Lady Elliot Island is a true coral cay, built by continually growing coral polyps. This provides some tremendous underwater scuba diving opportunities.
Lady Elliot Island, on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, appeals to scuba divers. It could be the ease of diving: most dives are shore dives, just a short walk or swim over the coral shelf and then into the coral wonderland. Or maybe it is the possibility of 40 metre visibility. Or is it Lady Elliot’s reputation for manta rays?
Lady Elliot Island is 80km off the coast of Queensland, a four hour drive from Brisbane.
Lady Elliot History
Discovered in 1816, Lady Elliot Island had few visitors until 1860 when it was mined for bird droppings, or guano. This decimated the island, removing the vegetation and leaving a barren shelf. Revegetation has been in progress for many years.
Most diving is done around the Coral Gardens at the northern end of the island. This area contains almost every imaginable type of coral and coral formation. Small caves that are home to crayfish; canyons that leave a diver wondering what is over the other side; overhangs hiding huge gropers; and small swim-throughs giving a feeling of cave-diving.
The area is around 10 to 15 metres deep, giving an easy and relaxing dive. A diver should see at least one turtle in the Coral Gardens. Other marine life are almost too numerous to mention. Coral trout, huge batfish, coral fish swimming in pairs, the strange shaped flute fish, and the ever present moon wrasse and sergeant majors.
A dive not to miss on Lady Elliot is a drift dive between the Lighthouse Bommie, off the south-west corner, and the Coral Gardens. The tidal flow determines the start point.
A well planned drift dive can take over an hour, slowly finning over coral outcrops, peering under caves, stopping every now and then to soak in the seascape. At the end of the dive is a sandy patch out from the lighthouse; a great place to stop and wait for a manta ray to glide past.
The other dive site not to miss is the Blowhole. This is a hole in the reef shelf starting at about 15 metres. It plunges down through the coral for another seven metres, then turns at right angles and comes out at about 22 metres. The hole can take two divers across at a pinch; fighting for space with the myriad of fish that call the Blowhole their home. This is a relatively deep dive, so is usually done in the morning leaving a shallow dive in the Coral Gardens in the afternoon.
Night diving is also done on Lady Elliot, depending mainly on the tide and the moon. Night dives are usually in the Coral Gardens. A diver might see a wall covered in yellow sunshine coral just off the drop-off or maybe a huge hermit crab in an old baler shell.
Basic accommodation is in tents: wooden floors, beds, electricity, a solid door. It is simply a wooden frame with a strong canvas cover, perfectly water-proof, but not sound-proof to the nocturnal crying of nesting mutton birds. For a few more dollars, divers can have a self-contained unit.
The best way to describe the resort facilities is good and basic. This is no five star resort, but there is plenty of good, wholesome food, a well stocked bar, all served by efficient and friendly staff.
Lady Elliot Island has the reputation of a scuba dive site of world standard. To walk off the beach and fall into 40 metre visibility is something diver’s dreams are made of.