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Australia is lucky to be home to some of the world’s most incredible snorkelling destinations, from the famous Great Barrier Reef to lesser-known spots that are swarming with tropical fish and abundant coral life. The snorkelling paradise has a beautiful underwater world to discover from almost every state or capital city, each one as unique and picturesque as the last.
Whether you’re an Aussie snorkeller looking to explore your backyard or a snorkelling fiend on vacation - here are the 10 best places in Australia to go snorkelling. Consider this to be the ultimate bucket list for snorkelling down under.
1. THE GREAT BARRIER REEF, QUEENSLAND
Forget just Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the best places in the whole world for snorkelling. As the world’s largest living structure, the reef is teeming with beautiful natural scenery, an abundance of sea life, and colourful coral galore.
Besides the marvellous sea life, the Great Barrier Reef is itself a breathtaking part of the world, dotted with islands and reefs that stretch across 1,600 miles of beautiful blue and green water. This should be on the bucket list of any passionate snorkeller.
As a top travel destination, you’ll find plenty of snorkelling tours and operators to take you along on your Great Barrier Reef adventures. Some tours are even led by marine biologists, so you can learn all about the wildlife that you see on the way - and trust us, there will be plenty! If you prefer to explore the reefs yourself, there’ll be no end to what you can discover.
Head to the Whitsundays, Magnetic Island, Hamilton Island, Fitzroy Island, Airlie Beach, Cairns, or Palm Bay and guide yourself through the region’s never-ending secluded islands and spots.
2. NINGALOO REEF, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Some people say this incredible reef is one of the world's last great ocean paradises, a rare treasure of a snorkelling destination. If you’re looking for a Great Barrier Reef experience somewhere else in Australia, Ningaloo Reef is one of the only places that can come close. Thriving with diverse plant and animal life, the reef is unspoiled with lots to discover when snorkelling.
Just off the coast of Western Australia, you can step straight off the sand and into the colourful coral gardens and natural wonders of the Ningaloo. Head to Turquoise Bay, Oyster Stacks, Lakeside, and Coral Bay for easy entry into the reef, or take a boat out to the further reaches to explore more of what this reef has to offer.
Ningaloo is famous for the opportunity to go snorkelling with whale sharks. Every year, around 500 of these gentle giants come to feed on the reef between March and June, making for an incredible snorkelling experience. You'll also have the chance to swim along with dugongs, turtles, dolphins, and manta rays. Go between July & October and you just might catch a glimpse of humpback whales…
3. LORD HOWE ISLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES
This island paradise is home to the world’s most southerly coral reef, surrounded by a protected nature reserve and untouched tropical forests. It’s an absolutely beautiful spot to discover, with more than 15 different beaches, 500 species of fish, and 90 different coral species.
The crystal clear waters of the lagoon are perfect for beginner snorkellers and children, protected by the coral reef and surrounded by gorgeous landscapes.
Ned's Beach is teeming with colourful fish and coral life - if you're lucky you might just be able to spot a Galapagos shark. Head to Old Settlement Beach for the chance to snorkel with sea turtles, and Lover’s Bay for thousands of colourful fish.
North Bay is the secluded hidden gem of the island - accessed only by kayak, boat, or a one hour hike - with lots of beautiful snorkelling to discover. Lord Howe Island is around 600km off the coast of NSW, accessible by air or by sailing your own boat!
4. NINEPIN POINT MARINE RESERVE, TASMANIA
The waters of Ninepin Point Marine Reserve are different to elsewhere in Australia, making for a unique snorkelling experience. Being more southerly, the water is much cooler than it is in the northern reefs of the continent. On top of that, the water is stained a reddish tea colour from saltwater merging with the tannin-rich water of the nearby Huon River.
The combined cooler and darker waters mean that you can more easily spot creatures that are usually found in deeper, darker waters. Think sea fans, seawhips, morwongs, and red algae. If you’re lucky you’ll spot a fairy or blue penguin or a migrating whale amongst the sponge gardens and kelp forests. Legend also has it that this is the spot to search for the lost city of Atlantis, so keep your eyes peeled…
5. HALF MOON BAY, VICTORIA
Head to the beautiful Half Moon Bay, just a stone’s throw away from Melbourne, for the rare chance to snorkel around a shipwreck. The HMVS Cerberus, scuttled in 1926, is now an artificial reef structure, home to its own little ecological system.
Be wary though: although it may be tempting to snorkel close to the shipwreck, it is an unstable structure. For your own safety, try to remain at least 5 metres away from the bow and stern, and 25 metres from the starboard and port of the ship.
Black Rock Jetty makes for a great entry point into the world below the surface. Under the water you'll find wild seagrass swarming with different fish, sea stars, urchins, anemones, nudibranchs, and even blue-ringed octopuses! In case it wasn’t on your radar, these blue-ringed bad boys are poisonous - so if you spot one, snorkel the other way…
6. ROTTNEST ISLAND, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
This is another beautifully diverse snorkelling destination, popular with hundreds of colourful fish, coral life, and even shipwrecks below the surface. With stunning turquoise waters, the limestone reef of this island has a lot to offer snorkellers of all ages and skill levels.
Little Parakeet Bay is the perfect spot for children and beginner snorkellers, with shallow waters that are swarming with fish, starfish, and even the occasional ray. More advanced snorkellers can head to Fish Hook Bay to explore the seas within the surrounds of a gorgeous natural landscape.
For an immersive snorkelling experience, head to Parker Point for a snorkelling trail amongst tropical fish and colourful coral life. Along the trail you’ll find plaques attached to the seabed with information about the surrounding marine life. If you want to catch some shipwreck action, head to Henrietta Rocks, where The Shark (that's the name of the ship) is sunken about 50 metres away from shore.
If the island seems too busy for your liking, head to Little Armstrong Bay for some quieter snorkelling within the marine sanctuary zone. Here you may be able to catch a glimpse of sealife you won’t find anywhere else on Rottnest.
7. ABROLHOS ISLANDS, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Along Western Australia's coral coast lies the Abrolhos Islands, surrounded by an extensive unspoiled coral reef that stretches along more than 100 kilometers. The archipelago is made up of more than 122 pristine islands, with warm turquoise waters that are abundant with tropical and temperate sea life.
The corals along this reef are magnificent, with an amazingly vibrant density of colour - perfect for snapping some underwater photographs!
The Abrolhos Islands are one of the rare places you can snorkel with the playful Australian sea lions, a vulnerable species. Along with thousands of tropical fish and stunning coral, you can also spot dolphins and whales (during migration).
The islands are also the site of the Batavia shipwreck, which can be explored on your snorkel adventures. Head to the island by a half hour flight from Geraldton or Kalbarri airports, or for a longer snorkelling vacation, grab a multi-day charter boat!
8. SHOALWATER ISLANDS, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Snorkelling and penguin feeding all in one day? Yep, only at Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. This Western Australia gem is a series of immaculate limestone islands, surrounded by a reef that’s abundant with colourful fish, corals, sea stars, urchins, and even bottlenose dolphins.
It’s common for snorkellers to swim into a pod of these beautiful animals, and you can even snorkel with a dolphin tour operator for a more likely sighting.
The best snorkelling can be found at the Cape Peron and The Sisters snorkel sites, but there’s also plenty to do before and after the snorkelling fun is over.
Penguin Island is a breeding ground for Little Penguins, with a dedicated center where you can feed the cute animals yourself. Catch a chartered boat out to Seal Island to witness the colony of Australian sea lions inhabiting the island. Those who dive as well as snorkel have the chance to explore the Saxon Ranger shipwreck.
9. MORETON ISLAND, QUEENSLAND
Moreton Island is home to the same stunning coral life as the Great Barrier Reef, only without the tourists and hefty price tags - and with the added bonus of a few shipwrecks! The picturesque islands are surrounded by tropical fish species and incredible coral formations, with 15 different shipwrecks to discover. Best of all, they’re only a stone’s throw away from Brisbane (25km to be exact).
Between November and February you can snorkel with turtles on the island, and if you’re lucky, you could spot dolphins, dugongs, and humpback whales during migration. If it’s wrecks you’re after, the Tangalooma wrecks won’t let you down.
A unique snorkelling adventure, the wrecks are only 12 metres below the crystal clear surface of the water, and easily accessed from the beach. Travel along the beach and you’ll find two car wrecks and another set of shipwrecks called the Bulwer wrecks.
10. JULIAN ROCKS, NEW SOUTH WALES
Julian Rocks Marine Reserve is another snorkel site where you can catch many of the Great Barrier Reef's tropical fish species and unique coral formations. In fact, Australian Geographic magazine even ranked Julian Rocks higher than the Great Barrier Reef as an Aussie snorkelling destination!
The snorkel site is especially known for the chance to snorkel with sea turtles, with three different varieties swimming the waters of the marine reserve.
The marine reserve is easily accessed from the laid back town of Byron Bay, with plenty of snorkelling tours available.
Home to a diverse range of sea life, here you can snorkel with wobbegong sharks, graceful manta rays, leopard sharks, and hundreds of colourful fish species. Come at the right time and you could even spot dolphins and whales on migration.
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Loved the complete set. I even used the waterproof phone pouch to take photos and videos underwater. It made my Fiji experience so much better than using the free snorkel set that hurt your face after 2hours and leaving a sun/mask mark. The ninja leaves no marks and gives great vision under water in comparison. It did take some getting used to but it definitely paid off! Only frustration is that the tightening straps are quite basic; they should be much simpler to loosen and tighten both in and out of water.” – Jock
Moreton Island wreaks are the best!