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. While you can don a snorkel and see some spectacular sights just about anywhere off the Aussie coast, the following 10 are what we consider world-beaters, either for their unique conditions, plentiful wildlife or sheer scale. Keen divers should try to see as many of these as possible before they head on out of the country.
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 2,000km 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.
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 or 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.
In a nutshell: Better than the GBR?
Tell me more: This area is protected by the government, preserving its ecosystem of over 500 species of fish, whales, whale sharks, 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.
In a nutshell: Get up close to a shark, without getting your head bitten off .
Tell me more: Sydney boasts two main opportunities for diving with sharks: Magic Point at Maroubra, and Oceanworld Manly. ProDive Sydney 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 places 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.
Where: Manly is one of the most popular tourist hubs on Sydney’s northern beaches, while Maroubra is one of the eastern beach suburbs, south of Bondi.
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: 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, near Townsville, Queensland. Tours leave from either Townsville or Airlie Beach.
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.
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.
In a nutshell: A submerged warship, 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.
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.
Still want more?
TRY THESE BONUS DIVING HAVENS…
– Seal Rocks, NSW – more adventures with grey nurse sharks.
– Solitary Islands, Coffs Harbour, NSW – a colourful array of coral, fish, turtles and even humpback whales.
– Wreck diving in Sydney – there’s several wrecks to be poked and prodded around.