The Rowley shoals are better than the Great Barrier Reef according to some divers, plus you can only dive there from a liveaboard
The Rowley Shoals provide an exclusive chance to see the pristine underwater world of three beautiful atoll-like coral reefs in the Timor Sea.
Visit the Rowley Shoals by diving liveaboard. Offering some of the best diving in Australia or possibly the world. The reefs are among the most remote and pristine marine areas in the world. Due to their remoteness and abundance of sea-life, plus some of the best visibility available, some argue the diving there trumps The Great Barrier Reef. The only way to snorkel and dive the Rowley Shoals is by liveaboard, as they are some 300 kilometres (188 miles) off the coast from Broome in Western Australia. Also, the diving there is a very limited season from September to December.
Rowley Shoals Liveaboard
The only way to dive the Rowley Shoals is by diving liveaboard. Join one of only a few that experience this remote dive site. No more than 200 divers dive the Rowley Shoals Australia each year.
Some argue the diving there is even better than The Great Barrier Reef. Therefore the only Rowley Shoals accommodation is your liveaboard boat. For a map of the Rowley Shoals area and where this is in relation to Western Australia, see the map below.
The atolls were first charted in 1818 by Captain Phillip King of the British navy. But they were named after Captain Rowley who was the first to report them during his own expedition in 1800.
There are no day trips to the Rowley Shoals, as it's a 12 hour motor through the night to get there.
If you want to find out about information on a Rowley Shoals liveaboard trip, you can do this here: Rowley Shoals Dive The World on Odyssey liveaboard.
Rowley Shoals Marine Park is not as well known as the Ningaloo Reef, which is south of Broome and off the coast of Exmouth, and even less well known than The Great Barrier Reef. But that's one of the reasons that make them so special and unspoiled.
There are no crowds of divers or snorkelers and the distance from the coast means only liveaboards make the trip.
Each of the atoll-like reefs are similar in size and they cover an area of about 80sq kilometres (50sq miles).
Rowley Shoals liveaboard - what are the options?
There are two options for Rowley Shoals dive liveaboards to choose from. These are the Odyssey and the Reef Prince.
M/V Odyssey Liveaboard - Rated 8.7 Fabulous, 4.5 stars out of 5
This is a custom built 24 metre (79 feet) diesel powered catamaran. The Odyssey has space for up to 20 guests with the choice of 6 deluxe cabins and 4 twin-share cabins.
Each of the 10 cabins have individually controlled air conditioning and bar fridges.
The M/V Odyssey has an accompanying 12 metre (39 feet) Homer vessel,which is used to get to the dive sites in comfort.
Get to dive for around 26 dives on the 8-day, 7 night trip to Rowley Shoals. Or choose the combined cruise to see islands, water falls and other fabulous scenes in this region, followed by 7 days of diving. This would be the perfect trip for couples where one is a non-diver.
Review of the M/V Odyssey Liveaboard
Dream trip, exceptional diving experience. "Abundance of marine life. Acquiring new dive buddies." Recommended for Pristine reef condition. Clear, warm water. Unplanned encounters with whales/dolphins. Hilma V - 9.6 Exceptional 5 stars out of 5 - USA.Review on M/V Odyssey Liveaboard Liveaboard.com
A very special unspoiled place which will always be in my memory. "The blue clear waters and the unspoiled environment.Drifting together in the water in the current at the end of the trip.Walking on the Sand on the final day. The 2 whales wandering around the boat at the first mooring made it feel very special All the dive sites were good .Plenty to see." Recommended for The diving.Sitting out at night watching the stars.The crew were very pleasant and accommodating - Kathryn T 8.8 Fabulous, 4.5 stars out of 5 - New Zealand.Review on M/V Odyssey Liveaboard Liveaboard.com
Reef Princess Liveaboard
The Reef Princess Liveaboard is a custom built craft and is also a catamaran. Bigger than the Odyssey liveaboard at 38 metres (125 feet). This larger Rowley Shoals liveaboard is designed for up to 36 guests instead and has 18 cabins with 14 bathrooms.
The cabins include en-suite bathrooms and air conditioning for your personal comfort.
Like the Odyssey liveaboard, the Reef Princess also offers coastal expeditions as well as diving expeditions to Rowley Shoals. The dive trip alone is for 7 days and 6 nights where you'll have the opportunity to dive around 25 dives in total.
What is the diving like on the Rowley Shoals?
The diving at Rowley Shoals is in warm waters. The water temperature ranges between 27-30C (81-86F).
This region has some of the largest tidal ranges in the whole of Australia, where in some areas of the Timor Sea the maximum range recorded was 11.6 meters (38 feet).
These tidal movements make for some interesting diving. Where the diving along the cliffs are mostly drift dives, plus the dive or snorkel through the coral channel can be an exhilerating drift too (see video below).
One of the most notable benefits of the diving around the shoals is the visibility in the region. This has been reported to be as much as 50-60 metres (164-200 feet).
The dive depths can be anywhere between 5 to 40 metres (16-130 feet), with the shallower areas ideal for snorkeling too.
There are also many underwater caves and swim-through's to enjoy on many of the dives at Rowley Shoals.
There's no permanent land at Mermaid Reef, which was named after Captain King's HMS Mermaid.
But at low tide there are some small sand banks that get exposed on the north side of the reef. This area of sand is called Bedwell Islet, as it's not actually an island.
When the sand is exposed, you'll see many birds that take rest there, which include sea eagles, shearwaters and tropical birds.
Mermaid Reef is a Commonwealth Marine Reserve, and because of its heritage status no one is permitted to fish there.
Clerke and Imperieuse Reefs
Unlike Mermaid Reef, both Clerke (named after a captain of a whaler) and Imperieuse Reefs (named after Rowley's vessel) have permanent land at each.
At Clerke Reef the island is called Bedwell Island, whereas at Imperieuse Reef the island is named Cunningham Island.
Some of the liveaboards take their guests ashore on the sandy beaches of Bedwell Island and have a barbecue there after a long day of diving. This island is home to red-tailed tropical birds, which nest on the island.
Rowley Shoals west of Broome Western Australia and how to get there
Many ask how to get to Rowley Shoals. You first need to hop on a short 2 1/2 hour flight, or a long drive to Broome from Perth. The distance is 2,346 kilometres (1,466 miles).
Broome itself is absolutely beautiful, and when I lived in Perth and worked as an accountant, I audited the Shire of Broome. The seas are turquoise, and the temperature a lovely 30c (86F) for most of the year.
If you choose to drive from Perth, whilst it's a long journey, it is an enjoyable and interesting one. If you do this journey, I suggest hiring a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
This way you'll discover the West Coast of Australia, including Shark Bay, Monkey Mia and Exmouth and the Ningaloo Reef. At Monkey Mia you can see wild dolphins up close and personal. Plus you may even be lucky to be chosen to feed them.
In Exmouth at certain times of the year you can swim with the large Manta Rays and Whale Sharks. Also, Humpback Whales migrate up the west coast of Australia to have their young in the warm waters of the north. You can see these beautiful creatures from Exmouth too.
From Broome how to get to Rowley Shoals
Once you arrive in Broome, to get to the Rowley Shoals you will need to board a liveaboard boat. However, you will need to book this in advance of your trip. The diving season is limited and spaces on dive boats get booked up very quickly in advance.
Diving on the Rowley Shoals is limited to between September and December. This makes the diving there more exclusive, but also creates a short window of demand.
The trip to the Rowley Shoals is a 12 hour boat ride through the night. As is the return journey back to Broome.
Travelling to Australia
Getting to and diving on the Rowley Shoals is not a cheap trip. The best and one of the cheapest companies to book your liveaboard trip is with Dive The World.
They offer a guarantee of the the lowest price with a 200% Price Pledge. If you can book the same package any cheaper, then they'll return 200% of the price difference. To find out more and to check their prices, click this link.
Getting to Australia from the UK
To get to Australia from the UK, before you embark on your trip northwards to Broome, you are best flying to Perth. Perth is the capital of Western Australia and well worth visiting for a few days in any event.
Depending on which airline you choose and the route you take, the flight time is around 17-18 hours. As already mentioned above, from Perth you can choose to either fly to Broome or drive there. It's a long way, but if you have the time, it's well worth the drive.
While you are in Perth, I recommend to also visit Fremantle, which is slightly south of Perth.
Getting to Australia from America or Canada
Depending on where you live in America, you will first have to get yourself to the west coast, for example Los Angeles or San Francisco. If you're flying from Canada, there are a few places to fly direct to Sydney or Brisbane. These include Vancouver and Toronto.
From America or Canada you can choose to fly to either Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane Australia. From there you can catch an internal flight to Broome.
Your choice of the above cities will depend on the airline you choose to fly with. Also, your choice will be guided by which of these cities take your fancy as a first stop-off.
If you choose Brisbane, you are also only a short hop to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. So you could get to dive them both.
Here's an article on the best time to dive the Great Barrier Reef.
Rowley Shoals sharks and other marine life
Rowley Shoals offer an abundance of sea life, which includes many varieties of sharks and rays. These three atoll-like reefs rise up from the sea floor from around 230 metres (755 feet) to 400 metres (1,312 feet).
The corals there are almost untouched, which is what it's famous for.
The steep cliff-like edge of the reefs are covered in over 230 varieties of soft corals, plate corals (some the size of coffee tables) and fans. It's been likened to diving or snorkeling in a huge aquarium. There are also nearly 700 different fish species that live in the waters around the three atolls.
There is also a large number of colourful giant clams scattered across the reefs too.
The huge abundance of sea life is encouraged by the currents in the area. You'll see plenty of pelagic fish, along with sharks, tuna and mackerel.
You will also be delighted when you see the many sea turtles in the region too, along with giant Potato Cod fish and 'Finding Nemo' Clown Fish. Plus moray eels, octopus and many other creatures, which are too many to mention.
Humpback Whales and Dolphins at Rowley Shoals
There is also the chance to see Humpback Whales in the region. These huge and curious creatures are in the warm waters to give birth to their calves, before migrating back down to the cold Southern Oceans. If you are lucky to see them at the Rowley Shoals, you are very likely to see them with their calves too, as shown in the video below.
The other mammals of the sea in the region include dolphins. You may get to see these riding the bow of the dive boat or you may hear them squeaking and clicking underwater.
Divers often ask about what shark species can be seen at the Rowley Shoals.
There are many sharks and ray species in these waters. The variety and number of sharks in the area is due to the currents, the abundance of pelagic fish and turtles (i.e. food) and the close proximity to the Australian Continental Shelf.
Sharks at Rowley Shoals
The best places to scuba dive with sharks at Rowley Shoals are at 'The Wall' and the Western Wall and Tiger Alley. Plus at 'Big Blue' is the best place to spot Hammerhead sharks. However, as you'll see below, sharks can be seen in the 'Cod Hole' too.
The other sharks you may be lucky to see include reef sharks both grey and silver tip reef sharks (or as some know them as silver-tip whaler sharks).
If you are very lucky, you may even get to see a whale shark at the shoals. However, you are more likely to see these at Ningaloo Reef, as the boat operators there have organised trips with spotter planes, specifically for seeing these huge fish of the ocean.
In addition to the exciting shark spotting at Rowley Shoals, you may also get to see Sail Fish. But you may also get to see these spectacular fish jumping out of the water around the boat too.
Rowley Shoals has approachable fish including Giant Potato Cod
Known for its spectacular diving, but not as well known and dived like The Great Barrier Reef. When you snorkel and scuba dive the three remote atoll-like coral reefs, you discover it has approachable fish like the Giant Potato Cod.
The above image is a Potato Cod and was taken on Mermaid Reef, which is the most north-easterly of the Rowley Shoals. The other two atolls are named Clerke Reef and Imperieuse Reef.
You will find three large potato cod live in the aptly named "Cod Hole". The cod hole is a lagoon at Mermaid Reef where there are also reef sharks swimming amongst the bommies (coral bomboras). Bommies or coral bomboras are coral outcrops that resemble columns.
Scuba diving tips for Rowley Shoals
A few useful scuba diving tips for your visit to Rowley Shoals.
Bring your own scuba diving equipment
Most liveaboard trips at other dive sites around the world provide all scuba diving equipment. However, the Rowley Shoals liveaboard trips only provide air tanks and weight belts.
This means that you'll have to bring your own diving equipment with you for the trip.
Bring your own surface marker buoy or surface sausage
As a part of your diving equipment, bring a surface marker buoy or surface sausage with you. In the Timor Seas, which is on the edge of the Indian Ocean, and around the Rowley Shoals there are strong currents.
These currents are generated by the big tidal ranges in the area. The tidal range for the Rowley Shoals is thought to be between 4-5 metres (13-17 feet). However, as noted above certain areas of the Timor Sea has a tidal range of some 11.6 metres (38 feet).
These underwater currents mean that divers can drift on their dive. For diver safety, a surface marker buoy is therefore essential equipment, which means the boats will be able to keep an eye on where the divers are at all times.
Bring a dive torch or light
You will have the opportunity to night dive in the sheltered waters of the Rowley Shoals. Therefore, a dive torch or light will be a necessary peice of scuba gear to bring along.
Before embarking on a dive at Rowley Shoals, you would be better to have gained the experience and necessary training for drift diving. Drift diving involves 'going with the flow' with the current.
But it also requires knowing how to use a surface marker buoy or surface sausage.
Book your dive trip in advance
Spaces on liveaboard trips to the Rowley Shoals are limited and are much sought after. To avoid disappointment and to secure your place, you are advised to book well in advance of your planned trip.
If you would like to find out the latest prices for a Rowley Shoals liveaboard trip arranged by Dive The World, please follow this link: Rowley Shoals Dive The World on Odyssey liveaboard
Bring spare money for the trip or a credit card
Food and diving are all included in the liveaboard trip. However, drinks are an extra cost so you have to buy your own.
Always look out into the blue
When you're diving and drifting at the shoals, always make sure you keep an eye out into the blue.
Don't only focus on the coral reef in front of you, as there are plenty of big sea creatures to see in the blue. These include sharks, rays (Which includes Manta Rays), whales and turtles.
In addition to the above sea life, you may even get to see sail fish out in the blue waters as well.
Rowley Shoals snorkeling
As some of the reefs are protected and very much like a giant aquarium, the snorkeling is also extremely good. Some of the reefs are very shallow and this provides an excellent opportunity to snorkel in between dives.
In the video below, you'll see snorkelers drifting along in the Coral Reef Channel that cuts through Clerke Reef.
Rowley Shoals map
The Rowley Shoals map includes the location of the shoals, Broome and Perth. For scuba divers visiting from the UK, as already explained Perth is your first destination to fly to.
However, if you are coming from America or Canada, you will first have to land on the East coast first.
From there, you'll be able to get a direct flight to Broome and not have to go via Perth. Although it maybe worth including Perth in your itinerary. Perth is one of my favourite places in the world.
Having lived there for a while I am biased, but it's a very clean city and the climate is very similar to San Diego, as it is a dry heat with not too much humidity. In their summer months it can get very hot and sometimes up into the 40's C (100's F).
You are travelling a long way in any case, whether that's from the UK, America or Canada, so you might as well make the most of your trip down under.
The environment protection vs oil drilling near the Rowley Shoals
The Australian government were in the spot light with the Rowley Shoals, as they are with the coal mine in Queensland and the impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
The environment and pristine waters around the Rowley Shoals was under possible threat. Oil and gas company Woodside lodged an application to explore for oil about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the marine park.
In this case it's not necessarily the immediate affect of the drilling that's the problem, but the potential impact of spillages in the region. We all saw the huge catastrophic affect of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the impact this had on the environment.
I hope you enjoyed this article about a Rowley Shoals liveaboard and where the Rowley Shoals are situated
I’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your adventures of diving and snorkeling, in the comments below. Please also share your photos. Either from your underwater cameras or videos from your waterproof Gopro’s!
If this article hasn’t answered all of your questions. If you have more questions either about snorkeling or scuba diving (or specifically about a Rowley Shoals liveaboard), please comment below with your questions.
There will also be many more articles about scuba diving (and snorkeling) for you to read and learn about these fabulous sports.
Have fun and be safe!