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.

Thanks for 'The Big Help' says Pete

CUT ABOVE: Sophie Moeller, editor of Lismore Echo, having her hair done by Peter Crowley from Pomstar Hairdressers in The Star Court Arcade, Lismore.

Pomstar is on the pulse and the feeling for Lismore is good

WATCH: See inside Flock's new home

SURVIVORS: Partners Sarah Jones and Kymberlee Strow have reopened Flock on Woodlark Street.

First look inside the new Flock premises

Answer The Salvos knock for help

Major Lindsay Reeves  from The Salvation Army based in Goonellabah.

It is Red Shield Appeal time again in Lismore

Local Partners

Our Kids Ball gives boost to retail in CBD

Post flood grant money a "blessing” for dress designer and Our Kids sponsor Julia Taranto

First female superhero film in 12 years

AMAZON: Actress Gal Gadot in a scene from the film Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman opens next Thursday

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

Pauly puts stereo back into stereotypes

PAULY: Paul Fenech is a comedian of Maltese and Aboriginal descent.

'A bourbon-fuelled bogan subwoofer bonanza of comedy.'

Rebel Wilson says she didn’t have to lie to make it

I’M not glamorous, but that doesn’t make me a liar: that’s the message from Rebel Wilson on her second day in the witness box.

Kim Kardashian slammed over Manchester tribute

Kim Kardashian's tribute to Manchester didn't go down well

Top Gun 2 movie is happening, Tom Cruise confirms

Tom Cruise in a scene from the movie Top Gun.

TOM Cruise delights fans with announcement on Sunrise.

The first Baywatch movie reviews are in

From left, Jon Bass, Alex Daddario, Zac Efron, Dwayne Johnson, Kelly Rohrbach, and Ilfenesh Hadera in a scene from the movie Baywatch.

Critics were less than impressed.

Boyfriend loses it over sex lie

Stacey Louise’s sex lie destroys her relationship.

SEVEN Year Switch’s Stacey told a fib about her sex life.

Why Crowe’s thankful for those ‘bulls**t’ rumours

Russell Crowe and Terri Irwin in 2007.

Crowe and Terri Irwin have been dodging dating rumours for years now

MOVIE REVIEW: King Arthur - Legend of the Sword

Charlie Hunnam in a scene from the movie King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

Why the critics have got Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur all wrong.

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

One of Maryborough's most historic homes is still for sale

FULL OF HISTORY: Trisha Moulds is owner of the historic Tinana state known as Rosehill. The beautiful home is currently for sale.

It has been the scene of both joy and tragedies over the years.

The face of the Sunshine Coast's overpriced rental crisis

Alyx Wilson had to rent a $385 unit in Currimundi because the market was too competitive for cheaper rental housing. She is now renting a room from friends who own a house in Currimundi, and says its much more affordable.

Young people feel the strain in competitive, expensive rental market

WATCH: Take a tour of a tradie's dream home

5a Bruce Hiskens Court, Norman Gardens, going for $720,000. INSET: Lea Taylor.

Huge block with potential for anything

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!