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.

Whitehaven Beach Run set for big field

BLUE SKIES: The Whitehaven Beach Run on Hamilton Island is always a popular event.

Famous race set for massive year.

Shute Harbour boat ramp open today

Whitsunday Fishing World manager Grant Spees called for patience on the Shute Harbour boat ramp earlier this month.

The Shute Harbour boat ramp is now open.

INXS show rockin' the hits in SES fundraiser

MUSIC FEST: The Australian INXS show will appear at Whitsunday SESsions.

Be there on Saturday to experience Whitsunday SESsions

Local Partners

Talent galore at Whitsunday SESsions

WHETHER it was Paul Fenech 'thonging' bogans, or Steady Eddie cracking up the crowd - there was plenty of entertainment for everyone at Whitsunday SESsions.

Debbie's graveyard: Major auction to clear written-off cars

Auto Repair and Towing Service owner Shane Muntelwit at the salvage yard behind Mackay Airport, which has become a graveyard for about 150 vehicles destroyed or written off by Cyclone Debbie.

A salvage yard has become a makeshift graveyard

What to expect at Birds of Tokyo's Ipswich gig

The band will perform at the Racehorse Hotel on Friday.

BAND member Glen Sarangapany talks music, pub grub and doing shoeys

What public holidays are left in 2017

Ipswich residents will get the day off tomorrow for the show.

IPSWICH residents will get tomorrow off for the show

Book review: Mia Freedman's book meets her critics head on

IF AUSTRALIA does have a tall poppy syndrome, Mia Freedman has most certainly been a victim.

Model Bella Hadid's see-through dress shocks in Cannes

US model Bella Hadid attends the Cinema Against AIDS amfAR gala 2017 held at the Hotel du Cap, Eden Roc in Cap d'Antibes, France, 25 May 2017.

It’s like she’s become addicted to shock value.

No room for morbid fans

Chris Cornell.

Fans want to stay in the hotel room where Chris Cornell died

INXS show rockin' the hits in SES fundraiser

MUSIC FEST: The Australian INXS show will appear at Whitsunday SESsions.

Be there on Saturday to experience Whitsunday SESsions

Star Wars' 1977 Stormtrooper head banger confesses

A Stormtrooper is responsible for the biggest blunder in a Star Wars movie. Picture: Supplied

Man in most famous blooper in Star Wars history breaks silence

Man's amazing comeback from monster crisis

Pat O'Driscoll agents Penny Keating and Doug Webber sold 56 Agnes St, The Range at auction over the weekend.

NOT long ago, he sold his possessions to pay staff. Now he's back.

Report reveals progress on $319m airport upgrade

Aerials of the Sunshine Coast.Jetstar plane in front of the Susnhine Coast terminal, Sunshine Coast Airport.

Over two dozen government approvals needed for airport expansion

Lost dough leaves sour taste after company collapse

Kathleen and John Mahoney from Sugar and Spice Bakery were stung after the collapse of Cantro Pty Ltd and are still owed money.

Supermarket operator collapse leaves sour taste for bakery

Open for inspection homes May 25-31

Check out this weekend's homes open for inspection

How Toowoomba house prices compare in Australia

For sale sign in front of home.

Here's what $700,000 will buy you in Toowoomba, Brisbane and Sydney

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!