Australia is a wonderland for underwater pursuits and marine life encounters, with many beautiful snorkel and dive sites. If you’re keen to witness a sea turtle while snorkelling or diving here, the following three locations are excellent choices.
Lady Elliot Island (ladyelliot.com.au) is a pristine, 45ha coral cay on the southernmost Great Barrier Reef, about 80km northeast of Bundaberg. To get here, you’ll have to fly – Seair Pacific operates flights from Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Redcliffe (near Brisbane), and the Gold Coast. While day trips are available, it’s really best to spend at least a couple nights in one of the eco-resort's units, cabins, or tents to maximise in-water time and marine life encounters.
The island’s sheltered lagoon (on its eastern side, in front of the eco-resort) is a haven for sea turtles. Snorkel here, and you’ll probably spot a green or hawksbill turtle swimming gracefully nearby within moments of entering the water.
Venture further away from the beach, just past the buoy towards the end of Channel One, and you might encounter what looks like a turtle party: 3, 4, 5, 6 (or more!) turtles swimming, feeding, and resting in one area.
You also might come across green, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles in the deeper waters off the island’s western side.
Snorkel here independently (though it’s always best to go with a buddy) or join a guided snorkel safari, glass bottom boat tour, or scuba diving excursion.
As with any wildlife encounter, give the turtles space and be content to observe from a distance. If a turtle wants to approach you, it will, and you’ll be blessed with a memorable experience. But if it swims away, don’t chase it. Like all creatures, they deserve to live in peace.
Heron Island, northwest of Lady Elliot and also a coral cay on the southern Great Barrier Reef, is another great place to see turtles. The island, a two-hour ferry ride (or shorter helicopter or seaplane trip) from Gladstone, is home to a resort (heronisland.com) and the University of Queensland's Heron Island Research Station, which is renowned for coral reef research.
Heron is also a place where you can snorkel directly off the beach and have a good chance of encountering sea turtles.
You also might see them while scuba diving some of the 20 nearby dive sites – and, if you visit between November and March, you might witness females nesting on the beach.
The video below features encountering turtles in all these ways.
The 80-hectare aquatic reserve surrounding Cook Island, a volcanic outcrop 600 metres offshore from Fingal Head in northern New South Wales, is another reliable place to spot green turtles.
Kirra Dive and Watersports Guru offer snorkelling trips to the reserve’s rocky reefs. (Note that you’ll enter the water directly from the boat.) For an extra potential thrill, visit between June and November, when you might get lucky and spot migratory humpback whales as you’re ferried to the site.