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Best Great Barrier Reef Dive Sites Review

By Alan from Whitsunday Dive Centre, Great Barrier Reef Diving Expert

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest naturally occuring structure on earth. Extending for more than 2,300 km from the northern tip of Queensland and south to Bundaberg, it comprises about 2,900 individual reefs, 900 islands or cays, more than 1500 different species of fish and six of the world's seven species of marine turtles.

For the average diver there are two major departure points for scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Alan Irving - author of this blog has worked these waters for more than 40 years as a Navy Clearance Diver, Commercial Diver, Recreational Divemaster , boat skipper and Dive Company General Manager. These sites have been selected not only for their beauty but also because they are accessible from Cairns or Airlie Beach by commercial dive boats.

Osprey Reef

Situated far out in the Coral Sea to the north of Cairns, Osprey Reef is visited infrequently by a small number of specialised liveaboard dive boats whose operators are absolutely fanatical about protecting the Great Barrier Reef. The departure point for Osprey Reef is Cairns and the reef complex is located approximately 150 km off the Queensland coast. Dive sites on Osprey include North Horn, North Horn Wall, Half Way Wall, Admiralty, False Entrance, Around the Bend, Castles, Silver City, Secret Caves and Rapid Horn. Each site has it's own unique appeal. This is pioneer territory and conditions can include strong currents and choppy seas. Specialised dive boat Spirit of Freedom visits these reefs. Probably the best time to travel to the Coral Sea is from September to December.


The beauty, splendor and marine life here has to be seen to be understood. Vertical walls descending to the seabed 1000 metres below and crystal clear visibility are what you will encouter at Osprey Reef.

Ribbon Reefs

Again located to the north of Cairns are the Ribbon Reefs. Stretching for approximatley 120 km and comprising 10 individual coral reefs, the Ribbon Reefs are accessed from Cairns by a small number of liveaboard specialised dive boats being well out of range for the day dive boats that operate from Cairns and Port Douglas. Most famous of the Ribbon Reefs dive sites is The Cod Hole. Giant cod familiar with the presence of divers congregate to give a close up and personal experience. Other dive destinations include Dynamite Pass - magic drift diving, The Snake Pit - Olive sea snakes frequent this part of the reef, Lighthouse Bommie, Challenger Bay, Vertical Gardens, Two Towers and Steve's Bommie.Coral Sea Diving Liveaboard Spirit of Freedom visits all of these dive sites on a variety of liveaboard dive cruises.


There is no distinct boundary from coastal to ocean waters so some oceanic fish become partial residents of coastal waters, often during different stages of their lifecycle. These are pelagic fish, so named because they inhabit the ocean's pelagic zone. You could probably call them travellers and many of the larger types like swordfish, tuna, mackeral, big eye trevally and barracuda are seen on the Ribbon Reefs.

Flynn, Milln, Pellowe and Thetford Reefs

These are the reef complexes visited by Cairns Day Dive Trip Silverswift out of Cairns. Each complex has multiple sites suitable for diving or snorkelling and are accessible on a day diving trip from Cairns. Cairns Australia Dive Site Flynn Reef is northernmost and to the south Milln Reef and then Pellowe Reef. Westernmost and therefore closest to the mainland is Thetford Reef. Full descriptions of each reef can be seen by folowing the links. The reefs are visited frequently and the marine life and corals at all the divesites is quite magnificent. Even though these reefs are dived frequently there is such diversity and numbers of dive sites that impact from tourism is minimal. The coral and marine life are prolific and in excellent condition. All of the above dive sites are accessed via Cairns based boats (See Getting to Cairns)


Hardy Reef, Hook Reef and Bait Reef

These are the reefs accessible from Airlie Beach. Airlie Beach Reef Tours vessel Seaflight transits daily from Airlie Beach, through the Whitsunday islands to Hardy Reef where a moored floating pontoon makes access to the reef very easy. Of course snorkelling is very popular here and every effort is made to protect and preserve the delicate corals here. Divers are taken in small groups and guided by a qualified diving instructor. In part this is to ensure that no damage is done to the reef by divers fins or by any other means.


Bait Reef offers some unique reef dives with deep canyons and swim throughs, gorgonias, beds of staghorn and huge brain coral. A Great Barrier Reef Diving Trip on board Kiana from Airlie Beach visits Bait Reef each week to the special delight of underwater photographers. (See Getting to Airlie Beach)

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