What’s the Best Time to Dive in the Great Barrier Reef?


Jason is an adventure travel writer with a passion for exploring the world's most beautiful and remote destinations.

Ever wanted to visit the largest coral reef system in the world? Most experienced scuba divers will agree that the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most jaw-dropping places to dive on the planet. 

But when should you visit?

Peak season gets crowded, but if you leave it too late, the weather starts to turn, and the visibility isn’t great – not to mention the risk of box jellyfish!

If you’re planning to visit Australia, this post will show you the best time to dive in the Great Barrier Reef and what you can expect on your trip. 

If you’re looking for world-class scuba diving without the crowds, you should check out the different diving sites in Tulum, Mexico

Best Time Of Year To Dive Great Barrier Reef

The best time to dive in the Great Barrier Reef is between June and October. This is peak season when the weather is warm, rain is uncommon, and the waters are calm and clear. 

The downside is that diving tours fill up quickly, and there are a lot of crowds on the beaches and in local restaurants. 

If you want to avoid the crowds, the low season is between November and May. However, there is a high chance of rain, the water visibility isn’t as good, and deadly box jellyfish will be floating around – not great conditions for diving!

What To Expect When Scuba Diving in the Great Barrier Reef

The great thing about visiting the Great Barrier Reef is that you can take an intro diving tour without any experience. The crew onboard will give you all the gear you need and show you the basics of diving safely. 

If you do decide to go on a scuba dive tour, an instructor will be with you the entire time to show you the route and keep you as safe as possible. 

Most tours also have an underwater photographer to snap pictures of you and the wildlife while you’re diving, so you won’t have to worry about investing in an underwater camera. 

If you’re an experienced diver with a certification, you can also go diving without an instructor, but you’ll need to have all your own gear and rent a boat to take you out. 

Where to go Scuba Diving in Great Barrier Reef

panoramic view of Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays

The Great Barrier Reef is about 1,429 miles long, stretching across 133,000 square miles, so there are a lot of opportunities to go diving. 

If you’ve never been before, here are some of the top dive sites you should consider visiting. 

Agincourt Reef

This reef is on the northern end near Cairns. It’s a great spot for beginners and has plenty of options for snorkeling and diving on the edge of the continental shelf. 

At Agincourt Reef, you’ll see tropical fish, sea turtles, and even the odd reef shark. This is also the spot where you can visit the Blue Wonder Wall, where the coral garden drops vertically for over 40 meters. 

Most tours to Agincourt Reef depart from Port Douglas, but a few tours will pick you up directly from any Cairns accommodation. 

SS Yongala Shipwreck

Travel about an hour south of Cairns, and you’ll find Magnetic Island, home to the SS Yongala shipwreck that sank in 1911. This is Australia’s largest and most intact shipwreck and is now protected by legislation. 

The only way to visit the shipwreck is with a licensed operator, but it’s well worth the trip. You’ll get to see eagle rays, manta rays, turtles, and even sharks that live around the wreck. 

Yongala Dive is the most well-known licensed operator that organizes tours to the shipwreck if you’re interested in going. 

Whitsunday Islands

The Whitsundays is a group of 74 mostly uninhabited tropical islands. You can take day cruises from Airlie Beach to take on this incredible scuba dive tour. 

Manta ray and batfish call the waters around the islands home, but you’ll also see underwater cliffs, submerged offshore reefs (bommies), and flat-topped coral pinnacles. 

Museum of Underwater Art

Yes, the Great Barrier Reef has its very own underwater museum for divers to peruse. This is where you’ll get to see the world-renowned Coral Greenhouse Structure, a 30-foot stainless steel structure that helps dissipate the underwater currents. 

The Underwater Museum is just off the coast of Townsville in John Brewer Reef, and many local tour guides have trips out to the dive site. Although you can see the museum by snorkeling, you can’t beat the experience of diving down to explore every beautiful detail. 

Capricorn and Bunker Reefs

Toward the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, you’ll get to meet whales, nesting turtles, and rare birds at the Capricorn and Bunker Reefs. 

The water is shallow, so it’s perfect for beginner divers, and it’s teeming with marine life. If you’re not up for diving, you can snorkel without a guide to see the tropical fish, turtles, and manta rays swimming nearby. 

But diving near Lady Elliot Island and Lady Musgrave Island is the best place to see huge fish, coral canyons, and marine turtles that nest on land. 

What You’ll See When Scuba Diving In Great Barrier Reef

a scuba diver swimming with a sea turtle

It’s hard to picture the sheer amount of marine life surrounding the Great Barrier Reef. If you’re a lover of ocean creatures, you won’t be disappointed!

  • Between June and July is the best time to see a dwarf minke whale gathering.
  • Also, through the summer, you’ll see beaked whales, sperm whales, and bottlenose dolphins. 
  • Grouper, cod, and beam fish are also common – and they get pretty big in this part of the world!
  • If you love sharks, you might be lucky enough to spot a silky, silvertip, grey reef, or whitetip shark – all of which call the Reef home. 

Tips For Scuba Diving In Great Barrier Reef

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef is a unique experience, so if this is your first trip, here are some helpful tips to make it a great one. 

  • Get your scuba diving certification before you go so you can take full advantage of all the trips on offer. 
  • When you choose a dive company, make sure they have permits for multiple scuba dive sites. There could be an issue with overcrowding at the one you planned on visiting, so you want to make sure they can switch to a different one if they need to. 
  • Cairns is the most popular area, so it’s usually the most crowded. Some less popular (but equally incredible) places to visit are Townsville, Port Douglas, and Cape York. 
  • If you have family members who don’t want to dive, many tour operators allow people to join you on the boat and go snorkeling at the dive sites. 
  • If you want to try out underwater photography, most of the bigger boats have cameras for rent for around 80 AUD. 
  • If you’re an experienced diver, plan a multi-day trip. This gives you more time to explore, and you’ll get to visit multiple sites. 
  • Never touch the coral – it’s a living organism, and the oils and creams on human skin can kill it. 
  • Make sure your travel insurance covers scuba diving – not all policies cover water sports. 
  • If you’re a non-swimmer who wants to try scuba diving, be honest about your abilities with your instructor. They’ll have flotation devices to get you started. 

Best Dive Shops in Great Barrier Reef

You’ll find multiple dive shops in each area of the Great Barrier Reef, all offering different excursions. Here are a couple of the best ones if you’re looking to book in advance. 

Pro Dive Cairns 

This one covers the Cairns area and is known for trips exploring the most vibrant reefs. If you’re an experienced diver, this is the team for you. However, non-divers and snorkelers are also welcome. 

They have over 35 excursions on offer, including day trips from Cairns and Port Douglas, which are perfect for exploring as much of the Outer Great Barrier Reef as possible. 

Adrenalin Snorkel and Dive 

This dive shop is perfect for scuba divers of all levels (as well as snorkelers). They’re based in Townsville and offer day trips to the Queensland coast and the Central Great Barrier Reef. 

The sites visited range in depth from one to twenty meters, and they aim to help you spot as much marine life as possible on your reef experience. 

Lady Musgrave Experience

This team is situated in Bundaberg and takes divers out on day trips aboard a high-speed catamaran. Once you’re at the site, you’ll get a full day of Great Barrier Reef diving in a protected coral lagoon that covers around 8km.

There’s also a chance to sunbathe and relax on Lady Musgrave Island and go snorkeling around the shores. The Great Barrier Reef tour guides also offer a guided island walk where you can spot the turtles nesting during the hatching season.  

Ready to Go Scuba Diving?

Most scuba divers will agree that Australia is one of the most incredible places to go diving in the world. And the best time of year to dive in the Great Barrier Reef is during the warmer months. 

But if you’re looking for a great place to go scuba diving a little closer to home, Florida is a great choice. 

Check out our next post for the best time to go scuba diving in the Florida Keys. 

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