Off the Beaten Path Tips from the road...for independent and adventurous budget travellers

Diving Hot Spots Along Australia’s East Coast

AUSTRALIA | Thursday, 14 June 2012 | Views [5280] | Comments [3]

Weedy Sea Dragon at Botany Bay

The popular travel route from Sydney to Cairns offers countless underwater experiences - some well known internationally and others a local secret. I’ve outlined some of the best spots along the east coast below to help you align your road trip rest stops with amazing diving opportunities.


Just minutes from Sydney International Airport, Botany Bay offers an encounter with a species that is unique only to southern Australia: the weedy sea dragon. Not to be confused with a sea horse, the “weedie” is elaborately camouflaged and difficult to find until you shine a torch to reveal its illuminant crimson and sapphire reflection.

Experience required: Beginner to expert.

How to get there: Go to Botany Bay National Park in Kurnell for a small fee. There are several good shore dives to choose from, which means you don’t need to charter a boat. However, it is recommended that you dive with a local operator who can help you navigate the dive sites and, importantly, identify any weedy sea dragons.


Nelson Bay is adored by locals for having the best “muck diving” in Australia. In other words, you could spend days and days poking sand and sediment to search for tiny, unusual creatures. Look across the reef and into the depths as well and it gets even better. Moray eels, octopus, sea horses, wobbegongs, port jackson sharks, various types of rays, as well as friendly gropers are just some of the things you are likely to see.

Experience required: Beginner to expert, depending on your depth.

How to get there: Nelson Bay is around one hour north of Newcastle. It’s protected location means conditions are good for diving all year round and you don’t need to use a boat. Top dive sites in the region include Fly Point and Halifax which are only minutes from the Nelson Bay marina and central township.


Julian Rocks is a small island nearby Byron Bay within a fiercely protected marine park. It offers plenty of large fish. From May to September you often hear humpback whales from underwater as the annual migration passes very closely by. Large sea turtles, grey nurse sharks and wobbegongs are also commonly sighted all year round.

Experience required: Beginner to expert.

How to get there: Accessible only by approved vessels, it’s important to book in advance to secure your experience with a local dive operator. Several operators are located in the central Byron Bay township. They generally offer various dive packages, including one, two or three dives per day.


Dugongs and dolphins are seen daily from the surface of the water surrounding North Stradbroke Island, signaling the multitude of marine life underwater. You can see leopard sharks and manta rays in summer, as well as grey nurse sharks throughout winter. Schools of eagle rays are another spectacular sight in the region. Considering the visibility at “Straddie” is almost always good, the photo opportunities are hard to beat.

Experience required: Beginner to expert.

How to get there: North Stradbroke Island is conveniently nearby Brisbane and you can arrange boat dives from both Brisbane city and the island itself. Accommodation is available on the island for people interested in exploring both its marine life and land over several days.

Manta Ray at North Stradbroke Island


Feeding at The Cod Hole is one of the best ways to experience the famous Great Barrier Reef. Massive potato cods have become accustomed to receiving daily treats from visiting divers and they’re not afraid of getting close to people to ensure they receive a fair share of food. The dive site is also home to a small population of reef sharks and various types of anemone fish.

Experience required: Beginner to expert, depending on your depth. Advanced preferred by operators.

How to get there: At the time of writing, The Cod Hole was accessible from a number of different live-aboard tours departing Cairns for several days. Some of these tours also go to the Ribbon Reefs, which offer diving around many intricate coral formations


Osprey Reef is isolated in the open ocean and attracts many large fish, including tuna, barracuda and mackerel. Adventurous divers know Osprey for its shark feed, which usually attracts as many as 40 reef sharks. During mid-year, minke whales are also commonly spotted surrounding the reef and, if you’re lucky enough to see one, you can enjoy snorkelling nearby.

Experience required: Advanced to expert only.

How to get there: Osprey Reef is accessible only by live-aboard tours as it is very far from shore. At the time of writing, a number of tours were available for a minimum of four days departing from Cairns.

Potato Cod Feeding in the Coral Sea 

Related articles:

Diving Safety Tips - The Essentials

Diving The Solomon Islands

About the Author

Marissa Toohey is an Australian writer who enjoys busting her comfort bubble through travel, adventures and volunteering. She enjoys getting off the beaten track and shares her insights at theBubbleBuster Project blogFollow her on twitter @theBubbleBuster or Facebook.

About the Photographer

Shea Pletz has been diving since 2004 and enjoys taking photos with a Nikon D7000, Ikelite housing and dual Inon Z240 strobes. Shea grew up in Newcastle and is currently living in Brisbane, regularly diving along the coast of southeast Queensland. In addition to diving around Australia and The Pacific, Shea has been diving in Europe, Asia, The Middle East and Africa. You can view more of Shea’s photos at

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Tags: australia, diving, travel



North Stradbroke can be accessed by hourly car and passenger ferries from Cleveland on the mainland. The Big Red Cat and Stradbroke Ferries are your best options.

  Michael Jun 14, 2012 12:50 PM


I've dived all those spots in NSW and agree that all are fantastic. One place I'd also consider is Wooli on the NSW North Coast, a few hours south of Byron Bay. Tiny, tiny town with one local dive operator but close to the the Solitary Islands Marine reserve. There are the most amazing anemone gardens and a spot called Fish Soup with more fish than I've ever seen!

  crustyadventures Jul 23, 2012 1:00 PM


Any info on who to dive with for Botany Bay?


  Simon Mar 6, 2014 1:59 AM

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