You could almost spend a lifetime diving any region of Australia. While most divers head straight for the Great Barrier Reef, the rest of Australia is equally as appealing. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth each offer a wonderful collection of dive experiences. Just beyond the big city energy of Sydney, giant cuttlefish, wobbegongs, and grey nurse sharks headline the sites just off shore of this metropolis, and topping the list is the wreck of the Valiant. Off Melbourne in the south of Australia, dozens of dive sites riddle Port Phillip Bay. The water's colder, but the marine life are equally as diverse and you'll find a bit of everything from wrecks and caverns to technical dives. Brisbane sits smack in the middle of what's known as the Sunshine Coast, and like the rest of Australia has an amazing array of marine life from a stunning variety of nudibranchs to striking leopard sharks, and the marquee dive is the HMAS Brisbane.
Captain Cook explored the world, naming place after place, but it's these islands that bear his name. If you like laid-back, endless empty beaches and shady palm trees that fringe a volcanic, mountainous island that looks almost to beautiful to be real, you'll like the 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands. This is especially true of the main island and dive region of Rarotonga. With a coral fairy ring surrounding a lagoon, a lot of the dives take place on the drop-offs outside barrier reef. Noted for fields of healthy hard coral, you'll find sea turtles, gangs of sergeant majors and unicornfish, tridacna clams and legions of elegant lionfish. You'll find some interesting swim-through with wildly colorful invertebrates. Dogtooth tuna and trevally are common on most dives. Visibility outside the lagoon exceeds 40 meters/120-feet consistently.
From majestic mountains to rarely visited coral reefs, East Timor is a destination with a variety of fantastic adventures on offer. Located in the heart of the coral triangle between Australia and Indonesia, East Timor has some of the world's most bio-diverse corals that practically explode with color and divers have nearly endless options for underwater exploration, both from shore or boat. This country also has a fascinating history and the locals typically welcome visitors with open arms. Almost all of the produce is locally grown so meals are fresh and delicious. If you're looking for a calm, relaxing destination where you can immerse yourself in the local culture, explore tropical island waters and hike through magnificent mountains, then East Timor is for you.
Fiji is world renowned for having some of the most friendliest and welcoming people on earth. It's a culture that lives the word, bula, which literally means life, but is used as a common greeting expressing a feeling of sincere welcome. It's a place that you could leave your kids at the local village for the day and know they'll be well taken care of. It's also romantic and full of exotic tropical adventure. And, underwater, it's a place that explodes with color, especially of the soft coral variety, which gives Fiji its nickname as the soft coral capital of the world. But, you might miss the multihued forests while distracted by such cool marine life as blue ribbon eels, sea turtles, tridacna clams and clouds of anthias. Most of the sites feel the rush of current, which keeps the soft corals nice and plump. Above the water, you'll want to end each day as the Fijians do, around the ceremonial kava bowl, a drink that has a great relaxing effect that will ensure each day ends with a smile. Bula!
Great Barrier Reef - Australia
Even before you learn to dive, the Great Barrier Reef looms large on your travel radar. But, once you become a diver, this more than 2,000-kilometer/1,250 mile stretch of undersea adventure will become an obsession. The barrier reef is such a vast destination that it must be visited in small chunks and there are several gateways along the coast of Queensland from which to access it. The main hub is Cairns, where many day boats and live-aboards depart. The town of Cairns offers the best access to the northern section of the reef, known as the Ribbon Reefs, as well as the more remote and wild Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea. Townsville provides access to the SS Yongala, quite possibly the best dive in the world, as well as Bouganville Reef and other sections of the reef. Gladstone is the best hub to get to such diver islands as Heron Island, which sits at the end of the Great Barrier Reef. You can find out more on diving in Australia after you dive the Great Barrier Reef.
With more than 30 marine reserves, there are great dive sites surrounding the island nation of New Zealand, but you couldn't ask for a prettier place to dive than the Bay of Islands. Accessed from Paihia on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, most divers come to explore the areas two large wrecks, each with a unique history of conflict: the HMNZS Canterbury and the Rainbow Warrior. The Rainbow Warrior spent years plying the sea for Greenpeace, while the Canterbury patrolled as a ship of war for the New Zealand navy. Both have had their fierce aspects transformed by the sea into marine life havens. Both feature penetration possibilities and intact profiles for those with appropriate certifications including the PADI Wreck Diver course. Although worthy of multiple dives, the wrecks play tug of war with the surreal and dynamic world of the kelp forests that cover the reefs here. Another world-class dive area is the renowned Poor Knights islands (a marine reserve).
Papua New Guinea
More than one-third of the world's languages are spoken on the island of New Guinea, of which Papua New Guinea (PNG) comprises the eastern half. The topography is diverse with high mountains, deep valleys and mist shrouded jungle, Papua New Guinea holds some of the worlds last places to discover, among more than 300 islands. Most villages live by the sidereal movements of sun and moon, time and tide. Underwater, it's a vast seascape of underwater wonders. Muck diving, drift, wall, World War II (WWII) wrecks, and thousands of yet to be discovered areas are all part of the undersea experience. This experience has such mind-boggling and overwhelming diversity that luminaries, like preeminent photographer David Doubilet, include Papua New Guinea among their favorite places to dive.
Tahiti French Polynesia
Tahiti encompasses the world's view of a place worth a mutiny. All the beautiful islands that make up French Polynesia have the capacity to inspire even the hardest heart to romantic yearning with wafts of frangipani on every soft breeze; with a thousand shades of electric blue in every lagoon; with coconut palms placed perfectly on every soft sand beach; and with soaring clouds piercing sharp mountains. Underwater, Tahiti continues to inspire, especially if you like to spend your time in the water with the men in grey. You will see sharks on almost every dive, and see them for a long way in water that averages 45 metres/150 feet of visibility. Manta rays, sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, dolphin and humpback whales in season all share these waters with the sharks. And, off the islands that make up the nation of Tahiti, that's a lot of water because French Polynesia is not one place, but more than 100 islands spread across the South Pacific.
Even the name sounds exotic, and the more than 170 islands that make up the South Pacific's Kingdom of Tonga don't disappoint above or under water with the purity of their tropical bliss. Every year from July to October, humpback whales come to Tonga to calve and mate in the warm waters, and in water encounters are possible through licensed tour operators. The diving, which takes place off the four main island groups of Tongatapu, 'Eua, Vava'u and the Ha'apai, features a hard coral seascape with clownfish, eels and lots of glittery tropical flitting over the reefs. Pinnacles and drop-offs, walls and coral gardens are found off most islands with many sites rarely visited or still undiscovered. There is also the opportunity to gain certifications, such as completing the PADI Cavern Diver course, which you may need to dive certain sites. Between dives Tonga is like being awake within an island dream of blissful, untouched beaches, a traditional Polynesian culture and friendly, welcoming people.
The Ni Vanuatu, the original Melanesians that populated Vanuatu have retained many of their "Kastom" ways of life, including woven cloth money and drinking the most powerful and potent kava on earth. The people of this 83-island nation also still participate in customs unique to the world, such as N'gol, where men in villages on Pentecost Island jump from rickety towers with vines tied to their ankles for the annual Yam Festival. The closer to the ground, the better the harvest - the origin of bungee jumping. But, divers come to dive, and there's one dive at Espiritu Santo that could occupy your dive life - the 199-meter/654-foot SS President Coolidge. Divers travel from around the globe to Vanuatu just to explore this particular wreck. In 1942, this ex-luxury liner, which was converted to a troop transport, went down after hitting a friendly mine, and lies intact and upright in 20 to 70 meters/65 to 240 feet of water.