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Australia Liveaboard Diving

Great Barrier Reef Trips

...Good for: Large animals, underwater photography, reef life and health, beginner divers and snorkelling...
...Not so good for: Wreck dives...

The Land Down Under can, perhaps, refer to more than just the continent of Australia, with its weird and wonderful animal and floral kingdoms.

Grey reef sharks at North Horn - Great Barrier Reef, Australia - photo courtesy of Undersea Explorer
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Under the surface of the sea off Australia's north Queensland coast, a region awaits the diver that is remarkable, alluring and astounding. It is the largest living organism on earth and the only one that is visible from outer space. It is one of the world's great dive trip destinations, the Great Barrier Reef.

Vibrant corals harbour fantastic reef life running the gamut from minute macro critters a plenty, to the giants of the ocean, both gentle and and fierce, and everything great and small in between.

Diving the Great Barrier Reef means year round diving in tropical waters that are almost perpetually calm. A plethora of marine life and a multitude of activities, both on and off the reef, from the nearby city of Cairns, means that an Australia diving cruise is always a memorable one.

The Great Barrier Reef

The biggest highlight of a liveaboard diving tour in Australia is the Great Barrier Reef:

Located off the coast of north Queensland and stretching for over 2,000 km, the Great Barrier Reef consists of distinctive sections that include the high quality diving of the Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef, as well as the most accessible sites of the Cairns Barrier Reef which are more suited for beginners and students.

Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef

Running along the northern edge of the Barrier Reef in north Queensland and holding such famous dives as the Cod Hole and Steve's Bommie, the Ribbon Reefs consist of long, thin reefs ranging in depth from 5-20 metres and usually no wider than 450 metres.

Characteristically covered in colourful coral, the Ribbon Reefs teem with marine critters, large and small. The further north one travels in Queensland the better visibility one encounters due to changes in the land and decreasing agricultural run off. This means the Ribbon Reefs often enjoy excellent visibility.

The reefs are serviced by Australia diving safaris only. These are the same liveaboards from Cairns that visit Osprey Reef and combination tours are strongly recommended. These charters fill up quickly so we recommend booking well in advance. For more detailed information, visit our Ribbon Reefs diving website section.

The Australian North Coral Sea contains an isolated reef system located off the coast of Cairns to the very far north. Osprey Reef and its lesser known neighbour to the south, Bougainville, represent world class diving and some of the best that Australia has to offer.

The distance at once spells one thing: an abundance of unspoilt marine life. As a remote oceanic reef, not part of the continent of Australasia, there are deep water upwellings here meaning plenty of nutrients that support an abundance of life. Visibility here ranges from the impressive to the incredible.

Home to large schools of pelagic fish, bigeye trevally, bronze whaler sharks and barracuda, it also features plenty of moray eels, exotic cuttlefish and sea hares. Gorgonian fans, sea whips and beautiful, bright yellow soft corals flourish in the crystal clear waters and on the mountain pinnacles and sheer walls that disappear in the depths far beneath the Coral Sea. These charters are very popular so we recommend booking well in advance. For more detailed information, visit our Osprey Reef website section.

Cairns Barrier Reef

Covering the further reaches of the Great Barrier Reef, the Cairns Barrier Reef is located at 80+ km from shore and is therefore best served by liveaboards. Sometimes referred to as the Outer Barrier Reef, this area features plenty of wall dives, swim throughs and clear blue water with endless fields of coral, but is more suited to novice divers and those taking dive courses.

Coral is healthy here and the coverage is impressive although table coral and staghorn do not tend to grow to impressive sizes. Fish life is reasonably varied and plentiful. You may encounter turtles, white tip reef sharks and even dolphins. Bommies rise up from gullies and a landscape of staghorn-covered peaks and sandy valleys.

The diving is normally of a pleasant and relaxed nature. A Cairns Barrier Reef tour is great for beginners and for those with limited experience or time. Experienced divers wanting to see the best that the Great Barrier Reef may find a Cairns liveaboard a little underwhelming, and would be more suited to the Ribbon Reefs and Osprey Reef. For those without a great deal of experience, the Cairns Barrier Reef offers fun, easy diving on healthy reefs with good visibility and plenty to see. For more detailed information, visit our Cairns diving website section.

Elsewhere in Australia

The Great Barrier Reef may be the number one dive destination in Australia but places like the Rowley Shoals and the amazing great white shark diving trips around South Australia must also rank among the best of the rest. You can find safari departures to these 2 destinations, as well as to the Great Barrier Reef, by using our liveaboard departure calendar.

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Diving Season

Australia, the coast of North Queensland in particular, is a year round diving destination, blessed with a tropical climate that ensures an idyllic water temperature in winter and summer. Although water temperatures can very dramatically depending on where along Australia's vast coastline you are diving, the Great Barrier Reef, which is the main destination for Australia diving cruises, has a water temperature of between 24 and 29 degrees, with the summer months from December to February being warmest and wettest. The sea is calmest between September and December. Monsoon season, especially January and February may see changes in wind patterns that affect routes.

There are also some seasonal patterns for marine life: minke whales are most commonly seen between June and August, humpback whales between August and October. The great white sharks of South Australia are in favour throughout the year, except March and April. May to October sees a lot of great white action since this is the time of year when young seals first venture off land in search of food. November to February sees plenty of predator action too as thousands of seals gather here then to give birth. This period is also the best time to spot bronze whalers and mako sharks. So there is something pretty awesome happening at most times through the year. If you're keen to see the giant cuttlefish then May to June is their mating season.

Rowley Shoals in North Western Australia is visited in October.

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Where is Australia and How to Get There

Below you will find our maps of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia and the world. More information on: how to get to Australia.

Map of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia (click to enlarge in a new window) Map of Australia (click to enlarge in a new window) Map of the world (click to enlarge in a new window)

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Reef Summary

Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 15 - 40m
Currents: Can be strong
Surface Conditions: Usually calm but can be choppy
Water temperature: 24 - 29°C
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: >200
Recommended length of stay: 1 - 2 weeks

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Useful References

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