It always makes me smile when a friend from Brisbane comes back from holiday super excited because they swam with turtles. I understand the feeling; I’m always excited to see turtles. But I’m also always surprised by how many people who live in Brisbane ignore that it’s actually very easy to go snorkelling near Brisbane to see turtles!
We’re so lucky to have excellent scuba diving spots near Brisbane. Snorkelling tours are not as common, but they exist and will take you to places where you have chances to spot turtles. There’s even one place on the list where you can simply swim from the beach.
Responsible travel tip: Did you know your sunscreen can pollute the water and harm animals? The best way to protect your body from the sun is to cover it with long sleeves and pants. If you do have to use sunscreen, choose a mineral one (like zinc) to avoid harmful substances (see the full list here) and apply it at least 20 minutes before entering the water.
What species of turtles can you see near Brisbane
We have seen three species of turtles near Brisbane out of the six species that swim in Australia’s waters (and seven in the world in total):
- Green turtles: they are the most common ones, rather small with a smooth and round shell;
- Hawksbill turtles: they are rarer than green turtles as they are critically endangered, the same size as green turtles but with a curved beak and a saw-like shell edge;
- Loggerhead turtles: they are generally larger than green turtles and they also have a bigger head and neck compared to the rest of their body and to green turtles.
The numbers refer to the map at the end of the article.
1. Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island)
You can book a snorkel trip with Manta Lodge on Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island) to go out to the rocks. You’ll have good chances of seeing turtles, but also sharks and manta rays depending on the season.
It’s always lovely to spend time on Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island), but you can also easily go there on a day trip from Brisbane. You can take a ferry from Cleveland and Manta Lodge will pick you up once you arrive on the island.
You can also often spot turtles from the beautiful North Gorge walk at Point Lookout.
2. Byron Bay
Byron Bay is more famous for its surfing, its beaches, its lighthouse and the celebrities who live there. But there are actually great scuba diving and snorkelling spots in Byron Bay to see turtles, including a couple that you can easily access from the beach. Check out my article about snorkelling in Byron Bay for more details.
3. Cook Island
Cook Island is south of the Gold Coast, at the border with New South Wales. There’s a coral reef around the island and a few resident turtles are often spotted there. Although Cook Island look close to the shore, unfortunately, you’ll need a boat to get there safely. Tours often run from Tweed Heads.
4. Mudjimba Island
Mudjimba Island on the Sunshine Coast has residents turtles that are regularly spotted by snorkellers and scuba divers. Local dive shops in Mooloolaba regularly organise trips to the island, which is only a 15-minute boat ride from the marina.
5. Mulgumpin (Moreton Island)
Mulgumpin (Moreton Island) is the most famous snorkelling spot near Brisbane. We’ve seen turtles a few times there while snorkelling or scuba diving Tangalooma Wrecks – but not as often as at the other snorkelling sites on this list. Also, the visibility is often poor and the current can be challenging, so make sure you go there at high tide.
6. Flinders Reef
North of Moreton Island, Flinders Reef is the best place to spot turtles near Brisbane. Unfortunately, operators seem to only organise scuba diving trips to Flinders Reef and I am yet to find an operator who organises trips for snorkellers there. But it might be good to check it out if you have your own boat. There’s a turtle cleaning station on Flinders Reef and we once saw six turtles at the same time!