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. But scuba diving Rowley Shoals is not available year-round and cannot be accessed by day boats.
Scuba diving Rowley Shoals is by liveaboard only as it’s 300k (188m) off the coast from Broome in Western Australia. The diving season is limited from September to December and offers some of the best diving in Australia as it’s one of the most remote and pristine marine areas in the world.
Due to Rowley Shoals remoteness, abundance of sea-life and the best water visibility around, some argue the scuba diving Rowley Shoals beats diving The Great Barrier Reef.
Rowley Shoals Liveaboard
The only way to dive the Rowley Shoals is by diving liveaboard. Join one of only a few privileged scuba divers that experience this remote dive site. No more than 200 divers dive the Rowley Shoals Australia each year.
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 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 unspoilt.
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 liveaboard and the Reef Prince liveaboard.
M/V Odyssey Liveaboard – Rated 8.7 Fabulous, 4.5 stars out of 5
The MV Odyssey Rowley Shoals Liveaboard:
- Custom built 24 metre (79 feet) diesel powered catamaran.
- The Odyssey liveaboard has space for up to 20 guests.
- You have a 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.
- You get to dive for around 26 dives on the 8-day, 7 night trip to Rowley Shoals.
- 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 if one is a non-diver.
If you like the sound of the Odyssey Rowley Shoals liveaboard please take a read of this article about Odyssey liveaboard review.
M/V Odyssey Rowley Shoals Liveaboard reviews
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
If you like the sound of the Reef Princess Rowley Shoals liveaboard please take a read of this article about Reef Princess liveaboard review.
Reef Princess Rowley Shoals Liveaboard – Rated 10 out of 10 and 5 stars
- 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.
- All cabins include en-suite bathrooms and air conditioning for your personal comfort.
- Similar to the Odyssey liveaboard the Reef Princess liveaboard also offers coastal expeditions as well as diving expeditions to Rowley Shoals.
- The dive trip alone is for 7 days and 6 nights when you’ll have the opportunity to dive around 25 dives in total.
Reef Princess liveaboard reviews
Best holiday ever, faultless in every way with crew who never stopped trying (and succeeding) to please. Recommended for: Onboard comfort and food, crew affability and knowledge, snorkeling at Abrolhos, Monte Bello and Rowley Shoals.Review on Reef Princess liveaboard Liveaboard.com
Superb biodiversity diving on understated boat with competent staff. The diving in untouched warm waters seeing so many different corals and fish. Recommended for: * the diving – great coral, fish, walls, canyons and gutters; the spacious boat with tenders; the food and staffReview on Reef Princess liveaboard Liveaboard.com
Rowley Shoals liveaboard singles
If you are a solo diver and looking to scuba dive Rowley Shoals on your own you’re probably looking for liveaboards with single cabins. Whilst the two Rowley Shoals liveaboards shown above don’t have single cabins both liveaboard dive boats have twin cabins with single beds.
MV Odyssey liveaboard – The Odyssey Rowley Shoals trips include 4 classic twin cabin with air conditioning, two twin single beds, port holes, storage, bar fridge, hairdryer and a 240 volt outlet, but these are not en-suite cabins.
Reef Prince liveaboard – Reef Princess Rowley Shoals trips include 1 x class 4 Cabins with single bunk beds and en-suite bathroom, DVD player, air conditioning, storage cabinet. 1 x Cabin with twin single beds with en-suite, personal DVD player, air conditioning, storage cabinet.
Rowley Shoals charter liveaboard
If you are looking for a Rowley Shoals charter you have two liveaboards to choose from. These are the Reef Princes and Odyssey liveaboards, and although the page on Liveaboard.com for Rowley Shoals for each liveaboard doesn’t mention they are available for charter, often times they will be.
But you may have to book well in advance, as these liveaboards get book up with divers well ahead of the limited dive season.
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. You’ll enjoy diving along the steep cliff drop-offs, which are mostly drift dives. Plus enjoy diving or snorkelling through the coral channel which can be an exhilarating drift too (see video below).
One of the most notable benefits of the diving around Rowley 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.
Rowley Shoals Mermaid Reef
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.
Rowley Shoals 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 diving reviews
“I have just finished a fantastic trip aboard “reef princess” to The Rowley Shoals. The diving was fantastic and should be on everyone’s wish list – no wonder it’s rated as the best dive site in Australia. The wall dives are dramatic and superb. A special mention to Nick and the crew – they couldn’t have been more caring and professional- and the food was terrific. I would jump at the chance to do it again.”Kimberley Expeditions – Rowley Shoals diving review courtesy of Trip Adviser
“The best thing for me was the stunning isolation, 360 degrees of horizon, turquoise waters (water temps 29-30 – most people dived in rash suits, I am cold blooded and even I was plenty warm enough in sharkskin!). The coral was pristine (I guess not often visited), colourful… Fish – plenty of white tipped reef sharks, grey reef sharks, saw some leopard sharks & a hammerhead was spotted. Turtles. Potato cod but the big cod promised at cod hole never eventuated. Schooling Trevally, the hugest Bumphead Parrot fish I have ever seen, coral trout, angel fish… many varieties of clown fish… We also had dolphins swimming at the bow of Odyssey and were lucky enough to see a Mama Humpback whale & her calf up close at Mermaid Atoll (this alone made the trip really!). We had 18 dives in the week long trip.“Rowley Shoals Diving Reviews – Judy from New Zealand on Liveaboard.com
Kimberley expeditions and Rowley Shoals diving in one
For scuba divers looking for a combined Kimberley Expeditions with Rowley Shoals trip the 6-day Rowley Shoals cruise and the 11-day Coastal cruise is the perfect option. Enjoy the pristine visibility, warm water and abundant marine life at Rowley Shoals with an affordable Kimberley boat cruise.
How to get to Rowley Shoals west of Broome Western Australia
To get to Rowley Shoals: You first need to hop on a short 2 1/2 hour flight from Perth to Broome. Alternatively, it’s a long drive to Broome from Perth. The distance is 2,346 kilometres (1,466 miles).
Broome itself is absolutely beautiful. When I lived and worked in Perth and I audited the Shire of Broome.
The seas from Broome are turquoise and the temperature a lovely 30c (86F) for most of the year.
If you choose to drive from Perth it’s a long journey but an enjoyable and interesting one. If you opt to drive I suggest rent 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.
How to get to Rowley Shoals from Broome
Once you arrive in Broome the only way to get to Rowley Shoals is 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 to dive Rowley Shoals
Getting to and diving on the Rowley Shoals is not a cheap trip.
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 your flight time will be 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. This includes Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Diego international airports. 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 are best to fly to 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.
Take a watch of this video taken from Rowley Shoals.
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 humpback whales at the Rowley Shoals you’re 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 best . 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.
If it’s whale sharks you love, you might want to read about the best place to dive with whale sharks. One of which includes Ningaloo Reef, Australia.
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 to Rowley Shoals
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 when you dive Rowley Shoals
Your diving equipment for Rowley Shoals diving should include a surface marker buoy or surface sausage. Rowley Shoals are in the Timor Seas, which is on the edge of the Indian Ocean where you’ll find 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 up to 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 for Rowley Shoal diving
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.
Drift-dive experience is necessary for Rowley Shoal diving
Before embarking on a dive at Rowley Shoals you should have 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 Rowley Shoals dive trip in advance as there are limited liveaboards and a restricted season
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 your Rowley Shoals liveaboard trip. But drinks are an extra cost so you have to buy your own.
Always look out into the blue when diving Rowley Shoals
When you’re diving and drifting at the Rowley Shoals always 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. This means the snorkeling is also extremely good at Rowley Shoals. 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 above Rowley Shoals map includes the location of Rowley Shoals, Broome and Perth. For scuba divers visiting from the UK Perth should be your first destination to fly to.
But if you’re arriving from America or Canada you will first land on the East coast of Australia.
From the east coast you can get a direct flight to Broome. 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 Perth has a dry heat climate with not too much humidity. But in the summer months it can get very hot and sometimes up into the 40°C range (100°F).
You are travelling a long way, whether 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!
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