10 liveaboard destinations in Asia Pacific

Ready to eat, sleep, dive, repeat on these liveaboard trips around the region?

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the best places to explore via liveaboard

With a range of trip durations and vessels to choose at most destinations in Asia Pacific, liveaboards are a great option to pack in as much diving as possible during your scuba holidays in and around the region.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

For a trip of a lifetime, consider catching (not literally, obviously) dwarf minke whales during their July migration through the Great Barrier Reef. Join one of the handful of licensed operators for this specific trip and come face to face with the world’s smallest whales. Be sure to interact carefully with them according to the thorough directions from your group leader. Also, a scientist will likely be onboard too to conduct research on the graceful giants, and they may call on your own observations.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Part of the Coral Triangle, Raja Ampat is quite simply one the world’s best diving spots, with the densest population of marine life and some of the world’s most long-standing coral reefs. Photographers will go crazy for the many critters, not least of which the pygmy seahorses, and you’ll find blue water mangroves near Misool. The best months to go are October and November, and, if you’re lucky, your liveaboard group might include a marine mammal expert to make your pelagic encounters that much more insightful.

Also read: 10 dive destinations for wide-angle underwater photography

Whale sharks and other pelagics await you in the waters surrounding the Similan Islands

Similan Islands, Thailand

Ninety or so kilometres northwest of Phuket, the Similans are nine islands made of granite with large mound rock formations, a network of swim-throughs, outstanding coral growth, and an amazing variety of tropical fish. The water is crystal clear and attracts both manta rays and whale sharks. Other passive reef dwellers include white tip sharks, tawny nurse sharks, and leopard sharks.

Red Sea, Egypt

Hello warm temperatures and superb visibility! And… high salinity (shhhh!). The waters of the Red Sea connect Africa and Asia with a shipwreck-strewn playground to the north, and you may come across oceanic white tip sharks or bottlenose, spinner, or Risso’s dolphins hunting around reefs as you move south. Liveaboards usually leave from Sharm El Sheikh in the north and from Hurghada further south. Do your research (ask your operator) before setting off to make sure you are aware of some of Egypt specific requirements for scuba divers.

Tubbataha, Philippines

Stretching over 97,030 hectares southeast of Puerto Princesa, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is accessible exclusively via liveaboard vessels and only from late March through early June. Pelagics regularly flock to the two atolls of Tubbataha, which boast an abundance of healthy reefs dwellers that enjoy the constant stream of clean water and nutrients. Conservation efforts include strict park rules and regulations; these are enforced by the rangers of Task Force Tubbataha who man a radar-fitted station throughout the year.

Komodo, Indonesia

Departing either from Benoa Harbour in Bali or from ports nearer to the Komodo National Park (after a short flight from Bali), Komodo liveaboard trips all feature the compulsory land visit to see the legendary Komodo dragons in the flesh. Short trips will focus on well-known sites like Cannibal Rock and GPS Point and longer trips will explore Alor and Maumere Bay in Flores. Stay vigilant as you navigate the area’s strong currents and look out for the likes of whale sharks, manta rays, frogfish, pygmy seahorses, and walls full of myriad filter feeders.

Also read: FAQ: What you need to know about diving in Komodo

Poor Knights, New Zealand

Mind you, this destination was part of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s Top 10. The marine reserve of Poor Knights Islands has beautiful underwater and topside scenery, with magnificent archways, cliffs, and caves, including Riko Riko Cave, the world’s largest surveyed sea cave. Overnight liveaboard trips in the area allow you to pack more dives in your day (day boats do not do night dives), during which you’re sure to meet schooling fish like trevallies, blue maomaos, sweeps, and demoiselles. You might even come across the more elusive mosaic moray and spotted black grouper.

See hammerheads in the flesh when you dive into the waters around the Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire

Off the South East Asian stretch of the Ring of Fire, the volcanic islands of the Banda Sea stand out with manta rays, hammerheads, barracudas, and snakes roaming the reefs and drop-offs. The splendid muck diving along the perimeter of the islands ain’t too shabby either. Liveaboard trips will take you to sites around the likes of Banda Island, Pulau Ai, Batu Kapal, Karang Hatta, and Pulau Keraka.

Bismarck Archipelago, Papua New Guinea

Diving Papua New Guinea the liveaboard way is a great option to explore the Bismarck Archipelago’s reefs, coral walls, deepsea mounts, and a variety of WWII wrecks. It will also allow you to visit some remote villages and to buy fruit from locals out in their outrigger canoes. The sites at New Britain Island plunge into the abyss and seamounts rise in the north while mangroves, lagoons, and barrier reefs thrive along the southern coast. Around Kimbe Bay, Witu Islands’ black sand is perfect for both day and night diving while the pristine Fathers Reefs’ attract much pelagic activity.

Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar

Diving hotspots can sometimes be overcrowded but the Mergui Archipelago is still pretty serene (for now). There, you can expect plenty of encounters with pelagics like barracudas, trevallies, large tawny nurse sharks, and several species of rays at sites like Shark Cave, Western Rocky, or Black Rock. Liveaboards are well suited to Mergui since the archipelago is quite far from the coastline. Between late November and April, vessels leave from Phuket, Khao Lak, Kuraburi , and Ranong in Thailand, and they often include Thai dive sites in their itineraries.

A diver since 2001, Jonathan's favourite marine encounters include a pod of dwarf minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef and friendly whale sharks in Christmas Island. Topside, Jonathan is a graphic designer and an independent singer-songwriter.