Think crystal clear waters, colourful corals, schools of tropical fish, gliding manta rays, and majestic whale sharks and you’ve practically summed up snorkelling Australia’s beautiful reefs.
On both the east and west coast of Australia, there are flourishing ecosystems located just under the water waiting to amaze visitors
So whether you’re holidaying on the Queensland, New South Wales, or West Australian coasts, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to snorkelling options. So grab your bathers, fins, snorkel, mask and camera and get ready to embark on one of the best snorkelling adventures in Australia!
Holding the title of the largest sand island in the world and located just off the south-east Queensland coast, Fraser Island offers visitors the chance to get up close to marine life without the hassle of travelling further up the coast or to the other side of the country.
Home to the vibrant blue Lake McKenzie, and the green-tinged Lake Wabby, this World Heritage Listed island is right up there with the Great Barrer Reef, Kakadu and Uluru in terms of popular tourist attractions.
Covering an area of 184,000 hectares and stretching 123 kilometres long and 22 kilometres wide, Fraser has more than enough sights to see and things to do to keep you occupied. The pristine waters of the island including the various freshwater creeks and lakes make for ideal swimming and snorkelling conditions with dolphins, sea turtles, and various different species of tropical fish all calling the area home.
There are a number of local tour companies that operate day and overnight tours to Fraser Island, including Tasman Venture. During whale migration season Tasman Venture is a popular choice for eager whale watchers, however, outside of the season, they offer single and multi-day trips to Fraser from Hervey Bay.
Robbie Cornelius from DR Tourism, a representative of Tasman Venture, explained that Fraser Island “is home to picturesque inland freshwater lakes, as well as a number of truly spectacular creeks that flow into the ocean.” The island offers visitors the chance to explore the ocean, freshwater creeks, and luscious bushland all in the same day.
As the ocean can be a danger with strong rips a hazard to swimmers, Wathumba Creek on the western side of the island is a popular choice for snorkelers looking to explore. Often secluded due to the isolated location on the island, the freshwater creek is home to a large variety of wildlife.
With Tasman Venture, you’ll be able to visit the creek and embark on a tour with the experienced crew who will be able to point out exactly what you’re seeing.
“Wathumba Creek is a snorkeller’s paradise with crystal clear, protected waters that are home to a range of species including turtles, rays, and an incredibly diverse range of fish species.”
Robbie Cornelius, DR Tourism
Fraser Island as a whole is a beautiful destination to explore and its proximity to Hervey Bay makes it an easy adventure for those looking to getaway from the big city for the weekend or even just the day.
Located in Far North Queensland off the coast of Port Douglas, the Low Isles look as though it has jumped off a postcard. With aqua blue water, colourful coral reefs, and a luscious green island, the Low Isles ticks all the boxes when it comes to an idyllic snorkelling destination.
Steve Edmondson from local cruise company Sailaway explained, “Low Isles blue lagoon is the closest part of the Great Barrier Reef to mainland Australia and the first place for coral research in the world in 1928.”
Reached with just a short cruise from Port Douglas, you’ll be swimming, snorkelling, and exploring the island in no time! Low Island is small in size, covering only 2 hectares of land, and takes only a short time to explore, which acts as the perfect break from water-based activities.
Underneath the water, however, is a whole new world. The waters in the Low Isles are alive with tropical fish, sea turtles, and hard and soft corals, which make this an incredible snorkelling experience. The reef can also be accessed directly off the beach, which makes moving between the reef and the island as easy as can be.
“Swimming with turtles is a daily highlight along with giant clams and soft coral gardens, all of which are easily accessed from the beach and suitable for all ages and experiences with a marine biologist guide.”
Steve Edmondson, Sailaway
Sailaway takes visitors out to the Low Isles on a daily basis with half and full day cruise options available. Steve explained that the Low Isles’ island heritage walk and lighthouse, built in 1878, add to the attraction of the Great Barrier Reef for the company.
Moreton Island is home to one of the most popular snorkelling destinations in the state; the Tangalooma Wrecks. Located just a short distance from Brisbane, Moreton Island is one of the most popular day trips for both locals and visitors to the region.
Made up of 15 purposefully sunken ships, the Tangalooma Wrecks are a mecca for all things aquatic. Placed to form a breakwater for local fishermen, the wrecks have now evolved since 1963 to become a major drawing card to the region. The wrecks’ close proximity to the beach makes it possible for snorkelers to swim out to explore them from the shore.
Home to more than 200 species of tropical fish, snorkelling the wrecks will place you in the middle of a man-made reef environment. As you snorkel the wrecks you’ll have the chance to spot soft and hard corals, moray eels, banded coral shrimp, and sea turtles, so be sure to bring an underwater camera to capture the incredible experience.
“The Tangalooma Wrecks are one of the unique snorkelling destinations in the world as it is the only place you can snorkel 15 ghostly wrecks in one place.”
Anthony Ardern, Dolphins In Paradise
Dolphins in Paradise’s Anthony Arden and his team visit the island and the wrecks on a daily basis with their popular dolphin spotting, snorkelling and lunch tours and has some advice for visitors to the region. “As you snorkel through the wrecks, keep your eyes out into the deeper water as you might be one of the lucky ones to see one of Moreton Bay’s bottlenose dolphins,” he says.
If you’re residing in Brisbane or on the Gold Coast and haven’t yet visited the Tangalooma Wrecks be sure to put it on your 2017 to-do list.
One of the most popular snorkelling destinations in Queensland, Green Island is snorkelling heaven! The island itself is a coral cay and is home to an abundance of marine life including tropical fish and green sea turtles.
There are a number of exciting things to see and do on Green Island including bush walks, a crocodile habitat, and resort swimming pool, but snorkelling straight off the beach is by far one of the best and most popular activities to enjoy on the island.
The best way to explore the island is with local cruise company Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises. Located just 27 kilometres from Cairns, Green Island is reached with a short 45-minute cruise from the mainland. The water surrounding the entire island is a mecca for snorkelers, with beautiful coral reefs just waiting to be explored from any point on the beach.
5. Lord Howe Island, New South Wales
A gem just off the New South Wales coast, Lord Howe Island is a luxurious getaway from the mainland and a beautiful environment to explore. The waters off the island are home to more than 90 varieties of coral, over 500 species of tropical fish, and friendly, playful turtles.
There are a number of popular swimming and snorkelling spots dotted around the island including Lagoon Beach, Neds Beach, Old Settlement Beach, Erscott’s Hole, and Blinky Beach. All of these locations are popular, safe snorkelling spots with visitors due to the relatively calm waters.
The lagoons are ideal for young families and first-time snorkelers looking to explore the beautiful marine life off the shores of Lord Howe Island. Snorkelling equipment can be hired on the island from the dive shops or you can borrow equipment, including masks, fins, and snorkels, stored on Ned’s Beach for the cost of a donation into the honesty box.
Getting to Lord Howe Island is an adventure in itself with flights departing Sydney throughout the week and Brisbane on weekends. Flight time to the island is around 2 hours on a QantasLink flight.
4. The Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia
The Abrolhos Islands, or the Houtman Abrolhos, are a chain of 122 islands in the Indian Ocean off the West Australian coast. Located close to the township of Geraldton, there are a number of ways to explore this beautiful, often unheard of, part of Australia, including snorkelling, swimming, diving, cruising, and flying.
One of the unique marine areas in the state, and possibly even the country, the Abrolhos are clustered into three main groups; the Wallabi Group, Easter Group, and Pelsaert Group, which, when combined, stretch 100 kilometres up and down the coastline.
Snorkelling around the islands will get you up close to a large variety of tropical fish, hundreds of tropical invertebrate species including shellfish, crabs, and sea stars, western rock lobsters, a species exclusive to WA, anemone communities, seagrass meadows, and brain coral lumps, to name a few.
The waters are also often visited by friendly, photogenic seals making for an unforgettable experience in the water.
In terms of getting to the islands, there are two transport options for visitors to reach the clusters; flying or cruising. There are various tour operators in the Geraldton region operating daily tours out to the islands that will allow you to explore them with a guided tour.
Known as one of the most popular island getaways in the country, Rottnest also doubles as one of the best snorkelling destinations. Rottnest Island, off the southern coast of Western Austalia, offers visitors the chance to snorkel in a vibrant reef environment and meet the island’s famous on-land animals; the quokkas.
Home to hundreds of vibrant fish and coral species, as well as dolphins and seals, Rottnest is a joy to explore. To add to the enjoyment the island brings, the Leeuwin current, flowing past the island, creates a tropical environment perfect for snorkellers.
With numerous popular swimming spots scattered around the island, there are two that stand out for snorkellers looking for the best reef and marine animal experience; The Basin and Parker Point. Emily Allen, from local cruise company Rottnest Fast Ferries, is familiar with the best spots on the island and praises these two hot spots.
“Two popular snorkelling locations are The Basin, a sheltered beach with shallow water fringed by reef, and Parker Point, which has a set of plaques embedded in the seafloor, creating an underwater snorkel trail for visitors to follow.”
Emily Allen, Rottnest Fast Ferries
Rottnest Fast Ferries operates daily cruises over to the island from Hillarys Boat Harbour, as does Rottnest Express from Fremantle and Peth. The island is located a short 16 kilometres from the mainland which means it is an easy and short trip over (weather permitting). For a more extravagant adventure, you can fly over to the island to take in the beautiful views from above before diving in to explore it from below.
Another coral cay providing some epic snorkelling opportunities, LEI is one of the best snorkelling destinations in Australia. Located in south-east Queensland, the cay is a flourishing reef environment known for its large resident manta rays. Amy Gash from Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort explained that LEI is known as the ‘Home of the Manta Ray’.
“Lady Elliot Island is so diverse in its marine life, we are known as the ‘Home of the Manta Ray’, with a population of over 800 resident manta rays that live around the island all year, but are more active from May through to August.”
Amy Gash, Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort
Snorkelling off the island has never been easier with the Lighthouse and Coral Gardens on the western side and the Lagoon on the eastern side providing perfect entry points to explore the surrounding reef.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an experienced snorkeler or a novice just looking to dip their toes in (pun intended), all levels will be catered for on Lady Elliot Island. Home to a plethora of marine life including colourful corals, tropical fish, starfish, clams, and turtles, you’ll be able to see a large number of aquatic favourites.
“We also have both Green and Loggerhead Turtles which can be seen both above and below the water, migrating humpback whales, which can be spotted in season (June to October), and over 1,200 different species of fish, all of which ensure there is an abundance of marine life to explore,” Amy said.
If you’re looking for a deeper snorkelling adventure the east side of the island is where you should go. This is where the megafauna can be found including the famous manta rays, reef sharks, dolphins and whales in migration season.
Topping the list of must-visit snorkelling destinations is Ningaloo Reef on the West Australian coast. Often coming in second to the rivalling Great Barrier Reef on the Australian east coast, Ningaloo offers visitors a unmissable experience, the chance to swim with whale sharks.
Located halfway up the WA coast, the reef is World Heritage Listed and for good reason. Stretching 260 kilometres along the coastline, Ningaloo is the largest fringing reef in the world and home to a collection of marine animals. This is the only place in the world where tropical fish, sea turtles, manta rays, humpback whales, and whale sharks, live together and gather in large quantities.
One of the most untouched coral reefs in the world, Ningaloo Reef is the megafauna snorkelling capital which helped secure its position at the top of our best Australian snorkelling destinations list.
Experiencing this beautiful reef has never been easier with the help of local operators like Ocean Eco Adventures. Ocean Eco Adventures is a boutique cruise company giving visitors the chance to interact with local marine life and admire the natural beauty of the region.
“To be able to snorkel with whale sharks, humpback whales, manta rays, and hundreds of other marine species, all within a few hundred metres of the shore is truly remarkable.”
James Small, Ocean Eco Adventures
Ocean Eco Adventures’ Owner/Operator James Small operates trips out to this beautiful part of the country on a daily basis, giving him one of the best offices in the world.
The vibrant colours of the reef and its inhabitants are almost too good to be true, and once you’ve dived into the beautiful clear waters you’ll be blown away by the sheer beauty of the region.
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