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Located on the east coast of Hook Island, Mackeral Bay is one of the most popular snorkeling spots in the Whitsunday Islands. Devastated by a cyclone a few years ago, the bay’s coral reef has partially recovered. Amidst the soft corals, you can see groupers, angelfish, butterflyfish, and sometimes rays or turtles. Limited underwater visibility, variable in the Whitsundays, can however sometimes spoil your snorkeling.

Cooperband butterflyfish
A pair of cooperband butterflyfish at Mackeral Bay’s flat.

How to go snorkeling Mackeral Bay?

Mackeral Bay is located on Hook Island, the second-largest island in the Whitsunday archipelago. It sits just north of Saba Bay, where snorkeling is also good. To visit the archipelago, you can choose from dozens of day tours or multi-day cruises departing from Airlie Beach (starting at $105pp.).

Day trips typically include a visit to Hill Inlet Lookout (the most famous viewpoint in the Whitsundays) and photogenic Whitehaven Beach, as well as one or more snorkeling stops around the islands.

Mackeral Bay is a spot frequently visited by tours, but it is sometimes difficult to confirm the locations of snorkeling stops when booking. These are often chosen at the last moment, depending on the sea conditions. All boats to the Whitsundays depart from Abell Point Marina at Airlie Beach.

Mackeral Bay snorkeling map

Water entrance for snorkeling Mackeral Bay

On this spot, you get in the water directly from a boat, anchored on the edge of the reef.

Mackeral Bay snorkeling exploration tips

The bay is bordered by a shallow reef (↕1-3m), which measures between 50 and 150m wide depending on the location. Beyond the reef, the wall plunges steeply to the depths (↕5-8m). On this spot, the corals were severely damaged by Cyclone Debbie in 2017, and are gradually recovering.

Coral at Mackeral Bay
The reef is still recovering from 2017’s cyclone, and many small corals can be seen on the flat.

It is now mainly soft corals (especially leather corals) that cover the reef flat. In places, the reef remains dead, without any corals.

Many fish can be seen on the reef. Butterflyfish, in particular, are plentiful – including the Rainford’s butterflyfish, the golden butterflyfish, and the photogenic cooperband butterflyfish. You can also see many longfin groupers resting on the sand, at the foot of the rocks.

Longfin grouper at Mackeral Bay
The longfin grouper is pretty common on the reef.

While schools of Whitley’s sergeant swim around the high points of the reef, you might also spot sixbar angelfish, stingrays, and occasionally turtles in the deepest areas.

As everywhere in the Whitsundays, the underwater visibility is sometimes bad at this location.

Restaurants and accommodation nearby

Day trips to the Whitsundays usually include lunch on the boat. Inquire when you book.


  • Level required Intermediate
  • Maximum depth10ft/3m on the reef flat
  • Water entranceFrom a boat
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersLow to medium
  • Access costsSnorkeling tour to the Whitsunday Islands (from $105pp.)

MAP Spot

These spots are accessible to anyone with basic snorkeling skills, and feeling comfortable in the water and with his snorkeling gear. You will enter the water from the shore (beach, pontoon, ladder, rocks) or from a boat. The water height in the sea entrance area is reasonable, but you will not necessarily be within your depth. Moderate currents can occur in the area, even when the sea conditions are good. The distance to swim to reach the most interesting snorkeling areas of the spot does not exceed 200 meters.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.