This northern section of the Great Barrier Reef is remote and only visited by a handful of charter boats in spring each year. This area has a good mix of dive sites, including walls, pinnacles and pretty coral gardens, and is a great place to see sharks and pelagic fish. Famous dive sites in this region include Raine Island, Great Detached Reef and Black Rock.
Osprey Reef is the most northern of the Coral Sea Reefs, and is renowned for its sharks and walls. Located 350km north-east of Cairns, Osprey Reef is visited by liveaboard boats and offers the diver some of the most dramatic and action-packed diving in Australia. Popular dive sites here include Admiralty, Halfway Wall and North Horn.
The Ribbon Reefs are the most popular liveaboard destination on the Great Barrier Reef. This string of reefs, located north of Port Douglas, offer incredible diving on coral gardens and spectacular pinnacles. This region is a great spot to see pelagic fish, gropers, sea snakes, cuttlefish, reef sharks and dwarf minke whales over winter. Famous dive sites here include Steves Bommie, Pixie Pinnacle, Lighthouse Bommie, The Snake Pit and Cod Hole.
The popular tourist towns of Cairns and Port Douglas are the main gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Numerous boats depart from both towns daily visiting sites on the inner and outer reef. The outer reefs in the area are the best, having the best visibility, the healthiest corals and best variety of marine life. Popular dive site include the Agincourt Reefs, Norman Reef, Hasting Reef, Saxon Reef and Milin Reef.
At one time the reefs off Townsville were a popular liveaboard destination, but they are mainly visited by day boats today. The most popular places to dive are Lodestone Reef, Wheeler Reef and Keeper Reef, and all have nice corals and a wide variety of marine life. But the main dive attraction near Townsville is the wreck off the SS Yongala. Rated as one of the best dive sites in the world, the SS Yongala is magnet for marine life and never disappoints.
The Whitsunday Islands are best known as a sailing destination, but these continental islands offer interesting diving, even though the visibility is limited. The best inshore dives sites are found around Hook and Hayman Island, but better diving is found on the outer reef at Fairey Reef, Hardy Reef and Bait Reef, where manta rays and turtles can be found. However, the best diving off this area is found at Marion Reef, a Coral Sea reef 400km offshore. Marion Reef is a great location to see sharks, pelagic fish and lots of sea snakes.
Heron Island was the first popular dive destination on the Great Barrier Reef, opening for business in the 1950s, and even today it still has wonderful diving. Best known for its large turtle population, Heron Island is also a good place to see rays, sharks and schooling fish. Popular dive sites include Heron Bommie, Gorgonia Hole, Blue Pools and North Bommie. Heron Island is located in the Capricorn Group, off Gladstone, which was once a popular liveaboard destination, unfortunately few liveaboards now operate at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.
Lady Musgrave Island is located in the Bunker Group, off Bundaberg, and is a popular spot for day trippers exploring the southern Great Barrier Reef. The coral cay has a very large lagoon, which is popular with snorkelers, but its best dive sites are on its outer reef. Commonly seen off Lady Musgrave Island are manta rays, turtles, reef sharks and a good variety of reef fish. Popular dive sites include Manta Ray Bommie, Entrance Bommie and The Drop-off.
Famous for its large manta ray population, Lady Elliot Island is also a great place to encounter sharks, stingrays, turtles, schooling fish and even the odd dolphin or whale. Located at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, Lady Elliot Island is the location of an eco-friendly resort and has a great range of dive sites. Popular dive sites off the island include Lighthouse Bommies, Anchor Bommie, The Blowhole and the Severance shipwreck.
Bundy, as it is affectionately known, is the gateway to the southern Great Barrier Reef, but it also has its own wonderful local dive sites. Just off the coast of Bundy are rocky reefs covered in corals at Evans Patch and Two Mile Reef, two artificial reefs, Cochrane Reef and HMAS Tobruk and an amazing shipwreck, the MV Karma. However, Bundy also has Queensland's best shore diving on coral covered reefs at Barolin Rocks, Hoffmans Rocks and Burkitts Reef.
The small holiday town of Rainbow Beach is best known as the gateway to Fraser Island, but it is also the gateway to one of the most action-packed dive sites in Queensland - Wolf Rock. This multi-peaked rocky pinnacle rises from 35m to break the surface and is swarming with life. The sites most famous residence are the grey nurse sharks, but also common are eagle rays, manta rays, stingrays, sea snakes, turtles and schools of pelagic fish. There are two other nice dive sites in the area, Round Bommie and Nursery Reef, but these hardly get a look-in.
The Sunshine Coast is a popular holiday destination, but with dozens of offshore reefs it is also a fantastic dive destination. These reefs are spread between Noosa in the north and Caloundra in the south, but the most popular dive sites are found off Mooloolaba. These reefs are covered in corals and home to a wonderful array of marine life, especially nudibranchs. Also off Mooloolaba is Queensland most popular artificial reef, the former navy destroyer HMAS Brisbane.
Many divers pass through Brisbane when heading to the Great Barrier Reef or to the nations of the South Pacific, and most take one look at the brown waters of the Brisbane River and assume there is no diving off Queensland's capital. However, Brisbane sits on the shore of the massive Moreton Bay and has some of the best subtropical diving in the world. Off Brisbane divers can see manta rays, gropers, leopard sharks, grey nurse sharks, turtles, wobbegongs, stingrays and a great array of fish and invertebrates. Popular Brisbane dive sites include Flinders Reef, Flat Rock, Manta Bommie, Gotham City, Cherubs Cave and Curtin Artificial Reef.
Famous for its beaches, the Gold Coast is also blessed with great diving. The easiest diving in the area is found at The Seaway, and being an estuary it is home to strange muck critters. Offshore reefs include Palm Beach Reef, Gretas Reef and Migaloo Reef, and two of the best shipwrecks in the area are the Scottish Prince and Aquarius. All these sites are loaded with subtropical marine life, including turtles, wobbegongs, nudibranchs, moray eels and rays.
Other great dive destinations in Queensland not covered in this portfolio include Lizard Island, Mission Beach, Swains Reefs, Keppel Islands and Hervey Bay. If you want to learn more about the incredible dive sites around Australia grab a copy of my book - UNDERWATER AUSTRALIA.