The lively and colourful underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef is remarkable – both in its incredible vastness and its dynamic coral life.
Spanning more than 2,000km of warm tropical waters off the north-eastern coast of Australia, it is the largest coral reef system on earth and one of the natural wonders of the world. The sun soaked islands and reefs that form this UNESCO World Heritage Site are made up of hundreds of different coral species, and home to a plethora of marine plants and animals.
The clear waters that surround this stunning region create perfect conditions for diving. Add to this the moderate depths, year-round warm water and outstanding nearby infrastructure, and it’s not hard to see why the Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s Premier dive destination. Different dive spots throughout the reef can be accessed through day trips from the mainland, from ‘liveaboard’ vessels, and from coral islands within the reef itself. While there are certainly no bad places to dive on the Great Barrier Reef, there are some standout locations that we would highly recommend…
When picturing a sunken ship, people are unlikely to conjure up an image quite like the beauty of the SS Yongala, which is a passenger carrier that sank off the coast of Queensland in the early 1900s. Over more than a century this wreck has transformed into a stunning artificial reef, home to predatory lionfish, sea snakes, rays, and the massive Queensland grouper. Colourful clownfish, anemones and shrimp can all be spotted in the surrounding area. The Yongala is ranked among the greatest dive sites in the world, and can be completed as a day trip from Ayr.
The Ribbon Reefs form the outer edges of the Great Barrier Reef, about 50 to 100km off of northern Queensland. Small and relatively thin, the 10 reefs forming this group are covered by colourful coral and surrounded by a variety of marine life. Arguably the most spectacular spot in the Ribbon Reefs is Cod Hole, where divers can get close to the friendly and sociable 150kg potato cod that give the area its name. Even larger marine life can be experienced on Ribbon Reef #10, where Dwarf Minke Whales frequent the area during the months of June and July. The Ribbon Reefs can be accessed by multi-day boat trips leaving from Cairns or Port Douglas, or on 1 to 3 day trips from Cooktown in far northern Queensland.
Osprey Reef is a submerged atoll located in the far northern Great Barrier Reef and separated from the continental shelf by a large oceanic trench. A large drawcard of this reef is the area’s isolation – located far from any industry or agricultural runoff, keeping it in pristine condition. The remoteness and unique underwater topography in this area has resulted in varied and bountiful marine life, ranging from loggerhead turtles to huge gorgonian fans. A well-known part of Osprey Reef is North Horn, where thrill-seekers can watch feasting reef sharks, silky sharks, silvertips and hammerhead sharks during the shark feed dive. Due to the considerable distance from the mainland, Osprey Reef can only be accessed by multi-day ‘liveaboard’ tours.
Located 80km off the coast in the southern Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island is a launching point for numerous dive sites, with more than 16 locations within 15 minutes of the island. The most popular of these is Heron Bommie, which the famous oceanographer Jacques Costeau named one of the ten best dive spots on the planet. In addition to the huge stunning coral heads at this site, divers will be surrounded by rays, reef sharks, and an array of other fish species that use the coral as a cleaning station. Heron Island can be reached from Gladstone by either boat or seaplane, and overnight accommodation is available on the island at Heron Island resort.
Bait Reef is located 65km from Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays Archipelago, and can be easily accessed on a day trip from Hamilton Island. The relatively shallow depths and variety of marine life around Bait Reef make it an ideal location for underwater photography, and the caves, canyons and swim throughs around the area make for spectacular diving. Giant trevally fish, which swim in schools of more than 50, can be seen hunting smaller fish by torchlight during night dives at South East Bait Reef. Nearby at Manta Ray Drop off, divers can swim past dramatic underwater cliffs and a coral-covered wall that dramatically drops to a depth of 75 metres.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is an extraordinary playground for underwater enthusiasts, and the true beauty of this stunning region is best experienced through scuba diving.
Photo Credits: Tourism & Events Queensland