The best diving in the world: 10 sites you have to dive before you die

Feb 22, 2013 3 Comments by

With 2,900 kilometres of reef stretching across 5,208 kilometres of coastline, the hardest part of planning an Australian dive holiday is picking where to go.

Depending on the season you can dive with whales, sharks, turtles, manta rays, and just about every fish species under the sun. Yeah, we know, life is hard.

Some tough choices were made to narrow this list down to ten, but we believe these sites offer the best diving in the world – all within our state borders.

SS Yongala, Townsville (Ayr)

Hailed as the one of the best dives in the world year after year, this is without a doubt a dive you shouldn’t miss. The 110-metre steamer capsized during a storm in 1911 and remained undiscovered for nearly half a century. These days it’s one of the largest, intact shipwrecks in the world, lying in 28 metres of water and home to a bucket list of must-see marine creatures.

On the right day you can see manta and eagle rays, bull sharks, turtles, barracudas and a number of large pelagics. Even whale sharks have been reported to pass by during certain times of the year.

How to get there:

Day-trips depart from Townsville (3-hour trip) and Ayr (30 min) every day. Due to the exposed location of the wreck, trips are sometimes postponed when the weather gets rough.

The best diving in the world: 10 sites you have to dive before you die

Photo: Sidney Smith/Yongala Dive

Osprey Reef, Coral Sea

This is as remote as it gets. Lying 110 kilometres north east of the northern Great Barrier Reef, Osprey Reef rewards the daring with 40m+ visibility, jaw-dropping shark action and if the season’s right, the chance to see schooling hammerhead sharks, dogtooth tuna and other pelagic species.

Get front row seats to the biggest shark feed on the reef at North Horn amphitheatre and watch the big boys go head to head in an epic battle for free lunch.

How to get there:

Liveaboards leave Cairns marina every week for 4-7 day expeditions to Osprey Reef and the Coral Sea.

The best diving in the world: 10 sites you have to dive before you die

Hunger games at Osprey Reef.

Cod Hole, Lizard Island

Life’s all about perspective, and looking down the food chute of a 150-kilo potato cod is something you don’t experience every day. The highlight on this site is a fish feed of giant proportions as schools of big potato cod and smaller opportunistic feeders fight for the local sashimi menu served up by your divemaster.

The fish here are used to being fed, making it a perfect spot for budding photographers to get close and personal for that Kodak moment.

How to get there:

Cod Hole is visited by most liveaboards heading to the northern Great Barrier Reef on 3-7 day expeditions.

The best diving in the world: 10 sites you have to dive before you die

How’s it goin’? Diver with potato cod at Cod Hole.

Steve’s Bommie, Ribbon Reefs

The pinnacle of the Great Barrier Reef’s best diving experiences can be found on the northern Ribbon Reefs, far outside the reach of the hustle n’ bustle day-excursions. Starting at 33 metres and almost breaching the surface at 3 metres, Steve’s Bommie is a dream for macro photography and big fish spotting. Critter-lovers will find five different species of anemone fish, pipefish, flatworms and nudibranchs and a healthy variety of hard and soft corals.

On the bigger end, barracudas, reef sharks and schools of big-eye trevally are frequently seen, and if you come between June and July, you might be lucky enough to share the water with a pod of minke whales. Remember the BBC documentary? Yep, just like that.

How to get there:

Liveaboards leave Cairns marina every week for 4-7 day expeditions to the Coral Sea.

The best diving in the world: 10 sites you have to dive before you die

Soup of the day, Steve’s Bommie. Photo: Julia Sumerling/Mike Ball Dive Expeditions

Heron Island, Gladstone

This is one of very few places on the reef where you can walk off the beach and find yourself surrounded by blacktip reef sharks, turtles and the whole cast from Finding Nemo. For measure, Jacques Costeau dubbed the island’s flagship site Heron Bommie one of the ten best dives on the planet.

With more than 16 sites within 15 minutes from the island, it’s a place to kick back and enjoy diving on island time. Convenience aside, the diving is excellent with manta rays, reef sharks and plenty of pelagic species making regular visits to the island’s pristine reefs.

How to get there:

Ferries leave (2-hour trip) from Gladstone several times per day, or if you’re time-strapped and don’t mind splurging, a helicopter can take you across in just 30 minutes.

The best diving in the world: 10 sites you have to dive before you die

Panorama view of Heron Bommie.

Lady Elliot Island, Bundaberg

Another hotspot for born castaways, Lady Elliot Island is a perfect gateway to the dive sites of the Southern Great Barrier Reef. The island’s biggest claim to fame is its resident manta ray population and 30-metre visibility year-round.

When you’re fed up with mantas, take your pick among 1,200 of the Great Barrier Reef’s fish species that call these reefs home.

Bring a wide-angle lens, plenty of sunscreen and a few good books and you have the recipe for the perfect dive holiday.

How to get there:

Lady Elliot Island is accessible by air from Gold Coast, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Hervey Bay and Bundaberg.

The best diving in the world: 10 sites you have to dive before you die

Diver with school of trevally, Lady Elliot Island. Photo: Darren Jew

HMAS Brisbane, Sunshine Coast

This 133-metre decommissioned missile destroyer was sunk on the Sunshine Coast in July 2005 to create an artificial reef for divers and snorkelers. The hull has been cut up in numerous places to make sure you will never find yourself without an exit, making the HMAS Brisbane one of the most accessible wreck dives in the world.

Local residents include large bull and eagle rays, turtles, schools of yellow-tailed kingfish and large Queensland groupers. Look out for the octopus living in one of the pyrotechnic tubes on the ship’s deck as well. The wreck stands upright in 27 metres of water, with the deck starting at 15-18 metres. If you want to go deeper, bring a shovel.

How to get there:

Sunreef and Scubaworld run daily trips to the wreck from Mooloolaba and several Brisbane dive operators offer all-inclusive day trips to the wreck.

Wolf Rock, Rainbow Beach

If you’re looking for big fish you’ve dropped in at the right place. Made up of four volcanic pinnacles rising up from 36 metres in the protected Great Sandy Marine Park, Wolf Rock is a dive to write home about.

These waters host one of the few known mating grounds for critically endangered grey nurse sharks – and eagle rays, mantas and whales make regular appearances. Giant trevally, mackerel, schools of barracuda and other pelagic species are also frequently spotted.

How to get there:

Wolf Rock Dive runs daily trips from Double Island Point, near Rainbow Beach.

The best diving in the world: 10 sites you have to dive before you die

A curious grey nurse shark checks out the camera dome at Wolf Rock. 

Flinders Reef, Brisbane

There’s more to diving Queensland’s east coast than the Great Barrier Reef. Located five kilometres north west of Moreton Island outside Brisbane, Flinders Reef has been a badly kept secret among local divers for years.

With more species of fish and coral than any single reef on the Great Barrier Reef, this site should be on any serious diver’s itinerary.

Local inhabitants include the usual cast of tropical fish, turtles, wobbegongs and leopard sharks. Mantas and whales are known to make seasonal stops at the reef and whaler sharks can sometimes be seen on the eastern side.

How to get there:

Flinders Reef is accessed by boat from Brisbane. Contact your local dive shop for options.

North Stradbroke Island, Brisbane

Another local diving classic, North Stradbroke Island is one of the few places in Queensland where you can find consistently good surf and diving in the same spot.

The flagship sites Shag Rock and Flat Rock are well known for their large population of leopard sharks and grey nurse sharks, and Manta Bommie offers exhilarating manta ray encounters between November and February.

Decompress in the world-class surf at Point Lookout or take a 4WD to explore the island’s uncrowded beaches.

How to get there:

A ferry runs between Cleveland (Brisbane) and North Stradbroke Island every 30 minutes. Most dive sites are within an easy 10-minute boat ride from the beach.

The best diving in the world: 10 sites you have to dive before you die

The clear, warm waters of North Stradbroke Island.

What are your favourite sites? Share with us in the comments.

Cover photo courtesy of Damien Siviero. 

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About

Emanuel is an expat Swede who escaped the cold, unforgiving north for a life sunny side up in Queensland. A social media community manager by day and an aspiring Jacques Costeau on weekends, he spends most of his time writing, diving or looting milk from the office fridge.