Scuba diving guide Darwin Harbour | Best cruises, liveaboards, dive centers and dive sites

A helicopter view of the Buccaneer Archipelago in the Kimberley region, Western Australia

Darwin Harbour is located in the Northern Territory of Australia and has a year-round water temperature of 30 degrees which is perfect for water recreational activities like fishing, swimming and scuba diving. The tropical climate and the water support diverse marine life with almost 415 species of fish, more than 20 species of sponge, and more than 125 species of corals it also envelopes more than 90 shipwrecks from World War II and Cyclone Tracy. For divers looking for extraordinary and thrilling underwater exploration, Darwin Harbour is a real extreme adventure for you.

Note that scuba diving can be considered difficult here as the weather conditions are unpredictable.

Recommendations for Darwin Harbour cruises and scuba diving

If you are a beginner, scuba diving in Darwin Harbour is not for you. Most of the divers that are allowed to dive in this place are qualified advanced divers. Moreover, there are no dive centers that offer beginner courses so far.

Darwin Harbour cruises and liveaboard

There are multiple Darwin Harbour cruises and liveaboards available, but we recommend the Reef Prince Liveaboard. This boat is rated as exceptional and offers various trips from Broome to Darwin and from Darwin to Broome (the Kimberley Coastal Expedition) and the Rowley Shoals Liveaboard. During these trips, you can also explore the stunning Darwin Harbour and Kimberley dive sites. Numerous accommodation option are available such as single bunk cabins, state class rooms and double cabins.

Price: The price for a trip with the Reef Prince starts at AUD 533 a day.

The Reef Prince liveaboard at Darwin Harbour and the Kimberley coast line in Australia
The Reef Prince liveaboard

For a (non-diving) Darwin Harbour cruise to explore the magnificent Kimberley coastline, we recommend the Kimberley Quest. There are 9 different cabins available for just 18 guests. In addition, the Kimberley Quest offers great facilities such as an observation deck, a jacuzzi, internet and even a helicopter platform.

Price: The price for a trip with the Kimberley Quest starts at AUD 784 a day.

The Kimberley Quest cruise along the Kimberley coast line in Australia
The Kimberley Quest cruise

Scuba diving day trips

If you are in for a scuba diving day trip, we suggest to book with Sea Darwin. They provide scuba diving day trips to Darwin Harbour dive sites. You can choose between the ‘’Darwin Wreck and Reef dives’’ and the ‘’Vernons and Tiwi Dives’’.

Note that, at the moment of writing, there are no scuba diving courses offered in Darwin Harbour due to the difficult diving conditions.

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The Reef Prince

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Starts at AUD 532 a day
36
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Western and local food, buffet style, water, soft and hot drinks
Scuba diving, observation deck

Odyssey

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Starts at AUD 444 a day
20
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Western food, buffet style, water, soft and hot drinks
Scuba diving, Photography and charging station, diving deck

The Kimberley Quest

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Starts at AUD 784 a day
18
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Western and local food, water, soft and hot drinks, welcome cocktail
No diving, helicopter deck, jacuzzi
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Best diving centers in Darwin Harbour

First of all, it should be noted that limited scuba diving services are offered in Darwin Harbour. This is mainly due to unpredictable and strong currents in the waters of Darwin Harbour. Therefore, only certified advance scuba divers are allowed to dive here. As a result, limited diving centers operates in this region. Below, we have outlined only one diving center/tour operator which offers scuba diving day trips. At the moment of writing, no scuba diving courses are offered in Darwin Harbour.

If you would like to learn scuba diving or get another certificate, we recommend to book your course in Cairns.

Diving center 1: Sea Darwin

Sea Darwin is a local tour operator which provides various experiences in the Darwin area, including scuba diving. Note that Sea Darwin is not a authentic diving center.

Aside from diving, they also offer other boat tours such as the sunset fish & chips cruise, the turtle tracks and the harbour highlights. They operate with two vessels: the MV Olive Ridley and the MV Flatback. For diving, the vessel MV Olive Ridley will be used which is a SSI dive boat and can carry up to 28 people.

For scuba diving, they offer currently two trips: the Darwin Wreck and Reef Dives and the Vernons and Tiwi Dives. Both trips include 2 dives, scuba gear (BCD, regulator, mask, fins), lunch and refreshments.

We highly recommend to book the Darwin Harbour shipwreck and Reefs trip as the World War II wrecks are incredible to see!

Prices

The Darwin Harbour shipwrecks and Reefs with Sea Darwin is offered for AUD 285 per person and the Vernon and Tiwi Islands for AUD 350 per person. The latest availability and prices can be checked here.

Darwin Harbour cruises and liveaboards

The best way to explore the waters of Darwin Harbour, Rowley Shoals and the Kimberley Coast is by a cruise/liveaboard. By a Darwin Harbour cruise, you will find the most beautiful and non-touristic spots in a luxury way.

Cruise/Liveaboard 1: The Reef Prince

The Reef Prince is a 38 meter long catamaran and can house up to 36 guests. The Reef Prince offers different kind of accommodations ranging from twin/singles cabins to double cabins and state class cabins. Each cabin has an en-suite bathroom, air conditioning, DVD & TV. Other facilities are a bar, sun deck, a library, observation deck and a lounge. Great facilities to relax between the activities!

The Reef Prince offers various trips such as the Darwin to Broome cruise (11 Day Kimberley Coastal Expedition), A Broome to Broome cruise (Best of the Kimberley), Exmouth to Exmouth cruise (the Montebello Islands cruise) and the Rowley Shoals cruise.

For diving, we recommend to book the Rowley Shoals cruise as this is one of the best diving destinations in this area.

Price: a cruise with the Reef Prince starts at AUD 533 a day.

The Reef Prince cruise in front of the King George falls in Western Australia
The Reef Prince in front of the King George falls

Cruise/Liveaboard 2: Odyssey

The Odyssey is a 24 meter catamaran and can house up to 20 guests. The Odyssey offers 6 deluxe double cabins and 4 twin cabins. The twin cabins are located at the lower deck and the deluxe cabins are located at the main deck. The cabins are equipped with storage spaces, air conditioning, fridge, hairdryer and power outlets. Note that there are no en-suite bathrooms in the rooms, meaning that the toilet and shower are located outside the cabins.

In addition, the Odyssey offers great facilities such as a dining area, library, observation deck, a dive deck and a photography station and a laundry service. The Odyssey also uses a 12 meter long expedition boat. This boat is great to reach the shallow spots for snorkeling, diving and other (land) activities.

The Odyssey offers stunning strips across the coast of Western Australia. Currently there are no trips offered from Darwin, but you can easily board the Odyssey cruise in Broome. One of the top itineraries are the 8 days / 7 nights Rowley Shoals (perfect for diving!) and the Ultimate Waterfall safari (Wyndham – Broome and return).

Price: a cruise with the Odyssey starts at AUD 444 a day.

The Odyssey catamaran in the waters of Western Australia
The Odyssey catamaran

Cruise/liveaboard 3: The Kimberley Quest

If you would like to explore the Kimberley coast and you are not in for a scuba diving trip, the Kimberley Quest is a perfect option for you.

The Kimberley Quest is a 24 meters long vessel and can house up to 18 guests. They offer 9 cabins in three different styles: the double cabins, the superior cabins and one exclusive ‘’Flybridge cabin’’. The cabins are equipped with air conditioning, a fridge and a bathroom. The double cabins are located in the lower deck and have a double size bed and a single bed on top. The superior cabins are located on the main deck and have a queen size bed and a big window with a beautiful view. The flybridge cabin is located on the upper deck which offers more privacy. This cabin also has a big window so you can enjoy the beautiful views of the ocean and the coastline.

Other facilities which are offered by the Kimberley Quest are (paid) internet, laundry services, a sun – and observation deck, a bar, jacuzzi and an indoor saloon

Different routes are available such as the Beyond Adventure (Darwin to Broome cruise), Ultimate Quest (Broome to Wyndham cruise), the Northern Quest (Wyndham to Mitchell River – a cruise and fly) and the Southern Quest (Broome to Hunter River – a cruise and fly).

Price: A Kimberley cruise with the Kimberley Quest starts at 784 AUD a day.

The Kimberley Quest cruise in front of a waterfall in the Kimberleys - Western Australia
The Kimberley Quest

Best dive sites of Darwin Harbour

Darwin Harbour is a perfect destination for both wreck and reef diving. The water temperature is averaging 22 to 27 °C and water visibility is ranging from 1 – 10 meters (with an average of just 5 meters). The waters of Darwin are filled with more than 90 shipwrecks. These ships sunk due to the World War II and devastating cyclone Tracy.

Dive site 1: Booya (wreck dive)

One of the aftermaths of Cyclone Tracy in 1974 is the disappearance of a 35.8-meter long steel hull, a three-masted auxiliary schooner believed as the last commercial trading schooner of Australia. The shipwreck is discovered in 2003, situated outside the harbor on a depth of 20 meters. The site was declared as a heritage site with a 150 meters exclusion zone.

For almost 30 years of being untouched, the development of an ecosystem with exceptional diversity and abundance of wilderness has emerged in the wreck site. Strict protection to this site makes the ecosystem unaffected by any human activity even if the place is situated near the central city. Diving the wreck requires a permit and fishing here is not allowed.

Note that only a few diving groups are permitted to dive on this site.

Dive site 2: Vernon Islands/ Blue Holes

The islands of Vernon are located East of Port Darwin at the Dunas Strait. The best access to the place is by 2 hours of travel with a fast boat.

The site will let anyone experience the beautiful views above and below its water, like; witnessing blue holes that are up to 20m deep. These ocean sinkholes are usually ringed by limestone, coral, or sandy banks; even the intense view of horizontal waterfalls occurs along with the patterned reef structure, both traditionally seen during low tide. In warmer water, near the water surface, schools of fish are roving like golden trevally, trout, and yellowtail fusiliers, underneath the holes, a rich of marine life are homing like angelfish, batfish, cardinals, manta's, reef sharks and parrotfish.

Dive site 3: USAT Meigs (wreck dive)

The USAT Meigs was an army transportation boat from the US navy. The USAT Meigs is 131 meters long and is located 18 meters below. The USAT Meigs sunk during the World War II during the bombing event of Darwin. This is one of the largest ships that sunk in Darwin Harbour and is considered a fantastic wreck site.

This site serves as a home for many marine creatures like corals and fish like; massive estuarine cod, pigmy barracuda, golden snapper, and angelfish.

Dive site 4: Ham Luong (wreck dive)

Another must-see wreck is the Ham Luong. The Ham Luong is a steel boat with a length of 15 meter and is located upright on the bottom at a depth of 20 to 24 meters.

This Vietnamese refugee boat sunk in 1983 and has been discovered near the wrecks of John Holland Barge and the Song Saigon. Nowadays, these wrecks are important to the marine life and are homed by many species of fish, corals, and sponges.

Dive site 5: Catalina 4 (#41) (wreck dive)

The Catalina 4 is a flying boat of the United States Navy's Patrol. The boat has a wingspan of 31.7 meters and a length of 19.4 meters. This amphibious airship belongs in the Netherlands but was taken over by the US in Surabaya. Catalina 4 #41 was bombed by a Japanese aircraft and caught fire and sunk 16 meters in the water and is now a protected site. The wreck was surrounded by different soft and hard corals and is visited by various reef fish.

Dive site 6: Ridge

The ridge is a wall dive site which goes down to 33 meters. As this dive site is much deeper compared with the other dive sites, only experienced divers should visit this dive site.

During the dive at Ridge, different kinds and sizes of corals, sponges and fishes can be spotted – including trevallies and sweetlips.

Dive site 7: Bennetts Bottom

Bennetts Bottom is considered one of the best diving spots in Darwin Harbour due to the marine life. If you are not in for a wreck dive, this dive site should be on your bucket list.

The Bennetts Bottom dive site has a maximum depth of 32 meters. The marine life at this dive site includes hard/soft corals and different kind of fishes.

How to get to Darwin Harbour

There are many options to get to Darwin Harbour. Below, we have outlined the best options for you.

Option 1: A (international) flight to Darwin airport

There are lots of direct international flights to Darwin Australia from different cities in Europe, America, and Asia. There are also direct domestic flights from all capital cities and other cities such as Cairns, Broome, Alice Springs, and Perth that are serviced directly to Darwin Airport. Once reaching Darwin airport, Darwin Harbour is just 18 minutes away via taxi. The latest prices and availability for flights can be checked here.

Option 2: A bus ride from other Australian cities

If you are coming from nearby Australian cities like Alice Springs, Broome and Adelaide, you can take a bus ride to Darwin Harbour with Greyhound as an alternative. It will be a long trip but you’ll be able to see many great sceneries along the way.

Accommodations near Darwin Harbour

Accommodation 1: Argus Apartments Darwin ($$$)

This accommodation is less than 10 minutes walk from The Esplanade and Darwin Harbor and apartments are near to the city's beaches, parks, art galleries, casinos, and nightlife. Facilities include a swimming pool, spa pool, fitness center and free WiFi. A great option if you would like to stay in Darwin’s center.

Price: Starts at AUD 200. The latest prices and availability can be checked here.

Accommodation 2: Argus Hotel Darwin ($)

Argus Hotel Darwin is a perfect place if you are traveling on a (tight) budget but want to stay in a clean and luxurious place. The location of Argus Hotel Darwin is also nice, as the distance to Crocosaurus Cove is around 800 meters from Argus Hotel Darwin, while Darwin Entertainment Center is around 600 meters away. The facilities of the hotel include, among other things, a swimming pool, a 24H reception and a fitness.

The nearest airport is Darwin International Airport, 7.5 mi from the property.

Price: Starts at AUD 80 per night. The latest prices and availability can be checked here.

Accommodation 3: Rydges Palmerston ($$)

Rydges Palmerston is another excellent rated accommodation. If you are looking for a place to stay near the Palmerston Shopping Center, where you can find the supermarket, shops, and restaurants, this accommodation is for you. The facilities of this hotel includes a 24H reception, WIFI, free parking and a shuttle bus services.

You can choose from their offered accommodation options which include guest rooms, suites, and apartments, a balcony with outdoor furniture is another feature of their rooms. There are a satellite flat-screen TV and a bathroom with free toiletries. Apartments feature a fully equipped kitchen and laundry best for an extended stay.

Price: Starts at AUD 130 per night. The latest prices and availability can be checked here.

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