The Rowley Shoals is one of those names you would have heard, but probably never really known very much about. That could be because if you try and look for it on a map, it’s nearly invisible. Located about 260 km off the coast of Broome, Western Australia, the Rowley Shoals are a chain of three coral atolls named Mermaid Reef, Clerke Reef and Imperieuse Reef.
If you asked me where my favourite dive destination is, the Rowley Shoals would be high on the list! There’s just something very special about how remote and pristine it is.
The atolls are on the edge of one of the world’s widest continental shelves and rise nearly vertically from over 400 meters deep from the ocean floor. Home to an incredible 233 species of coral and over 600 species of fish, it is considered to be some of the least disturbed waters in the world. Two of the atolls are protected marine sanctuary zones and have become open water aquariums.
The season to dive the Rowley Shoals is limited by the raging tides. The window of calm weather is around October – November and through this time a couple of charter boats take people out for an experience of a lifetime.
Getting to the Rowley Shoals
The journey starts when you land in Broome, Western Australia. It’s only a 2.5hour flight from Perth, but flying to Broome feels like you are flying to a completely different country. The contrast of the red rock and white sand against the blue sea is incredible.
The sunsets at Cable Beach is Iconic and definitely worth checking out on your trip. As the sun sets over the ocean, the shadow on the water creates the ‘Staircase to the Moon’. The glowing red in the sunset is something I had never seen before. This usually happens during the peak time to travel to Broome between March and October.
Also be sure to pay a visit to Matso’s Brewery! There, you can sample the world’s hottest chilli beer, mango beer and ginger beer in the bright Broome sunshine!
From Broome, you’ll hop on a boat to get to the dive site. On my trip with Odyssey Expeditions there were only 20 customers on board and 6 crew members. Cruising out of the Broome harbour, we watched the sunset and left Broome behind. It takes a while to actually get to the Rowley shoals, so make sure you get comfortable in your cabins.
Diving at the Rowley Shoals
Right around noon the day after, you’ll arrive at your first destination, Clerke Reef. It is such a privilege to be one of only 200 divers who make it out here each year.
Mermaid reef is the dive site everyone talks about during their visit, and you’ll understand why when you get there because it is an underwater photographer’s dream. I remember Jumping in to Mermaid Reef and feeling such a huge rush that I didn’t know what to look at first. In between dodging the huge gorgonian fans there were batfish, soft corals, plate corals, moray eels, clownfish and anemones in such stunning colours.
The shallows of the reef is always teeming with life, with hundreds of blue striped snapper, angelfish, butterfly fish, pipefish, and reef sharks for you to see.
We made the most of the incoming tides and drift snorkelled back in to the atoll. If you’ve never drift snorkelled before, it is like flying, especially when you duck dive and just go with the current.
At one point, we heard something that resembled buffaloes tramping across the shallow reef. It wasn’t until we got closer that we realised they were huge Maori Wrasse! I had never seen anything like it.
The Rowley Shoals Experience
Don’t forget to end your trip by relaxing on Bedwell Island for a picnic and some backyard cricket. Bedwell is not technically big enough to be called an island, it’s a sand cay rising approximately 2m above the water and is the only land for miles.
The island is home to the rare red tail tropic bird, and makes a fabulous spot to watch the sunset. It’s not until you search the co-ordinates of the island that you realise exactly how isolated you are.
After 7 days of amazing diving, exceptional food, and great company, it was time to make the journey back. Travelling through the night to return to Broome and waking up on the mainland made the week we had just had feel like a dream. Certainly a place you’ll always dream of returning to.
Would you like to join me for a trip to the Rowley Shoals?
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