Australia is an extraordinarily beautiful place, as rich in rainforest (from Far North Queensland to far-south Tasmania) as it is in remote rocky outcrops like Uluru, Kakadu and the Kimberleys.
The coastline is wild and wonderful, with islands, white beaches and clifftops. Animating these splendid places is wildlife like nowhere else on the planet, a place of kangaroos and crocodiles, of wombats and wallabies, platypus, crocodiles, dingoes and so much more. Then there is the marine life, each offering a unique experience or Discovery.
Australia’s Aboriginal people have the oldest continuous culture on Earth. At the time of European settlement, there were up to one million Aboriginal people living across the continent as hunters and gatherers. They were scattered in 500 different clans, or ‘nations’, speaking about 700 languages. Each clan had a spiritual connection with their land but travelled widely to trade and find water and seasonal produce, as well as for ritual gatherings. Despite the diversity of their homelands – from outback deserts to tropical rainforest and snow-capped mountains – all Aboriginal people share the belief in the Dreaming, or ‘Tjukurrpa’. According to Aboriginal myth, the ancestor spirits forged all aspects of life and continue to link the past, present, the people and the land. Dreaming stories describe the journeys of spiritual ancestors and are told through song, dance, painting and storytelling.
A number of European explorers sailed the coast of Australia, then known as New Holland, during the 17th century. But it wasn’t until 1770 that Captain James Cook chartered the east coast and claimed it for Britain. The new outpost was put to use as a penal colony and on 26 January 1788, the First Fleet of 11 ships – carrying 1,500 people, half of them convicts – arrived in Sydney Harbour. When penal transportation ended in 1868, more than 160,000 men and women had come to Australia as convicts. While free settlers began to flow in from the early 1790s, life for prisoners was harsh.
By the 1820s, many soldiers, officers and emancipated convicts had turned land they received from the government into flourishing farms. News of Australia’s cheap land and bountiful work was bringing more and more boatloads of migrants from Britain.
When gold was discovered in New South Wales and central Victoria in 1851, luring thousands of hopefuls from the other states. In Victoria, the British governor imposed mining licenses on goldfield workers, which led to the violent, anti-authoritarian struggle of the Eureka Stockade in 1854. The miners lost the battle but were granted more rights and in 1854 a bill was passed, giving the right to vote and stand for parliament to any digger who owned a miner’s licence. Many historians regard this as the beginning of Australian democracy.
Australia’s six states became a nation under a single constitution on 1 January 1901. Today people from more than 200 countries make up the Australian community, and more than 300 languages are spoken in Australian homes.
The colonisation of Australia had a devastating impact on the Aboriginal people, with the dispossession of their land, illness and death from introduced diseases and huge disruption of their traditional lifestyles and practices. There are places spread over Australia but particularly in the Northern Territory, there are possibilities to experience Australia’s indigenous peoples and their culture through visiting ancient art sites, taking tours and, less easily, making personal contact. Many Aboriginal people – especially in central Australia – have managed to maintain a traditional lifestyle, speaking their own languages and living by their own laws. Conversely, most Aboriginal people you’ll come across in country towns and cities are victims of what is scathingly referred to as “welfare colonialism”. There’s still a long way to go before black and white people in Australia can exist on genuinely equal terms.
There is truly nothing like Australia. It is a unique destination highlighted by the diverse scuba diving environments found on this vast continent. From the northern tip of the world famous Great Barrier Reef on Australia’s east coast, all the way around to pristine dive conditions off Western Australia, the diving choices are immense. Each state offers such different diving adventures that you could spend years exploring any one area. From colourful coral reefs in northern tropical water to giant kelp forests in the southern temperate seas, Australia offers it all. On the surface, you can enjoy the astounding natural beauty from beaches to rain forests to deserts or visit bustling cities with first-class dining and entertainment. It’s truly a magnificent place not to be missed by any diver.
Queensland & the Great Barrier Reef
Queensland is home to the Great Barrier Reef, which is the largest and healthiest coral reef system in the world. The Great Barrier Reef is the only living structure on earth that can be seen from outer space. Made up of nearly 2900 individual reefs, 600 continental islands and 300 coral cays, it’s the world’s largest single structure comprised of living organisms. Every day divers from around the world visit the reef either on liveaboards or day charters.
Queensland takes up almost a quarter of Australia and offers more diving adventures beyond just the Great Barrier Reef. The Sunshine Coast, southern Queensland, has purpose-sunk wrecks, sandstone formations covered with corals, ledges, caverns and pinnacles to explore.
An awesome resort with the highest Manta-Ray Sightings is Lady Elliot Island Resort.
New South Wales (NSW)
New South Wales offers a rich variety of year-round diving with both warm and cold-water currents spread across the coastline. In the north, you’ll encounter warmer water marine life in several marine parks. The central coast region has some spectacular sites including the HMAS Adelaide wreck. Sydney has world-class diving right on the doorstep of this exciting and vibrant city. Further south, where the water becomes temperate, there are pristine sites, including more than 30 dive sites off Jervis Bay. Lord Howe Island, 700 kilometres to the east of NSW, features the world’s southernmost coral reefs with more than 60 dive sites to explore.
Victoria is packed with attractions including incredible underwater environments only found in temperate waters. Near the lively capital city of Melbourne, the Port Phillip Bay region hosts some truly amazing wrecks and caverns. Here you’ll encounter beautiful marine life including giant cuttlefish, octopus, giant sea stars, rays, seahorses and even seals.
The beautiful state of South Australia has a rich heritage that is equally matched by its natural beauty both above and below the surface. South Australia's biodiverse temperate waters offer amazing shore dive opportunities under the many jetties in and around Adelaide, as well as some stunning wreck dives! Expect to see anything from sea lions to seahorses and if you have a keen eye, maybe even the state's underwater emblem: the Leafy Sea Dragon, which can be found under many of the local jetties. Here you also have trips to see the Great White within the safety of a cage – an experience you will never forget!
Famous for being bathed in sunshine, Western Australia is fast becoming a top dive destination. From Perth, you can easily explore the beautiful dive sites off Rottnest Island or visit spectacular wrecks, such as the HMAS Swan. It's possible to encounter whale sharks off Exmouth or near Ningaloo Reef, Australia’s longest fringing reef – due to its remoteness still untouched!
Separated from the mainland, Tasmania is known for its natural and untouched beauty. With cooler water than most of the mainland, visibility can seem endless when you’re not in the middle of a giant kelp forest. The many wrecks, huge rocks structures, caverns and endemic marine species make diving in Tasmania a real adventure.
The coral reefs off Darwin have a rich diversity of reef fish and invertebrates, and arguably Australia’s best collection of World War II shipwrecks and plane wrecks. Divers at Gove Peninsular East of Darwin find manta rays, reef sharks, turtles, schools of pelagic fish and even whale sharks at certain times of the year.
Ribbon Reefs, Northern Great Barrier Reef
This area is known for a variety of pristine dive experiences. In late June and July, you have the chance to see dwarf Minke whales. At Cod Hole, you’ll see how the site got its name as giant potato cod surround you. Pixie Pinnacle is a wonderful example of a coral bommie that rises from a depth of 40 metres/130 feet. Also, Challenger Bay is a hotspot for cuttlefish encounters.
Only accessible via liveaboards departing from Cairns or Port Douglas, this exposed coral mesa sits in the middle of the Coral Sea far from anything. North Horn is perhaps its most famous dive site for its shark feed. Around the Bend displays colourful soft coral and offers the chance to see manta rays as they pass through this site.
The Great Barrier Reef’s signature wreck is the SS Yongala, a 109-metre/357-foot luxury passenger ship that went down during a 1911 cyclone. Some would say the best wreck dive in Australia. On this wreck everything is supersized – sea snakes the size of your bicep and sea turtles so big they look prehistoric. Every single space on the wreck is covered in colourful life. It’s worth several dives to try and see it all.
On the Great Barrier Reef’s southern reaches, this famed resort island is accessible via ferry or helicopter. Scuba dive on a bommie that serves as a manta ray cleaning station and also watch for crowds of jacks, barracuda, eels, sharks, eagle rays and very curious sea snakes. Other dive sites feature sea turtles and nudibranchs.
North Stradbroke Island, Brisbane. QLD
The premier dive sites here, Shag Rock and Flat Rock, are home to healthy numbers of leopard and grey nurse sharks. At Flat Rock, watch for wobbegongs and turtles in the gullies. Shag Rock, with a maximum depth of 15 metres/45 feet, is popular with newly certified divers who enjoy the gullies and a swim through. Manta Ray Bommie has great viz and is visited, as the name implies, by manta rays in summer. It’s also home to leopard sharks and other abundant aquatic life.
HMAS Brisbane, QLD
Off Queensland’s Sunshine Coast is the great wreck dive of the former HMAS Brisbane, a 133-metre/433-foot guided missile destroyer. This purpose-sunk artificial reef went down in 2005 and sits upright in 15-18 metres/50-60 feet of water. There’s a lot of ship to see and a lot of marine life that now call HMAS Brisbane home.
HMAS Adelaide, NSW
Purposely scuttled off Terrigal on NSW's central coast in April 2011, the HMAS Adelaide has diver access holes strategically placed to allow easy exploration of key areas. The wreck is developing a nice marine community that includes giant cuttlefish, grouper, kingfish, blennies, octopus, bannerfish and batfish.
Shelly Beach, NSW
The only west-facing beach on the entire east coast of Australia, this popular shore dive has nice white sand and boulders forming a natural reef for marine life. Cruising along shallower than 14 metres/45 feet, you may see a few wobbegong and Port Jackson sharks along with huge grouper and lots of other fish. The chances are also good to see the Weedy Sea Dragon, a type of seahorse camouflaged like seaweed. Growing up to 20 centimetres in length they are a sight to see – if you find them!
Bare Island, Sydney, NSW
This popular dive site was featured as the virus factory in Mission Impossible II. The eastern side of the island tends to have better visibility and shallower depths which make it suitable for new divers. The western side has abundant aquatic life, notably beautiful sponge gardens and a rocky reef wall with overhangs and depths to 18 metres/60 feet. Keep an eye out for Port Jackson sharks.
HMAS Canberra, VIC
This naval ship was prepared and purpose-sunk as a dive site in 2009. Sitting on the bottom at 28 metres/92 feet, the HMAS Canberra’s mast reaches up to within 5 metres/15 feet of the surface. This wreck is now a Marine Reserve and hosts a healthy variety of marine species.
Lonsdale Wall, VIC
This long wall can be explored on many different dives. You descend along a sheer wall with small ledges and big overhangs that often create swim-throughs. Look for fish hiding under the ledges, including the western blue devil fish, and soft corals and sponges clinging to the wall.
Cathedral Cave, TAS
This is the most visited cavern in Waterfall Bay because its three large openings make entering easy and allow light to filter in, just like a big cathedral. The cavern is around 30 metres/100 feet long and approximately 21 metres/70 feet deep. Colorful sponges and invertebrates cover the walls.
Governors Island Marine Reserve, TAS
The reserve contains more than 15 dives sites. You can dive on huge underwater mounds and peer into enormous caverns with soft corals growing on the walls. There are lots of fish and the odd pod of southern right whales and dolphins.
Rapid Bay Jetty, SA
Relatively close to Adelaide and with easy entry and exit, this is South Australia's most popular jetty shore dive. You can see huge schools of fish in between the pylons and this jetty offers the best chances of spotting leafy sea dragons and even the occasional weedy sea dragon! Playful sunrays penetrating the old jetty above create an amazing playground for underwater photographers.
Edithburgh Jetty, SA
This shallow dive site hosts a remarkable diversity of marine life. The jetty structure is covered with sponges and soft corals and provides a playground for all sorts of macro life. Everything from tasselled anglerfish to pyjama squid and from tiny seahorses to a playful resident seal can be found under this jetty, as well as a small colony of leafy sea dragons!
USAT Meigs, NT
The USAT Meigs is a 131-metre/430-foot long US transport ship that sank during the first Japanese air raid in Darwin, Australia during World War II. Sitting in18 metres/60 feet of water, this wreck is a popular dive. Look for a variety fish, including pygmy barracudas, golden snapper and large estuarine cod.
Rottnest Island, WA
There are numerous dive sites around this limestone island, each offering something a little different. Indian Ocean currents have helped shaped deep crevices, caverns and huge swim-throughs off Rottnest, which create mazes at some sites. The fish around the island is diverse and soft coral are just sensational.
Ningaloo Reef, WA
This reef lies off the remote northern coastline of Western Australia, stretching nearly 260 kilometres/150 miles from north to south - making it the longest fringing reef in the world. It supports more than 220 coral species and more than 500 fish species. However, it’s the big animals – whale sharks, humpback whales, manta rays and dugongs – that really add excitement to the area.
Diving is great year round, but different seasons offer different rewards. December through February means great visibility and warmer water, while June through November pays off with minke and humpback whale spotting and coral spawning.
Water clarity varies greatly from not-so-good to unbelievably clear depending on the area and time of year. The diving conditions in Sydney vary considerably throughout the year with visibility from 1 m to 20 m, with normal visibility from 5 m to 10 m. Visibility in Tasmania's dive sites ranges from 12 m, in summer to more than 40 m, in winter (when serious wetsuits are required). Peth area ( Western Australia) has an average of 10m throughout the year but can reach 25m at times. Further north in Ningaloo Reef, the visibility tends to be better with an average of 15m and ranging to 30m.
With such diversity, conditions out to and back to dive sites will vary. Most of the diving in New South Wales, Victoria, Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmania, will be from the shore or by specialised dive boats offering morning or day dives. Queensland also has shore and day boats but also a variety of liveaboards.
Great Barrier Reef
Tides, current and surge all affect water clarity inside the Great Barrier Reef, but it averages 15-21 metres/50-70 feet and can hit a high of 30 metres/100 feet. Outside the reef, visibility averages a reliable 18-30 metres/60-100 feet and often soars to more than 46 metres/150 feet in the Coral Sea.
Getting out to the Great Barrier Reef can take around two hours by boat, depending on where you depart from.The seas can be rough but once at the reef you will be in a sheltered position from the rough sea and swell. The boat ride out tends to be the worse as you when you return you tend to be with the wind and swell. The summer, November to May tends to have stronger winds while winter months tend to have slightly less. Dive liveaboards will find the best conditions for diver comfort and safety to overnight.
Australia's climate varies greatly throughout the eight states and territories; there are four seasons across most of the country. Australia's seasons are at opposite times to those in the northern hemisphere. December to February is summer; March to May is autumn; June to August is winter, and September to November is spring.
In tropical Australia, the dry season from May to October has clear blue skies and sunny days. December to March is the wet season, which is hot and humid with daily rainstorms.
In the north of the country, water temperature averages 30°C/85°F in the summer and 24°C/75°F in the winter months. In the middle, summer temperature averages 24°C/75°F and around 18°C/64°F in the winter months. In the south, water temperatures range from 12-18°C/54-65°F depending on the season.
Great Barrier Reef
Expect water temperatures around 30° C/85° F during the summer throughout the central and northern Great Barrier Reef. Expect around 24° C/75° F in winter and cooler water off the Sunshine Coast.
Australia has temperate weather for most of the year, however, this can vary due to the size of the country. The northern states experience warm weather year round while the southern states have cooler winters. Cyclone season is from November through April, mostly affecting the northern states.
Great Barrier Reef
In tropical Queensland, daytime air temperatures vary from the mid 20°sC/80°sF in winter to the mid 30°sC/90°sF in summer.
More than 80% of the continent has an annual rainfall of less than 600 mm (24 in). The centre of Australia is classed as a desert environment with very limited rainfall.
Cairns, QLD - 1,991 mm (78 in)
Brisbane, QLD - 1,022 mm (40 in)
QLD Generally - a winter period of rather warm temperatures and minimal rainfall and a summer period of hot, sticky temperatures, with higher levels of rainfall, the further North you go.
Sydney, NSW - 1,222 mm (48 in)
Melbourne, VIC - 648 mm (26 in)
Adelaide, SA - 551 mm (22 in)
Hobart, TAS - 615 mm (24 in)
Perth, WA - 868 mm (34 in)
Exmouth, WA - 230mm (10in)
Darwin, NT - 1,570 mm (62 in) - the majority of rainfall occurs between December and March (the summer) when thunderstorms are common and afternoon relative humidity averages over 70% during the wettest months.
Depending on your origin and destination city, flights to Australia are rather long (10+ hours) and often require at least one stopover on the way. Some companies fly direct from the United States and Asia but there are no direct flights from Europe.
Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth and Cairns Airports all receive international flights. Domestic flights take you to many other areas of the country.
International carriers fly into a variety of the international airports. These carriers include Emirates, Etihad Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Jetstar, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, American Airlines, Fiji Air, Virgin Australia, China Air, Garuda Indonesia, Malaysia Airlines, Air Canada, Air Niugini, China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Silk Air, United, Delta.
If you are flying from the Americas, remember that you will be crossing the International Date Line on your way to Australia. So give yourself time to adjust to the new time zone and recover from jet lag.
Unless you are an Australian or New Zealand citizen, you will need a valid Australian visa to enter the country. New Zealand passport holders can apply for a visa upon arrival in the country. All other passport holders must apply for a visa before leaving home. You can apply for a range of visas, including tourist visas and working holiday visas, at your nearest Australian Embassy or Consulate. You can also apply for certain types of visas on the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection website.
Language – English, although many tourist destinations have staff that speak various languages.
Australians also have the tendency to abbreviate words so be prepared to hear a very unique slang and words like brekkie ( breakfast), arvo (afternoon), servo ( gas station), stubbie (beer in a small botte), barbie ( BBQ), Straya (Australia), cuppa ( cup of .. could be tea or coffee), biccy ( biscuit), footy ( football - could be any sport with a ball), tinny ( a can of beer, could also be a small metal boat), bottle-o ( bottle shop - which is a liquor store), G’day, mate ( the Australian greeting - Hello!).
Currency – Australian Dollar. Credit card is accepted almost everywhere.
IS TIPPING CUSTOMARY IN AUSTRALIA?
Hotels and restaurants do not add service charges to your bill, and tipping is always your choice. In upmarket restaurants, it is common to tip waiters 10 per cent of the bill for good service.
WHAT IS THE EMERGENCY NUMBER IN AUSTRALIA?
The emergency number for police, ambulance and fire brigade is 000.
IS IT SAFE TO SWIM IN AUSTRALIA’S WATERS?
Australia’s popular beaches are usually patrolled by volunteer lifesavers from October to April and red and yellow flags mark the safest area for swimming. For information about marine stingers and crocodile safety in Far North Queensland, visit the Queensland Government website. For marine stingers they ask you to swim in special nets normally between November to April. Outer reef is normally fine but as a precaution, they may ask you to wear a full wetsuit or a lycra suit. For crocodiles be aware if it's signed then they are there!
WHAT KIND OF ELECTRICAL PLUGS ARE USED IN AUSTRALIA?
You may need an adapter in order to plug your appliances into the power sockets: the adapter required for Australia is Type 1 Australia plug. The plugs in Australia have two flat metal pins, forming an inverted ‘V’ shape, and occasionally a third pin in the centre. The electrical current in Australia is 220 – 240 volts, AC 50Hz. Internet access is available almost everywhere.
Australia is divided into three separate time zones: Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), Australian Central Standard Time (ACST), and Australian Western Standard Time (AWST).
AEST (UTC +10hrs)
Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) covers the eastern states of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). AEST is equal to Coordinated Universal Time plus 10 hours (UTC +10)
ACST (UTC +9½hrs)
Australian Central Standard Time (ACST) covers the state of South Australia, the town of Broken Hill in western New South Wales and the Northern Territory. ACST is equal to Coordinated Universal Time plus 9½ hours (UTC +9½).
AWST (UTC +8hrs)
Australian Western Standard Time (AWST) covers the state of Western Australia. AWST is equal to Coordinated Universal Time plus 8 hours (UTC +8).
DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME
In the Australian summer, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT turn their clocks forward one hour to Daylight Saving Time (DST). Daylight Saving Time begins at 2 am (AEST) on the first Sunday in October and ends at 3 am (Australian Eastern Daylight Time) on the first Sunday in April.
NSW, ACT, Victoria and Tasmania move from AEST to Australian Eastern Daylight Time (AEDT), UTC +11. South Australia and the NSW town of Broken Hill move from ACST to Australian Central Daylight Time (ACDT), UTC +10½.
Daylight saving is not observed in Queensland, the Northern Territory or Western Australia.
DO I NEED ANY VACCINATIONS OR MEDICATIONS TO TRAVEL TO AUSTRALIA?
No special immunisations or vaccinations are required to visit Australia unless you have come from, or have visited, yellow fever infected country within six days of your arrival. However, regulations and medical advice can change at short notice, so check with your doctor and the Australian Department of Health before you leave home.
Take only photos and leave only footprints!