The Great Barrier Reef starts at Bundaberg with the southernmost tip of this natural wonder curling close to the shoreline. Visitors to this region can delight inshore dives, reef charters and island tours and can even explore shipwrecks and other sunken treasures.
The Bundaberg region is one of the few mainland areas in Queensland where you can Scuba dive straight from the shore and see beds of coral, schools of reef fish and bales of sea turtles. Day trips and charter boats depart Bundaberg Port Marina for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park as well as the region’s famed Artificial Reef. Bundaberg is also the departure point for air and boat transfers to Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave Islands, both home to rich marine ecosystems teeming with wildlife and vivid coral formations.
The Bundaberg region is a gateway to some of the Great Barrier Reef’s most diverse dive sites and experiences, including:
A colourful underwater playground abuts the Bundaberg coastline, offering premium diving straight off the beach. Two of the easiest-to-reach dive sites in the Woongarra Marine Park are:
TIP: Many Learn to Dive courses frequent these sites as they don’t need a dive boat, making them an affordable option.
Hoffman’s Rocks is covered in hard and soft coral, including Gorgonian sea fans, and features numerous colourful bommies (towering columns of coral) which attract schools of Barracuda, Trevally, Lionfish, Olive sea snakes and vivid Nudibranchs (molluscs). The dive site is also home to Loggerhead and Green sea turtles, Stingrays, Groupers and Wobbegong sharks.
Barolin Rocks is one of the only dive sites in Queensland where dugongs have been seen. This is an ideal site for beginners to hone their skills while still catching glimpses of marine turtles, rays, sea snakes, nudibranchs, eels, reef fish, coral formations and perhaps even a small shark!
Scuba diving tours to the outer reaches of the Great Barrier Reef depart Bundaberg Port Marina most days, weather permitting, and fall loosely into two categories:
Boat tours to the southern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef generally offer a range of activities and usually include a stop at Lady Musgrave Island. Scuba diving is an optional activity on these tours so make it a great option for families, mixed groups and people who’d like to experience everything the region has to offer – both above and below the surface. You don’t need to be certified with several instructors and divemasters on board who can guide you through an Introductory Scuba Dive. All equipment is provided, too. Aside from Scuba diving, you can enjoy guided walks through Lady Musgrave National Park, fish feeding and Semi-Submersible tours of Lady Musgrave Lagoon.
Experienced divers can explore some of the more remote and least accessible dive sites of the southern Great Barrier Reef aboard a dedicated dive boat. Catering exclusively to certified divers, a handful of scheduled services and charter boats run small groups to islands and outer reef dive spots beyond Lady Musgrave Island. These full-day tours usually allow ample time for two dives. Tanks and weights are included aboard the boats and all other equipment and Scuba gear can be hired prior to departure.
TIP: Both tours usually take 10 hours, including travel time, so it’s best to factor in a full day for each expedition.
Depending on the time of year, you may see as much marine life above the surface as below it! Whales are often spotted making their annual pilgrimage up and down the Queensland coastline during the latter half of the year and migrating birds in full flight are a sight to behold. The waters are teeming with sea turtles, Manta Rays, Eagle Rays, Clownfish, Trumpetfish, Parrotfish and Wobbegong sharks.
One of Queensland’s more unusual dive sites sits a mere five nautical miles off the coast of Bundaberg. Cochrane Artificial Reef reaches a depth of 18 metres and is an awe-inspiring collection of decommissioned ships and aircraft joined by a maze of pipes, pylons and concrete blocks all towed offshore at various times since the early 1990s and sunk. The 50-metre long, 350-tonne gravel dredge, Ceratodus II, lies alongside the 40-metre long Porteur and both are flanked by two Mohawk aircraft, a 15-seater Kingair plane, two lightships, a trawler, a landing barge and a water tank. Coral and other sea fauna quickly took over the foreign structures and attracted swarms of sea creatures.
Another shipwreck, the 42-metre long MV Karma, sank eight nautical miles from Bundaberg’s shore in 2003 and now lies in 26 metres of water. Experienced divers can swim through its hold and inspect its crane boom, two-storey bridge, cabins and engine room.
In addition to some of the best wreck diving in Queensland, you will see schools of Trevally, Barracuda, Snapper, Batfish, Lionfish, Black Kingfish, Gropers and Reef fish. Stingrays, Wobbegong sharks, sea snakes, turtles, Moray eels, octopus and nudibranchs are also found playing among the foreign structures.
Lady Elliot Island is a small coral cay, nicknamed the “First Lady of the Reef”, only 10km from the Continental shelf. It sits in protected waters but still offers close to 20 approved dive sites. First-time divers and snorkelers can investigate coral formations just off the beach while more experienced divers can venture further offshore and explore the edge of the Coral Sea. Most dive sites are only a few minutes by boat from the island. A fully-equipped dive centre can hire equipment and arrange transfers.
TIP: Lady Elliot Island is best reached by a 25-minute scenic flight from Bundaberg. For divers wanting to explore the surrounding marine park at their leisure, the island has a 41-room eco resort.
The island is renowned for its thriving Manta Ray population. It is also home to nesting and hatching turtles, flocks of nesting birds, dolphins and migrating humpback whales.
Popular with Scuba divers and snorkelers alike, Lady Musgrave Island’s crowning jewel is its large lagoon. The coral cay is fringed by reef with an average depth of six to eight metres and is dotted with coral bommies and exotic reef fish making it ideal for first-time divers.
TIP: It takes a little over two hours to reach Lady Musgrave Island by high-speed catamaran with full-day tours departing daily.
The island is a nesting place for Green and Loggerhead turtles as well as a habitat for thousands of nesting and migratory seabirds. Below the surface, you’ll see Manta rays, Moray eels and Coral Trout. From July through to November, you may see migrating Humpback whales at play in the waters surrounding Lady Musgrave. Whitetip reef sharks and Leopard sharks have also been spotted hunting around the shallows.
(AF to populate with own tours/operators)
Bundaberg is one of the simplest and easiest places to Learn to Dive and we can help you select the perfect course or introductory lesson. Shore dives are an inexpensive way to master Scuba skills and rack up dives to attain internationally-recognised certification. Day trips to Lady Musgrave Island also offer Introductory dives as an optional activity with instructors and divemasters present on every boat. These are ideal for reef visitors with no experience, certification or equipment who would still like to experience Scuba diving in a calm, safe and enjoyable environment.
Bundaberg has one of the most equable sub-tropical climates in Australia and the steady temperatures make it a pleasure to visit and dive any time of the year. Some of the best diving is found during the winter months (June-August) as cooler currents flush the reef, making visibility clearer.
TIP: Don’t miss “Turtle Season” which runs from November to March each year. Mon Repos Conservation Park within the southern Great Barrier Reef is the nesting ground for a huge concentration of marine turtles, including Loggerhead and Green turtles. Visitors can see turtles swim ashore to lay their eggs then witness the hatchlings leave the nest six to eight weeks later and scurry down the sand to take their first swim in the ocean.
Water temperature along the southern stretch of the Great Barrier Reef averages about 24 degrees Celsius each year. It can climb as high as 26 degrees Celsius in summer (December – February) and drop to 20 degrees Celsius in winter (June – August).