One to two hours drive north of Brisbane lies the Sunshine Coast. It’s a well-developed urban coastline which offers the usual sandy tourist beaches, a slightly slower paced version of the Gold Coast. There is plenty to do there including some interesting offshore dive spots. The most reliable dive services are centred around Mooloolaba and Noosa, where most of the tourists are centred. The inshore diving can be affected by silt from several rivers, such as the Noosa River and Pumicestone Passage. Most of the diving occurs on old sections of flooded coastline. The easier inshore dives are all about 15 metres and offer good marine life, especially smaller critters like nudibranchs. There are some nice coral gardens. There are also a few deeper reefs offshore providing more adventurous sites. The wreck of the HMAS Brisbane is also incredibly popular.
Like all of SE Queensland the winds prevail from the SE in Summer and the West in Winter. You can dive year round, but I prefer the winter. It makes all the inshore sites much more accessible and the visibility also improves. This is also the peak tourist season when temperatures are mild and every day is sunny, before a big and short storm in the evening.
Air temperature: 17 °C to 30°C
water temperature: 18°C to 26°C
Visibility10 to 28 meters
Kings Beach, Caloundra
If you want an easy and partly sheltered family snorkel then try this out headland to the east of the Kings Beach tourist beach. There is a good range of small critters to see along the shoreline, including cowries, small patches of coral and even octopus and wobbegong sharks. The foreshore has variable visibility depending on the strength of southerly winds and recent rainfall. It is sheltered virtually all of the winter when the winds swing West. The corals at King’s Beach were virtually annihilated by the freshwater flows out of Pumicestone Passage during the 2011 floods, but they will slowly recover. The area also has a boat ramp on the southern side, and more recently signs were put there banning diving. In 8 years of visiting that site I saw one boat use that ramp, as it is exposed to the south and too shallow for larger craft. Hundreds of other people use it for low level activities like kayaking and snorkelling, go figure. I’d suggest you move away from the ramp area and keep an eye out for boats. The tangle of lost fishing gear has to be seen to be believed, you could recover enough sinkers in a dive to make a set of dive weights. While this isn’t a scenic dive for tourist brochures, it’s a pleasant day out if you are in the area and would like a picnic and dive.
Currimundi is a ‘local reef’ visited by local dinghy owners rather than dive operators. It offers a nice area of reasonably flat reef and it is partly sheltered from southerly and westerly winds. It’s popular with fishos so you may be able to find it just from the boats parked over it. It has good cover of encrusting hard corals and about a quarter of the bottom is covered in colourful soft corals.
Mudjimba (Old Woman) Island
This is a popular site that is easy to reach and safe and sheltered. Its popular for training dives and snorkelling. As an inshore site the visibility is less, about 7 metres on average, and especially poor after heavy weather. There is a lot of smaller marine life including soft corals, sea sponges, sea anemones and nudibranchs. Smaller but colourful fish are common angelfish, surgeonfish, wrasse, damsels, butterflyfish, morwong, wobbegong sharks, lionfish and moray eels. Snorkelers will find very nice corals in 2 metres of water near the island, as well as nudibranch and cowries shells.
Wreck of HMAS Brisbane
The-Brisbane was one of three Perth-class guided missile destroyers to serve in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). The United States-designed ship was launched at Bay City, Michigan in in 1966. She is 133m long and 5000 tons. Brisbane made two deployments to the Vietnam War, was involved in the Cyclone Tracy disaster relief operation, and was deployed to the Persian Gulf during the first Gulf War.
She was decommissioned and sunk off the Sunshine Coast in 2005 as an artificial reef. She lies about 2.8 nautical miles due east of Mudjimba Island. Her sister ships Perth and Hobart were also sunk as dive wrecks in SA and WA.
She is very popular, still intact for the present, and arguably the largest easily diveable wreck in Queensland. She a spectacularly large vessel, and while clean when sunk, she is rapidly attracting corals and fish.
There are resident schools of king fish, rays, squid, snapper, red emperor, Queensland grouper and turtles. The smaller species include angler fish, lionfish, blennies, nudibranchs and sea hares. More than 200 species of fish have been recorded at the site. Over time the reef will continue to improve until the swell starts to take on the ship’s structure. The site is a marine park.
This area to the south of Mujimba Island is considered the best dive on the Sunshine Coast. Due to the depth it is rarely dived. The three upright pinnacles rise 10 metres from sea bed. Batfish, trevally, butterfly fish, barracuda and wobbegong sharks are often seen.
14 metres – 21 metres
This site is a 15 minute run from the Mooloolaba Harbour to out near the “Blinkers”, harbour marker. Castle Rock drops to on the sand and boasts a large rock overhang covered in colourful corals. There are large shoals of surgeon fish, batfish, trevally, and fusiliers, as well as crayfish, nudibranchs, and an occasional turtle.
Murphy’s is a complex reef system that extends from inside the Mooloolaba 9km “blinker” harbour marker out to deep water. Parts of the system are sheltered during the strong south-westerly winds that prevail through winter. Plenty of snapper, morwong, moses perch, parrot, cod, sweetlip and red emperor can be seen. Pinnacles and hard bottom reef is spread across a wide area. It is 7-11km from the harbour.
Just offshore from Mooloolaba the large and coral-covered Inner Gneerings reef system offers plenty of different sites. The Inner Gneerings offers soft corals, black coral trees and white coral whips. Marine life including rays, turtles, moray eels, wobbegongs and leopard sharks.
Plateau– Inner Gneerings
15 to 18m
This flat shelf drops off to approximately 14 metres. The Plateau is covered in colourful nudibranchs and other marine life, but it is also habitat to a resident moray eel who enjoys being hand fed. The flat sandy bottom around the shelf makes this dive site extremely easy to navigate.
Hanging Rock – Inner Gneerings
10 to 18
A ledge runs east – west and is home to an array of marine life. Overhangs and swim throughs covered in corals are a feature of the dive. The fish life is good with wobbegongs, squirrel fish and barracuda. This site makes for an excellent night dive.
The Cave – Inner Gneerings
This shallow site is often used for training dives. It offers a small 1-3 metre ledge with gutters and swim throughs covered in corals. It offers surgeon fish, wobbegong sharks, and turtles. Schools of pelagic fish visit this area and during October to May along with docile leopard sharks. In winter the occasionally mantra ray will visit a local cleaning station.
Coral Gardens – Inner Gneerings
12m – 18m
Another small wall running east-west with good coral cover and a few gutters. There are lots of colourful smaller fish along with nudibranchs, shrimps, flatworms, sea stars, decorater crabs, cuttlefish, turtles, wobbegongs, eagle rays, batfish, trevally and stingrays. It makes a good night dive spot.
Wobby Rock – Inner Gneerings
This bouldery spot has lots of wobbegong sharks, but also offers small swim throughs and good fish life. In Winter you may see grey nurse sharks. There are also occasionally large schools of fish and the occasional turtle.
Fairyland – Inner Gneerings
This easy site offers a 5 metre high wall, 50 meters in length. The site offers wobbegongs, usually juveniles. Rays are also prominent.
Outer Gneering Shoal
This large and often flat shoal offers large areas of hard corals, soft corals and sponges described as a “vast quilt”. There are also plenty of smaller invertebrates to search for. In good weather it is an easy and interesting dive. The larger pelagic fish mostly hang around the pinnacle in 18M such as amberjack, mackerel and kingfish, especially in Winter, but wobbegongs, leatherjackets, baitfish, angels, wrasse, butterfly and urchins are visible in most areas Visibility is usually 15 metres.It is 5-7km from boat launching places.
The ‘Banks’ is a large reef system that covers around 23km running north south. The site is popular with offshore fishermen and is very rarely dived. An adventure dive only for the experienced divers. It’s 25 nautical miles (40 kms) off shore. It offers pristine coral reef with big gorgonian fans and large that aren’t afraid of divers. Fish to be seen include snapper, pearl perch, kingfish, amberjack, cobia, rosy jobfish, hussar, red emperor, tuskfish, sweetlip and parrot. The depths keep it a relatively dark deep blue, but the water is clear. There are also lots of smaller overhangs and swim throughs. There are also apparently plenty of large sharks.
Laguna Bay and the river are protected from the prevailing South Easterly winds while Sunshine and Sunrise Beaches are sheltered from the Nor/Nor West and South
7m – 19m
Jew Shoal is one of the most popular destinations in Noosa and lies 3.7km from Noosa Bar and 2 kms off Noosa Headland. Jew Shoal is a large reef complex of ridges, canyons, bommies, and a solitary 11 metre pinnacle. The two main dive sites are ‘The Pin’ and ‘The Caves’.. The reef is close to the Noosa River. Visibility is 20m at the most. Good introductory dive for the area.
The Caves – Jew Shoal
The Caves has no caves, but it has four swim-throughs packed with life. The site also has a large complex of canyons, ridges and bommies. In the nooks and crannies you should look out for nudibranchs, octopus, crayfish and wobbegongs and corals. In summer eagle rays and the larger bull ray are seem along with pelagic mackerel, snapper and tuna. Reef fish include angelfish, butterflyfish, surgeonfish, globefish, rabbitfish, soapfish, morwong, sweetlip and bream. Visibility is usually around 10 metres. ‘The Caves’ has rugged, rocky outcrops and swim throughs; the gutters are covered in colourful hard and soft corals.
The Pin – Jew Shoal
There are plenty of ledges, walls, and crevices. Mantas and grey nurse sharks can sometimes be seen in Winter. The coral gardens here are home to an array of marine invertebrates including sea stars, feather stars, hermit crabs, coral shrimps, spanish dancers, urchins, cowries and over 100 varieties of nudibranchs. It has a wide population of fish including coral trout, parrotfish, tusk fish, lemon damsels, sergeant majors humbugs, blue pullers, royal damsels and, blue banded angel fish. The sandy areas also have leopard sharks and loggerhead turtles.
Victor Bailly Reef
This is a large horseshoe shaped reef, generally low and bouldery with some smaller pinnacles. It attracts fish life from everywhere and is also popular with turtles. The reef is covered in colourful invertebrates including sea fans.
The Noosa River discharges silt into the bay after rain, making inshore sites cloud over. However in dry weather, the river mouth can offer a good dive. There are plenty of school and juvenile fish, clouds in fact. There is good visibility usually only 3-5 days per month depending on the tides and offshore conditions. Really clear visibility only happens once or twice each year, or less. Dive at the top of the tide, there is a slack for about 5 minutes and only if there is no swell pushing more water into the mouth. Regardless of the strength of current, there is shelter behind boulders and other obstructions. Large schools of jewfish and trevally are always at the rock wall, perhaps because spearfishing is not allowed there.
This reef lies about a kilometre offshore and is a flat reef with raised sections. It is exposed to the swell and while there is good small invertebrate life including crayfish, not too many fish. Lying inshore and close to the river, she can suffer from variable visibility.
This reef is a continuation of South Halls and is a rocky sandstone reef. Lying further to seaward it has clearer water and excellent fish life. There are hard and soft corals, sea fans and sea whips.
This reef is 2kms offshore. It is a large area of flat and coral covered rock with small crevices, scattered boulders and patches of sand. It is renowned for excellent pelagic fish life in the summer, kingfish, mackerel, tuna, coral trout, sweetlip, cobia, snapper, and reef sharks. The smaller life is also colourful, with plenty of nudibranchs. The reef lies 10km by boat from the Noosa Bar.
Wolf rock is 6 km North East from Rainbow Beach. It’s a long ride in lumpy weather, but the trip is well worthwhile. The rock consists of a formation of four volcanic pinnacles offering steep walls on all sides. The gutters offer grey nurse in Winter and giant Queensland groper year round. On the South Westerly site there is a fifth pinnacles at around 19 m. In the broken water around the two exposed rocks there are often schools of eagle rays and batfish. Bull rays, manta rays, leopard sharks and turtles are also likely to be seen. The walls offer hard and soft corals, nudibranchs, octopus, school fish, sea stars and wobbegong sharks
Round Rock & Nursery Reef
These two shallow sites are used for training. Marine life can include rays, leopard sharks, turtles and juvenile fish.