Best Dive Sites Near Cairns – Feature

6 Great Barrier Reef scuba diving sites off Cairns

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The Great Barrier Reef is pretty much everyone’s collective imagination dunked underwater and then multiplied by 1000. Finding Nemo is a toned down version of what’s on offer (and that was a fictional universe where fish talk). Real life is so much better.

So, how do you experience all this awesome?

Cairns is the gateway to the some of the best scuba diving spots in Australia and the world. That means there are some things you can’t afford to miss. 

We’ve put together a list of top dive sites on the Great Barrier Reef – and the animals you can see while diving there!

Flynn Reef (to see that famous fish)

Flynn Reef - Best Dive sites near Cairns

Located 20km off the coast of Cairns, Flynn Reef is a great place to see a little bit of everything. It’s home to parrot fish who sleep in little crevices and several sea turtles come here to hang out and do whatever sea turtles do (eat mostly). Most importantly, though… this is where Nemo takes his summer vacation.

You can get to the reef with several different operators but Pro Dive Cairns will get you there quick smart.

The Cod Hole (My Cod! What a beautiful animal!)

Cod Hole - Best dive sites near CairnsThe Cod Hole is one of the most famous dive sites in the world. Why? Because you get to see giant potato cod feeding. These guys are massive and have been stopping for a swim-through lunch here for more than 30 years. This makes them extra friendly and photogenic.

Located on the northern part of the Ribbon Reefs (diver heaven), this site is a little harder to get to but that also makes it more exclusive. Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, Pro Dive Cairns and Tusa Dive are all good options to get to this secluded playground of massive fish, thanks to their liveaboard options. Check out their itineraries to find the best one for you.

Osprey Reef (to see a feeding frenzy)

Osprey Reef - Best dive sites near Cairns

Sharks. Lots and lots of sharks. That’s probably the best way to describe North Horn, on the tip top of Osprey Reef. It’s been a feeding ground for sharks for over 15 years and nothing will get your adrenaline going like watching dozens of white tip reef sharks tear apart a fish carcass.

The odd hammerhead, tiger and grey reef sharks make appearances as well. To some that might sound like a list of the worst possible dinner guests ever, but to divers, this is a degustation of visual feasts.

Being a part of the Osprey Reef system means it’s far away, but the Spirit of Freedom is a well-respected operator that allows you to get there with one of their liveaboard trips. The seven-day option is probably going to be your best bet to experience everything the Osprey Reef has to offer and then some.

Steve’s Bommie (for a disco dive)

This is where you can see a flame file shell, which is pretty much a meat-eating disco. It has a glowing red shell and its lips flash like lightning, attracting any fish who want to boogie down, before it snaps shut and ends the party early.

In addition to this groovy shell, there’s a chance to see pretty much everything else at Steve’s Bommie. Literally, this place is so cool every fish wants to come hang out here.

Booking a liveaboard trip is once again the best way to experience Steve’s Bommie. Deep Sea Divers Den will give you options from one day and one night to full on seven-day diving extravaganzas, or Mike Ball Dive Expeditions also goes through this reef on some of its liveaboard adventures.

Norman Reef (if you want to whale)

Norman Reef - Best dive sites near Cairns

Moray eels, Maori wrasse and giant clams are always hanging around Norman Reef but if you are really lucky (or really organised) and get here in mid-late winter, the minke whales are a sight to behold.

At around 80km off the coast of Cairns, Norman Reef is on the very edge of the outer reef which brings in some large fish. During night dives it’s not uncommon to find sleeping sharks within the caves. No flash photography or sneezing allowed.

Reaching this great all-rounder of a reef is easy, just hook up with Tusa Dive and have a look at their options.

Pixie Pinnacle (for a bit of everything)

David Attenborough is probably responsible for all of our collective knowledge about the natural world. So when he picks a dive site it’s probably good to go and check it out.

Pixie Pinnacle is another part of the Ribbon Reef system – Ribbon Reef 9 and 10 to be precise – and has a little bit of everything that makes the Great Barrier Reef great. Here you can see cod, cucumbers, whitetip sharks and rays.

There are hard corals, soft corals and more colours than a gallery of fine art. So if you’re short on time, do it like David Attenborough and get to Pixies Pinnacle.

There are many, many more dive sites on the Great Barrier Reef and that’s why it’s so special. The abundance of life and difference between sites is mind-boggling. You could spend a lifetime going up and down the inner and outer reefs and still only scratch the surface.

Check out this awesome eBook for everything you need to know about the Great Barrier Reef.

Which Great Barrier Reef dive sites have you been to?




  • Hi Ben, great article. I have dived at all the sites you mentioned, its true they are just spectacular, especially Flynn reef. Also the shark dive at North Horn on Osprey Reef is a once in a lifetime experience for most people! The Great Barrier Reef is still so beautiful!

  • For Norman reef you’re better off going with Divers Den as they have heaps of moorings there. Tusa are ace but don’t actually have any moorings on Norman Reef 😉