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



Support for heritage site Gondwana Rainforests

The grants aim to support community engagement and awareness raising activities that promote places on Australia's National Heritage List.

Community groups offered up to $10 thousand to support the forest

Better than a birds' eye view

UP ABOVE: A drone carrying LiDAR technology surveys a macadamia farm on the Coffs Coast.

Drones used to help farmers with LiDAR imaging

REVEALED: Not one dollar Federally for Coffs Harbour Bypass

Coffs harbour aerial
06 june 2015
Photo Trevor Veale / Coffs Coast Advocate

Albanese: Federal Govt. has not given a dollar to the Coffs bypass

Local Partners

Pick up for a new read

THERE'S a new place for the dusty books sitting on your shelves that never get read.


Coffs Hotel celebrates 80 years

IN THE BAR: Coffs Hotel Crew 1930's style. Ray Alaban, Sunday Faynes, 90-year-old Alby McLean (who worked at the hotel when he was 20), Wally the jester (at rear) and publican Marty Philips welcome all to come celebrate.

The doors first opened at this beloved family-owned local in 1937

REVIEW: Under the Gun doco looks at right to bear arms

ARMED: A still from the 2016 documentary film Under the Gun by Stephanie Soechtig.

An in-depth look into America's gun culture.

Messing with your head

MIND BLOWN: What could be weirder than the realisation that we have another completely separate brain and nervous system than the one originating in our heads?

Fascinating connection between your gut and your brain

What's on the big screen this week

HUGH Jackman returns one last time as Wolverine in Logan and the iconic Australian novel Jasper Jones comes to life on the big screen.

Walking Dead villain takes on new role in The Missing

David Morrissey, Keeley Hawes, Abigail Hardingham and Tcheky Karyo in a scene from The Missing.

Walking Dead villain returns to screens in mystery show, The Missing

Holly Valance caught up in $213m lawsuit

Holly Valance

Lawsuit alleges blackmail, extortion and intimidation by Candy pair

Lifesaver for a day: One-of-a-kind Coast tour

The Mooloolaba Surf Club is launching a new tour of the club and beach that educates visitors about life a as surf lifesaver. Getaway is filming a segment about the tour with presenter Charli Robinson.

Behind-the-scenes tour of surf club attracts television appearance

BOOKS: Superstition a central theme in new outback thriller

Author Cassandra Austin.

Cassandra Austin is celebrating the release of her second novel

MKR recap: The secret ingredients to longevity and success

It’s chilli con carnage on MKR.

‘Turn up the heat’ means chillies. Lots of chillies.

MOVIE REVIEW: Logan doesn't pull any punches

THE WOLVERINE: Hugh Jackman in a scene from the movie Logan.

Gritty, real performances worth the gore in new X-Men movie.

Elevated elegance at Korora

Property 10 Korora Bay Dr

Relax and enjoy the views from this dress-circle property

Iconic North Coast post office up for sale

HISTORY: Nicole Swain is selling the historic Bangalow Post Office building this month.

Post office comes complete with the historic Lest We Forget clock

Opponents question Sekisui's 68% support claim

VIEW: An artist's impression of Sekisui House's proposal looking towards Mount Coolum.

Developer says it has 68% support, claims which raised some eyebrows

Major Burrum Heads development to go to vote

Site development plans for the proposed lot conversion at Burrum Heads, near Beach Dr.

Councillors will vote on the lot conversions.

Retirees need to sell up

TIME TO SELL: Retirees may hold the key to solving housing affordability.

Should retirees be given incentives to sell?

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!