By Katie Lockhart
May 31, 2019
Sunreef Mooloolaba

Australia is home to a staggering 8,000+ shipwrecks off its 16,000 miles of shoreline. Host to a treasure trove of incredible coral and unique wildlife from green sea turtles to clownfish, these dive sites are a bucket list experience for both novice and expert divers.

With thousands of registered historic shipwrecks in almost every Australian state and territory, the opportunities for discovery are endless. These different dive sites have numerous accredited operators who can guide you in and around the twisted iron and empty hulls of abandoned ships dating back to the early 1900s.

Next time you head Down Under, suit up for a guided tour through Tasmania’s icy waters or Western Australia’s tropical coastline. No matter which shipwreck exploration you choose, you’ll discover wonders teeming with unique biodiversity only found in Australia. Here are a few of top shipwrecks to dive on your next trip.

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S.S. Yongala - Townsville, Queensland

Often ranked as one of the best dive sites in the world, the S.S. Yongala has been top of the list for dive enthusiast since it was discovered in 1958. The ship sank 55 miles off the coast of Townsville during a cyclone in 1911 with all 122 on-board dying. Today, it is known as one of the most well-preserved and largest shipwreck sites. Yongala Dive is one of the more popular companies that will take divers out for the day to explore the ship’s remains and catch a glimpse of spotted eagle rays, white tip reef sharks, sea horses and triggerfish darting around the iridescent purple corals. Protected by the Queensland government, more than 10,000 people visit each year to see the wreck and its huge variety of marine life.

SS Nord - Port Arthur, Tasmania

The SS Nord is one of the only Tasmania shipwrecks that is still intact today. In 1915, the ship hit a pinnacle and sank 40 meters with everyone on board miraculously surviving. After more than 100 years in the ocean, divers can still photograph the frame of the ship and a rudder that is able to move. The remains are covered in vibrant coral and home to giant kelp, weedy sea dragons and jewel anemones. Because of the strong ocean currents, this dive is only for advanced, certified divers with companies like Eaglehawk Dive Centre.

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Ex-HMAS Brisbane - Mooloolaba, Queensland

Located just over three miles off the Sunshine Coast, this shipwreck site is reachable year round, making it one of the country’s most accessible dives. The ship is a decommissioned missile destroyer purposely sunk and made into an artificial reef in 2003. The Ex-HMAS Brisbane sits upright 28 meters down with divers able to enter the hull, the control room and the engine room now occupied by turtles, octopus and eagle rays. Sunreef also has a night-time dive option for those brave enough.

Glenelg Dredge - Glenelg, South Australia

Another artificial reef scuttled for divers in 1985. Initially a self-propelled cutter suction dredge built in 1911, it now lives 15 to 20 meters below the surface near Adelaide, South Australia’s capital. Its shallow depth makes it a perfect dive for beginners, while advanced divers can explore the inner-rooms of the ship with Adelaide Scuba. The best time to see large schools of fish, colorful corals and varieties of boarfish is from December to June.

Gudrun - Shark Bay, Western Australia

Western Australia’s largest wooden shipwreck is still intact today, almost 120 years after the ship's carpenter deliberately sank it. Discovered in 1989, Gudrun is only six meters below the water off picturesque Cape Peron. Turtles, stingrays, giant grouper and a slew of other marine life can be found near the wrecked vessel. Divers who are unfamiliar with the area should go out with companies like Shark Bay Dive as the turning tides can be dangerous.

Port Phillip Bay Wrecks - Port Phillip Bay, Victoria

There are over 900 registered shipwrecks in Victoria. The capital city of Melbourne sits on Port Phillip Bay, home to more than 50 of those wrecks. From WWI submarines, massive missile destroyers and sunken ships, its hands down the best place to dive near Melbourne. Companies like Red Boats can take you to the best spots leaving from Portsea or Queenscliff, both about 90 minutes south of Melbourne on either side of the bay.

Darwin Harbor Wrecks - Darwin Harbour, Northern Territory

A brutal barrage of bombs during World War II means there are dozens of sunken battleships scattered around Darwin’s Harbour. With more than 90 shipwrecks including freighters, flying boat destroyers and a passenger liner, there are a wide variety of wrecks to explore with dozens still to be located. Diving in Darwin can be tricky due to its eight-meter tides and poor visibility. But if the conditions are right, it’s worth it. It’s 86 degree water also means a unique and varied ecosystem of fish and coral thrive there.

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