The Whitsundays is a beautiful stretch of crystal clear water, dotted with islands right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Year-round balmy temperatures, hundreds of fish and coral species and spectacular dive sites draw tourists from throughout the world.
The Whitsundays comprise 74 islands stretching out along the central coast of Queensland. A few islands have resort accommodation but most are uninhabited national parks. All of them are set among the vibrant coral gardens of the Great Barrier Reef and their underwater formations, plethora of sea life and multi-hued coral walls are waiting to be explored by Scuba divers.
When diving the Whitsundays, you can elect to focus on local spots around the islands or take a day trip further out to dive sites along the reef.
There are two main hubs for Scuba diving tours:
Dive centres and private operators are also located on some of the more isolated resorts and islands, too.
We can help you tailor your Scuba diving tour according to how much time you have, what you’d like to see, whether you are an experienced or first-time diver and whether you’d like to try other activities while visiting the Whitsundays. Scuba diving tours include:
Calm, clear water and excellent visibility make Hamilton Island a great base from which to explore the dramatic coral and marine life of the Great Barrier Reef. First-time divers can test the water – so to speak – with a pool dive at Hamilton Island Resort before trying a guided Introductory Dive or enrol in a Learn to Dive course. Experienced divers can rent equipment from several dive shops and explore the reefs ringing the island; book a scheduled day trip out to Hardy Reef or nearby Bait Reef Marine Park; or charter their own dive boat to inspect some of the less-visited reefs. You’ll be rewarded with Manta rays, turtles and colourful reef fish as well as unique underwater terrain including swim-throughs, canyons, walls and coral gardens.
Charter boats, sailboats and dedicated dive vessels depart daily from marinas at Airlie Beach, Shute Harbour and Hamilton Island, taking experienced divers and those enrolled in Learn to Dive courses out to the reef. Most of these tours are targeted towards Scuba diving and visit sites with permanent mooring spots on the reef, not larger pontoons or platforms, so non-divers are unable to leave the boat and may find little to do. There are some full-day and half-day Scuba diving trips that do cater to inexperienced divers and passengers who don’t want to dive and we are happy to work with you to find the best tour to make the most out of your Whitsundays experience.
Heart Pontoon is a permanent platform anchored at the edge of Hardy Reef, about 42 nautical miles off the shore of Airlie Beach. You can elect to visit the pontoon on either a half-day trip or full-day trip departing either Airlie Beach, Shute Harbour or Hamilton Island. Some tours travel directly to Hardy Reef while some incorporate stops at other islands or the famed Whitehaven Beach. Tour boats moor at Heart Pontoon where visitors can disembark and choose to spend their time on the boat, the pontoon or in the water. Other activities include semi-submersible tours, Queensland’s largest underwater viewing chamber, snorkelling, massage and helicopter flights. All dive equipment is stored on the pontoon and divers of all skill levels are welcome. Qualified instructors offer one-on-one Introductory or Discovery Scuba Dives while certified divers are partnered with a dive buddy or instructor and afforded greater freedom to explore the reef.
TIP: A submerged platform under Heart Pontoon is a simple and fast way for Scuba divers to enter and exit the water. You stand in waist-deep water then gently step off, submerge and, once you’re comfortable breathing underwater, begin your underwater adventure.
Once day-trippers to Heart Pontoon return to their boats and sail into the sunset, a lucky few can roll out a swag and sleep under the stars in this unique camping experience. You will have the run of the pontoon, diving and snorkelling in relative privacy, watching the sunset over the ocean and exploring the after dark antics of fish from the underwater viewing room. Experienced divers can luxuriate in evening, night and early morning dives along Hardy Reef while uncertified guests can still snorkel to their heart’s content. Accommodation for the night is a luxury swag on the pontoon’s top deck, all meals are included and there are hot showers exclusively for the use of Reefsleep guests.
The Great Barrier Reef is home to hundreds of species of fish, coral and sea creatures, many of whom call the picturesque and tropical waters of the Whitsunday home. The shallower stretches of reef are where you will spot sea turtles, giant clams, large fish like Maori Wrasse and Queensland Grouper and a profusion of small reef fish competing with their coral home for title of most colourful reef inhabitants. Along the edges of reef where the coral formations drop down to the ocean floor you may be lucky enough to spy Whitetip Reef Sharks, Blacktip Reef Sharks, pods of Dolphins and perhaps even the rare and notoriously shy Wobbegong Shark. Further out to see, you may come across majestic Manta Rays and schools of pelagic (ocean-dwelling) fish such as Barracudas and Trevally patrolling the area. And if you visit the Whitsundays in the second half of the year, you may witness the annual migration of Minke and Humpback whales.
You’ll find a gentle current on local dive sites around the islands and close to Heart Pontoon but it does grow stronger the further out the Great Barrier Reef you dive. Visibility on popular dive sites is good and ranges from eight to 30 metres depending on location, season and weather while further out on the reef, you’ll be treated to remote dive sites with excellent visibility of up to 50 metres. The depth ranges from 5 to 30 metres along local dive sites and the more frequented sections of Hardy Reef but most of these sites are suitable for beginner divers and don’t go deeper than 20 metres.
TIP: Even if you don’t need a wetsuit, it’s wise to wear one of the full-body stinger suits made from a thin lycra. These protect you from the painful – and occasionally harmful – stings of box jellyfish which are occasionally found on the reef, usually from October to April.
Absolutely! There is plenty of time for you to enjoy a Scuba dive on a half-day trip to the Whitsundays. Many shorter trips moor at Heart Pontoon which carries all the equipment you need to enjoy a Scuba dive. If you haven’t pre-booked your dive, simply make yourself known to staff on your boat ride out to the reef to discuss your options, level of skill and complete your paperwork and safety briefings. You’ll spend 2-3 hours on Heart Pontoon during a half-day trip which is enough time to Scuba dive and even try a few other activities such as snorkelling or a visit to the underwater observatory. If you extend your visit and book a full-day trip, you’ll even have enough time to squeeze in a second Scuba dive.
You certainly can! There are day trips and Learn to Dive courses geared specifically towards beginners and inexperienced divers departing the Whitsundays daily. Many day trips run Introductory or Discovery Scuba Diving lessons for people with no experience, certification or equipment but would still like to try Scuba diving. These are usually offered as an optional activity on day trips to the reef. Other tours incorporate Learn to Dive courses with guests given the chance to complete several open water dives and attain internationally-recognised diving certification. Many dive sites surrounding the Whitsunday islands and along the reef are in calm, shallow waters so provide safe and enjoyable experiences for beginner divers.
There is no bad time to visit the Whitsundays with incredible Scuba diving conditions year-round. The best time to plan your dives depends on what you’d like to see. Minke whales visit the region on their annual migration between June and August while you’re more likely to spot a Humpback whales between June and November. Coral spawning, the breathtaking and rare display of mass reproduction, occurs in October and November.
The wet season runs from January to March and is punctuated by short bursts of heavy rain which help flush the reef while the spring months of mid-August to mid-December produce some of the clearest visibility and most temperate days.
TIP: Peak tourist season usually runs from mid-September to mid-October and again during December and January. Accommodation in Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island tends to fill fast so it’s worth booking in advance.
It is not only possible to dive year-round in the Whitsundays, it is enjoyable too! The water temperature around the most common dive sites rarely deviates from 25 degrees Celsius, regardless of the season. During summer (December to February) the air temperature hovers around 30 degrees Celsius while in winter (June to August), the days still average about 23 degrees Celsius.