When I told my diver friends in Koh Tao (Thailand) that I was going to Australia, they all instantly told me to go diving at the wreck of the SS Yongala. I haven’t even heard about it before, but as it turned out, they were absolutely right. This dive site is one of the most spectacular dive sites I have ever seen.
As divers you mostly hear about the Great Barrier Reef when talking about Australia and when you compare this dive site to the entire Great Barrier Reef, then it probably won’t hold up. But comparing the Yongala to any one dive site at The Reef, I am sure that the Yongala will come out as the winner 99 out of 100 times, just because at the Yongala there is a guarantee that you will see lots of big stuff.
Since the Yongala is the only structure in the area, the fish have nowhere else to go.
The Yongala is a 107 meter long luxury liner that sank in a cyclone back in 1911. At its time it was a state of the art steamship. When the ship sank, it was mainly because it couldn’t get warned that a cyclone was coming, because it wasn’t fitted with a radio. Ironically, a radio for the Yongala was waiting at the docks at its destination (Cairns).
Sadly, all passengers and crew of the ship died. For more than 60 years nobody knew what happened to the Yongala which gave way to many crazy conspiracy theories about its disappearance.
Getting to the Yongala (or How to get seasick)
I chose to take the dive center in Ayr, which is the closest dive center to the Yongala. They don’t go anywhere else but the wreck. And since they are a small dive center they take you out to the wreck in a smal dinghy that only fits 12 divers plus crew. The fun part is that you get to start from the beach, the not so much fun part is that you feel every small wave – and there were lots of bigger ones on the day I decided to dive. Even before we went into the water we saw a sea turtle coming to the surface to get some air.
The other options on how to get to the Yongala are bigger boats from Townsville (a 3 hour boat ride) or liveaboards. I think that the liveaboard would be the most comfortable way of seeing this fabulous wreck.
What’s the diving like at the Yongala?
There is no way to describe the feeling I had when we went down to the 100 year old wreck, but I can at least try to tell you what I saw.
As we arrived at the sunken ship we saw two huge marble rays on top of each other like they were greeting us. My guess is that the bigger one had a diameter of at least 1.5 meters.
In the next few minutes we saw a huge fish that seemed to be as big as a car, some more rays, big schools of big fish and lots of sea snakes swimming up to the surface to breathe.
The visibility was alright at about 15m and I did also see a turtle swimming in the distance. As we made our way along the wreck where you can see the engine, the galley and a steel bathtub, we enjoyed the variety of fish and rays. The Yongala is protected under Australian law and therefore it is not allowed to swim into the wreck. There is even a $5000 fine and the dive centers do actually report violations.
The highlight was the eagle rays that were cruising along. One diver tried to keep up with them but had no chance as these fascinating creatures glide effortlessly through the water like eagles in the air (maybe that’s where the name comes from?).
All in all you can say that at the Yongala you will see lot of marine life that you might have already seen somewhere else. The only difference is that they are all in one place and they are much bigger, some fish even 50% bigger than I have seen them anywhere else.
Does the SS Yongala deserve to be on The List?
Even though I have done the wreck diving specialty, I haven’t dived many wrecks so far. So for me it is very hard to decide if the wreck of the SS Yongala should be on our list of the 1000 Places To See Before You Die.
The SS Yongala is amazing and the marine life does make every divers heart go faster. I will do a lot more wreck dives and dive in even more fantastic places. Once I have seen more of the best dive spots in the world, I can decide if that should be on our list. I would be surprised if this dive site doesn’t make it on the list, but if it doesn’t, that means that I will get to see even more beautiful dive sites. And that is really hard to imagine.