The east coast of Queensland, particularly to the north, has Australia's busiest dive industry and most famous dive sites. Most of the diving is tropical reef diving. The bread and butter of many dive operations is teaching tourists to dive, but experienced divers will find some shops that cater to them with longer and more challenging dive trips.
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef, a long tropical reef system off Far North Queensland, is Australia's biggest dive attraction. Most divers will dive with shops in the Cairns and Port Douglas region or from the Whitsunday Islands. The reefs to the far north are generally visited by extended liveaboards rather than day trips. You can dive on the shallow Inner Reef or do shore dives from some of the islands in a day trip. Operators usually visit the Outer Reef on liveaboards, but some day trips are available. Week long liveaboards will take you to the ribbon reefs and the Coral Sea; huge tame potato cod and maori wrasse can be seen at nearby Cod Hole. Some liveaboard packages to the northern reefs include a flight to Lizard Island at the north of the reef system so that you don't spend so much of the trip getting to your destination.
The wreck of the SS Yongala lies towards the south of the reef in open water. The SS Yongala sank in a cyclone in 1911 and by the time the wreck was properly identified in 1958 it had become a haven for sealife. Thanks to the currents, the wreck is populated by oversized reef species. Other commonly seen sealife includes sharks, turtles, Queensland groupers as large as small cars, rays and sea snakes. The coast at Townsville is further away from the reef than the coast at Cairns, but some operators leave from Townsville, and Townsville is the obvious point of departure if you want to dive on the Yongala. Another operator leaves from Ayr, which is closer to the wreck.
The HMAS Brisbane was sunk off the Sunshine Coast in late July 2005 in order to create a diveable artificial reef with a depth range of 12–27 metres (40–89 feet).. Operators visit this site from Noosa and Mooloolaba.
New South Wales
The diving in New South Wales is somewhat overshadowed by Queensland to the north. However, there are several dive destinations along the coast that are more than worth a visit: many coastal areas have vibrant local dive communities, and some of the more northern towns do an extensive trade in teaching travellers to dive.
As you travel south in New South Wales you move into more temperate waters and will need to be prepared for cooler water temperatures. Water at and below Sydney's latitude ranges between 22℃ (71℉) in summer to 13℃ (55℉) in winter. Divers will typically wear at least 5mm wetsuits in summer and add hoods and vests in winter, or will use semi-dry or drysuits.
Byron Bay's excellent diving is starting to become a well known competitor to the best Queensland diving. As in much of northern New South Wales, the waters have a mix of tropical and temperate species. In addition the water temperature goes as high as 27℃/81℉ and the visibility is on average around 15m. The sites are also currently well managed: there are a small number of commercial vessel launching licences available, vessels use permanent moorings and over-diving isn't taking place. Dolphin sightings are common on the boat trips and whale sightings regular between May and October.
The Solitary Islands Marine Park off Coffs Harbour has both tropical and subtropical marine life. Notables are grey nurse sharks, hard and soft coral, anemone fish, and colourful wrasse. Seeing large rays is unusual but not unheard of. Visibility is between 10 and 20 metres, and most of the interesting diving is shallower than 20 metres. Water temperature may be up to 25℃ in summer.
Sydneysiders are usually astonished to discover that there's Sydney diving: their beautiful harbour has heavy commercial use. But there are several sites within the harbour, primarily inside the north and south heads. Most operators leave from Manly or Balmoral. There's good shore diving from Bare Island off La Perouse and at the tidal Shiprock site at Port Hacking. The Magic Point site off Maroubra is a grey nurse shark sanctuary: during the day you can see a number of sharks sleeping in their cave. There are a number of wrecks off-shore that are regularly dived, but most are in 45 meters (150 feet) or more of water and require technical training for that depth. Introductory wreck diving is usually taught on the Valiant in 27 meters (88 feet) of water and the Coolooli, in 36–48 meters (118–157 feet) of water. Gordon's Bay has an underwater nature trail, depth 10–15 meters, marked a chain, access from Clovelly parking lot, where you can find a map with explanations.
Visibility near Sydney is usually 5–15 metres. Soft coral lives even inside the harbour, and it's relatively common to see Port Jackson sharks.
While Sydney is not totally unused to diving tourists, it is primarily a local dive scene. Many smaller operators only have rubber dinghies and some do not provide much in the way of dive site briefings, although you might get paired with a patient experienced club member if you're new to diving. Some operators do not hire out mask, snorkel or fins. Ask the operator about the level of experience they cater to when booking.
The Jervis Bay area has the best diving in southern New South Wales. It caters to diving travellers far more than the Sydney region and liveaboard trips are available in addition to boat dives. Most dive operators start from Huskisson. Good dives are around Bowen Island (weedy seadragons) and Point Perpendicular (nurse sharks).
There are diving locations scattered all around the long Western Australian coast.
Ningaloo Reef is located off the coast of the Gascoyne region of Western Australia. Although it is a beautifully untouched fringing reef, able to be snorkelled from shore at some points, the area is most famous for providing opportunities to snorkel with whale sharks (diving is available on the same trips, but not with the sharks). See photos of the Ningaloo Reef. Operators leave from Exmouth and Coral Bay.
Some information about diving in South Australia can be found on the official Diving Information Site of the South Australian Government. Some highlights follow.
Shark cage diving
Three South Australian dive operations operating from Port Lincoln allow divers to dive in a cage and view great white sharks at the Neptune Islands.
The Ex-HMAS Hobart was sunk in Yankalilla Bay on the west coast of Fleurieu Peninsula in 2002. The former warship sits upright on the bottom at 28 metres. One dive operator offer charters. More information on diving the ex HMAS Hobart can be found on the official website.
One of South Australia's most famous dive spots featuring the leafy and weedy seadragons, rays and other large fish. The Rapid Bay Jetty lies approx. 100 km south of Adelaide near Normanville and Cape Jervis. The dive spot is suitable for a shore entry and exit, but one has to swim nearly 500m to get to the T-section of the jetty where all the beautiful fish are.
Port Noarlunga Jetty
Easy and beautiful dive location in Port Noarlunga, approx. 40 km south of Adelaide. Offers a reef and underwater trail directly accessible by a jetty. The inner side of the reef offers shelter from the weather and is considered a good dive spot for entry-level divers.
Coastal waters of Adelaide
The coastal waters of Adelaide offer also some great dives. There are numerous reefs and wrecks off the coast.
There is diving on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. A few hours drive and boat ride from Adelaide.
Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park
Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park is a 543 ha protected area in south-eastern South Australia. It adjoins Discovery Bay on South Australia’s Limestone Coast Piccaninnie Ponds contains three main features of interest to divers. The ‘First Pond’ is an open depression about 10 m deep with a silt floor and much aquatic life, the ‘Chasm’ is a sinkhole with a depth of over 100 m, and the ‘Cathedral’ is an enclosed area with limestone formations and a depth of about 35 m. Underwater visibility is excellent and may exceed 40 m.
The majority of dive shops in Australia have instructors who can certify you to dive through either the PADI or SSI certification agencies, and a very small number of shops certify through other agencies. Since agencies generally recognise each other's certifications the most important consideration when choosing a dive course is to feel comfortable with your instructor's teaching style and proposed program. The vast majority of instruction is in English. Japanese and German instruction is offered by some shops in Far North Queensland.
If you intend to take an introductory certification course in Australia, you will need a medical examination to comply with Australian Standard 4005.1-2000. Ask your dive center for a dive medical form and a list of local doctors able to perform the examination; it needs to be performed by an especially certified Australian doctor. It will cost AU$40 or so. Most dive shops will refund your course fees if the doctor performing the examination refuses to allow you to dive, but do ask before paying upfront.
Typical land-based Open Water certification courses cost between $300 and $500 depending on location; expect to pay the upper end if you are learning on a resort island with one dive shop available and the lower end if you are learning in a major dive area with many shops. Certifications on liveaboard trips generally cost between $100 and $200 on top of the base cost of the trip.
Many dive shops are rather strict about certifications. For example, someone with an Open Water certification and no Advanced certification may be restricted in depth (usually to PADI's 18 meter/60 foot limit for non-Advanced certified divers) regardless of their dive experience.
If you want to work in diving, there are a limited number of programs that take uncertified divers and train them to Divemaster or Instructor level, which usually includes these courses: introductory Open Water, advanced Open Water, a course in dive rescue procedures and a dive master course. In addition you will do at least 30 more dives to build up your dive experience. Such courses cost around $6000–$8000 and take 3–6 months to complete.
It can be difficult for foreign travellers to find work as divemasters or instructors in Australia: Australia is pretty good at supplying its own instructors. The most likely way to get work is to get short-term work in Far North Queensland during the peak season (the Australian winter, roughly May to September) when demand is highest.
You will need to have native or near-native command of English if you intend to instruct most students; command of some other languages, particularly German or Japanese, is an asset. Diver operations also have divemaster, cook, coxswain (skipper), deck hand and retail work available. In all cases, the opportunity for independent diving is extremely limited: on most trips all your diving will be work related.
You will not normally be able to get a dive operation to sponsor an Australian work visa for you, unless you have a truly outstanding set of skills unavailable locally. Most foreign instructors work under the Working Holidaymaker visa arrangements.
The Divers Emergency Service (DES) is a 24 hour emergency service operating in Australia. It can be reached on 1800 088 200 (free call within Australia) or on +61 8 8212 9242. Contact this number if you have any medical concerns after diving. Dive physicians are available 24 hours a day. After an initial assessment you will usually be referred to a local emergency department or other medical service for a fuller assessment. They can arrange evacuation in a serious emergency. DES is operated by the Hyberbaric Medical Unit at the Royal Adelaide Hospital with support from the South Australian Ambulance Service and with financial backing from the Divers Alert Network Asia Pacific.
If you suspect diving related illness, you can also seek treatment in the emergency department of a hospital. If you need ambulance assistance to reach the hospital, the general emergency number to seek ambulance assistance in Australia is 000 (112 from mobile/cell phones). They can refer you for recompression or other treatment as needed. Recompression is covered by Medicare for eligible Australian citizens and permanent residents. Evacuation by air within Australian waters is usually covered by Australian private health insurance policies with ambulance cover or by state & territory ambulance service subscriptions, but divers should check with their insurer. All other divers should have travel or dive insurance covering evacuation and medical costs; it's not usually the case that the dive operator has separate cover for it.
Civilian hyperbaric (recompression) chambers are available at the following locations:
- South Australia:
- Royal Adelaide Hospital, Adelaide, tel +61 8 8222 5116
- Northern Territory:
- Royal Darwin Hospital, Darwin, tel +61 8 8922 8888
- Western Australia:
- Freemantle Hospital, Fremantle +61 8 9431 2233
- Royal Hobart Hospital, Hobart, +61 3 6222 8308
- The Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, +61 3 9276 2269
- New South Wales:
- Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, tel +61 2 9382 3880