How Good is the Diving?
There are 4800 km of coastline in Tasmania. Much of this is shoreline is rocky and rugged, ideal for diving. Tasmania has nearly as much coastline as Victoria and New South Wales put together. Only Queensland and Western Australia can boast a longer coastline and much of this is fairly remote from population centres. The compact size of Tasmania makes it one of the most diver-friendly parts of Australia.
There is a tendency to think of the tropics as the only diving destination. For many, the Great Barrier Reef is where good Australian diving starts and finishes. Tropical fish are colourful and numerous, but our temperate sponge life is equally so. Coral Growths are fascinating, but Tasmania’s varied underwater geography is its equal. The reef is also a long way offshore and the diving is relatively expensive and inconvenient. Many of Tasmania’s reefs can be dived from the shore. Once you have acclimatised to the colder conditions Tasmanian diving can be very trouble-free and relaxing.
Having said all that it is fairly pointless to try and draw comparisons, the Great Barrier Reef is a tropical area and Tasmania is in a temperate zone. In short, the diving is a totally different and while the Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s best diving areas, Tasmania can compare favourably with it. Top international underwater photographers have claimed that Tasmania has the best temperate water diving in the world.
Despite this the added discomfort of restrictive suits is off-putting to the majority of casual resort-diver tourists. This means that Tasmania will always remain the true adventure alternative for those bored with the hustle and bustle of those overdived locations.
In Tasmania there is an excellent variety of terrain. Large caverns and drop-offs are common, especially along our deeper granite shorelines. There are numerous areas where short sea caves, tunnels and crevasses are common. Again Tasmania does not have the large coral heads of the tropics, but its numerous wave scoured features and sheer granite drop-offs are the equal of anything in the world.
Climate and Diving Conditions
Tasmania is an island situated off the south-east coast of Australia in the latitude range of 39 to 44 degrees. It is in a climatic zone classed as temperate marine and is dominated by westerly weather patterns. The wind and sea in the Southern Ocean is ferocious, and these trade winds have been named ‘The Roaring Forties’. They bring heavy seas and high rainfall to the Western part of the island. Normally these conditions would be catastrophic for diving, but high mountain ranges blunt the full impact of the weather, creating warmer and drier conditions on the eastern side of the island.
The weather has a reputation for variability. Diving parties should be prepared for any sudden weather changes and weather reports must be consulted before each dive. Despite this rather grim sounding picture, Tasmania’s weather is generally quite mild. Because Australia is such a hot and dry continent, other Australians have a tendency to see Tasmania as a cold and wet place. In global terms it suffers from few of the extremes experienced in other parts of the world. Tasmania’s seasons are much milder than those of Northern Europe, North America or Japan. The water temperature is also fairly constant and snowfalls are rare except at the highest altitudes. Unfortunately, the state can be quite windy, but this problem is partly solved by the presence of a number of sheltered bays and waterways that offer good diving.
The Right Gear
A drysuit or a 7mm full length neoprene wetsuit with an attached hood is the standard Tasmanian diving dress. 5 mm suits are useful only on shallow summer dives. The 7mm suit usually requires weight in excess of 9 kilos (20 pounds). Neoprene gloves and booties are also recommended.
When to Dive
Winter often brings exceptional visibility of 30-50 metres in many offshore locations. Visibility along coastal sites is usually 15-20 metres unless subject to a heavy rainwater run-off. Early Winter is very mild, but the sea tempreature drops rapidly to its lowest ebb in August/September. In Spring the air tempreature has risen but also the wind. Algal blooms cause a drop in visibility. Diving is usually restricted to sheltered coastal sites. In Summer the water is nice and warm, but the visibility can be variable depending on the state of the algal growth. The weather is usually settled and the this is the best time to dive the West and South-West Coasts. The only real problem is the afternoon sea breeze that can whip up an uncomfortable slop on a hot day. This means that small dinghy divers have to be early starters.
In Autumn the open ocean visibility might be as much as 30-50 metres and the days are still sunny and warm. February/March is the best time to dive Bass Strait. Good weather often continues into June, especially in the East and South-East. This is my “magic time”, when I manage to do some of my more adventurous diving.
Unlike much of Australia, many dive locations can be accessed from the shore and the majority are easily reached by small boat. While shore dives are plenty of fun, it is generally true that boat dives are even better. Many commercial operators tend to rely on local weekend divers. It may be difficult for some travellers to organise a boat dive during the week or in the Winter. It will be much easier if you bring along a friend or two. If you wish to dive remote offshore locations it is usually necessary to organise a large group (or join a club) and hire a fishing or charter boat.
Tides are created by the gravitational effects of the sun and the moon on the Earth’s oceans. The tidal stream normally changes four times a day (Approximately every 6 hours and 13 minutes). The greatest variations in sea level occur during spring tide which occurs at full and new moons. The lowest rise and fall of the tide occurs during the neap. There are on-line tide tables and secondary port information at the Bureau of Meterology. These times are not a 100% foolproof method as the tides are heavily affected by the wind, atmospheric pressure and the topography of the area in which you are diving. Tide information is important so that you can dive in the calm period known as slack water. Where the coastline is fairly straight, and is a regular depth close to the shore, slack water occurs usually in the 30 minutes befoand re and after the turn of the tide. In some areas there is no pronounced slack water or changes may be delayed. There can be considerable variation and divers should not rely solely on their calculations. Someone must always remain in the boat if you are diving in a tidal stream. The fittest divers will not make any headway against even a one knot surface current. Most tidal streams only create noticeable surface currents. In some areas like Bank’s Strait the tide can be felt even at 20 metres. Dives in strong tidal streams are usually restricted to experienced divers. Tasmania is not a particularly tide-affected area. The most tide-affected areas in Tasmania are in Bass Strait, particularly in the far north-east and far north-west entrances. A noticeable current/tidal stream can occurs in any area where a large body of water has to move through a confined channel. The major river systems are also affected by tide and current, especially the Tamar River and the Derwent above the Tasman Bridge.
Dive site ratings in the Tasmanian Guide
Each dive is rated out of five
Suitability is rated 1 for easy dives and 5 for dangerous speciality diving