I feel lucky to have a local scuba diving site like Cook Island with such a variety of marine life and coral types without the hassle (and the budget) of travelling to the Great Barrier Reef! Cook Island is not the best dive site in Australia. But with turtles, corals, and anemone fish so close to Brisbane and the Gold Coast, it’s a jewel for locals and newly certified divers. You can even join a snorkelling tour* there!

Cook Island is an excellent spot for beginners because it is easy to navigate and has a lot to see in shallow waters. It offers protected dive sites, so dives are rarely cancelled, even when it’s windy. It’s also one of the best snorkelling sites near Brisbane.

Cook Island Dive - Brisbane - Moray eel

The island is only a few minutes away by boat from the beautiful Fingal Head. It is an easy dive with fascinating residents all year round and some exciting seasonal visitors. I have heard the nickname “Turtle Island” for this site, which gives a small clue about what to expect there. Indeed, it is reputed as being a turtle station: turtles come here to get cleaned by the prolific creatures living on the site.

Apparently, one side of the island is protected from waves and swell. Indeed, despite the wind and the choppy ocean on that day, the boat wasn’t moving too much once we reached the island. Even on an average day with poor visibility, we had a decent dive focused on small critters.

What we saw scuba diving Cook Island near the Gold Coast

We stayed in the shallow area. Amongst the soft and hard corals and sponges, we spotted:

  • One friendly loggerhead turtle
  • One shy green turtle
  • Porcupinefish
  • Moray eels
  • Big lobsters
  • Blue groupers
  • Placid wobbegong sharks
  • Small beautiful shrimps
  • An uncountable number of beautiful nudibranchs
  • An uncountable number of anemonefish
  • Big and small and colourful and funny-shaped sea stars
  • A blue grouper
  • A few blennies
  • A few cowrie shells

Of course, this list is very incomplete, and you can expect even more from Cook Island. We even spotted a fascinating frogfish once.

Is scuba diving Cook Island a must-do?

I would not place Cook Island on the list of must-do scuba diving sites near Brisbane.

Some other diving sites accessible via a day trip from Brisbane are more spectacular (Flinders Reef, Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island), Julian Rocks or Wolf Rock, for example). But if you have already explored the other sites and want to add a new one to your list, with corals, tropical fish and turtles, scuba diving Cook Island will do the job.

Have you dived Cook Island on the Gold Coast? How was it? Share your experience in the comments below!

Where is Cook Island?

Cook Island is located less than 100 km south of Brisbane in Queensland (Australia), only 600 meters in front of Fingal Head and not far from where the Tweed River goes into the ocean. It’s an excellent scuba diving day trip from Brisbane.


Eloise is the creator and writer of MyFavouriteEscapes.com. She writes about her experiences exploring exotic destinations and finding hidden gems closer to home. Her goal is to share tips and stories to inspire and encourage others to go on their own adventures. She loves outdoor and nature-based activities like scuba diving, hiking, kayaking, and sailing. She grew up in France and has lived in England and Turkey before calling Australia home for the past decade. So let's get ready for another adventure!

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    1. Eloise

      Thank you, Sami! I hope you’ll get a chance to dive one day!

  1. Anna

    I’m happy to read that it’s not all gone bad there Down Under. I’ve read a lot of criticism that the marine life over there is suffering.

    1. Eloise

      Hi, Anna. Australia is a big country. It’s true that corals are suffering further north with many episodes of coral bleaching. Many corals don’t recover. Cook Island is more south – about 500km south of the furthest point of the Great Barrier Reef – so the water temperature does not get too high there to cause bleaching (yet…?).

  2. Lucile Deprez

    Really nice article! We haven’t been on that part of Australia when we were there. We really wanted to dive, mostly on the great barrier reef, but reason took over and we decided we didn’t want to be part of the problem. So we’ll find another place less threaten to dive!!

    1. Eloise

      Hi, Lucile. Thank you for your comment 🙂
      I’m not sure of the problem you are referring too but that’s a topic I’m highly interested in so I thought I’d provide more information. We love to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, some people with very bad practice damage the corals (mostly kicking it with their fins) and bringing many tourists to a natural place has its challenges, but from my point of view that’s really not the biggest issue for the Great Barrier Reef. I believe it is mostly threatened because of coral bleaching due to sea temperatures rising. I’ve also seen coral getting damaged due to storms that have been getting stronger in the last few years. And that’s a problem most of us are part of… 🙁
      I don’t think tourists threaten the Great Barrier Reef that much, on the contrary. Tourism gives value to the Great Barrier Reef and by providing jobs and strengthening the economy of the region, it helps protect the reef. For example, tourism jobs are an important point to fight against the construction of a large port to serve a coal mine in Northern Queensland…
      PS: And Cook Island isn’t actually on the Great Barrier Reef, it’s 500km south of the most southern island of the Great Barrier Reef. I’m not sure about the level of frequentation, though, as it is close to bigger towns like Brisbane and Surfers Paradise.

  3. mccaullme

    Wow! You saw a lot of marine life, how cool!? Great pictures too, thanks for sharing.

    1. Eloise

      Yes! We stayed in the shallow area and had a good time searching for smaller creatures 🙂 Thank you!

  4. Moona

    Wow, this is something I have to do…but first I need to learn to swim…Such a a great activity, so lucky!

    1. Eloise

      That’s not a bad idea, Mona! I’m sure you’d be a lot more at ease if you know how to swim 😉

  5. Joy Generoso

    Wow, amazing underwater photos. Diving isn’t my thing but I am happy to see under the sea views through your photos. 🙂

    1. Eloise

      Thank you, Joy! I’m glad I can provide happiness through my lense 🙂

  6. Nienie

    Awesome post! It makes me want to go diving there! Did you have to avoid wearing sunblock?

    1. Eloise

      Hi, Nienie. I always avoid wearing sunblock when I go in the water to avoid polluting it. But I’ve recently found a sunscreen that has no chemicals and they claim it does not harm the corals: http://sunbearsunscreen.com.au
      It can be a good alternative and I wish diving boats would offer that option to their customers!

  7. Eat Well Explore Often

    OOOH you saw so many colorful fishes there! I would love to go diving! The Gold Coast sounds like a great place to see sea life!

    1. Eloise

      I was surprised to find such a great site near the Gold Coast to be honest. It’s not as good as the Great Barrier Reef further north, but it’s a great alternative if you cannot travel up there!

    1. Eloise

      Thank you! You should try it one day, it’s really fun to discover a different world!

  8. Laura caddick

    Wow some absolutely beautiful nudibranches! I’ve never dived in Australia, but will have to keep this in mind for when I’m there!

    1. Eloise

      Thanks, Laura. We were very happy to spot that many nudibranchs! 🙂 If you’re looking for places where to dive in Australia, I have another article that lists the ones I prefer on the East Coast! 😉

  9. Jackie

    What an awesome list of creatures you spotted while diving! And your underwater photography is simply STUNNING! The colors you captured are gorgeous. I hope I can make it up to Cook Island during my Australia trip!

    1. Eloise

      Thank you, Jackie. I admit I was very happy with the results of the photos I took during that dive. It’s not always that good 😉 Cook Island is quite easy to reach if you’re in the Brisbane/Gold Coast or even Byron Bay area. But if you have a chance to go further north, there are even better spots! 🙂

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