropical diving. In South Australia and Victoria, as well as around the island of Tasmania, you can experience brilliant temperate diving. Having a hard time trying to decide which state to visit? May we suggest New South Wales where you can find an impressive mix of tropical and temperate marine life. The most popular dive sites in this area are around the Solitary Islands and in the Byron Bay close to the Queensland border. A similar mix between tropical and temperate waters is to be found at Australia’s west coast, where the Abrolhos Islands near Geraldton is frequently visited by divers.
A lot of the diving in the Northern Territory takes place not very far from the city of Darwin. It usually requires a little planning, since the waters outside Darwin can be quite a challenge at times. There are large tidal movements as well as neap tides. The spring tides are massive tidal changes, sometime up to 7 metres. Spring tides can decrease the visibility down to 2 metres (6.5 feet). The best way to plan your diving trip is to contact one of the local diving shops and take their advice. Once you’ve managed to find the right day, the diving is very rewarding and diverse and the visibility around 5 to 10 metres (16 to 33 feet). Out-of-harbour visibility is usually even higher, 10 to 15 metres (33 to 49 feet). There are several artificial wrecks in the area, sunk to encourage reefs to grow. The artificial reefs attract a lot of fishes who use them as breeding grounds. Popular dives sites in the Northern Territory include Song Saigon, a fishing boat used by Vietnamese refugees before she was sunk in 1983 to create an artificial reef.
More than one third of the Australian coast line is in West Australia, and there are of course a lot of great diving sites along it. You can choose between tropical marine life, temperate marine life and a mix. The Rottnest Islands is the most frequented diving region in the area, not only because of the wrecks, beautiful reefs and pelagic schools, but also because of its very convenient location not far from Perth and Freemantle. In West Australia you will also find the Rowley Shoals Marine Park, consisting of a chain of pristine coral atolls. Each atoll encompasses an area of 80 to 90 square kilometres (31 to 35 square miles). They are renowned for their almost untouched coral gardens and gigantic clams, as well as 233 species of coral and 688 species of fish, including giant potato cod and maori wrasse. Several species are endemic to the area.
South Australia has come a long way in establishing marine reservations, and you will have a lot of protected areas to choose between. One of them is Aldinga, 45 kilometres (28 miles) south of Adelaide. Maximum depth is 21 metres (69 feet) and the average visibility 18 metres (59 feet). This dive site offers a lot of overhangs with soft corals, and a vertical wall with cracks large enough to swim into. Frequently observed fish include Trevally and great schools of Drummer. Other popular dive sites are HMAS Hobart in Yankalilla Bay, a boat dive for advanced divers only, and Althorpe Islands in Marion Bay where you can swim with seals and big blue groupers.
A lot of the dive sites in Victoria are found in close proximity to Melbourne, at the entrance of the Yarra River. This area offers some of the most highly praised temperate diving in Australia. Spectacular Reef is truly what the name suggests, with stunning rock formations and sheer drop offs. The diving takes place in the middle of the shipping channel. Rip drift at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay is one other impressive dive site in Victoria, but not suitable for beginners. This is not a region without hazards, as hundreds of shippers have found out when their ship has sunk here. Currents exceeding 5 knots are not uncommon and you can be carried quite a few kilometres during a 30 minute dive.
The most popular dive sites in Tasmania are Crayfish Point, Dunnaley Canal (for drift dives), Phoque Rock and the many wrecks around Little Betsy Island. Phoque Rock is very suitable for those who wish to learn cave diving. There are two caves; the first one is open with plenty of room and quite a lot of light, the second one is darker and narrower. They are both home to an abundance of fish and the walls are covered in yellow zoanthids. The area around Little Betsy Island is a virtual graveyard for ships. SS William Cowper, SS Macquarie and ANM Barge are resting so close they are almost touching each other. If you are an experienced wreck diver you can penetrate these wrecks safely, since they are still reasonably intact.
As mentioned above, New South Wales offers temperate marine life in the south, tropical species close to the Queensland border, and a fascinating mix in the middle. The top dive sites are Julian Rocks, The Empire Gladstone and Bushrangers Bay. Bushrangers Bay is an Aquatic Reserve, with two very different sections. If you dive in the Inner Bay you will see many invertebrates and other small critters. The maximum depth is no more than 6 metres (20 feet) and kelp and seaweed is abundant. The Outer Bay extends down to 18 metres (59 feet) and is filled with fish; temperate species as well as tropical ones during the warmer season. Julian Rocks is also a Marine Reserve, consisting of ancient metamorphic rock. It’s a very sheltered area, and popular among turtles and rays. The seasonal changes are very noticeable and the marine life constantly alters. During the middle of the warm season when temperatures are between 24 and 27 degrees Celsius (75 and 81° F) it is almost impossible to dive without encountering the beautiful leopard sharks. During the winter months Julian Rocks is instead home for the grey nurse sharks, and early autumn is manta ray season.