Best Places to Snorkel and Dive in The Wild North

Simon Mallender on January 17th, 2023

Best for: experienced divers

With the exception of Lizard Island, the dive sites of the Wild North are exclusively liveaboard dive boat territory and best visited only when you have at least 20 dives’ experience under your weight belt. Of course, the diving is all the more spectacular for it being so remote. Lizard Island is home to the only resort at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef (the ‘Reef’), and it offers both snorkelling from the beach and dives on the surrounding islands and reefs.

Captain Bloods Wall of Terror

The name alone gets the adrenalin flowing. Divers come to the Great Detached Reef, off the Cape York Peninsula in search of sharks – specifically the biggest on the Reef – tiger sharks. Nearby Raine Island is the largest green turtle rookery on the Reef and the tiger sharks come to ‘sweep up’ any injured or diseased turtles. There are plenty of reef sharks too, cruising along the steep walls of this dive site dotted with big gorgonian fans and whip coral. With unpredictable currents, this area is not for the faint hearted.

Cod Hole

A much more accessible dive site (10m max.) at the top of Ribbon Reef #10. Cod Hole is home to a dozen or so large Potato Cod (one of the Great Eight on the Great Barrier Reef), who having been fed by divers for the past 20 years, hang around expecting to be fed again. The cod, weighing in between 30 and 100kg are very relaxed and hang near motionless inspecting the visiting divers. With its sandy bottom, the dive site gives the impression you are in a large aquarium and as there is little current it is also a good site for free divers and advanced snorkellers.

Many liveaboard dive boats include Cod Hole on their regular itineraries including a Fly/Dive 3 Night Cod Hole Dive Trip and 5 Night Cod Hole Dive Expedition departing from Cairns.

Steve's Bommie

The definition of a great dive site is one that you could dive over and over again – and Steve’s Bommie is just such a site. It’s a submerged pinnacle, 60m across at the base, and 10m at the top, and you start at the bottom in 30m of water and spiral your way up in about three circuits. The list of marine life you see on the way is almost endless:

  • White tipped reef sharks
  • Rays
  • Reef stonefish
  • Schools of snapper
  • Sweetlips
  • Triggerfish
  • Lionfish
  • Leafy scorpionfish
  • Damsels
  • Clownfish

Giant Clams Garden in Watsons Bay, Lizard Island

Lizard Island has a number of dive sites dotted around its fringing reefs, but also one particularly notable and accessible area called the Giant Clams Garden in Watsons Bay. You can snorkel it right off the beach, and as you might expect it’s littered with giant clams with their iridescent, brightly coloured mantles.

Lizard Island is reachable by boat or air.  The ultimate dive trip includes a fly/dive combo where you can view the reef from above. You can also choose to fly to Lizard Island and stay at the luxury Lizard Island Resort where a private charter boat can be arranged for you to explore the pristine dive sites.  

Minke Whale Liveaboard Expeditions

For a limited time each year, during the Dwarf Minke Whale migration to the warmer waters of north Queensland, you can combine your liveaboard scuba dive experience with a lifetime opportunity to swim with the whales!  These Minke Whale expedition tours generally operate June - July and visit the Minke whale hotspots on the ribbon reefs.  As this is the only place in the world where you can swim with Dwarf Minke Whales, these tours sell out fast and is advisable to book 9-12 months in advance.

The best way to experience the cays and reefs of the Wild North Queensland, is with a liveaboard trip or private boat charter available from Cairns and Port Douglas. 



Simon Mallender

Simon Mallender

Passionate eco-warrior, Simon is also a scuba diver, videographer and writer. He has produced promotional wet and dry video for a number of Australian and overseas tourism boards, as well as dive centres and cruise lines. His dive features have appeared online on Queensland Blog, Expedia’s ‘Out There Starts Here’ Blog, Wego Editor’s Desk, and in print in many inflight magazines.

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