Top snorkelling spots in Australia

By Jessica Passananti April 11, 2012
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You don’t need to have a scuba diving certificate to enjoy the best of Australia’s reefs. Here are the best snorkel sites.

SUBMERGED BENEATH THE SHALLOW waters of coastal Australia is a world entirely different to what lies above. Massive whale sharks glide through blue waters, baby sea turtles paddle over reefs, 50-year-old red bass hide in sea grass, giant clams sit in waiting, and dolphins playfully weave between swells.

Australia has some of the most diverse and scenic underwater ecosystems in the world and many of them are shallow enough to be explored just with a snorkel and fins. While scuba diving allows you to stay underwater longer and swim deeper, it’s not always the best way to see the sea. Sunlight is filtered by the water and by about 10m below the surface, most of the light – except the blue spectrum – has been blocked.

Aside from being a pleasurable experience, snorkelling also raises awareness about the state of marine life. Once people see what is below the surface, they are compelled to take more care of the environment, says Dive Jervis Bay instructor Martin Hing. He often uses his experience as an instructor to inform people about issues that plague underwater ecosystems.

“I find that once people see the underwater world for themselves and gain a little knowledge about the issues, they often take a much greater interest in the marine environment,” Martin says.

Here are the best 10 snorkelling spots around Australia

1. Ningaloo Reef, WA

As the only fringing barrier reef on the western side of the continent, Ningaloo Marine Park houses a diverse plethora of more than 460 species of fish and 200 species of coral. Snorkellers can walk directly to the reef from the beach on the north-west cape. Whale sharks frequent this spot, and between 300 and 500 visit each year.


2. Julian Rocks Marine Reserve (Byron Bay), NSW

About 2.5 km off Byron Bay’s shore lies the remains of a volcanic eruption from more than 20 million years ago. Now, more than 500 tropical and temperate species live in these shallow, crystal-clear waters atop ancient sedimentary rock. Snorkellers boast of their encounters with leaf scorpion fish, pineapple fish and white anemone fish.

3. Ninepin Point Marine Nature Reserve, TAS 

This Tasmanian reef includes a great variety of marine life, such as sponge gardens, kelp forests, sea dragons, fairy penguins and migrating whales. These reefs differ greatly from those of northern Australia because of the southern, cool marine temperatures and low light infiltration. Many snorkelling tours are available, departing from the coast.

4. Busselton Jetty (Geographe Bay, WA)

Calm, crystal clear Geographe Bay houses the longest etty in the Southern Hemisphere, stretching 1.8km into the water. Some of the best snorkelling is alongside the jetty, which teems with marine life. The bay has 20km of sandy beaches, which are also snorkel-friendly.

5. Thevenard Island (Mackerel Islands), WA 

Lying off the coast of Onslow in the north-west of Western Australia, 10 distinct islands dot the seascape. The snorkel site, Black Flag, is only 10m deep and features large black coral trees. Sleeping nurse sharks are often seen around the islands.

6.  Jervis Bay, NSW

Approximately 180km south of Sydney spans a coastline of over 100km where you can enjoy a great variety of tropical fish, including the eastern blue devil fish and weedy seadragon. But the real attraction of this bay is the variety of different mammals – including the playful bottlenose dolphins, penguins, seals and whales.

7. Shoalwater Island Marine Park, WA

These shallow limestone islands lie less than an hour south of Perth. Mammals such as penguins, sea lions, and dolphins are common in these shallow waters. Shades of light limestone rock greatly contrasts with the green algae that grows on it, making for a beautiful underwater scene.

8. Knuckle Reef Lagoon (Whitsunday Islands, Great Barrier Reef), QLD

Amongst the 74 Islands of the Whitsundays is Knuckle Reef Lagoon, situated 100km off the coast of Airlie Beach. This hidden gem houses more than 1400 different species of coral and 200 different species of fish. Giant clams, spotted fish, slow-moving sea turtles and friendly clownfish are only a few of the vibrant wildlife that you will encounter while perusing through these reefs.

9. Heron Island (Great Barrier Reef), QLD

Although every part of the magnificent reef is snorkel heaven, this island is a walk away from Gladstone off the Queensland coast. Its diversity is astounding; the island features everything from manta rays to sea turtles to nudibranchs. Snorkellers can walk in from any part of the beach. The jetty is a good hot-spot for sighting the resident grouper.

10. Lord Howe Island, NSW

As if untouched by humanity, this pristine island 350km away from Sydney harbour is home to 500 species of fish and 90 species of coral. This World-Heritage location is the most southerly coral reef in the world. In addition to the breathtaking marine life, Lore Howe Island features staggering underwater volcanos and trenches.