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Diving in Australia

Great Barrier Reef Scuba Diving

Australia is known for many things: diverse landscapes, aboriginal culture, kangaroos, bad soap operas and various forms of 'footy'. But when it comes to visiting below the ocean's surface, one particular part of its marine heritage stands out above all others.

Diving in Australia in the Coral Sea - photo courtesy of Mike Ball

Rated as both Australia's and one of the world's top scuba destinations, diving the Great Barrier Reef should be at the top of any true dive enthusiasts' must-do list of places to visit, particularly the main attractions such as the Cod Hole, Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef. It is one of the truly extraordinary places on Earth.

Australia has other great places to dive too, such as the Rowley Shoals in Western Australia, and South Australia where you can enjoy incredible cage diving experiences with great white sharks. Here is the best place to find your widest choice of Australia liveaboards.

Stretching over 2,000 km from Lizard Island in the north down to Great Palm Island in the south, the Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system and the only such structure, made up of living organisms, actually visible from space.

The main attraction of the Great Barrier Reef is the dizzying array of marine life it supports, many of which are believed to be endemic, showcasing the best of Australia scuba diving. A more specific attraction of the reef is that it's the breeding ground for 6 species of turtle, attracted by varied menu of seagrass. The olive ridley, hawksbill, leather back, green, flatback and loggerhead turtle are all frequently spotted at various sites on the reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is also a veritable playground for dolphins, whales and porpoises, including humpback whales, minke whales and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. Around 30 species have been recorded in the marine park. Dugongs are also commonly spotted. Of sharks, scuba diving in Australia and the "GBR" has no shortage, with 125 recorded species of shark, stingray or chimera lurking about the reef or on the sandy bottoms, at home amongst the endless offerings of choice tidbits.

More than 400 species of soft and hard coral can be found when you dive the Great Barrier Reef. An annual mass spawning takes place when the corals of the inner reefs spawn in the week after the October full moon and the outer reefs do the same in November and December. Molluscs, giant clams, nudibranchs, cone snails, pipefish and seahorses, all have multiple species hidden amongst the coral's nooks and crannies, providing colour and life to a reef too expansive to ever explore in its entirety in a single lifetime.

The corals of the Great Barrier Reef also harbour over 1,500 species of fish, including clownfish, red-throat emperor, red bass, several species of snapper and coral trout, lionfish, stonefish and many more. In a demonstration of marine diversity, even saltwater crocodiles have a connection to the reef. Thankfully they are restricted to marshes and mangroves on the coast near the reef.


Scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef will undoubtedly be the highlight of your trip, each section of the reef brings something different. The Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef offer the most amazing dives in quiet, pristine locations, which means your Australian diving trip will be truly unforgettable.

Famous dive sites like Cod Hole will provide you with the opportunity to come up close and personal with giant potato cod that are virtually tame, or wet your suit whilst perched on the sandy bottom at North Horn in the North Coral Sea as you come to within snapping distance from a shark feeding frenzy.

Beginners, students, or those who simply don't have the time for a longer trip, can join a liveaboard trip that visits the Outer Barrier Reef, which is in fact the closest cruise destination to Cairns. Here you can make some dives on the Great Barrier Reef but we strongly advise experienced scuba divers not to limit their time to this location. The sites further to the north such as the Ribbon Reefs, Cod Hole and Osprey Reef are really the only ones that will impress in terms of marine life, topography and action!

Other highlights in Australia include destinations like the much sought after Rowley Shoals in Western Australia, and great white shark cage diving in South Australia. You can find liveaboard departures in these 2 destinations, as well as to the Great Barrier Reef, by using our liveaboard departure calendar.

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How to Dive Australia

Grey reef sharks in a frenzy when diving on the Great Barrier Reef - photo courtesy of Mike Ball

Great Barrier Reef liveaboards are the most popular way to make the most of your diving holiday to Australia.

Dive The World also offers you access to the better Cairns barrier reefs with day-trips, or more often short liveaboards to maximise your number of dives.

Due to the distance to the Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef, they are accessible through liveaboard cruises only and are your key to the splendour that can only be found on these distant parts of the Great Barrier Reef. However, due to the low number and popularity of these trips, we recommend you booking well in advance.

Rowley Shoals and South Australia cage diving trips are also very limited in number, so the same recommendation of booking well in advance applies there.

Diving Season

Australia as a whole is a year round dive destination but, for most part, late August to early December yields the best Great Barrier Reef diving conditions. Other seasonal aspects to consider for the Great Barrier Reef are as follows:

  • The waters are warm in North Queensland, ranging from a low of around 23°C during the winter months of June to August, to 29°C in the summer period of December to February.
  • The most popular time for Australia liveaboard diving is July to November, although in the Coral Sea at Osprey Reef and North Horn, visibility peaks during June and September. The calmest sea conditions tend to be between September and February.
  • June to November is the driest period, where rainfall is rare. The summer months of December, January and February experience the most rainfall, usually at night.
  • Minke whale season is usually from June to August and is the ideal time to spot and interact with these gentle giants. Humpback whales are most likely to be in the vicinity between August and October with November being the best month to observe coral spawning events. The giant Potato cod that will happily pose for photos to impress your friends are present all year round.
  • The jellyfish season in North Queensland is from November to April, although they rarely cause problems for scuba divers and do not include box jellyfish which are coastal dwellers and not present on the reef.

October is the month for liveaboard trips to the Rowley Shoals in Western Australia.

In South Australia, the season for diving with great white sharks runs from May to February. Generally speaking May to October sees the most predator action since this is the time when young seals venture out in search of food. November until February is considered summer time and often sees plenty of action for great whites since thousands of seals gather at this time to give birth. This is also the best time for bronze whalers and mako sharks. May, June and July are the best months for seeing large female great white sharks. So no matter what time of year you visit, there is always something awesome going on (except for March and April). Giant cuttlefish mating season is May to June.

Reef Summary

Good for: Large animals, underwater photography, reef life and health, beginner divers and snorkelling
Not so good for: Wreck diving
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 10 - 40m
Currents: Gentle to moderate
Surface conditions: Usually calm but can be choppy
Water temperature: 24 - 29°C
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: >300
Access: Australia liveaboards
Recommended length of stay: 1 - 2 weeks

Best of the Barrier Reef

More detailed information on the dive sites:

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

North Coral Sea

Useful References

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