Locals and tourists agree that a view of long, stunning beaches is not enough to make your trip to the East Coast worthwhile. One must be underwater and experience a close encounter with some of the best marine life in the world. So, grab your wetsuit, make your way to one of these wondrous dive sites and get ready to go scuba diving in Australia!
The East Coast is about 2600km long from Cairns to Sydney. It’s huge! And with so many things to do on Australia’s East Coast, you need more than a month to explore it fully. But worry not if you don’t have that much time. I’ve narrowed down your options to a few top diving sites in the area to start your deep-sea adventure. An exhilarating dive into one of these locations will have you planning your next trip back to the coastline for sure.
SS Yongala, Townsville, QLD: Best Wreck Dive
Hailed as one of the best diving spots in Australia and the world, the SS Yongala shipwreck dive features the 110m steamer that capsized in March 1911. The sea tragedy took all its 122 passengers, and it was only 40 years later when a research group located the lost ship at Cape Bowling Green. The ship was remarkably intact even after many years of being underwater.
Now, it’s coral encrusted and teeming with massive marine life, including bull sharks, barracuda, sea snakes, eels, eagle rays, turtles and pelagic fish. The wreck is protected, and divers are not allowed to touch or penetrate it. The strong currents can affect visibility as well, making it more suitable for advanced divers.
- Tip: September is the best month to go diving in SS Yongala as the ocean in calmer and warm. Visibility is also better during this time. Diving around June to August, however, gives you the chance to see humpback whales. Make sure to check with your diving operator for the weather forecast.
Julian Rocks, Byron Bay, NSW: Mini Galápagos
Julian Rocks is a protected nature reserve made up of two small islands. The site is only a 10-minute boat ride away (about 2.5km) from Byron Bay. Named as the mini Galápagos by the Lonely Planet, Julian Rocks was a product of a volcanic eruption a million years ago. Now, it’s one of the famous spots for scuba diving in Australia.
Here, warm waters combine with cold temperate currents, making it an ideal home for both tropical and cold-water marine life – about a thousand species of them to be exact! It’s a rewarding dive with excellent visibility. Divers also get a seasonal treat with sightings of leopard sharks and manta rays from summer to autumn, and endangered grey nurse sharks in winter.
- Tip: Julian Rocks is worth diving year-round and has several spots suitable for divers of any level. The Nursery, for example, is a shallow site up to 12m deep and has lots of reef fish. More popular deeper spots are the Cod Hole and the Cray Cave, where you get to swim with grey nurse sharks, wobbegongs, moray eels, turtles and rays. Also, if time permits, make sure to include a trip to the Gold Coast. This world-famous surfing destination is less than an hour’s drive from Byron Bay.
Osprey Reef, Coral Sea, QLD: Shark Haven
About 350km north of Cairns is the Osprey Reef, the northernmost region of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s further offshore, but this makes the waters rich and pure, treating divers to glass-like visibility.
There are several diving spots in the area, but for a dive to remember, make sure to give North Horn a visit. Home to a vast population of whitetip sharks, this spot has been a shark feeding site for years. About 20m below, there’s also an underwater amphitheatre where you can sit back and relax while watching these majestic creatures feed. While taking in this out-of-this-world experience, keep your eyes peeled for more macro marine life like hammerheads, pelagic octopus and dogtooth tuna.
- Tip: Osprey Reef is a year-round diving spot, thanks to North Queensland’s tropical weather. The best times to visit it, however, are October or November for coral spawning, June to November for whale watching, and September to November for exceptional underwater visibility.
Fish Rock, South West Rocks, NSW: Best Cave Dive
Fish Rock in New South Wales is also one of the best spots to go scuba diving in Australia. It’s Australia’s only real ocean cave dive site that’s 125m long. At its shallow entrance, a picturesque pink view of gorgonian fan corals welcomes the divers.
Deep into the cave, you’ll see plenty of subtropical and tropical marine species. You’ll be busy catching glimpses of turtles, nudibranchs, eels and rays swimming by. The site also features two bubble caves where divers can take their masks and regulators off for a brief conversation. But it’s the grey nurse sharks that make Fish Rock popular among divers. These critically endangered sharks feed, mate and give birth in the site all year. Hammerheads are also at times spotted here.
- Tip: Diving with a torch is essential when going into areas out of the light zone. Make sure to plan your dive to avoid strong currents. Also, care must be observed at all times while underwater as there are offshoots in the site that lead nowhere.
Lizard Island, Cairns, QLD: Hand Feeding Giant Potato Cods
For exceptional scuba diving in Australia, Lizard Island is the place to be. Secluded and surrounded with powdery white sandy beaches, this site is sought-after for its exclusive resorts and diving spots. Even before you reach your destination, visitors already get a stunning view of the Great Barrier Reef while on a 50-minute charter flight to the island from Cairns.
One of its popular diving locations is the Cod Hole. Here, you get to be greeted by potato cods that weigh up to 100kg! Though humongous, they are very friendly and excited about the food you’ve brought them. Aside from the Cod Hole, you can also visit the Yonge Reef for drift diving and the Big Softy to swim with reef sharks and manta rays.
- Tip: While you’re on the island, make the most of your stay and visit the day spa, swim in the hidden lagoon, sign up for guided reef tours, walk on one of its natural trails then cap the day with its delectable seasonal menu.