Australian Scuba Diving
As an island continent, Australia is blessed with some exceptional diving locations. Many of the best spots are some distance from land, so visitors need to allow for the time and costs involved in getting to and from the dive site.
Most diving involves boat trips for single day diving or liveaboard arrangements for extended dive trips. Most of the Australian states offer diving opportunities that range from good to exceptional and all divers, from beginner to advanced, will find a location that suits their skills.
All of the popular dive destinations have dive shops that can provide training for beginners.
The jewel in the diving crown is the Great Barrier Reef and tropical reef diving on both inner and outer reef sites is the most common type of diving available.
Cairns in far north Queensland is undoubtedly Australia's diving mecca with numerous operators offering both day trips and long term liveaboard experiences on the nearby Barrier Reef. Cairns day trips are usually to inner reefs and islands and trips to the outer reef involve liveaboards. Some liveaboard packages to the northern reefs include a float plane flight to reduce travel time getting to the dive site.
The southern Barrier Reef islands of Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island offer good diving. There are wreck dive sites on the SS Yongala, off the coast from Ayr and Townsville and the SS Brisbane which was sunk off the Sunshine Coast in 2005 to create an artificial reef.
New South Wales
The major dive destinations in this state are at Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour, both on the NSW north coast. There is also quite a bit of dive activity from Jeffries Bay and Narooma in the cooler waters on the south coast. Montague Island, off Narooma, is a site for diving with fur seals during spring.
Sydney is not usually associated with diving but there are quite a few dive sites within the harbour, primarily inside the north and south heads. There is wreck diving off shore but in 40m plus water so this is for experienced divers only. Shore diving is possible from Bare Island off La Perouse and also at Port Hacking. Most Sydney dive operators leave from Manly or Balmoral.
Some of Victoria's best diving is in the Port Phillip Heads area which offers some great year-round diving and a chance to experience temperate water diving at its best with dive drop-offs, shipwrecks, kelp forests and scallop beds. The HMAS Canberra has become the centrepiece of wreck diving and is a popular site.
The bay also has great opportunities to dive with playful colonies of seals. The waters off Phillip Island are a great choice for diving and are the site of the MV George Kermode which forms an artificial reef and wreck dive site in Cunningham Bay.
Divers from around the world are attracted to Victoria's four wreck dive sites on World War One submarines. The state has numerous wreck sites, with some dating back to the 1800's. There is also Victoria's Ships' Graveyard, located just outside Port Phillip Bay, with 46 wreck dive sites in this one area, and all teeming with marine life.
The waters around Adelaide offer several great reef and wreck dives. Offshore from the Fleurieu Peninsula is the site of HMAS Hobart which was sunk in 18-28m of water to provide an artificial reef and wreck dive site. One of South Australia's best known dive spots is Rapid Bay, located approx. 100km south of Adelaide near Normanville.
This site features seadragons, rays and other large fish. While this dive spot has shore entry and exit, the highlights are nearly 500m offshore. Also south of Adelaide there are some great dive locations for novices at Noarlunga which offers a reef and underwater trail directly accessible by a jetty.
The pristine waters surrounding Kangaroo Island are popular with divers. The island is a few hours drive and ferry ride from Adelaide. Port Lincoln is the location for cage diving to view great white sharks although this is an adrenalin rush adventure as opposed to open water scuba diving.
For a change from ocean dives, there is the Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park which is a 543 ha protected area that adjoins Discovery Bay on South Australia’s Limestone Coast. The park contains three freshwater dive sites in open depressions and sinkholes ranging from 10m deep to over 100m. Underwater visibility is exceptional and can exceed 40m.
The Ningaloo Reef system, located approximately 1200 kms north from Perth, is another exceptional reef diving location. While the area is best known for opportunities to snorkel with the huge whale sharks, the untouched fringing reef provides some excellent diving. Some locations here can be snorkelled from shore. Dive operators leave from Exmouth and Coral Bay.
Renowned underwater photographer David Doubilet describes diving in Tasmania as 'an exquisite combination of lyrical beauty and the wistfully bizarre.' This island state is home to some of the best temperate diving in the world, with diverse and easily accessible underwater wilderness areas. The combination of spectacular coastline and pristine, cool-temperate waters makes for superb diving with visibility that ranges from 12m in the summer to 40m or more in the winter.
There are hundreds of sites along the 5,400 kms of coastline, with opportunities for both experienced and beginner divers. At Tinderbox in Tasmania's south, there are underwater trails which are ideal for snorkelers and first-time divers. The Tasman Peninsula offers spectacular dive sites, from the vast kelp forests through to the caves and canyons at Waterfall Bay.
The MV Troy D, a 55m barge, was scuttled in 2007 to create an artificial reef off the coast of Maria Island on Tasmania's east coast. Now one of Tasmania's prime wreck dive sites, the artificial reef teems with marine life.
Most of the diving that occurs in the Northern Territory is centered on Darwin Harbour and the offshore reefs and islands. The harbour has numerous wrecks of both boats and planes, many dating to the Japanese attack on Darwin in World War 2, and more recent wrecks caused by Cyclone Tracey in 1974. The USAT Meigs was one of the vessels sunk by the Japanese and is today one of the most popular dive sites because of the remarkable sea life that dwells here but also because of its interesting history.
Although tropical temperatures mean that diving is great all year round, there are some local conditions that divers need to be aware of. The best time for diving is the Dry Season from May to October when Box Jellyfish are not present in the water. Lycra suits are strongly recommended for all diving.
Saltwater crocodiles are present in all Northern Territory waters and local advice is essential before entering the water. The Darwin area can experience tides that reach up to 8m and create strong currents, so diving is generally limited to neap tides and minimal current movement.
While Vanuatu is obviously not part of Australia, the reality is that a keen diver can reach the dive sites of Port Vila from the east coast of Australia in just a couple of hours, less time than it takes to reach many of the leading Australian dive sites. Not only that but the diving conditions are truly exceptional. Dive sites are just a few minutes off-shore, there are plenty of places to dive and snorkel from shore and the costs of diving are amongst the cheapest anywhere in the world.
Many of the leading Vanuatu scuba diving operators use the services of experienced local dive masters and provide small group tours with personalised service and on-site accommodation. With everything so close to shore in locations such as Port Vila, there is no need for off-shore liveaboards and the costs associated with that type of dive experience.
So.... what are your waiting for? Some of world's greatest dive sites are beckoning!