The SS Yongala wreck is one of the most famous dive sites in Australia, and for good reason – my two dives there were far better than the diving I did on the Great Barrier Reef.
The Yongala went down in a storm in 1911 taking 122 souls with it, and is thus a grave site. Entering the wreck is therefore forbidden, and you can still see some human bones when you peer in through the portholes.
She lies on her side on the seabed at a depth of around 40m, with her hull largely intact. Although within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the whole surrounding area of seabed is flat sand; a covering of coral has grown on the Yongala over the years, transforming her into an artificial reef. As it’s the only patch of reef for many miles it’s a magnet for marine life, including all the usual reef fish, abundant turtles, and many pelagic species with sharks and rays frequently seen.
The highlights of my dives were a massive bull ray (like some sort of underwater UFO), several large green turtles, and an enormous grouper which lives there and has the nickname VW (as in Volkswagen) like these guys:
A strong current usually runs along the wreck, so you descend at one end, swimming up current initially, then when you round the far end of the wreck it becomes something of drift dive allowing you to take it easy on the way back. Between the depth and the strong current, it’s considered a somewhat tricky dive site and you’re required to have a guided dive if you don’t have enough dives (15) already logged. (I actually did this dive as the 4th dive of my Advanced Open Water qualification, which I’d started in Thailand and finally finished in Honduras; I therefore had the dive master as my buddy, and he signed it off as my wreck dive towards the PADI Advanced)
The other thing to note is the long drive out to the site – 3 hours each way from Townsville (or a much shorter 30 minutes each way from Alva Beach, Ayr). The sea can get rough out there, and the day I did it our tiny little dive boat was getting the full washing machine treatment from some pretty scary waves. I’ve only been seasick on three occasions, and that was the worst; I didn’t puke, but others did and one poor chap couldn’t manage his second dive.
But despite all that, between the impressive wreck and the marine life around it this is an amazing dive site, certainly one of my top 3, and worth dealing with the challenging conditions and long ride out (to avoid the possible rough trip out & back, it’s advisable to do the dive out of Ayr rather than Townsville, and try to make a reservation for a day when the forecast is for calm seas)
Have you dived the Yongala? How was it? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
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