There are amazing dive sites on Australia’s East Coast, but shore dives remain rare. That’s why the Gold Coast Seaway is a gem. It’s hard to imagine what’s waiting for you down there when you first look at the Gold Coast Seaway dive site. You have to see it to believe it. Although the Gold Coast Seaway diving is not the best scuba diving experience in Queensland, it may be the cheapest and the best shore dive around. It makes a fantastic and easy day trip from Brisbane.
The channel was created in the late 80s to stabilise the river mouth that was moving up every year and facilitate boat passages. Although humans modifying nature is always a bit worrying, it’s an interesting story. The permanent sand bypassing system that stops the channel from moving north is a world’s first. The work they did there increased the tide exchange, which improved the water quality and brought back biodiversity in the area.
They counted more than 400 species spotted in the Gold Coast Seaway!
It is impressive for a shore dive near a city, and for such a small area. For comparison, they counted 477 species at the reputed Flinders Reef in Moreton Bay. But don’t expect corals at the Gold Coast Seaway. It’s a lot about sand and human-made structures with hundreds of fish hanging around. If you’re on the Gold Coast looking for diving or snorkelling on a coral reef, check out Cook Island instead.
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What to expect when snorkelling or scuba diving the Gold Coast Seaway
The visibility can vary a lot from one day to another. It’s sometimes 3-5 metres or up to 15 metres. Northern winds are usually to avoid if you want to increase your chances of having good visibility.
There are toilets on the carpark, and outside shower right at the spot where you enter or exit the water. The stairs over the rocks make the entry and exit super easy.
You’ll find many fishing lines during your Gold Coast Seaway diving. For your safety, make sure you dive with a knife in case you get entangled.
Responsible travel tip: You’ll likely see a few plastic bags, bottles and cans while diving the Gold Coast Seaway. If you decide to pick up some rubbish, observe first and be gentle when grabbing the item as some marine life may be using it as a shelter.
The Gold Coast Seaway dive sites (shore dives)
These descriptions will help you find your way at the site. And these drawings will help you understand the dive site too.
But I am not an expert of this area. I highly recommend going with locals first to get to know it before you dive there by yourself. Although it’s usually easy to navigate, you must understand how the tide and currents work there. Visibility can become a challenge and surfacing in the channel can be very dangerous so it must be avoided. If you are not confident, don’t take risks and go with a guide. Plus, someone who knows the area should be able to show you small critters that can be hard to spot.
If you are not a confident swimmer, I wouldn’t recommend snorkelling there as the current can get strong. Boats go out to sea through the Gold Coast Seaway, so stick to the side and do not snorkel in the middle of the channel.
The south wall
The south wall of the Gold Coast Seaway is the easiest option for snorkelling. It’s only five to seven metre deep, and there is marine life hanging around. Just go down the stairs and put your head in. If you’re as lucky as us, hundreds of fish will be there waiting for you.
We explored a bit of it at the end of our dive as it was a good depth for our safety stop. It wasn’t as good as the sand pipe, but still entertaining. The sand pipe was just a few meters away.
Tides create strong currents in the passage, so it’s better to dive or snorkel the south wall and the sand pipe at slack time on top of high tide.
The sand pipe
We dived at the sand pipe that starts about 50 metres on the right of the stairs. The start is shallow enough for snorkellers to have fun – especially those who like free diving. But snorkellers cannot follow the pipe for long as the boat traffic quickly creates danger if you don’t stick to the side of the channel.
The sand pipe was initially buried 6 metres in the sand. It greatly shows the amount of sand that is moved in this zone as it now clearly stands out, sometimes up to three metres away from the bottom. They reinforced the pipe with some pylons, so the site is safe.
The Gold Coast Seaway sand pipe is an easy dive site for navigation as you go along the pipe, and back. When there is current, you can use some objects that lay on the sand under the pipe to work your way against the current. Make sure you always have a good look before grabbing anything as there are stonefish hidden in many places. Alternatively, you can use the pipe as protection. The site is about 16 metres deep maximum if you don’t go further than the pipe.
I enjoyed this dive site a lot as we got to see small critters like a nudibranch, some eggs and many gobbies, schools of hundreds of fish, colourful tropical fish, an estuary cobbler, a small ray as well as big Queensland groupers and jewfish.
When we dived, we were told to enter the water at the top of high tide as it’s when the visibility is at its best and plan a one-hour dive. Maybe that’s a detail you didn’t want to know, but when the tide goes out, they release in the channel wastewater from four sewage treatment plants – so visibility degrades. The tip we received was to turn around at 120 bars to make our way back and surface with 50 bars after the three-minute safety stop. With a good air consumption and not too much current, it gave us enough time to reach the end of the pipe.
We had good visibility with an impressive number of fish right from the start at the bottom of the stairs. But it stays a fun dive site when the visibility isn’t that good. You get to see more biggies (pelagic and rays) who may be shier in clearer water!
Your underwater pics don’t look that good? Check out my easy tips for beginners to take better underwater photos that aren’t blue!
The short pipe
The short pipe is very close to the sand pipe. Instead of going right at the stairs to reach the sand pipe, you can go left and find the short pipe.
We haven’t explored that area yet.
The south-west wall
We haven’t check out this one yet either. I don’t know if it’s suitable for snorkelling and what the conditions are for diving. It’s of course on the (long) list of the local dive sites we want to explore. I will update this article when we tick it off the list!
When you find the small beach not far from the carpark, you’re in the right place to enter and exit the water. Stick to the bottom early to avoid boat traffic and head north-west to the rocky reef. You’ll find many critters in the rocks, as well as tropical fish.
I read you can dive this site at any time. But there will be current if you don’t aim for slack time. Again, diving this Gold Coast Seaway site at high or incoming tide will increase your chances of having better visibility.
Night diving the Gold Coast Seaway
If the high tide happens at night, you can see another facet of the Gold Coast Seaway. We spotted creatures we didn’t see during the day such as a small eel, an octopus, slugs, crabs and many other crustaceans.
Although you cannot see them anymore, stonefish are still around so be very careful and avoid touching the pipe or the rocks.
It’s easy to organise a night dive at the Gold Coast Seaway as the sites are just a few metres away from the shore. However, pay attention to where you park your car. The car park in front of the stairs closed at 8 pm, so we had to park a little bit further away.
Do you have any Gold Coast Seaway diving or snorkelling experience? Share your stories in the comments below!
Where is the Gold Coast Seaway?
The Gold Coast Seaway is only one hour away south of Brisbane, in Southport near Surfers Paradise. Head for the famous Seaworld and The Spit. You’ll find the Doug Jennings Park carpark on the left, at the end of Seaworld Drive, in front of South Stradbroke Island. The stairs going down to the water will take you on the south wall. The sand pipe is about 50 metres away towards the ocean.
If you need tanks, you can go to the Southport Fishing & Dive Centre on the way. It’s only 10 minutes away from the dive site. They open early enough to stop there before your dive. I recommend double-checking with them that it’s possible at least a few days before your dive.
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