Surprisingly, for such a large regional centre, Mackay has few diving facilities, showing the difference a regular flow of tourists makes to such businesses. There is a local dive club accessible via Facebook, and local freelance instructors can provide training and fills. A local charter operator can be booked by large groups for offshore diving.
The shoreline of the city, like much of mainland Queensland, tends to be muddy and sandy, and is affected by the outflow from rivers, and silt from harbor operations and urban runoff. There isn’t much shore diving in Mackay. The locals will head up to Bowen, or more often out to the South Cumberland Group or the outer reef. The local dive club runs a regular schedule of dives.
The Central Queensland area has a pleasant year-round climate. Winters are mild (10–25 °C) while summers are warm to hot (22–32 °C). The area experiences heavy rain and cyclones from December to March. Winds are generally southerly year round with the calmest weather from August to December. It is northerly only about 10% of the time.
North Wall, Mackay Harbor
This harbor breakwater is the easy shore dive in the area, but with sometimes poor visibility depending on the winds and port operations. This is a favourite spot for local dive schools and for a weekend splash when you don’t want too much hassle. Corals grow on the breakwater rocks. The rocks are quite weedy and silt laden, but there can be an interesting variety of marine life including turtles, sea snakes and lionfish. Expect 5-10 metre visibility.
The South Cumberland Group Islands
A lot of the locals take the ferry, or their own launches, out to the South Cumberland Group, particularly the national parks at Keswick and St Bees Islands.
These islands to the south of the better known Whitsundays resorts islands are less developed. Access to the southern islands is from Mackay or Seaforth by private boat or charter. Much of the coastline is rocky, with hoop pine-ringed bays framing idyllic white sandy beaches. Brampton, Carlisle, Scawfell, Goldsmith, Cockermouth, Keswick, and St Bees islands are all national parks.
Camping is allowed by permit on Goldsmith, Carlisle, Cockermouth, Scawfell Island and St Bees. Facilities are not provided on islands except for Goldsmith which has a toilet, barbecue and tables. Campers must be self sufficient including water.
St Bees Island also has a basic share accommodation house and Keswick Island has a small resort which is serviced by a usually daily ferry from Mackay taking approximately 1 hour (subject to weather). The same operator will run dive expeditions on the weekend, if they can get the numbers.
Brampton Island also operates a regular boat service and the resort will take campers to Carlisle by arrangement.
Connie Bay, Keswick Island
Close to the ferry terminal there is a good coral garden which is popular as a beginners dive. The visibility can be variable, but is often around 10 metres. There are patches of good coral on a fairly silty bottom.
The MV Cremer
The Cremer was a large steel passenger and cargo ship that was a regular trader to Indonesia, Singapore and China. She was built in Holland in 1926. She is big, 4600 tons and 124M long.
In September 1943, it ran aground off St Bees Island during a storm, near Grimston Point on the north coast. There were no casualties. The ship was stripped of all major equipment and then abandoned.
The wreck was rediscovered in September 1984 under a cliff on St Bees Island. The remains of the iron hull, engine blocks, propeller shaft, flywheel and deck machinery can be seen. The engine area is mostly intact, with two engines (each about 8 metres long) and a propeller shaft still attached. It is now a popular site for snorkelling and diving. As with any inner reef diving on the barrier reef, the visibility varies. The Cremer is a shallow dive closer to land and is covered in a lot of sargussum weed with only small corals. The fish life is good and includes brown sweetlip and honeycomb grouper amongst many others. Turtles are also seen around the wreck.
The Cremer is often protected but not from any south easterly sea. Current runs along the cliff face at times. St Bees Islands tides are just 5 minutes after Mackay.
Crevices in the coral formations provide lots of interesting caves. These have recently been explored by the local club and lie near the wreck of the Cremer.
The Singapore was a 964 ton single screw steamer with a length of 87 metres. She was bound for Sydney from Hong Kong when she struck ‘Singapore Rock’ on Keswick Island in January 1877. No lives were lost. Singapore Rock is just off beautiful. This area is a designated Marine Park Green Zone and is home to an array of turtles and magnificent fish including barracuda and rays. The Singapore is covered in plenty of coral growth. The wreck structure is still relatively large.
This medium-sized 34 metre long government coastal steamer was last seen from Cape Capricorn Lighthouse on 17th July 1919. She disappeared during heavy gales on a voyage to Bowen to delivery food relief during a seaman’s strike.
The wreck site itself was not discovered until 1997. The Llewellyn lies in about 35 metres of water, approximately halfway between St Bees Island and Bailey Islet. The Llewellyn wreck is untouched and requires a permit to approach within 500m of the site. It is heavily policed. The Llewellyn isn’t a casual unplanned dive anyway. It is an open ocean site very exposed to currents and on a silty bottom easily stirred up. It has to be dived at slack water on a calm day. There are no buoys or markers.
This small island near Keswick Island has nice coral gardens.
Scawfell Island is the largest island in South Cumberland Islands National Park. It is noted for steep granite cliffs and large areas of rainforest. Refuge Bay offers a nice beach, camping, attractive areas of coral and protection from south-east winds. It is a popular anchorage. Charter boats will occasionally bring divers to the site.
This hilly island is mainly open grassland with large tidal lagoons on the western side where low tides expose reef. There is camping on the south-western bay of Cockermouth Island with no facilities. Charter boats occasionally visit the area.
Brampton Island offers numerous attractive beaches and bays. An extensive walking track system exists leading to facilities at Western Bay, Dinghy Bay West and Turtle Bay. The bays are located on the island’s southern and eastern sides. Water is shallow. In south-east winds, vessels anchor near the public jetty on the north-west side of the island. Brampton Island Resort is located on the island’s northern tip and once accommodated between 11,000 and 12,000 guests each year. Now it is closed and is being rebuilt as a pricey and exclusive eco-resort. Some good snorkelling can be had in the shallows.
The most popular dive site of the Mackay Region is Credlin Reef which has at least ten popular dive sites. Once it had a pontoon on site but it is now only occasionally visited by charters and private boats. Like a lot of reefs in the area it suffered some cyclone damage in 2009 but has been on the mend since. Like all offshore sites it offers excellent fish and invertebrate life in excellent visibility.
Percy Islands, Duke Islands
The Percy Islands, 130km southeast of Mackay, are a popular cruising yacht anchorages. The area is isolated with heavily forested islands and beaches fringed by coconut palms. The A-frame hut at West Beach on Middle Percy is often used for beach camping.
Middle Percy was recently the subject of a protracted legal dispute over the lease ownership between an eccentric English aristocrat known as “the hermit of Middle Percy” and people wanting to protect the island in a reserve. The Marble, Hunter and Tynemouth Islands in the Duke Group are still privately owned. Marble Island is home to a cattle and deer station, as well as lavish homestead buildings and tennis court, along with an airstrip complete with a light plane. Worthy of exploration if you can find a way to get there.