This is a year for crossing of your Aussie bucket list items, and if you haven’t been to the Great Barrier Reef yet, then now’s the time (especially if you’re a QLD local and can get in on this voucher action). If you have already been, time to go again because we guarantee you haven’t found all these hidden reefs.
Daydream Island Master Reef Guide Johnny Gaskell has visited over 200 reef sites in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park over the last two years — so it’s safe to say he’s an expert.
He’s been on a mission to travel the full length of the GBR in order to survey its health, and on these trips he’s made some pretty special discoveries of hidden reefs.
“On these trips, I found some amazing sites which was the inspiration to create my personal top 10 list,” he said. “Obviously, the ranking is subjective, but it takes into consideration coral cover, general reef health and disturbance of the sites”.
And yes, he gave us 10, but he refused to name one so I’m not including it.
Johnny’s Top 9 List
#9 Sudbury Reef, Cairns
Tucked behind Fitzroy Island with a striking white sand cay at one end, this reef drops off to shallow clam gardens.
“This reef was different than most of the other reefs I visited last year. It was dominated by soft coral and had a very high number of parrot fish and mullet which reminded me of the Whitsundays,” says Gaskell.
“The marine life here is incredible and something you’d expect to see at much deeper dive sites usually”.
How to get there: Your best bet is joining Coral Expeditions’ seven-night ‘Outerknown Adventures of the Great Barrier Reef’ cruise. It’ll take you to the remote northern parts of the reef, including Osprey, Ribbon and Sudbury Reef
#8 Little Baron Reef, Yeppoon
It might just be one of over 1000 separate coral reefs in Swain Reefs National Park, but it stands out. You might even spot humpback whales with their calves in the area in winter.
“The reef here was mostly hard coral and in great condition with spectacular drop-offs. We also saw a huge Loggerhead turtle here which was amazing,” recalls Gaskell.
How to get there: Join a diving expedition to the Swains Reefs National Park, run by Adori Charters.
#7 Kangaroo Reef, Bowen
This reef sits inside a protected green zone off the coast from Bowen in the Whitsundays.
“There is a fast current running through the channel which is great for coral growth as this keeps the surface temperatures well-mixed and cooler in summer while also delivering food in the form of plankton,” explains Gaskell. Apparently this means the coral cover, vertical walls and fish life here are all incredible.
How to get there: Kiana Sail and Dive offer private charters to Whitsundays reefs, including this one. They’ll take you over on a fully equipped scuba dive vessel.
#6 Unnamed Reef, Yeppoon
A small gem that’s also part of Swains Reef National Park. It might be harder to find, but you can find it at 21-227 the reference maps provided by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, about 280km offshore Yeppoon.
“This particular reef had spectacular swim throughs, caves and coral cover that was inhabited by a high diversity of fish species and a few species of friendly sharks,” says Gaskell.
“The underwater topography at this site was unbeatable with dramatic walls and gutters for deep swim throughs”.
How to get there: This is another good one for Adori Charters.
#5 Fitzroy Reef, Great Keppel Island
This is the largest reef forming the Capricorn and Bunker groups in the Southern Great Barrier Reef. It’s popular with divers and snorkelers thanks to the fact it forms a ring around a large, deep lagoon which offers protection and anchorage points.
“[It’s] an amazing light blue colour with reefs scattered throughout,” remembers Gaskell. “The highlight was the coral slopes near the channel entry to the lagoon. The slopes were completely covered in tightly compacted diverse hard corals with lots of fish life, particularly parrotfish”.
How to get there: Take a day or overnight tour with Keppel Dive, leaving from Great Keppel Island and exploring the surrounding reefs.
#4 Tiger Reef, Bowen
Right next to Kangaroo Reef, according to Gaskell this semi-exposed reef made the list because “it is close to the path Cyclone Debbie took in 2017, so we were very interested to see if the protected side still had coral cover”.
“We were relieved to find that it was in great condition and had barely any cyclone damage”.
How to get there: Jump on board a Kiana Sail and Dive private charters.
#3 Briggs Reef, Cairns
This smaller reef is near Fitzroy Island off the coast of Cairns, that packs a large punch, according to Gaskell.
“I was blown away by the variety of coral on the reef walls and bommies. Compared to other sites, Briggs Reef has a very high hard coral cover and we saw a few turtles and small sharks”.
“The site was a real surprise to me. Being so close to Cairns, it’s a great spot for novice or advanced divers,” he added.
How to get there: You’ll have a lot of options for live aboard dive operators in the area, including Coral Expeditions, Divers Den and Reef Encounter. Check individuals itineraries as they’re tailored to weather conditions, currents, and tides.
#2 Elisabeth Reef, The Whitsundays
You’ll find this one on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and Gaskell describes it as one of the most incredible coral habitats he’s ever seen.
“The water here is crystal clear with thousands of fish zooming around the reef. This site has considerably high coral cover, particularly on the reef edge. Up to 100 percent in some parts, which is outstanding and makes it one of my favourite dive sites.”
How to get there: Jump on board Kiana Sail and Dive.
#1 Crystal Blue Hole, Yeppoon
“My number one reef site from my latest expeditions would have to be Crystal Blue Hole — a small reef with a perfect lagoon anchorage right next to a 45m deep Blue Hole,” says Gaskell.
“For me, it doesn’t get any better. Inside the hole there was coral cover all around the edge, then a steep drop down into the Blue. I couldn’t even see the bottom”.
How to get there: Book a trip with Adori Charters.
(Lead image: provided / Johnny Gaskell)