Travel

North Queensland wreck teeming with life

Diver Rob McKinnon swims with a manta ray on the wreck of the SS Yongala.
Diver Rob McKinnon swims with a manta ray on the wreck of the SS Yongala. Seanna Cronin

JUST off the coast of Ayr in north Queensland there's an underwater party happening 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

And if you have your scuba diving certification, that's all you need to join the festivities.

The wreck of the SS Yongala isn't just teeming with fish and other marine life. It's covered with a thick, ever-changing blanket of hard and soft corals, resident reef fish and other critters like eels and olive sea snakes, and larger predators like giant trevally, Queensland gropers and the 'fly-in fly-out' pelagics like sharks, manta rays and spotted eagle rays.

Thanks to its final resting position in an open sand flat and the many years it has been underwater - 105 to be exact - the Yongala boasts one of the highest concentrations of fish life found anywhere on the Great Barrier Reef.

It's no wonder Sir David Attenborough chose to send a film crew here for his recent Great Barrier Reef documentary series.

The wreck of the SS Yongala, off Ayr in north Queensland, is known for its abundance and concentration of fish life.
The wreck of the SS Yongala, off Ayr in north Queensland, is known for its abundance and concentration of fish life. Seanna Cronin

Your first dive on the wreck can be overwhelming. There are so many fish swimming around you and such an array of bright colours it's hard to know where to look.

The wildlife here isn't shy, aside from the mammoth Queensland gropers that tend to take off once more than a few divers arrive on the scene, so don't be surprised if you find yourself in the middle of a school of mangrove jacks or if a friendly bull ray swims right over your head.

My dive buddy and I had a very special encounter with a manta ray, which circled the top of the wreck several times.

The Yongala attracts wide-ranging ocean travellers like the manta because it is a cleaning station. Hundreds of tiny cleaner wrasse will pop up from the wreck's reef structure whenever a 'customer' stops by.

It's like a spa treatment, which I imagine is bliss for the rays considering they have no arms or hands to scratch or rid themselves of pesky parasites.

A coral trout gets cleaned by a cleaner wrasse on the wreck of the SS Yongala.
A coral trout gets cleaned by a cleaner wrasse on the wreck of the SS Yongala. Seanna Cronin

While dive operators in Townsville do take visitors to the Yongala, it's quite a long boat ride, which isn't pleasant if the conditions are rough.

Yongala Dive Centre is located in Ayr, an hour's drive from Townsville and only a half hour's boat ride from the dive site.

It's worth staying a night or two in Ayr rather than driving back and forth.

That way you can relax after your dives, enjoy the barbecue lunch at the dive centre and then even have time for a cheeky nap in the afternoon before rustling up some dinner.

It's also fun to observe the operations here. A large tractor is used to transport the dive boat down to the beach and wetsuit-clad divers are packed into a 4WD for a fun drive on the sand to the launch site.

Yongala Dive uses a tractor to launch its boat from the beach to take divers to the wreck of the SS Yongala.
Yongala Dive uses a tractor to launch its boat from the beach to take divers to the wreck of the SS Yongala. Seanna Cronin


In between dives the guides will recount the Yongala's sinking and the tragic story of 'honeymoon divers' Tina and Gabe Watson.

The Yongala is prone to currents, which tend to deliver the best visibility, so if you haven't dived for a year or more then it's worth doing a refresher before you visit the wreck.

Because the wreck is considered an underwater grave site, divers are not allowed to go inside or swim under any overhanging structures.

This doesn't take away from the experience, though. The bustling fish life is exhilarating enough to keep you occupied.

Also if you're good on your air consumption and you're Nitrox - air enriched with extra oxygen to extend your bottom time - certified I'd highly recommend paying a bit extra for the 'juice' to get the most out of one of the best wreck dives in the world.

 

Add a stop off in Townsville

ADDING on a day or two in Townsville is a great way to spend your 'dry' time after a visit to the SS Yongala.

North Queensland's unofficial capital has come a long way in recent years. Street art now adorns the sides of many buildings in the city centre and the restaurants, bars and cafes of City Lane are like a slice of Melbourne in the heart of the 'Ville'.

City Lane is like a little slice of Melbourne in Townsville.
City Lane is like a little slice of Melbourne in Townsville. Seanna Cronin

If you're in town on a Sunday, grab a coffee or breakfast from M&J CO Espresso Bar before browsing the CBD's weekly markets full of fresh tropical produce, crafts and souvenirs.

A short walk or drive across Ross Creek is Palmer St, which is full of trendy shops and more dining options. The Townsville Yacht Club has great seafood and water views while IMC Steak House, where a reservation is a must, sources grass and grain-fed steaks from across the state including dry aged T-bone from Gympie and Wagyu rump from the Darling Downs.

A drive, or walk if you're looking for some exercise, up Castle Hill offers full 360-degree views of the city and nearby Magnetic Island.
 

Topics:  scuba diving ss yongala townsville travel-australia yongala dive yongala dive site


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Sailing classes kick off

WATER SKILLS: Learn to sail classes will begin in February.

Get sailing this summer.

Bite into Aussie Day feast

AUSSIE DAY FEAST: Executive chef from Fish D'vine Hanzel Martinez, Fish D'vine's Kev Collins, Ken Hooper head chef at Capers, Cr Jan Clifford and head chef from Mangrove Jacks Brad Martin prepare for the Great Australian Bites food festival coming this Australia Day.

It will be foodie heaven in Airlie Beach this Australia Day.

Prime spot ready for next stage

STUNNING: The view from Airlie Summit.

Airlie Summit is on the move.

Local Partners

Help with a lunch box snack for school kids

The Whitsunday Neighbourhood Centre has joined forces with Cannonvale Coles to help fill kids' lunch boxes this coming school year.

Noll meltdown won't affect Gympie Oz Day concert

Shannon Noll

Photo Contributed

Shannon Noll is still expected to perform in Gympie next Thursday

The surprising problem police face at Woodford Folk Festival

STREET SCENE: Woodford Folk Festival 2016.

The biggest issue for police at Woodfordia is not what you'd expect

Woodford Folk Festival on track to smash records

Monsieur Camembert performs at Woodford Folk Festival.

Great artists, perfect weather the perfect recipe for Woodford

Wonder Woman a ‘disjointed disaster’, says DC insider

Gal Gadot in a scene from the movie Wonder Woman.

INSIDER says the much-hyped blockbuster will disappoint.

Kid nails Swift impersonation

Seven-year-old Xia Vigor nails Taylor Swift impersonation on the Philippine talent show Your Face Sounds Familiar Kids.

TAYLOR Swift has a seven-year-old doppelganger.

Ariana Grande 'hardest working 23-year-old on Earth'?

Ariana Grande

Not everyone was impressed with Grande’s self-proclaimed work ethic

Why The Walking Dead cast are paid a pittance

Despite massive ratings the cast haven't been shown the money

50 Shades Dornan on why he hates the film

Dornan and Johnson’s frequent sex scenes were ‘awkward’ to film. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Jamie Dornan doesn’t blame you for hating 50 Shades

Chris Hemsworth’s X-rated compliment to former co-star

Australian actor Chris Hemsworth poses on the red carpet for the European premiere of the film 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' in London on April 21, 2015.

THOR star once paid former Home and Away actress a lewd compliment.

Sunday auction for historical home

Former Catholic school sure to attract spirited bidding

Looking back, looking ahead in Noosa

NEVER-ENDING GLORY: Looking towards Laguna Bay and Hastings St from Noosa National Park.

Natural appeal of Noosa continues to attract buyers

Thousands of jobs part of $1b retirement village project

THIS YEAR: An artist impression of the new Aveo retirement village in Springfield.

Aveo Springfield unveiled this month, homes ready by July

KNIFE-EDGE: The housing tightrope we now face

Even the smallest interest rate rise will be hard for some to handle.

One if five home owners at risk, according to new analysis

'Difficult times': Rental prices tipped to increase in 2017

GREAT BUYS: There are some great rentals and houses to buy in South Gladstone. Head to gladstoneobserver.com.au for the top 10 homes under $100 to rent right now in the Gladstone region.

Investors may soon see a "profitable return” on properties.

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!