If you are a keen diver then the Southern Great Barrier Reef trail is one that you must simply add to the bucket list. The dive trail takes enthusiasts from Bundaberg, Lady Elliot, Town of 1770, Heron Island and finishes at Great Keppel Island. The islands and coral cays are suitable for day visits or longer stays with accommodation nearby. The region is largely a hidden secret that does not get as much attention as its northern neighbour in Cairns, however, the dive sites and coral cays are considered world class and overall are in a much healthier state than Tropical North Queensland. It is also home for a number of bird species and marine life that you are guaranteed to encounter including: Turtles, Manta Rays, Dugongs, Dolphins, Sharks and Humpback Whales.
Bundaberg is the most southerly point of the Great Barrier Reef and the beginning of the dive trail. Here you will find shore dives from Bargara Beach, Hoffman Rocks and Barolin Rocks. Dive Charters can also take visitors out to Evan’s Patch, Two Mile Reef and Cochrane Reef which is a man made reef from sunken planes and barges.
Lady Elliot Island
Lady Elliot is often referred to as the “Home of the Manta Ray” but it is also the home of turtles, migrating sea birds and Humpback Whales that travel past the island every year.
The coral cay island is conveniently located near 20 dive sites that are just a short boat ride away. Because of their protected location in a green zone of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, visitors are guaranteed to see the reef in its natural state with thriving coral reef and an abundance of marine life that you are guaranteed to see. It is the reason that people travel from all corners of the globe to witness this underwater world. Some of the most recommended dive sites at Lady Elliot Island are The Blowhole, Hiro’s Cave, The Tubes and The Severance Wreck.
Lady Elliot Island plays host to many animals throughout the year and is so important to the reef ecosystem. Manta Rays can be seen at any time of the year feeding around the island but are in higher volumes in the winter months from June to August. Turtles head ashore from November to March for turtle nesting and hatching season and many sea birds migrate here for breeding season between September and March. Humpback Whales can be seen from the island and out on dives during the months of June to October. And the annual coral spawning event can be witnessed in December each year.
If you are not a diver the fringing coral reefs surrounding the island are suitable for off the beach snorkelling. The island also offers glass bottom boat tours and eco cabins and suites for an extended stay. Chartered flights are the only way to reach the island from Bundaberg, Hervey, Brisbane or the Gold Coast. The scenic flight over to the island alone is a sight to see before you even land and head out to these dive sites.
Town of 1770
The Town of 1770 is the next stop on the Southern Great Barrier Reef Dive Trail. It is believed that this town is where Captain Cook made his first landing hence the name. This small coastal town on the mainland is a great getaway to spend a few days by the beach enjoying the serenity and slower pace before embarking on further dives in the Great Barrier Reef. There is accommodation is available here to suit all budgets from backpackers and motels through to resorts, apartments and beautiful beach houses.
Lady Musgrave Island
1770 is the perfect gateway to visit another special coral cay in the Southern Great Barrier Reef: Lady Musgrave Island. This coral cay has become a favourite among many divers and snorkelers because of its lagoon that surrounds the island. The protection of the lagoon makes for comfortable and easy diving for beginners as well as the more advanced divers. Some of the highlights here are the bright Starfish, Sea Urchins, Giant Clams and coral. Don’t be surprised to see quite a few turtles here as they also lay their eggs and hatch during November to March.
The island is an uninhabited national park managed by Queensland Parks and Wildlife to protect the visiting wildlife that use this coral cay as their natural habitat. For a truly unique camping experience a very small campsite is available if you wish to sleep on a coral cay island in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. The facilities are ‘bare bones’ and campers will need to be completely self sufficient bringing their own food, drinking water, shelter and remove all rubbish when departing the island.
Access to the island is by private boat or with charters such as Lady Musgrave Cruises from 1770 or Lady Musgrave Experiences from Bundaberg. This is one island that ranks very highly and visitors often return time and again to see this largely hidden treasure in the Southern Great Barrier Reef.
Fitzroy Reef Lagoon
Another prominent reef lagoon is the Fitzroy Reef, located 1.5hrs from 1770 via private boat. Fitzroy reef is a natural ‘tidal entrance’ lagoon that has a healthy and diverse range of coral and marine life. Manta Rays and Sting Rays, Dolphins and Turtles, Fish and even Reef Sharks hang out here completely oblivious to the humans that travel far and wide to see them. No chartered tours go here so visitors will need to investigate boat hire if they wish to explore this lagoon.
Heron Island is another coral cay situated 89km from Gladstone. What makes Heron Island different to any other island or coral cay is that it is a eco resort located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. No boat trips are required as the reef is at the doorstep. The island is also a research station for the University of Queensland dedicated to ground breaking research and education. If that isn’t enough to convince you then wait till you hear that the island is a favourite by David Attenborough who has stayed here several times during the filming of his documentary on the Great Barrier Reef.
Divers will enjoy the following locations: Heron Bommie, Coral Grotto, Hole in the Wall and Plate Ledge.
Video by Australian Geographic and Heron Island Resort
Great Keppel Island
This collection of islands in the Southern Great Barrier Reef is a well kept secret, much loved by locals. Keppel Bay boasts 16 small islands. The largest island of them of all- Great Keppel Island is located 15km off the coast of Yeppoon in the Capricorn Coast. The draw for so many is the low key atmosphere and the 17 uncrowded and pristine beaches and snorkel sites close to shore. The area is also a popular among divers.
Divers will enjoy visiting the reefs surrounding North Keppel and Middle islands. Commercial dive operators in the area will take certified divers out to sites such as Outer Rock, Man & Wife Rocks, Egg Rock and Child and Barren Islands. The depths of the dives range from 5m to 25m. The types of fish that can be found here are Gropers, Barracuda, Trevally, Stingrays and Turtles bobbing around near the surface.
The warm sea temperatures year round make this an ideal location for snorkelers and divers to experience the Great Barrier Reef. In addition, Great Keppel Island and the various snorkel and dive sites are much easier to access than most islands in the Great Barrier Reef. In 30 minutes, divers can be entering the water and beginning their dives.
Capricorn Coast Tourism has referred to the Great Keppel Island as “accessible seclusion”. The islands are considered to be off the beaten track and attract far less visitors than other destinations in the Great Barrier Reef making it great place to unwind and relax amongst nature and tropical surroundings.
Freedom Fast Cats offer day cruises and daily island transfers to the region departing from Rosslyln Bay Harbour, Yeppoon.
What is your favourite place to dive in the Great Barrier Reef? Let us know in the comments below.