Scuba Diving at Lady Elliot Island

On a sunny Queensland morning, five divers from Frogdive met at Hervey Bay airport for a week of diving at Lady Elliot Island with high hopes of big fish and clear viz.The only way to get to Lady Elliot (LEI) is via a small SeaAir hopper plane – and I mean small, but we were soon briefed, strapped in, looking for whales and thinking happy thoughts as we were heading to the coral cay.It should be mention that LEI has a 20kgs per person luggage limit plus carry-on but it’s at the captains’ discretion to take extra luggage.Due to size, carry-on luggage like backpacks (with camera gear in our case) may have to be checked in but we were allowed to place this in the plane ourselves so the baggage handlers didn’t get to kick it around.

If extra luggage is unable to travel on the same flight you are on, SeaAir will endeavour to get your luggage on the next available flight.

When you arrive at LEI, the first thing you see is the dive shop that is at the resort entrance and the dive crew are already making plans for you to be in the water shortly after lunch. Then we were quickly whisked off for a LEI induction and soon we were in our rooms where our bags had already been delivered.


The Dive Boat

All dives are done via their boat but you set your gear up at the dive shop, putting your gear on the truck for transport and you are shuttled to the dive boat via golf carts.

The dive boats are roomy, functional and barge like with a flat bottom and Captains Ben and Clint were both professional and easy going. Most of our dives for the week were dived via the glass bottom boat as the dive boat was out of the water for maintenance and I preferred this boat to the actual dive boat but they are basically the same, just that one gives you an underwater view.

Once at the quay, you put your gear on and walk onto the boat. At low tide, you wade thru the water a bit to get to the boat but at high tide the boat comes all the way up to shore for you to enter. Both were easy entry/exits with no damage to the local critter life.

The Diving

The week we were there, there was a 8am dive and a 2pm dive but the dive crew (Mark, Adam & Kym) also put on a 3 dive day for us when asked and visibility during the week was anything from 15mtrs to 30mtrs with average water temps was 20c.

There are 14 dive sites but due to currents, one dive often carries over to another site so during our week we dived all but 4 of these sites and the average dive was 16 to 25mtrs. As a bonus, dive sites are 2mins to 15mins by boat – great for those that suffer sea sickness easily. Morning winds during our stay meant that most of our dives were done on one side of the island but we did get a few dives at the other side and all dives were great.

All our dives were drift dives so we got to cover a lot of area with minimal effort. Only one dive was an exhausting, mask removing, haul yourself down the mooring with a ripping current but even then, there was lots of big fish life, corals and bommies – it’s just that we didn’t get a chance to stop and admire it! Otherwise, all our other dives were cruisy drifts with plenty to see.

Spiders Ledge to Lighthouse Bommie

Has lots of corals, bommies and fish life plus a wreck. Every dive gave us something to admire and quite often we saw too many to remember what dives we saw what.

Mantas and turtles were seen on every dives plus huge moray eels, tiny pipefish, scorpion fish, reef fish, eagle rays, sharks plus lots of hard coral, huge adult sized gropers, bommies and ledges. The wreck is named the Severence and has little growth with some resident fish and made the photographers in our group happy. Inside the Severence is a huge resident moray that although shy, was spotted a few times plus we found pipefish and big banded shrimp and on the first dive we had a huge cod hiding out at the stern and on our 2nd dive we had a huge ray. You cannot penetrate this wreck but a strong dive torch will show you what’s inside – the fake skeleton is a nice touch.


The sharks were hit or miss but we did clock up leopard sharks, tawny sand shark and reef sharks and hubby even managed to get a shot with a manta and a reef shark right under it.

The Blowhole to Tubes

Before heading out to this dive, we were given the usual dive brief but with added warnings about caves and overhead environments – and as a result once I saw it I lost about 10bar of air laughing and we renamed The Blowhole to The Bloody Archway as it was a easy huge swim thru and you can see the exit as you enter a huge crater about 5mtrs wide. Once thru the bloody arch, we cruise along the wall towards the next site (Tubes).

We only did 2 dives here but we saw plenty of turtles, eagle ray, manta, a few sharks and lots of the usual fish life, including the biggest school or Moorish idols I have ever seen, about 40 of them all in the one spot. I hope to get back to dive more of this side of the island in the future.


LEI moorings & dive times

Something worth mentioning is how well moored the dive sites at LEI are. Best thing is that no one’s dive was cut short because someone on the boat was not as good on air as others. From Spiders to Lighthouse bommie there seems to be a mooring every 30+mtrs. Clear instructions are giving by the dive crew about air before the dive so that progressively throughout the dive, as we reached a mooring some dive buddies were sent up the mooring for their safety stop and pickup while the rest of the group could continue with their dive. On average our dives were 60mins while other divers were less (and waiting on the boat for us) and we were never asked to reduce our dive times.

Diver comfort/suits

Not having any expectation, some wore 5mm suits, others wore sharkskins or aeorskins (inc myself) while the dive crew were wearing 7mm. When jumping in the water there was an initial brrrr from the cooler temperature (20C average water temp) but during the dive I was never really cold although once or twice I was chilled when you drifted and felt that you never moved a muscle during the dive. One of our group added a 3mm shorty to his aeroskin (I would be shot if I showed you the pic!) while 2 other divers layered their sharkskins with a lycra suit and/or aeroskin as they brought a few with them.

The coldest was due to the wind chill factor, which was when we were on the boat travelling.

The Mantas

The mantas were everywhere or nowhere to be seen – you just had to keep an eye out for them. They love feeding in the current line on the surface but they would also cruise past you at depth when you least expected it. The most dependable sightings were to stay about 8mtrs along the reef and we had quite a few sightings by sticking to this theory but for our next trip, I would like to just snorkel off the boat to see if we can get closer for pics.

On every boat trip out to the dive site – we cruised past feeding mantas on the surface so they are everywhere; you just had to keep an eye out for them.

The Whales

From June to September, Humpback Whales migrate past LEI and every dive we heard whale song.

The most memorable moment was when returning from diving The Blowhole in the glass bottom boat, our captain cut the engines because whales were nearby. Then we started spotting whales surfacing and descending a few hundred meters away from us

Then suddenly 2 whales ascended just meters from us, so close to the boat that we felt the spray when they exhaled from their blowholes while another whale popped up nearby and he started splashing his fin again and again.

As much as we, especially the photographers, wanted to jump in the water with them we didn’t and as a reward – one of the whales swum directly under the boat and we could see it clearly thru the glass bottom of the boat!

Whale sightings were a daily occurrence, even while sitting at the restaurant having breakfast you would see them a few hundred meters off shore breaching and splashing their fin. One day when about to walk to the boat, 2 whales were about 50mtrs off shore, while another day 2 whales were just meters away from one of the moorings. You heard them on every dive and I never got tied of hearing them

Accommodation

There are various types of accommodation and all were comfortable and clean. 3 divers stayed in the Eco Huts (hubby & I in one tent and another diver had a tent to himself) which are permanent safari-style tents with polished wooden floors & electricity. These tents fit 4 people (2 bunk bends) with shared shower/toilet facilities and the shared facilities were always clean, airy and available. Although quite comfy for the 2 of us, I would hate to see what its like with 4 divers (with cameras) in a tent plus im guessing December/January would be incredibly hot but there was a fan in our room also.

Accommodation upgrades are available but will cost extra. Personally I was very happy with the tent accommodation but would consider an upgrade to the Shearwater room on our next trip. There are also 1 and 2 bedroom suites available.


Food

Food, food and more food – it was impossible to go hungry! Breakfast had everything from hot buffet to cereals, fruit and usually a pastry choice. Lunch and dinner always offered red meat, chicken, fish & vegetable dishes and the dinner desserts were non stop. The staff often complained about how much weight they gained since starting work there and I can testify to this!

If you didn’t want the buffet lunch, you could order/pay via the bar cafe. and the bar was opened most of the day/night so an after dive drink was available.

Dive Shop

The dive shop is fully equipped so you can leave the gear at home and rent if you want or you can store it in their separate storeroom for divers which comes complete with hangers, bench, hooks and storage tubs. They have a tub for wetsuits/BCD’s and another for regs. There was a smaller tub for the photographers but I would suggest they upgrade to something bigger to accommodate more than one camera rig with strobes and a small point and shoot at the same time but desalinated water/hose is also available to rinse off cameras/gear/ to drink.

They offered both din and yoke tanks but I would strongly recommend taking a din adapter with you in case there are not enough din tanks to go around. Fills were a nice 220bar on average and although one day the compressor broke down it was working by the next day plus they had a backup plan in case the compressor wouldn’t work. (ie the back up compressor had smaller fills so we would change the dive plan accordingly)

The dive crew is jovial but on the ball. We were reminded daily of our obligation as divers, minimum of 50bar on returning to the boat, watch our air/deco times and safety procedures and the boat captains followed up with a boat induction, safety & paperwork on each dive.

After diving activities:

Every day there is something to do if you still have the energy. A number of staff at LEI are marine biologist so every day there are guided reef walk, snorkeling classes, guided snorkeling tours and glass bottom boat trip.

At night you have something different each night. One night a marine fish ID talk, although for us divers it was way too short and a few divers had questions that had the staff stumped. Other nights there was a night stalk around the island and then there are the game nights (reef Pictionary, bingo and LEI Olympic games.

Although there is a bar that is usually opened to 11pm/midnight – most of us were in bed by 9pm, worn out by the days activities

Final thoughts:

I had little expectation about Queensland diving – to be honest I wasn’t all that excited about holidaying in Queensland as I prefer to overseas dive trips & getting away from aussies but I really enjoyed it and we’re already making arrangements to return next year. The place wasn’t over crowded, I was told they now have maximum accommodation and there was plenty of opportunity to join in a group activity or find some time alone.