A loggerhead turtle at Julian Rocks. Credit: Simone Caprodossi
A loggerhead turtle at Julian Rocks. Credit: David Robinson / Sundive

Australia’s Most Underrated Dive Destinations

When most people think about scuba diving or snorkelling in Australia, it’s a little thing called the Great Barrier Reef that usually springs to mind. And for good reason. It really is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders – a vast series of almost 3,000 individual coral reefs that stretch for 2,600km down the coast of Queensland. But there are more reefs to dive and waters to explore Down Under than this iconic destination alone.

As keen scuba divers, we’ve experienced some unforgettable dives right around Australia, including the Great Barrier Reef. However, it’s probably those under-the-radar dive sites that have been the most memorable. The ones where you feel like an intrepid explorer visiting a site few others have ever laid eyes on – and witnessing the wildlife within.

Our local dive site Julian Rocks Nguthungulli Nature Reserve, off the coast of Byron Bay, is one of those sites. Even though the town itself is one of the most visited in Australia (and its popularity has skyrocketed lately) the islands just off the coast still feel like a secret.

Keen to dive or snorkel the waters less explored? Here are some of the best hidden dive sites around Australia.

Wolf Rock, Rainbow Beach – QLD

Located just off Double Island Point at Rainbow Beach, Wolf Rock has long been considered one of the best dives in Australia and a must do for your itinerary if you intend travelling up or down the East Coast of Australia. Keep an eye out for grey nurse sharks and manta rays which are spotted there year-round, and in the summer months you may be joined by leopard sharks. Experience this through Wolf Rock Dive Centre.

Grey nurse sharks and a passing manta. Credit: Wolf Rock Dive Centre
Grey nurse sharks and a passing manta. Credit: Wolf Rock Dive Centre

Lady Elliot Island – QLD

A short flight from Bundaberg or the Gold Coast will bring you to one of Queensland’s most enchanting dive destinations: Lady Elliot Island. Once a barren rock devastated by guano mining, it’s been brought back to life with impressive revegetation efforts – and the wildlife is impressive both above and below the water’s surface. The island’s PADI dive centre will help you discover the island’s abundance of mantas, turtles, corals and more.

Clear water and spectacular colours at Lady Elliot. Credit: Lady Elliot Island / Colin Baker
Clear water and spectacular colours at Lady Elliot. Credit: Lady Elliot Island / Colin Baker

Julian Rocks, Byron Bay – NSW

Sundive is Byron Bay’s only 5 Star PADI dive centre and will take you to experience the Julian Rocks dive site. Expect to see many species of tropical and non-tropical marine life – countless fish big and small – all coexisting in perfect harmony. The best thing about it though is the changing seasons. In summer you’ll see leopard sharks cruising around the islands, while the cooler waters of winter attract dozens of grey nurse sharks. During the annual humpback whale migration you can often hear their songs in the distance.

Up close with a manta ray at Julian Rocks. Credit: Sundive Byron Bay
Up close with a manta ray at Julian Rocks. Credit: Sundive Byron Bay

Blizzard Ridge, Lighthouse Bay, Ningaloo Reef – WA

While we’re all for the lesser-known beauties, Ningaloo Reef deserves a mention, mostly because it’s not just whale sharks that you’ll encounter here. Ningaloo Reef may the “home of the Gentle Giant”, but it has more to offer the adventurous diver too, with over 450 different species of marine life and 250 different species of coral. The Muiron Islands just a short distance off the coast are spectacular too. Visit with Exmouth Dive.

. A spectacular school at Ningaloo Reef. Credit: PADI
. A spectacular school at Ningaloo Reef. Credit: PADI

Rapid Bay – SA

Rapid Bay is one of the prettiest shore dives in Australia and a reliable place to see the rare and elusive leafy sea dragon. Plus, it offers some of the best in scuba diving in South Australia. Soft corals, sponges, (pygmy) leatherjackets and cowfish are just a few of the leafy sea dragon’s companions at Rapid Bay Jetty. Experience this through The Dive Shack – a family owned and operated PADI 5 Star dive centre.

A leafy sea dragon. Credit: The Dive Shack / Facebook.
A leafy sea dragon. Credit: The Dive Shack / Facebook.

Blairgowrie Pier – VIC

Blairgowrie Pier is a photographer’s dream, with an abundance of macro life. See different species of rays, as well as octopus, squid, giant cuttlefish and more. Dive in May or June to witness thousands of spider crabs gathering in the shallow waters. Its sheltered position and manageable depth range makes Blairgowrie Pier a great place to get certified. You can experience this hidden gem through Academy of Scuba.

Blairgowrie Pier. Credit: PADI
Blairgowrie Pier. Credit: PADI

Got any recommendations for other underrated dive sites? Let us know.

Written by
Chris Ashton

We're Chris Ashton and Simon Ceglinski, two Aussie travellers with a love of exploration and adventure, and the odd bit of luxury thrown in. We seek out street art, street food, and scuba diving wherever we go, and prefer the road less travelled over well-worn tourist paths.

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Written by Chris Ashton