Friday 22 August 2008

Dive into Bundaberg

Central Queensland's Bundaberg region is fast becoming a hotspot for those keen to check out the underwater scene.

With some of the best shore diving in Australia, coral diving on the Great Barrier Reef, handy access to Brisbane (a 55 minute flight or four-hour drive) and great value accommodation, it's no surprise diving is attracting increasing numbers to Bundaberg and the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

Whether you join a four day PADI-certified course from as little as $219, jump aboard a dive cruise or simply don your snorkel and flippers, every diving desire is catered for in the region - and it won't break the hip pocket either.

The three main locations for diving in the region are Bargara, Lady Elliot Island and Lady Musgrave Island – all of which boast the rare opportunity of diving straight off the beach.

Bargara, just 15km east of Bundaberg, is the jump-off point for many of Bundaberg's dive operators. The variety of offshore reef and wrecks means the laid-back coastal region is consistently rated as one of the top 10 shore diving locations in the country.

Most of Bargara's facilities and attractions from camp sites, to resorts and restaurants are all within easy walking distance. Why not stop in at Kacy's Bargara Beach Motel for some Moreton Bay bugs and prawns straight off the trawler or an icy-cold draught beer after a hard day's diving? Or grab some fish and chips or a burger from BradLees Takeaway and head down to the beach.

Dive options in Bargara include Bargara Beach Dive and Bundaberg Aqua Scuba.

Bargara Beach Dive owner Jack Stanton said the best thing about diving in the area is the diversity of the Southern Great Barrier Reef and how easily accessible the world class reef and wreck dive sites are.

"There's no long boat rides to get out to the reef, which means more time exploring below the surface rather than getting there and back," Mr Stanton said.

"What you see on a dive is different every day, but just some of the highlights are the giant gropers, eagle rays, manta rays, about four different varieties of turtles and loads of different species of sharks," he said.

The wrecks have been settled for long enough now that high quality coral is growing on them as well. Another option is Cochrane Artificial Reef, created from old barges and aeroplanes, and teeming with marine life.

Heading a little further off shore, destinations like the Fitzroy Reef Lagoon, Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave Islands never fail to impress. These are the jewels of the Southern Great Barrier Reef and offer some of the least spoilt and colourful corals in the world due to having no Crown of Thorns and coral bleaching.

Local operator Dive Musgrave operates tours and courses in the area, and owner George Christensen knows the area better than most with more than 60 years experience diving at Lady Musgrave.

"As a kid I used to catch a ride with my friends out to Lady Musgrave to camp and dive and then we'd just wait for another passing trawler to hitch a ride back home," George said.

Today George is the skipper of the Venus II, taking divers and anglers on trips of up to three days to plumb the depths of the reef.

A lesser known diving hot spot in the area is Woongarra Marine Park, which hugs the region's coastline and is a veritable diving paradise. Unusually for an area so close to shore, Woongarra is home to many species usually found on the outer reefs like whales, turtles, rays, corals moray eels, nudibranchs and giant gropers.

So whether you're an experienced diver or just starting out, the Southern Great Barrier Reef and Bundaberg region is a great alternative to the northern reef experiences and offers something for everyone to enjoy.

Getting there
Qantas flies direct to Bundaberg from Brisbane daily. Qantas, Virgin Blue and Jetstar can connect from any major Australian city. Take the Tilt Train to Bundaberg enjoying the six-hour journey in complete comfort, or catch a comfortable Greyhound-Australia coach.


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