Great Barrier Reef Dive Sites

Great Barrier Reef Dive Sites

Great Barrier Reef diving offers a huge variety of hard and soft corals and over 1,500 species of fish life. This area provides an unbeatable liveaboard experience.

The Great Barrier Reef dive sites are located off the east coast of Queensland in Australia. The GBR is the most extensive barrier reef and living organism in the world. The reefs here offer the best scuba diving in Australia. Having stunningly clear water and fantastic visibility makes it a suitable location for all levels of divers. The sites themselves have easy to navigate routes and plentiful marine life.

The Great Barrier Reef diving area is so large, there are no specific dive sites as such, but rather reefs. These are then subsequently divided further into dive areas which can then be explored in several ways.

Snorkelling is available on all of the liveaboards cruises, with many sightings of tropical marine life to see in the shallow water. Most of the Liveaboard cruises will offer the opportunity to take your first dive in these fantastic waters.

Take a look at the Liveaboard Cruise options below.

Great Barrier Reef Dive Sites - 7 LIVEABOARDS

From $234 / day

Coral Expeditions II Liveaboard in Australia

An Australian liveaboard with a marine biologist and scuba diving on some itineraries.

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From $125 / day

Coral Sea Dreaming Liveaboard in Australia

Ideal for short scuba diving Australia Liveaboard or great barrier reef snorkeling.

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From $234 / day

Spoilsport Liveaboard in Australia

One of the most popular Cairns Scuba diving liveaboards to the outer Great Barrier Reef

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Great Barrier Reef Dive Sites

The Great Barrier Reef can be divided into Flynn Reef, Milln Reef, Moore Reef, Pillowe Reef, Thetford Reef and the Hastings, Norman and Saxon Reef System.

Flynn Reef Highlights

East of Cairns, this reef offers walls, swim throughs and fields of colourful hard staghorn and plate corals interspersed with coral bommies and soft corals.

Several dive sites are covered within this reef offering something different each time.

Tracey’s Site

Tracey's site is a turquoise water arc that can be seen from the surface caused by the white sand seabed that has scattered bommies and coral outcrops that can be explored during the dive.

In the deeper areas look out for white tip reef sharks during the day, they move to the ledges and shelves in the evening for sleeping.

The shallow blocks have multiple anemones with their clown fish along with moray eels and a possibility of a wobbegong shark hiding in the ledges.

Large schools of fusiliers, sweetlips, parrotfish, rabbitfish and more circle the reef which is a series of tunnels, channels and overhangs.


Boulders is another site here that can be split into a further two dives as it is a wall and shallow area.

The deeper area is a sloping wall where you may encounter some current.The substrate is predominantly hard corals like fire, mushroom and stony and soft corals, hydroids and anemones.

On the reef itself are the usual marine fish of butterfly, damsels and wrasse. out in the blue water you can see passing white tip reef sharks, trevally and napoleon wrasse.

The shallow area is sandy channels with a healthy coral reef including many giant clams, some over 100 years of age and up to 2m in length.

The clear water offers great light to see the fire gobies, filefish and multitude of basslets along with the many and varied clownfish in their anemones.

Milln Reef Highlights

Milln reef, 55km east of Cairns, offers stunning wall dives and swim-throughs, and it is one of the better places for night diving. The walls, if you look carefully, are full of sleeping parrotfish already in their mucus sacks, along with turtles and barracudas.

Dolphins are often seen around this reef from the surface as they travel along with the boats.

Milln Reef

A site called Milln Reef itself consists of large Bommies ending a few meters from the surface after rising from the 30m sandy bottom. They have gorgonian sea fans along with both hard and soft corals covering their surface. In one part black coral is also visible at 30m.

White tip reef sharks circle the area and turtles can be seen in the overhangs along with coral trout and groupers.

The blocks themselves have nudibranchs, eels, flatworms and a whole host of macro life on them.

Wild Side

Wild side is a nursery with many juvenile species in the area. The topography is sandy bottom with small table corals and staghorn coral fields, along with leather, mushroom and whip corals.

Look for barracuda, parrotfish, wrasse and butterfly. fish

Around the Bend

Around The Bend is an arc-shaped site with interesting topography rising and falling with channels and pinnacles. A healthy reef with both hard and soft corals supports all the usual marine life in the area.

Look for nudibranchs, angelfish and the cleaning stations with the wrasse waiting on the safety stop, or move to the blue water where often reef squid can be seen schooling nearby.

Three Sisters

Three Sisters are coral bommies with only a couple of meters between them causing amazing canyons filled with glassfish, fusiliers and snappers. Gorgonian fans and colourful hard and soft corals cover these rocks that rise from 30m of depth.

A resident turtle is here often at the base of the coral blocks and in the cracks look for painted lobster and crabs.

Moore Reef

Moore Reef is 55km from the shore and is a macro and juvenile area acting as a nursery for the Great Barrier Reef due to the numerous sheltered areas formed by the substrate rock formations and covering corals.

The staghorn coral fields are also present with sand channels with giant clams. The area has been known to provide sightings of grey reef sharks as well as white tips, mackerel and trevally.

The coral blocks have cardinal fish, parrot fish, sweetlips and lionfish as well as crabs, nudibranchs and shrimps.

Pillowe Reef

Pillowe Reef is a small isolated reef 60km offshore near the continental shelf, meaning it is diveable subject to tides and weather conditions.

As a wall, as a wall dive it has a fantastic swim-through and offers excellent pelagic action with barracuda, jacks, white tip reef sharks and dolphins.

The sandy bottom has giant clams and the chance to spot a bull ray. On the reef look for octopus, morays and nudibranchs.

Napoleon wrasse here can reach 2m in size making for an impressive encounter.

Thetford Reef

Thetford Reef is a large area covering 2km with coral bommies scattered over a sandy substrate with hard and soft corals. Look for the Christmas tree worms embedded in the coral blocks which are home to angelfish, damsels, and butterflyfish.

Stingrays can be found in the sand along with the giant clams that the area is known for. The overhangs and ledges can often provide homes for the sleeping turtles, octopus and moray eels, while the blue water close by offers sightings of trevally, Napoleon wrasse and emperors.

Hastings, Norman and Saxon Reef System

These reefs are part of the outer reef but often grouped together as liveaboards can visit the three areas in one trip.

Hastings Reef

Hastings Reef is ideal for inexperienced divers with shallow depths and easy to navigate sites, the depth can go down to 34m for more experienced divers.

Giant Clam offers an excellent site for its namesake of Giant Clams along with many butterfly, angelfish, sweetlips and damsels.

It is also home to Wally the giant Napoleon wrasse, who is well known in the area for following divers and swimming up to the boats.

Norman Reef

Norman Reef is 70km from shore and on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef next to the continental shelf. Amazingly clear water offers up to 30m visibility. Fields of garden eels and healthy staghorn corals are clearly visible from the surface as is Barney the Napoleon wrasse resident here.

Dive sites here include the Ski Slopes, Caves Moorings, Fingers Mooring plus others offer a great variety of life with swim-throughs, caves, finger reefs and schooling fish.

Excellent visibility and depths up to 30m. This reef also offer great night dives with plenty of lobsters and grey reef sharks.

Saxon Reef

Saxon Reef sits between these two reefs and is a smaller but pristine reef. There are only seven dive sites in the area both on the leeward and windward side to offer a variety of conditions.  The area is known for the large coral blocks and staghorn gardens.

The Twin Peaks dive site is off the main reef and consist of two Bommies close enough to create an interesting swim through.

The Reef Magic/ Magic Wall dive site is in the northernmost part of this reef and can be split into 1 or 2 sections. Hard and soft corals are present here, and dives can be challenging due to currents and tides.

The Coral Garden is a channel dive with a sandy bottom. Reef sharks have been sighted here.

Other Activities

The reef areas visited by the liveaboards are shallow, and snorkelling can be done at any point the boat is moored up.

Marine Park and Conservation in Australia and the Great Barrier Reef

Australia has many conservation projects running to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Each diver is charged a Government Environmental Management Charge (EMC).

The Environmental Management Charge or EMC must be paid by commercial operators that are granted permits by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

This includes operators that allow programmes and operating facilities in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.