There’s nothing quite like taking your first breaths under water. That reassuring noise of bubbles and the giddy excitement of knowing you shouldn’t, but you can. And there’s the thrilling weightlessness – surely similar to being an astronaut. And all that’s before you get to see the brilliant inhabitants of the rainbow-coloured underwater wonderland that awaits; full of shapes, colours and sights you didn’t think could possibly exist.
If you’re a beginner, taking your first step is easy. PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) courses typically take two to four days and range from introductory experiences to instructor levels, giving you the freedom to explore the other 70 per cent of our planet. There are loads and loads of PADI Dive Centres and Resorts across Oz (for info, visit padi.com) and needless to say, Australia offers some of the very finest scuba diving – and some of the best facilities – in the world.
Where? Well, there are simply too many excellent dive and snorkel sites to mention them all here, so we’ve narrowed them down to our top 10 (in no particular order).
1. Ningaloo Reef
IN A NUTSHELL Better than the Great Barrier Reef?
TELL ME MORE This area is protected by the government, preserving its ecosystem of over 500 species of fish, whales, whale sharks (April to July), manta rays, turtles and dugongs. There’s also a spectacular reef only 100 metres offshore with far
less people than the GBR. A bloody treasure, mate…
WHERE The closest main town is Exmouth, Western Australia. Some of the best areas of the marine park for diving are Bundegi Beach and Turquoise Bay.
2. Byron Bay
IN A NUTSHELL Where tropical meets temperate.
TELL ME MORE Julian Rocks Marine Reserve lies at the intersection of southerly and northerly currents, creating the unique blend of warm and cold water, which allows a variety of marine life to thrive. In summer months you’re likely to come across leopard sharks. They’re very distinctive-looking and, thankfully, aren’t too bothered by humans. You can also spot whales and dolphins from certain spots in Byron.
WHERE The reserve is three kilometres off the Byron coast, in northern NSW.
3. Great Barrier Reef
IN A NUTSHELL Needs no introduction.
TELL ME MORE Though the site is protected on the World Heritage list, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is still under threat, so you should seize upon any chance you get to go and explore. The reef, which comprises a staggering 2,600km of corals and lagoons, is accessible from a number of places along Queensland’s coast – Cairns being the most popular – and there are scores of dive providers to choose from. And the reef isn’t the only drawcard – there are also 1,600 shipwrecks off the coast just waiting to be checked out.
WHERE Main base camps include Cairns, Townsville and Port Douglas, though there are plenty of smaller places to visit the reef from.
4. Lord Howe Island
IN A NUTSHELL Dive the world’s southernmost coral reef.
TELL ME MORE Like Byron Bay, Lord Howe Island offers both tropical and temperate waters. The island hosts so much marine diversity, and incomparable beauty, that it has been World Heritage listed. It’s renowned for its pristine, pollution-free environment, providing some of the most pure diving waters in the world.
WHERE Lord Howe is two hours by air from Sydney and Brisbane. It’s admittedly more expensive to get to than some of the other options, but it may well be worth it.
5. The Yongala
IN A NUTSHELL Arguably the country’s greatest wreck dive.
TELL ME MORE The SS Yongala sunk in a cyclone in 1911, taking down all of its 122 passengers and crew. The wreck was discovered during World War II, and the exact circumstances of its demise remain a mystery. The Yongala is in good shape on the sea floor, and hosts a plethora of sea animals.
WHERE The wreck lies off Cape Bowling Green, Queensland. Trips leave from either Townsville or Magnetic Island.
6. The Whitsundays
IN A NUTSHELL Heavenly islands on the Great Barrier Reef.
TELL ME MORE The Whitsundays include over 70 islands, so there’s heaps of options to choose from. It’s a great spot for learners, with introductory dives and snorkelling readily available and there’s also plenty of scope for more experienced dive enthusiasts.
WHERE The Whitsundays are located off the Queensland coast from Airlie Beach.
7. Eyre Peninsula
IN A NUTSHELL If grey nurse sharks are a bit tame for your liking, check dis!
TELL ME MORE Two companies run cage diving expeditions off Port Lincoln, South Australia, to locations home to not only great white sharks, but also sea lions and fur seals. They plonk you in a cage, then plonk the cage in amongst some of the most ferocious predators on earth, while you try very hard not to wet yourself (not that anyone’ll notice).
WHERE Port Lincoln is way down south on the Eyre Peninsula, 280km from Adelaide.
IN A NUTSHELL Get up close to a shark, without getting your head bitten off. Or if you’re after something a little bit more relaxing and less death defying, the beautiful Gordon’s Bay offers one of the most tranquil and iconic dive spots anywhere in the Harbour City.
TELL ME MORE Sydney boasts two main opportunities for diving with sharks: Magic Point at Maroubra, and Oceanworld Manly. Sydney ProDive offer dives at Magic Point, where you can also see a variety of other unique sea animals. The location includes caves and coral reefs. For a more controlled environment, you can enter the fish tank at Oceanworld. Both pslaces cater for beginners and diving pros alike and grey nurse sharks may be big but they’re some of the most docile fish out there. Gordon’s Bay on the other hand may be light on sharks but it is big on plenty of brightly coloured species of fish, including beautiful wrasse, bream and even iconic blue gropers. It also has it’s own unique dive trail.
WHERE Manly is one of the most popular tourist hubs on the northern beaches, Maroubra is on the southern suburbs while Gordon’s Bay is in the east, near Clovelly.
IN A NUTSHELL About as far south as you can dive.
TELL ME MORE It’s a little known fact that there are scores of places to dive in Tassie. You can navigate submerged caves, giant kelp forests and shipwrecks dating back to the 17th century, all while getting acquainted with dolphins, seahorses, sea dragons and countless other cuddly creatures. Top spots include Bicheno, Rock Cape, King, Maria and Flinders Islands and EagleHawk Neck. You can even dive close to Hobart.
WHERE Head south, and keep going. If you reach a massive ice block, you’ve gone too far.
10. Cape Naturaliste
IN A NUTSHELL A submerged warship, a one-of-a-kind seagrass meadow, and over 300 species of marine life.
TELL ME MORE The Busselton Jetty has provided artificial protection to some of Australia’s most colourful fish and coral, making for an eye-catching dive experience. Nearby, you can explore the HMAS Swan, which was lowered to the seabed after her retirement specifically for the enjoyment of divers like you.
WHERE Cape Naturaliste is located near the town of Dunsborough, south of Perth, WA.