With beautiful coral reefs, intriguing shipwrecks and the chance to swim alongside rare species like dwarf minke whales, Queensland is one of the country’s best spots for underwater explorations. Whether you’re heading out on your first snorkel or already have dozens of dives under your belt, this is where to get submerged.
Beginner snorkellers are well catered for at Magnetic Island, a scenic 25-minute ferry trip away from Townsville. The island’s two self-guided snorkel trails are marked out with subsurface numbered floats, making them simple to follow. The Nelly Bay trail is the easier of the two and travels past giant clams, clownfish and coral, while the Geoffrey Bay trail will take you to the remains of shipwreck SS Moltke, where schools of tropical fish congregate.
Between its lifeguard service and convenient location, just 45 minutes by boat from Cairns, Green Island is one of the most welcoming spots in Queensland for snorkellers. Swim around the jetty to see coral trout, sea cucumbers, giant clams, turtles, reef sharks and plenty of coral; from July to November you could even spot a humpback whale.
The Tangalooma Wrecks, off Moreton Island, is a man-made snorkelling site – a cluster of vessels deliberately placed here to serve as an anchorage spot – full of coral formations and marine life. Swim out from the beach and keep an eye out for the dolphins, dugongs and wobbegongs.
Lady Elliot Island
This coral cay island, set inside a protected marine park, is the home of the manta ray but fear not: despite their huge size (they can grow as big as seven metres long) the mammals are very friendly. As well as the chance to meet a ray, Lady Elliot also offers a range of snorkelling spots, from calm lagoons perfect for beginners through to deeper waters where dolphins, turtles and reef sharks swim.
There’s nowhere better for first-time snorkellers to get started than at Daydream Island’s Living Reef. The 200-metre-long coral lagoon, which wraps around the outside of the recently refurbished resort, is home to more than 100 unique species of fish as well as starfish, sea cucumbers, crabs and even baby stingrays. Eco friendly, educational and easy to navigate, it’s the perfect introduction for those who want a bit of practice before hitting the ocean.
About 80 kilometres north of Townsville lies Orpheus Island, a snorkel spot that will reward those who make the journey with crystal-clear water, more than 1000 species of fish and hundreds of varieties of coral. The outer reef, an hour from the island, is home to green turtles, bull rays and more. Deeper dives can also be arranged.
More than 20 dive sites surround Heron Island, one of the loveliest stretches of the Great Barrier Reef. If you only have time to explore one, make it Heron Bommie, a world-famous haven for of stingrays, tasselled wobbegong sharks, green turtles and octopi. The dive sites are all within 15 minutes of the shore, making it a hassle-free spot to get submerged.
The HMAS Brisbane was laid to rest in the waters of the Sunshine Coast in 2005 and has served as a dive and snorkel site ever since. Several openings have been made in the decommissioned ship to allow divers easy access to the wreck’s interior nooks. You’ll share the waters with turtles, eagle rays and kingfish and possibly an octopus allegedly living in the ship’s deck. To access the site, though, you’ll need to book a dive tour or obtain a permit.
After a real shipwreck? Descend to the SS Yongala, a 110-metre steamer that capsized en route to Townsville in 1911 and today ranks as one of the largest intact shipwrecks in the world (and a world famous dive site to boot). Rays, sharks, turtles, octopi and more pass through these waters, which you can visit on a guided dive departing from nearby Alva Beach.
Snorkellers and divers alike flock to the Ribbon Reefs, 65 kilometres off the coast of Port Douglas, to see the diverse marine life that live in its waters. In the shallow lagoons you’ll find everything from technicolour coral to hammerhead sharks; further afield the dive site at Steve’s Bommie teems with reef sharks and barracuda. You can even swim alongside dwarf minke whales here on multi-day dive trips in the winter – a once-in-a-lifetime experience given Queensland is the only place in the world humans can interact with the elusive mammals.