Our day trips and overnight experience have the best Cairns dive sites and snorkel locations covered! Divers Den visits a range of exclusive and shared moorings and sites at Norman, Saxon and Hastings reefs.
We carefully select the best locations to showcase the widest variety of colourful marine species, coral formations and underwater environments, where the day’s conditions offer the best snorkel and dive experiences. Find out more about the outer reef dive sites we visit below.
Norman Reef, on the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, is renowned for its clear water, beautiful and diverse corals and coral canyons. Its dive sites boast a huge range of fish, from reef sharks to anemone fish, cuttlefish and coral trout, as well as parrot and angel fish. Keep an eye out for the friendly giant Maori wrasse, Wally!
Here you’ll find a wide variety of anemone fish, blue spotted stingrays, cuttlefish and cardinalfish. Two deep walls on either side of the bay are suitable for more experienced divers. Blue and yellow devilfish can often be seen under the ledges of coral along the walls. Although a cave is marked on the map, we no longer encourage swimming through it due to restricted access.
These neighbouring sites can easily be dived as one. Both sites feature swim-throughs for more experienced divers, and a shallower canyon easily manageable for beginners. An old glass-bottom wreck sits on the edge of the wall south of Super Cat. At these sites you can spot parrotfish, angelfish, and surgeon fish.
This is a diverse site with sandy pathways weaving around the shallows. Keep an eye out for Nemo the clownfish, often hanging out right under the vessel. The Plate Top is a massive mountain range of coral that sits off the main reef for more advanced divers. It’s home to all sorts of reef fish: anthias, yellowtail barracudas, anemone fish, gobies, sweet lips, trevally and coral trout just to name a few. At low tide they all gather in one spot on the plate’s northern corner. Reef sharks, turtles and large schools of fish shelter from tidal currents on the ends.
Sheltered by a ledge, this is our preferred overnight mooring place for OceanQuest. The site has several little valleys and a couple of beautiful coral bommies that sit underneath the vessel on the flat sandy bottom. Lionfish Bommie sits below the mooring line and is covered in lionfish, glass shrimp and if you have a keen eye you can find the two white-banded cleaner shrimp. Split Bommie sits a little deeper and is covered in pipefish, with leafy scorpionfish often found here too.
There’s something for everyone at Sandra’s! A beautiful shallow shelf will delight snorkellers and novice divers, while more experienced divers can explore a deep wall running the length of the site. There are beautiful coral-covered bommies amid white sand, with hundreds of damselfish frolicking around. If you’re lucky you will encounter a big school of humphead parrotfish often seen cruising this area. Keep an eye out for Wally as well – and ask the crew about the ‘secret toilet’…
This site is next door to Playground and is a huge mountain range sitting off the main reef. As the name suggests, there are plenty of grey reef sharks to be seen here. If you’re lucky you may also encounter a big school of bumphead parrotfish. Small reef octopus have been seen on the inner valley, alongside fabulous array of healthy corals and feather stars. Beware of strong tidal currents along the outside of the mountain.
This is a true romping place for a multitude of nudibranches and pipefish. You can spot razorfish digging themselves into the sand. More experienced divers can follow the reef wall around the northern edge to deeper areas. The shallow mooring bay is perfect for exploration by novice divers as well as snorkellers.
A beautiful flat bottom sandy bay with coral that surrounds the vessel. Nemo the clown anemone fish lives in the north western corner. As the name implies, this is the green sea turtle’s favourite feeding ground. Species up to 1.5m have been spotted here! You’ll also find anemone shrimp, hairy spider crabs, blennies and many more.
These sites have similar topography, with walls on either side and a shallow bay. The walls get deeper towards the points and the current can be stronger here. You’ll find a large array of harder corals with lots of macro life such as nudibranchs sheltering among it. Look for rare sand stars in Wild Side East. In spring, juvenile Harlequin sweet lips cavort through the stag horn corals. Large pelagic life such as sharks and rays sometimes pass through.
Also referred to as the Wild West, you never know what wildlife you might find here! A wall to the right is saddled by Bob’s Bommie, a tower of coral, then drops down deeper. The wall to the left continues along the main reef. Below the vessel in slightly deeper water are small, scattered bommies for more advanced divers to explore.
Saxon Reef is undoubtedly home to some of the best Great Barrier Reef dive and snorkel sites. Set between Norman and Hastings Reefs, it has calm lagoons ideal for snorkelling, as well as the famous Twin Peaks coral ‘mountains’ where a deeper scuba dive offers the chance to spot species like reef sharks, trevally, large cod, and moray eels.
From the mooring you can dive along the reef wall and smaller offshore bommies home to different types of anemone fish and a large school of diagonally banded sweetlips. It’s home to a very friendly green sea turtle – but watch out for the notorious titan triggerfish! Bottlenose dolphins are occasionally spotted here during the colder months.
This site has a gradually sloping coral bank meeting a flat, shallow, sandy bottom with patches of garden eels. Cuttlefish and turtles are often spotted along the reef edge, with larger rays occasionally passing through. The Fishbowl is often home to juvenile fish seeking shelter from the elements. Pygmy seahorses are sometimes sighted amongst the sea grass at the entrance of the fishbowl, along with beautiful anthias and spinecheek anemone fish. Snorkellers can discover gobies and lots of smaller soft corals.
In calm conditions, this dive site offers the possibility of a challenging dive around the reef edge to the untouched northern end of Saxon Reef. If current is present, the sheltered bay provides a plethora of life seeking shelter including anemone fish, turtles, cleaner shrimp, nudibranchs and rays. Humpback snappers, giant trevally and wild band fusiliers, schools of Moorish idols and even paddle tail snappers can be spotted in the shallow areas on the inner side.
This is a beautiful, shallow reef dive with a wide range of anemone fish. It’s perfect for snorkelling as the shallow sandy bay extends quite far, with multiple little islands of coral. White-tipped reef sharks can be found sleeping during the daytime, as well as schools of yellow fin barracuda. Sandra’s Peaks sit just off the main reef and offer a little depth with a nice valley between them.
This is an unusually varied dive site, circling two bommies with a narrow swim-through. You’ll see a large tree trunk wedged between the peaks. Beyond the peaks there are a couple of sandy bays. Moray eels are often seen in holes around the mooring blocks. Pygmy seahorses are a rare find among the seagrass on the edge of the coral. The tidal current can sometimes be swift here. There are schools of wild band fusiliers, humbug damsels and lots of different nudibranchs.
This site has a steep bank that develops into a deep wall extending on either side. The vessel sits further off the reef than at most sites. Wobbegong sharks have been seen tucked under ledges, with nudibranchs covering the cracks and crevasses of the coral.
Hastings Reef is among the best Great Barrier Reef locations for snorkellers and divers of all levels, with very shallow reefs offering a great snorkelling experience, and large coral bommies to be seen. Corals cover much of this 10km² reef and are even seen in its caves. Out on the edges, there are schools of incredible fish species like butterfly fish, damsel fish, plus clams, turtles and small reef sharks.
Neighbouring Blue Lagoon, this site offers a shallow sandy bay surrounded by coral. Staghorn coral covers the bottom, with various sea stars spread all over. A shallow bommie sits south of the mooring with a deep edge on the far side. Banded angelfish and anthias are often seen around the area.
Located on the southern side of Hastings Reef, this site has a shallow shelf of coral with a deeper shelf below it and walls extending on either side. You’ll find elephant ear coral with shrimps hiding inside, and table coral surrounding the area.
A cluster of smaller bommies dropping off deeply to the north offering batfish, stonefish (if you can spot them), anthias, fusiliers and, of course, turtles! You’ll also see smaller table corals, sea fans and whip corals.