The Lowdown on Diving in the Whitsundays


Scuba diving

There are a number of training organisations on the mainland offering full certificate courses of 5-7 days duration, including training dives at island and Barrier Reef sites. There is a lot of competition for students among the operators, and don’t judge a course on price alone. Check out several options; ask about training centres; find out what’s included in the price, and ask where the training dives are conducted and on what kind of vessel. Diving instruction is available at some of the island resorts.

Water temperature in the Whitsundays

Wetsuits required for comfortable diving in Whitsunday waters are shown below.

Month Temp.°C Wetsuit required for diving
January 27 Lycra suit or 3 mm ‘shorty’ or ‘steamer’*
April 25 3 mm ‘shorty’ or ‘steamer’
July 21 5 mm ‘steamer’ or ‘long John’ and jacket
October 23 3 mm or 5 mm ‘steamer’

Diving at the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is renowned for its spectacular diving, with unparalleled coral diversity and reef life. Some of the reefs accessible from the Whitsundays offer diving on a par with the best along the length of the Reef. Visibility ranges from 6 to 30 metres depending upon the winds, tides and location. Among sites regularly visited by local operators, Bait and Fairy reefs have the best water clarity. Surface conditions depend on wind and tide: at low tide, an individual reef can provide protection from choppy seas. Currents are a fact of life offshore, and it is often best to dive during periods of slack tide, or to dive in protected areas. A drift dive is sometimes the answer when currents are strong.

Diving around the islands

The fringing reefs of the Whitsundays are noted for their high diversity of corals and their teeming fish and other marine life. The water is not as clear as it is out at the Barrier Reef itself due to the presence of fine sediments from adjacent mainland rivers and runoff from the islands themselves. Visibility in the water ranges from 2 to 15 metres depending upon the weather, the tides and the location, and it tends to improve as one gets further from the mainland. It is generally clearest at sites along the northern side of Hook and Hayman islands. There are nevertheless some definite advantages to diving among the islands:

  • the islands are easily accessible and offer calm waters in nearly all weather conditions; most dive sites have little current (except where near a headland or within a narrow passage); and
  • there is prolific sea life at nearly every site – nudibranchs, feather stars, Christmas-tree worms, sea cucumbers, and almost every small tropical fish in the book.

Diving in the Coral Sea

Diving in the coral sea is renowned for excellent visibilty in the water and for large pelagic fishes and other marine life. Extended dive charters to the Coral Sea (5 days and longer) are available from the Whitsundays.

Diving safety

Dives at island sites are usually fairly shallow, and decompression is not an issue. At the Barrier Reef there is greater temptation and opportunity to go deeper. The nearest recompression facility is at Townsville. The outer reefs are several hours from the mainland by boat, and Townsville is a 3 1/2 hours drive – that’s at least 7 hours before recompression can begin. Therefore it’s best to say that, for practical purposes, recompression is not available in the Whitsundays, and prevention should be the guideline.

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