Diving the Outer Great Barrier Reef - Which Reef Is For You?

By Natalie Johnson
Jun 6, 2019. Last updated Feb 16, 2021


Remember the first time you stuck your hand into a box of Cadbury Favourites? Reading the back of the box to pick the right flavour, the crippling indecision of making the right choice and the hope of coming back for seconds (and thirds)? Well, welcome to Mother Nature’s ultimate chocolate box – diving on The Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

Comprising over 3000 individual reefs along the Queensland coastline spanning almost 350,000 square kilometers, the GBR is almost the size of 70 MILLION football fields. It’s no wonder this icon is visible from space! Hosting an incredible 1500 species of marine life making up a vibrant ecosystem, this diving paradise is like no other in the world. But which spot do you choose for a novice or a pro? Hold onto your BCD, we’ve got you sorted.

Photo: A gorgeous Maori Wrasse at Opal Reef. IG/katefrankiehayes

Opal Reef

Located about 60 km off the coast of Port Douglas, Opal Reef is a crescent-shaped reef offering shallow diving for novices and deeper opportunities for pros. Classed as a low impact zone, only medium sized boats are permitted on Opal, so you may just have this piece of paradise all to yourself! Check out Calypso Reef Cruises for more info on this special spot.

Bashful Bommie on South Opal is a double delight for divers with the deeper side the perfect hunting ground for large schools of Spanish Mackeral and Red Bass. A very friendly Maori Wrasse behaving more like a puppy after a scratch than a fish introduces the shallow side hosting colourful coral gardens dotted with velvety giant clams and Pixar star, the adorable anemone fish.

Heading north to Blue Buoy you might just have the ultimate privilege of catching both a Loggerhead and Green turtle resting together on a monolithic coral head whilst fluttering schools of juveniles including the elusive pipefish and sharp-edged razorfish enjoy their under-the-sea childhood.


Agincourt Reef

Comprising four smaller ribbon reefs, Agincourt lies on the very edge of the continental shelf, about 65km off Port Douglas. Widely considered one of the most extraordinary diving spots in the world with excellent water clarity and visibility, Agincourt has over 20 dive sites, accessed by Silversonic, Poseidon and Calypso Reef Cruises.

‘Nursery Bommie’ located on Agincourt Two and pulsating with life is a photographer’s promised land, ticking the boxes for all levels of dive skill and marine interest. A towering coral column, the pinnacle is bedecked with majestic gorgonian fans, luscious soft corals and swaying sea whips. Nursery, as its name suggests, hosts an exceptional mix of juvenile tropical fish in every colour imaginable darting in and out of their protective coral sanctuaries. Schools of the serene Barracuda hang mid water eyeing off cruising white and black tip reef sharks whilst the sandy bottom is perfect for a lie down with a difference watching the garden eels rear their heads and rock to the rhythm of the current.

Anenome on Nursery Bommie at Agincourt Reef. Photo credit: IG/katemurph_

Cruising north to the outer edge of Agincourt Three, ‘The Wreck’ is the final resting place of a fishing boat of questionable origin that ran aground over seventy years ago. Accessible only on a calm day, she has been claimed by time and developed into a hard-coral mecca decorated with feathery Christmas tree worms. Though not a traditional wreck dive - only the anchor can still be found - the prize is discovered in swim throughs and caves and under rock ledges where you may come face to face with a moray eel (remember they are optically challenged and might mistake a pointing finger for a snack) a chameleon-like cuttlefish, crayfish, lionfish, sweetlips, gropers or the exceptionally strange-looking Barramundi Cod.

Photo: A spotted Barramundi Cod.

St Crispin Reef

A little closer to home, St Crispin, at 55 km from Port Douglas hosts only four moorings, so - like Opal - St Crispin is a little more on the quiet side. A few operators, including Calypso Reef Cruises, like this spot as it’s perfect for the novice. The southern end is home to the Flower Gardens. Brimming with colourful feather stars undulating in the current and an incredible array of butterfly fish, several varieties of wrasse and the very loud, coral-munching parrotfish, it’s the little critters who flourish here, so keep an eye out for brightly coloured nudibranchs! Proving romance is indeed alive and thriving, the romantically-committed-to-monogamy Foxface Rabbitfish can be seen here gliding blissfully through the water, spending their entire lives together as a breeding pair, destined to roam the ocean alone should one succumb to a predator (*sigh*).

Photo: A loved-up pair of Foxface Rabbitfish. Credit

So, armed with the back of Mother Nature’s chocolate box and a craving to begin exploring the options, which reef will you select to begin your odyssey?


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