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Where to dive and snorkel

Marnie | Staff Writer

The Gold Coast is home to some premier inshore diving sites, boasting year round access and a fish diversity unequalled by any other city in Australia.

If you are into diving or snorkelling, you may know of many famous dive sites, but none are within the city limits of a major urban centre and enjoy the luxury of being primarily shore based.

What’s special about the Gold Coast is the abundance and diversity of fish life. Over the past few years the Queensland Museum has recorded no less than 370 species of fish from the Gold Coast Seaway alone.

Gold Coast Seaway

The seaway is noted as the most reliable site in the region for Whitespotted Guitarfish, Pink Whiprays and Cownose Rays. Groups of up to eight Queensland Gropers are not uncommon here, and large schools of Bigeye Trevally - rarely seen in such numbers in any other inshore locality - are a virtual fixture around the submerged pipelines.

There are five main dive site areas of the Gold Coast Seaway where the annual water temperature range is a mild 18-27 degrees celsius making it ideal for relaxed and pleasant diving. Dive areas inside the seaway are not affected by sea conditions and may be dived all year round.

1. South Wall Dive Area

By far the most popular year round dive location is the South Wall Dive Area which encompasses the Short Pipe, Sand Pipe, and Eagle Ray Cleaning Station. Maximum depth across the seaway at the Sand Pipe is 15m. Fish species include colourful Butterflyfish, Wrasses, Surgeonfish, Bream, Tarwhine, Whiting, Flathead, Mangrovejack, Trevallies, Mulloway, Ghostpipefish, Seahorses, Waspfish, Anglerfish, Scorpionfish, Lionfish, Giant Queensland Groper, schools of Bigeye and Giant Trevally, Eagle Rays, Bull Rays and Guitarfish. If you are a conservative diver and don't like current, it is best to wait until the top of the tide. If you don't mind current and like drift diving, hop in early.

2. The South West Wall Dive Area

The South West Wall Dive Area has less current flow and an easy sandy beach entry point, so is an ideal location for new divers. Here you will find all that creeps and crawls such as the Highcrown Seahorse, the Stick and Tiger Pipefishes, the Ornate and Robust Ghost pipefishes, the Dwarf and Zebra Lionfishes plus many more fascinating creatures. A small seagrass bed is located only metres from the shore. On night dives during the appropriate season, Tiger Prawns can be seen creeping around the seagrass and during the day squid are observed hovering over their egg clutches.

3. Wave Break Island Dive Area

Another area similar to the South West Wall is the Wave Break Island Dive Area. Wait until high tide before entering. Conditions remain pleasant for diving for up to four hours after the high tide. Wave Break Island is strictly a boat access area and for those without boats, two local dive operators run daily dive tours from Marina Mirage. Diving here is ideal for first timers and snorkelling - being more protected from boat traffic and having an easy beach start and a gentle drop to 11m.

4. South East Wall Dive Area

For big critter action, the South East Wall Dive Area and North East Wall Dive Area have more turtles, big pelagic fish and rays. Sea conditions very much dictate any diving here, but when it is calm there is a hive of activity on the walls towards the entrance. This is an area restricted to experienced divers and diving should be carefully planned according to tides and prevailing currents. The South East Wall Dive Area may be accessed from the shore, but it is more sensible from a boat. Visibility here is generally the clearest in the seaway and lots of Surgeonfish and other schooling fish are observed towards the entrance. Larger rocks here produce ideal habitat for resting turtles and Wobbegongs.

5. North East Wall Dive Area

The North East Wall Dive Area reaches a depth of about 10m on the northern side of the tip but on the southern side drops to 20m. This location has the most pelagic fish activity and the cleaning stations host huge Bull Rays and Eagle Rays. Pickhandle Barracuda, Mangrove Jack and Mulloway are also sighted and seasonally large Queensland Gropers are encountered. Luderick gather here in their thousands at spawning time. Visibility is generally less at the wall on this side of the seaway.

The Gold Coast Seaway caters for entry level through to extreme diving and provides easy access to the most diverse fish life in any Australian city and the only relatively safe year-round mainland shore diving in Queensland. Local knowledge is important and daily dive tours are available from several local dive shops.

In addition to the Gold Coast Seaway dive areas there are a handful of special spots down the other end of the coast including Palm Beach, Kirra and Cook Island.

Wreck of the Scottish Prince

After sinking in 1887, the Scottish Prince wreck lies on the sand 800 metres from the beach near the Southport Spit. Only the hull remains and is covered with soft corals and sponges, and is a haven for crayfish, Shovelnose rays as well as Leopard and wobbegong sharks. Unusual tropical fish such as the leafy scorpionfish have also been found among the broken decking.

Palm Beach Reef Dive Site

Palm Beach Reef on the Gold Coast is a large reef with sections of rocky outcrops, and several large bommies with a variety of soft corals and sponges. The top of the reef rises to just five metres below the surface.

Marine Life is abundant with stingrays and the odd bronze whaler or hammerhead seen, and in summer, Wobbegongs and leopard sharks. Blue wrasse, parrotfish, painted wrasse and a variety of reef fish, with large schools are the norm.

Kirra Reef

Kirra Reef is right at the southern end of the Gold Coast and consists of scattered rocky outcrops that are covered in kelp fronds. After being buried beneath a blanket of sand during a sand-pumping project, Kirra Reef is back better than ever! It's over 100 metres in length and home to soft corals, anemones and an abundance of fish species.

Drift from rock to rock and investigate every nook and cranny, with morays hiding in the most unexpected places. The beauty of this site is in watching the smaller species. Porcupine fish abound here and wobbegongs and macro life inhabit the reef.

What makes Kirra Reef unique is its location. It's just a few hundred metres off the shore so divers can walk down on the sand, put on their tanks and swim out. It's also protected on three sides by land which means it's great for diving most of the year.

Narrowneck Artificial Reef

100 metres from the shore directly in front of the lifeguard tower at Narrowneck Beach is an artificial reef made from geotextile containers.

It was originally designed for beach erosion protection and as a surfing break, yet it has proved an ideal surface for sea grass to grow as well as soft coral, ascidians and crinoids in some sections.

Close to shore, you’ll find crayfish, wobbegong sharks, nurse sharks, pineapple fish, lionfish, and cardinal fish. Nudibranchs, shrimp and octopus are also found in this area.

Further out from shore the shovel nose rays, cow tail rays, bull rays and turtles are commonly observed in the sand beside the containers. Schools of bait fish constantly pass by as well as the occasional eagle ray.

Cook Island

While it's not technically on the Gold Coast, there are many local operators that depart from Coolangatta and head out to Cook Island for dive and snorkel tours. From Coolangatta it takes 10 minutes to get to Cook Island by boat and it’s certainly worth the trip! Cook Island is a formal marine reserve and home to a permanent colony of green and loggerhead turtles. It plays host to an amazing array of marine life, offering spectacular temperate, subtropical, and tropical species of fish, rays, eels and octopus.

View all locations on the map below.

Marnie O'Brien

Marnie O'Brien

Staff Writer

Marnie is yet to go off and travel the world because she is hooked on the unique sights and experiences in her own backyard. Not only is she lucky to call the Gold Coast home, but she also gets to share her love for the beaches, hinterland and beyond with travellers from all over through Visit Gold Coast's website and social media channels.

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