Wanderlusters: Exploring the Tropical Waters of Australia and New Zealand
Travel provides the opportunity to explore foreign climes, traverse new landscapes and see the world from a different perspective.
As perpetual travellers we were excited to get scuba certified because we knew that the ability to dive would open up a whole new dimension of the locations we visit. Just as a tropical island or frozen waste land host a unique selection of flora and fauna, their underwater counterparts are just as distinctive.
Getting your head underwater affords you an additional opportunity to explore and discover the local environment and its inhabitants.
The human race has explored such a miniscule fraction of our oceans and understands even less about our earth’s marine life. So why not take the plunge, get scuba certified and share in our discovery of one of the last unexplored frontiers on the planet.
To inspire your sense of scuba adventure here are some of the dive sites we visited during our stay in Australia and New Zealand.
The Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand
Steeped in Maori legend the Poor knights Islands are the remnants of a chain of volcanoes that lay just off the northern shores of New Zealand. A fiercely protected marine reserve the nutrient rich waters are home to a diverse wealth of life that interact with divers like nowhere else on earth.
While the waters can be explored by adventurous scuba divers, a visit to the islands themselves is strictly prohibited. It is said that a great Māori Chief declared the islands spiritually restricted after a great massacre of his people by a neighbouring tribe. So enraged by the act of aggression against him, he put a curse on the land and forbid anyone to step foot on their shores again.
The volcanic nature of the islands provides an inspiring architectural underwater environment for divers to explore. Over hangs, cliffs, drop offs, bubble caves, swim throughs and archways litter the deep waters that hug the sacred shores.
During the summer months the algae bloom restricts visibility somewhat however the extra nutrients attract additional inhabitants to the area. The winter brings with it cooler temperatures and clear waters, and these conditions facilitate the chance to admire the superb underwater architecture.
We visited the Islands in early December and found the algae bloom added to the mystique of the area. The emerald tinge to the water contrasted with the inky volcanic rock and provided a stunning back drop on which to spot colourful nudibranchs, crustaceans and corals. The long steams of kelp were buzzing with life, schools of pink and blue maomao were found hanging around at depths under volcanic archways and the sea caves attracted larger creatures relaxing out of sight.
A wold class dive site, the diverse macro life along with the opportunity to see larger pelagic creatures such as rays and sharks captivates the imagination of divers young and old.
The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
One of the most recognisable natural wonders of the world the Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral ecosystem on the planet. A Mecca for scuba divers the reef provides the chance to immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of a tropical underwater playground.
Day trips and live aboard excursions leave from Cairns and Port Douglas in northern Queensland and head out to both the inner and outer reefs. Offering snorkelers and divers the chance to get up close to the fascinating creatures that inhabit the reef this is one location even a land lover is sure to enjoy.
Formed from almost 3000 individual reefs and over 900 paradisiacal islands the Great Barrier Reef offers a range of diving experiences. From snorkelling in the shallows to deeper water diving on the outer limits of the Ribbon Reef there’s an activity for everyone to enjoy.
Diving is the activity of choice for most who visit and there are some rather famous spots that we recommend simply must be included on your itinerary.
The Cod Hole, a bay out on the edge of Ribbon Reef #10, is home to some spectacularly large Queensland grouper who often dwarf the divers who visit their lair. Growing to gargantuan proportions these fish may look a little intimidating with their bulbous eyes and plump frown, yet they’re actually incredibly friendly and inquisitive.
The Snake Pit needs little introduction. Again located on the outer reef, this plateau hosts some slithery creatures who look quite out of place amongst the other finned marine life. Their eel like bodies propel them through the water and for the most part they are relatively sedate. It’s important to note that the venom they carry in their fangs is superior to that of their land loving cousins, however it is seriously unlikely you’ll be bitten as their jaw is unable to extend wide enough to pierce our skin.
With thousands of miles of reef to explore the Great Barrier Reef has to be one of the best places on earth to dive. The clear tropical waters and diverse mix of creatures large and small will captivate your senses and have you longing to explore more of our planet’s oceans.
150km from the shores of northern Queensland lies Osprey Reef, a submerged atoll rising from the ocean floor some 2000 metres below the surface. Accessible via an overnight crossing from the northern most Ribbon Reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, Osprey is renowned for two things. The gin clear waters that facilitate awe inspiring views down its sheer coral walls, and the adrenaline inducing shark dive.
While located relatively close the Great Barrier Reef Osprey is part of the neighbouring Northwest Group of Islands and allows more adventurous divers the opportunity to sample some more extreme diving.
Diving into the crystal clear water the atoll is immediately visible and whether diving in the shallows above the top of the submerged reef, or exploring the sheer cliffs, swim throughs and pinnacles at depth you’re guaranteed to run out of space on your camera’s memory card.
Much like the Great Barrier Reef Osprey is home to thousands of creatures large and small however due to the location of this reef divers have the opportunity to catch sight of additional species of shark, ray and even the odd passing whale.
The dive at North Horn is world renowned as one of the best places to interact with sharks without the use of a metal cage. While you’re unlikely to come across a great white, hammerheads and tiger sharks make a regular appearance and treat divers to the greatest show on earth.
Descending to around 15m divers are invited to watch as the sharks feed on tuna heads. Attached to a long metal chain the sharks frenzy around their meal ripping and tearing chunks of flesh to devour. While the risks involved are minimal it is important not to negate your safety and only take part in the dive if you’re a confident and capable diver.
The Wreck of the S.S Yongala
Again another dive site for the more adventurous diver, the S.S Yongala is a passenger ship that sank off the coast of Cape Bowling Green, QLD in 1911. Sadly every living soul on board was lost to the depths and consequently when the wreck was later discovered in 1958 it was declared a tomb.
Law states that no divers may penetrate the wreck to conserve its remains and show respect for those who lost their lives however divers are permitted to visit what remains of the ship and explore what is classed as a ‘living reef’.
An island amongst the sandy plains of the ocean floor the wreck has become a haven for marine life visiting the lower regions of the Great Barrier Reef. While the wreck itself is not part of the surrounding reef system waifs and strays who’ve found themselves washed out into the inky blue have found shelter within the ship’s structure and formed their own colony amongst the steel.
Blanketed in soft and hard corals, algae and anemones the ship is no longer recognisable, no steel remains visible. It has been engulfed by reef. Home to an incredible range of marine life and a refuelling station for larger creatures passing through, a dive on the wreck offers the opportunity to witness Mother Nature’s enduring spirit.
Gearing up on land divers are ferried out to the wreck aboard a small powerboat, and after descending just a few metres the impressive shadow of the vessel comes into view. The location of the wreck means diving here is affected by the currents the rip across the neighbouring point and a good knowledge of safe dive practise and theory is recommended.
During our dives we saw huge marble rays floating over the bow, turtles feeding on the soft corals and sharks lingering under the hull. Macro life is in abundance here and keen underwater photographers can spend the entire dive glued to one spot.
We hope we’ve inspired within you a desire to explore the underwater world of the locations you visit. If you look out for opportunities to get your head wet and dive, you’ll be surprised at just how many of your favourite destinations have a whole heap of unique dive sites to extend your understanding of the local environment.
Just remember to take only photographs and leave only bubbles.
Exploring the Tropical Waters of Australia and New Zealand is part of my travel blogger network series.
Author Bio: Freelance travel writer and blogger Charli, and professional travel photographer and techie addict Ben are currently travelling the world. Whether backpacking through Central America or road tripping around Australia they embrace each and every opportunity for adventure. Read more about their insatiable wanderlust on their blog Wanderlusters and be sure to join them on Facebook and Twitter for more inspirational travel fodder.