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Diving Australia’s Hidden Gem: Rowley Shoals

The short dive season runs September through December in Western Australia’s Rowley Shoals, and it belongs on your bucket list for next year.

Everyone knows Australia for the iconic Great Barrier Reef. But Western Australia is home to the country’s best-kept diving secret: Rowley Shoals. The shoals have one of the shortest dive seasons running only from September through December, meaning fewer than 200 people dive this isolated and pristine location each year.

Rowley Shoals

The Rowley Shoals Marine Park lies 186 miles (300 km) off Broome, Western Australia. Consequently. it remains one of the most remote and pristine marine environments in the world. The shoals consist of three coral atolls at the edge of the continental shelf. It’s a stunning location for a dive safari, with 360-degree views of turquoise waters and almost no other vessels or people in sight.

The best Rowley Shoals dive sites 

Dives sites at Rowley Shoals offer something for everyone and the diving is suitable for novice and experienced divers. A minimum of 10 to 20 logged dives is usually required.

Rowley Shoals offers pristine coral-reef diving, mostly as wall and drift dives. The best dive areas include:

Mermaid Reef

Northeast of Rowley Shoals, Mermaid Reef is part of the Mermaid Reef National Nature Reserve. It rises from over 1,300 feet (400 m) and features a crystal-clear lagoon surrounded by corals. Sailfish and humpback whales visit the outer sections of the reef and there are numerous corals, giant gorgonian fans, and plenty of fish species about as well. Mermaid Reef has strong tidal flow and currents and features exciting drift dives from outside the atoll into the lagoon.

Vee in the Wall and Odyssey Alley are both on the outer sections and offer fantastic reef- and deep-blue diving. Cod Hole (not to be confused with the dive site of the same name on the Great Barrier Reef) is the place to dive with giant and friendly potato cod. Northern Wall is one of the world’s best dives, featuring a steep drop to 262 feet (80 m), and is home to numerous species of reef fish.

Clerke Reef

Named for Captain Clerke, who first spotted the reef in the 1800s, this reef features a shallow lagoon ideal for snorkeling. There are abundant corals and a variety of marine life. The Aquarium dive site in the lagoon offers easy diving in warm, calm waters.

Clerke Reef also has fantastic wall diving on the outer sections of the reef. Here you’ll find hundreds of fish and coral species as well as gray reef sharks. The visibility often reaches 164 feet (50 m) and divers should keep their eyes peeled for giant clams up to 5 feet (1.5) meters long. Jimmy Goes to China dive site is famous for curious reef sharks and pelagic species cruising along the wall, which is covered in gorgonian fans and black corals.

Rowley Shoals has a wide tidal range, resulting in exciting drift dives. The Rollercoaster is a great example of this and pushes divers through Clerke Reef channel. Fans of adrenaline-filled drift diving will not be disappointed.

Marine-life highlights at Rowley Shoals

Rowley Shoals is quite biodiverse, with more than 200 species of coral and 700 species of fish, many of which do not live to shore. Residents of the reefs include coral trout, clownfish, humphead parrotfish, Maori wrasse, Spanish mackerel, giant potato cod, dogtooth tuna and green turtles. Divers can swim among schooling trevallies and spot a wide variety of sharks, such as whitetips, blacktips, silvertips and even occasional hammerhead and tiger sharks.

The shoals are not a critter-diving destination as such, but there are plenty of nudibranchs and small stuff to keep fans of small marine life satisfied. 

Other area activities

Broome is a popular holiday gateway to the Kimberley region and the area has a variety of highlights, including dinosaur tracks in the rock at Gantheaume Point, the white sands of 13-mile (22 km) Cable Beach and Broome’s famous pearl farms. There are also a handful of Kimberley adventure cruise ships that visit the waterfalls, beaches, gorges and mountains of this wild region.

When to visit

The best time to visit Rowley Shoals is between September and December. Since liveaboard diving is the only way to explore these reefs, early booking is best.

The MV Odyssey and True North liveaboards are the main vessels that visit Rowley Shoals. The MV Odyssey catamaran caters for up to 20 guests and offers 7-night Rowley Shoal safaris.

Getting to Rowley Shoals 

Broome is the most common departure point for Rowley Shoals liveaboard safaris. It’s easily accessible via Perth, which has international flight connections from around the world.

Divers and writers at contributed this article.

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