Best Outer Reef Dive Sites near the Whitsundays


Barrier Reef sites



Bait Reef (Gary’s Lagoon)

Visibility: 10-20 metres

Diving depth: 4-18 metres

Bottom: Walls forming inlets are solid coral, bottom is sand with scattered, low coral bommies.

An easy site offering two very different dives. The outside edge and entrance into the inlet is a relatively deep dive, 10-18 metres among the low coral bommies and along the wall that forms the edge of Bait Reef. The coral is excellent including soft corals and gorgonian fans. Fish life can be reasonably large with cod, mackerel, barracuda and trout. Once outside the inlet, current can be a problem. Diving within the inlet is easy and relaxing with minimal to no current and 4-12 metres of water. The walls are cut with canyons and deep ledges. Numerous giant anemones at the back of the inlet. Look for wobbegong sharks under the ledges. Good protection in all winds but north-westerlies.

Snorkelling: Very good shallow coral along the edge of the inlet. A 100-metre swim to the east at high tide is a beautiful shallow, unnamed lagoon with a couple of resident reef sharks. Worth the effort.

Bait Reef (Manta Ray Drop-off)

Visibility: 12-30 metres

Diving depth: 3-36 metres

Bottom: Total coral cover in shallow water to 5 metres, wall dropping to 30 metres cut with crevices. From 30 metres down, bottom is made up of coral rubble, sand and scattered coral heads.

Great Barrier Reef diving at its best. A spectacular wall dive from 5 to 30 metres vertical. At the top of the wall is a gorgeous coral garden with a diverse array of hard corals. The wall itself is covered in small colourful soft corals, gorgonian fans, whips and feather stars. The most interesting aspect of the dive is exploring the deep fissures that cut deep into the wall, including a vertical tunnel or chimney, At the base of the wall the bottom continues down and is covered with numerous small coral heads. Between 30 and 35 metres are tall, corkscrew sea whips that reach upwards 3-4 metres towards the surface. The fish life is never-ending, with an array of big and small forms. Schools of fusiliers cruise the drop-off, large wrasse and bumpheaded parrotfish are often seen along the wall, trevally, mackerel, barracuda and sharks come up from the deep and, of course, manta rays. This site is exposed to southerly winds and is very prone to strong currents. Best to dive during slack water, neap tides.

Snorkelling: Excellent coral garden in shallow water but very prone to current.

Bait Reef (Stepping Stones)

Visibility: 10-20 metres

Diving depth: 3-30 metres

Bottom: Very large coral bommies on sand. Behind the Stepping Stones sand often covered by huge thickets of staghorn coral.

The Stepping Stones are a unique feature of Bait Reef. They are made up of 18 or more flat-topped coral pinnacles lined up in a row along the south-west side of the reef. Each pinnacle rises from a depth of 15-25 metres and stops within 1 metre of the surface. The pinnacles are circular in shape and have absolutely vertical sides. Each of the stepping stones is completely covered with coral of all varieties – huge plates on top, soft corals and gorgonian fans on the sides. The stones vary in size from small (15 metres in diameter) to large (50 metres in diameter). Clouds of small colourful tropical fishes swarm around the tops of the stones, while large wrasse, sweetlip, cod, trevally, trout and others cruise the numerous canyons, ledges and caves at depth. Large rays are common, especially manta rays from May to September. Watch the tidal movement as currents are fairly consistent. There are numerous dive sites within the Stepping Stones complex. Some of the highlights are:

  • The Maze: located at the southern end of the Stepping Stones, this dive site is literally a maze of canyons, caves and crevices and relatively shallow (5-15 metres). Large fish are often found in the caves and under ledges. Angelfish are also common. Minimum current within the maze;
  • Hawaii: this large solitary Stepping Stone is located near the northern end of the chain. It drops to nearly 20 metres on the seaward side. Plenty of big fish life but also plenty of current at mid-tide;
  • Cluster of Four: as the name implies, four medium-sized stones in close proximity have created some excellent terrain for exploring – deep canyons and narrow crevices full of whip corals and large fish life. Some current on outside.
  • The Lost Stone: at the northern end of the chain, the stones seem to disappear but are actually just deeper, rising to within 5 metres of the surface. Very good fish life, medium- to large-sized. Fairly deep dive, 8-30 metres. Current at mid-tide.

Snorkelling: Excellent shallow coral on top of the Stepping Stones.

Bait Reef (Southern Face)

Visibility: 12-30 metres

Diving depth: 5-30 metres

Bottom: Shallow water dominated by flat terrain completely covered by hard corals with the odd sand patch. Drops away quickly from 5 metres down to 20-30 metres. The slope is cut with numerous gullies with coral rubble and sand bottoms.

This dive is very similar to Gorgonia Hill without as many fans at depth. The numerous deep gullies make for very interesting diving, often filled with a variety of fish life including angelfish, sweetlip, cod and soldier fish. Large turtles, manta rays and some pelagic fishes such as mackerel and barracuda are often seen cruising along the drop-off. Open to southerly winds and current. Best to dive at slack water.

Snorkelling: Excellent.

Fairey Reef (Henry’s Bommie)

Visibility: 10-20 metres

Diving depth: 5-15 metres Bottom: Relatively flat, sandy bottom studded with small coral outcrops. Largest bommie cut with ledges and a large cave.

An interesting dive in the lagoon at Fairey Reef, Henry’s Bommie is considered to be a premier attraction. The bommie reaches from 12 metres to near the surface. A narrow gap opens into a cave which is worth exploring but beware the small opening. Inside you will find a huge clam, 1 metre across. There is also a resident turtle that is often spotted at night. Circumnavigation of Henry’s Bommie is the usual dive plan. Good coral cover and clouds of small tropical fish.

Snorkelling: Excellent with minimal current.

Fairey Reef (Little Fairey Inlet)

Visibillty:10-20 metres

Bottom: Shallow wall at back of inlet dropping to 10 metres, sandy bottom sloping down to 16 metres, studded with small coral outcrops.

Classic dive starting at wall along entrance to inlet, depth 16 metres. Excellent coral cover which tends to degenerate below about 18 metres. Possible to miss inlet if deeper than 16 metres. Swimming along wall and into inlet brings you in contact with very good fish life including brightly coloured angelfish, cod, trout and sweetlip. Plenty of nooks and crannies to explore when going into the inlet, and shallower water (10 metres). Small current should be expected outside the inlet but good protection once inside.

Snorkelling: Excellent along the wall of the inlet. Some current at opening of inlet.

Fairey Reef (The Shoals)

Visibility: 10-20 metres

Diving depth: 5-25 metres

Bottom: Relatively flat, sandy bottom at 6-8 metres backed by a shallow coral wail cut with shallow canyons opening into small lagoons. Eventually drops to 25 metres with small coral bommies on sandy bottom, some coral rubble.

A very ‘easy diving site with negligible current at almost all tidal conditions. Swim-throughs into small lagoons make for good exploration. Heaps of giant clams, sea cucumbers and all the small tropical fish. Blue spotted rays. Maori wrasse and the odd reef shark are also common. Average depth is only 8 metres but does drop away to 24 metres. Current can be a problem at depth.

Snorkelling: Quite good, with little current.

Fairey Reef (Tina’s Arm)

Visibility: 15-30 metres

Diving depth: 5-30 metres

Bottom: Small bommies extending from coral wall. Bommies and wall bottom out at 20-30 metres, then relatively flat, sandy bottom with coral rubble.

This is one of the prettiest sites on Fairey Reef. Very good coral cover including large porites coral and gorgonian fan, the largest found at 25 metres. Plenty of fish life of all sizes and colours, regular encounters with reef sharks, barracuda and turtles. As with most of the better dive sites, currents can be a problem, best to dive at slack water. However there are plenty of swim-throughs to explore if current poses a problem.

Snorkelling: Excellent, but prone to currents.

Hardy Reef (Fantasea Reef World pontoon)

Visibility: 8-18 metres

Diving depth: 5-18 metres

Bottom: Wall with good coral cover down to 10 metres, cut with numerous shallow curves, canyons and ledges. Below 10 metres, there are steep slopes of coral rubble and sand, with low coral outcrops.

An easy dive, good for exploring the undersides of numerous ledges and caves covered with small, colourful gorgonian fans and soft corals, down to 10 metres. Best hard coral cover found in the shallow water of the reef face down to 5 metres. However, the fish life is where it’s at. For years the pontoon has been feeding the locals who are now big and quite friendly. Largest among the residents is a groper coming in at 2 metres in length and nearly 200 kilograms! Large Maori wrasse, trevally, trout and cod are always there to greet the diver. Plenty of small colourful reef fish as well. Good protection in most wind conditions except northerlies. Consistent currents particularly away from the wall. Possibly opt for a drift. Extremely deep water (60 metres) in the channel away from the wall.

Snorkelling: Excellent fish life; some current.

Hardy Reef (The Canyons)

Visibility: 10-20 metres

Diving depth: 3-18 metres

Bottom: Wall cut with caves, tunnels and canyons down to 15 metres, then steep slope of coral rubble and sand.

This dive offers great opportunity to explore an endless maze of tunnels, canyons and shallow caves which start as deep as 15 metres and take the diver right up to the surface. Gorgonian fans often shroud the tunnel entrances and crayfish are common in dark recesses. Large and small reef fish in abundance. One cave is always jammed with 100 or more morwong. Good protection from all but strong northerly winds. Outside of the canyons, current can be quite strong. Very deep water off wall (60 metres) in the channel.

Snorkelling: Current often strong over the reef flat.

Hardy Reef (Shark Alley)

Visibility: 6-15 metres (varies tremendously with tides)

Diving depth: 4-20 metres

Bottom: Wall drops quite steeply; below 20 metres mostly coral rubble.

Plenty of action here, particularly at the bottom of the tide when the waterfalls are running. Sharks are known to cruise this area looking for a feed. White tips and black tips with the odd whaler, hammerhead and even tiger shark. Visibility is often low due to strong currents and outflow from Hardy Lagoon. Generally protected from strong winds of all directions.

Snorkelling: Not recommended.

Hardy Reef (Hardy Reef South)

Visibility: 12-30 metres

Diving depth: 5-30 metres

Bottom: Shallow water dominated by flat terrain completely covered by hard corals and cut by numerous shallow gullies. Some shallow pools with sandy bottom.

The southern face of Hardy Reef, when accessible, offers really spectacular diving, both shallow and deep. The steep slope drops from 3 to 30 metres very quickly and is covered in a variety of hard and soft corals. The numerous deep gullies are often full of fish life, including angelfish, sweetlip, cod and wrasse. Pelagic fishes can be seen off the reef face, including mackerel, trevally and barracuda. Open to southerly winds and current.

Snorkelling: Not recommended.

Line Reef

Visibility: 8-18 metres

Diving depth: 3-25 metres

Bottom: Basically a coral wall with small gullies and deep ledges. Wall drops to 10-15 metres then steep slope of coral rubble and sand.

A good drift dive along a wall full of nooks and crannies. Small, brightly-coloured soft corals, fans and feather stars are common under the ledges. Fish life is medium in size with cod, sweetlip, wrasse, trout and angelfish. Good protection from wind but no protection from current.

Snorkelling: Prone to current; best to drift with current.

Sinker Reef

Visibility: 8-18 metres

Diving depth: 5-30 metres

Bottom: Top of reef covered with staghorn coral (although some fairly extensive anchor damage). Steep walls dominate the sides, with lots of ledges and short caves to explore.

This is a relatively small reef located in the middle of the channel between two very large reefs. Line and Hardy. Watch the current. The dive is similar in character to Line Reef; a good wall dive with nooks and crannies full of small, brightly coloured soft corals, fans and feather stars. Fish life includes cod, sweetlip, wrasse, trout and angelfish.

Snorkelling: Not recommended due to current.

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