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Dive more than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia

Published February 1st, 2016

Think diving in Australia and, likely many people who come to dive here from across the world, the first place that comes to mind is the Great Barrier Reef.

And who could blame you. With 2,900 reefs, 600 continental islands and 300 coral cays, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest and healthiest coral reef system.

Hello colourful garden corals, dwarf minke whales, giant potato cod, manta rays, reef sharks and sea turtles bigger than your kid sister.

This beautiful lady came in for a closeup. Grey Nurse Shark at Julian's Rock, NSW. Photo: Sanna Persson

Throw in year-round perfect temperatures, day charters and liveaboards from the tip of Cape York Peninsula down to Bundaberg and white sandy beaches, rainforests, sailing and a laidback vibe to enjoy on your days off – how could it not sound appealing?

It is. But guess what – there’s more to diving off Australia than the Great Barrier Reef.

From the coral reefs and giant pelagic fish and whale sharks off Gove Peninsular East of Darwin, right down to Governor’s Island Marine Reserve’s Magic Garden Gullies off Tasmania’s east coast – we have some of the best, healthiest and diverse diving in the world.

Now I love diving, but would describe myself as a novice at best.

So I’ve bought in a heavy hitter, a close friend of mine from Sweden, Sanna Persson,  who has just travelled around Australia and dived in every state and territory (except for Tassie and the Northern Territory – this time) on her way to study marine science at James Cook University.

Sanna (pictured) "A Leafy Seadragon was nice enough to let me take this photo at "The Bluff" Victor Harbour, SA."

When she was a dive master in Phuket she even developed her own hand signal for cuttlefish (a cute-ass cuddle!) although I don’t think it’s official with PADI just yet.

A diver from age 7 in Sweden (brrrr) who has spent the best part of the last decade diving around the world, Sanna loves being in the water with marine life from sharks to nudibranchs (bright coloured little mollusks).

She lists Sabang, Puerto Galera in The Philippines and Cocos Island outside of Costa Rica as two of her all-time favourite dive destinations and says Australia ranks high when it comes to the world’s best dive spots.

Here’s her five favourite dive sites outside of Queensland and why they’re worth you popping your Australian diving cherry before you reach the Great Barrier Reef.

5. Flinders Pier, Western Port Bay, Victoria
Type of dive: shore dive
Depth: 0-8.5m
Difficulty: beginner to experienced
Marine life: Weedy Sea Dragons. Weedy Sea Dragons are only found off the south coast of Australia. This is one of the best places to find them and we found one in the first eight minutes and another eight on the dive. Expect to see lots of fish, shrimps, nudibranchs, octopus and the occasional crayfish and large ray.

An Ornate Ghost Pipefish at Julian's Rock, NSW. Photo: Sanna Persson

4. The Bluff, Victor Harbour, South Australia
Dive: Shore dive. There is also a ladder you can climb down, but it’s super long!
Depth: 3-5m.
Visibility: Good although there was a lot of silt in the water, which wouldn’t be fun in rough weather.
Difficulty: A strong swell and occasional strong currants. I would not recommend diving here without a dive guide unless you are an experienced diver.
Marine life: We’re told this was the best place in the world to see Leafy Sea Dragons, like the Weady Seadragon, only found on the south coast of Australia. We were not disappointed, having seen at least 14 on each of our three dives. The site is best around the deeper boulders and also home to the occasional seal and other small marine life including soft and sponge corals, cuttlefish, sea stars, morwong and devilfish.

A Nudibranch at Julian's Rock, NSW. Photo: Sanna Persson

3. Julian’s Rock Marine Reserve, Byron Bay, New South Wales
Dive: Boat
Depth: 0-25m
Visibility: 10-25m
Difficulty: Beginner to experienced.
Marine life: From big pelagic to small micro marine life, this place has it all. Plus the structure of the rock and the large number of fish also help make it a beautiful dive site. We saw manta rays, grey nurse sharks, lots of different nudibranchs, wobbygongs, cat sharks and different stingrays. Brons and blue whalers, and even great whites, have been spotted here but we were not so lucky.

Grey Nurse Sharks waiting to pose for some photos as you come out from the Cave at Fish Cave Rock, NSW. Photo: Sanna Persson

2. Fish Cave Rock, South West Rocks, mid-north New South Whales
Dive: Boat; cave diving also available.
Depth: 0-25 meters.
Visibility: 10-25 meters. It’s off the coast and there are lots of different currants coming though.
Difficulty: Advanced. The currents can be strong.
Marine life: grey nurse sharks, grey nurse sharks, grey nurse sharks and wobbygong sharks. We were told about 40 to 50 grey nurses call this rock home and if you don’t move too quickly you can get really close. We also saw a load of giant lobsters in the cave and nudibranchs all around. Others saw dolphins and we’re told hammerheads make the odd visit.

Two mating Pyjama Squid on a night dive under the Edithburgh Jetty. Photo: Sanna Persson

1. Edithburgh Jetty, South of Adelaide, SA.
Dive: Jetty. There are stairs for easy access.
Depth: 2-6m
Visibility: Varies a lot from what I understand. I was there in December and we had about 12-15m.
Difficulty: Beginner to experienced.
Marine life: The diversity of marine life and spectacular array of colours is what makes this my number one dive site in Australia. It even makes my top 5 in the world (although I have not beet to Port Philip Bay in Victoria yet). The most vivid tropical reef doesn’t compare to the explosion of colour here. We saw loads of fish, nudibranchs, camouflage crabs, clams that look like macaroons, all sorts of octopus and anglerfish, wobbygong sharks, eagle rays and the list goes on and on. During the night you can also see Pajama squid!

Jolee Wakefield

A seasoned backpacker and travel writer, Jolee has spent the past decade wandering the globe in pursuit of good vibes, unusual conversations and unforgettable adventures like cave diving in Mexico, mountain climbing in Borneo and learning (failing at) local dances in the Pacific nation of Kiribati.