Sunday 26th February 2017
One racehorse, one prize winning bull and 122 souls were taken by the Coral sea on a cyclone torn night in the year of 1911. SS Yongala still lies approximately 28 metres deep off the coast of the sleepy town of Ayr, North Queensland. Having captivated wreck divers from all over the world for the last 60 years, I decided to take the plunge into a ”proper” scuba diving experience.
At 109 metres in length, SS Yongala is barely recognisable after 100 years of submersion. Teaming with marine life, the classified grave site which was discovered in 1958, is eerily compelling. An abundance of marine life finds sanctuary in it’s structure, when strong currents and lack of reef in the area becomes an advantage to seeing the best Queensland waters have to offer. I came across dense shoals of sweetlips and mangrove jacks, huge spotted eagle rays, bull sharks and Queensland groupers as big as my dining room table. It’s not for the faint hearted! Crazily enough, the well known wreckage site to Queensland Australia attracts over 10,000 visitors per year.
Nothing quite prepares you for the myriad of life on the SS Yongala wreckage. The structure itself acts as an artificial reef, and over the years has developed it’s own ecosystem which marine life in the area relies upon. With history and mystery, one events tragedy has become another’s diving eden which you would be stupid to miss. I was able to clap eyes upon a vintage cast iron bath tub on the port side of the vessel, the wheelhouse and portholes, all encrusted by the ever growing marine environment. Cruising with turtles, olive sea-snakes, chevron barracuda, giant trevally and moray eels. Since the wreck is a classified grave site, and in order to preserve the historical site (1 year older than the Titanic herself!), you cannot actually enter the wreckage. However, the interesting creatures appearing from the shadows definitely kept me on my toes…
Depending on the current, visilibilty can vary a considerable amount. However, I learnt that you experience the best marine life when the currents are strong. Diving the Yongala wreck is definitely an experience for the more qualified diver. Yongala dive advertises to the Advanced Open Water diver, however they do offer wreck and deep dive training with an Open Water qualification, which is what I decided to take being an open water diver at the time. Leaving from Alva beach Ayr, it was a short fast boat ride across a turbulent stretch before we met the 2 buoys that mark either end of the wreck. When not submerged, we spent the remainder of the time on the small boat at the surface, so they always recommend you take sea-sickness tablets. Across the morning we did two 30 metre dives. I would say my day was definitely worth the early morning start and expensive price tag. It was an alternative experience diving a wreckage that has no reef in the area; the sunken ship has come into it’s own.