Diving in Australia
So extensive it is even visible from outer space, the Great Barrier Reef is the longest reef system in the world and perhaps the most biologically diverse aquatic habitat on Earth. It encompasses 1,250 miles of coral ramparts, islets and cays that flank the east coast of Australia, and is the largest marine park in the world. At some points along the way, the reef reaches more than 200 nautical miles out into the Coral Sea. Even people who have spent a lifetime diving the Great Barrier Reef have not seen it all.
This exotic “Land Down Under” is filled with a wondrous collection of marinelife so bizarre that no other place on earth is quite like it. Along with the usual menu of high-voltage animals such as mantas, whales and sharks, you can also find blue ring octopus, sawfish, ribbon eels, giant clams, harlequin tuskfish, wobbegong sharks and the giant potato cod. Delicate soft corals grow to the size of a Christmas tree and starfish are electric blue. Diving Australian waters generally requires long-range live-aboards, because many of Australia’s best sites are remote and therefore relatively untouched. Day boats can get you to good dive sites, but the best diving is generally beyond the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea.
Renowned for crystalline water, outstanding marine life and absolutely gorgeous reefs, the Coral Sea lies off the northeast coast of Australia, well beyond the Great Barrier Reef. Quite remote, this remarkable body of water is relatively untouched with not one inhabited island within this vast realm that is equivalent in size to the entire Caribbean. Spanning more than 1.5 million square miles of ocean, the Coral Sea contains hundreds of separate reefs, atolls, cays, and seamounts. Distances are so great that only one or two reef systems can be visited on a single dive trip. The Coral Sea is known for vertical walls, enormous sea fans, trees of soft corals like giant crayon-colored broccoli, plenty of sharks, and water so clear that divers appear to be suspended in air.
Cod Hole, one of Australia’s ultimate places to dive, is located in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef and is named after the giant groupers known as the potato cod. These friendly giants can reach up to 500 pounds and enjoy interacting with divers. Pixie Pinnacle, just south of Cod Hole, has an incredible concentration of marinelife for one small site - it’s all here - mantis shrimp, leafy scorpion fish, clownfish, lionfish, soft corals, giant fans, a proliferation of crinoids, nudibranchs and much more. Off the wall, Cheyron barracudas will parade past, as will dogtooth tunas, jacks and an occasional shark.
While the Great Barrier Reef is accessible via a day trip out of either Cairns or Port Douglas, the best sites are only accessible from the comforts of a live-aboard dive vessel. There are several options for divers looking to explore this world renowned dive destination from the comfort of a live-aboard. While a 7-night itinerary will visit all of the main sites, divers have the option of taking 3 or 4-night itineraries as well which include a low level flight along the Great Barrier Reef. Some itineraries also visit the remote site of Osprey Reef where shark encounters are the big attraction. Check the current weather in Australia here.
Passport and/or Visa Requirements
American citizens are required to have a valid U.S. passport to enter Australia and must enter with an Australian visa or, if eligible, through Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) at The ETA replaces a visa and allows a stay of up to three months. It may be obtained for a small service fee. Airlines and many travel agents in the United States are also able to apply for ETAs on behalf of travelers. Please note that American citizens who overstay their ETA or visa, even for short periods, may be subject to exclusion, detention, and removal.
Read about Australia's entry/exit requirements here.
Check with your doctor and the Centers for Disease Control on recommended vaccinations for travel to Australia at Traveler's Health CDC Australia
Culture and Customs
Much of Australia's culture is derived from European roots, but distinctive Australian features have evolved from the environment, aboriginal culture, and the influence of Australia's neighbors.
In Cairns, you can learn more about Australia’s aboriginal culture and experience the spirit world of the Aboriginal Dreamtime at Tjapukai Aboriginal Dance Theatre. For a real Aussie Outback experience, visit Undara where overnight accommodations are in restored railway carriages and explore the savannah and its wildlife, hike through Earth’s longest lava tubes and finish the day around the campfire under the stars.
A trip to Australia isn’t complete without some Aussie adventures: In the Cairns area you can enjoy hot air ballooning at dawn, white water rafting, parasailing and even sky diving. If visiting the rainforest canopy sounds more your style, the Kuranda Skyrail just north of Cairns takes you on a journey above the treetops for nearly five miles. Plan on a full day before returning, because you’ll want to experience all that Kuranda has to offer.
About an hour north of Cairns in northern Queensland, the thick, dry scrub brush of the outback gives way to the only back-to-back World Heritage Sites on our planet - the vast Daintree and Cape Tribulation rainforests. The area offers one of the most scenic drives in the world and starts when you cross the Daintree River on the car ferry. See the area by scenic river cruise, kayaking, hiking, 4WD vehicle, or even horseback. Miles of deserted beaches are yours to explore where the rainforest meets the sea. Local wildlife in the area includes a wide variety of exotic birds including the endemic Mountain Thornbill and the giant Southern Cassowary as well as the elusive salt water crocodile.
Electricity, Telephone and Internet Access
Standard electricity in Australia is 240 volts, alternating at 50 cycles per second. When coming from the United States you will need an adapted socket and also a voltage converter if your appliances are not equipped to handle 240 volts.
international access code for Australia is 61. Pre paid phone cards are available in stores to make local, long distance and international calls.
Internet cafes are abundant throughout the Cairns area and hotels also offer WIFI usually free of charge.
The water is safe to drink.
Language & Currency
English is the official language of Australia.
The currency is the Australian Dollar (AUD) and consists of 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2 as coins and notes are $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. You can exchange funds at all international airports in Australia upon arrival or at any bank.
Major currencies can be exchanged at banks, tourist resort islands, hotels and leading shops. Payments in hotels can be made in most hard currencies (particularly US Dollars) in cash, traveller's cheques or credit cards. Most major island resorts, local and souvenir shops will accept American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa. Arrangements vary from island to island. Check the current exchange rate here.
There are three time zones in Australia:
Eastern Standard Time (EST): in New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland.
Central Standard Time (CST) in South Australia and Northern Territory.
Western Standard Time (WST) in Western Australia.
Daylight Saving Time is observed in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania from the beginning of October to the beginning of beginning of April. In Western Australia, Daylight Saving lasts from the end of October to the end of March. The Northern Territory and Queensland don’t observe Daylight Saving.
History, Art, and Culture
Australia was uninhabited until stone-culture peoples arrived, perhaps by boat across the waters separating the island from the Indonesia archipelago more than 40,000 years ago. Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English explorers observed the island before 1770, when Captain Cook explored the east coast and claimed it for Great Britain.
On January 26, 1788 (now celebrated as Australia Day), the First Fleet under Captain Arthur Phillip landed at Sydney, and formal proclamation of the establishment of the Colony of New South Wales followed on February 7. Many, but by no means all, of the first settlers were convicts, some condemned for offenses that today would often be thought trivial. The discovery of gold in 1851 led to increased population, wealth, and trade.
The six colonies that now constitute the states of the Australian Commonwealth were established in the following order: New South Wales, 1788; Tasmania, 1825; Western Australia, 1829; South Australia, 1836; Victoria, 1851; and Queensland, 1859. Discussions between Australian and British representatives led to adoption by the British Government of an act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia in 1900. In 1911, control of the Northern Territory was transferred from South Australia to the Commonwealth. Also that year, the Australian Capital Territory (where the national capital, Canberra, is located), was established. The Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory were granted self-government in 1978 and 1988, respectively.
Australia passed the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act on October 9, 1942, which officially established Australia's complete autonomy in both internal and external affairs and formalized a situation that had existed for years. The Australia Act (1986) eliminated almost all remaining vestiges of British legal authority, including the ability to appeal to the British Privy Council. Read about Australia culture and arts here.
Location and Size
The continent of Australia is located between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean.