The SS. Yongala sank off Cape Bowling Green, Queensland, Australia on 23 March 1911. En route from Melbourne to Cairns, she steamed directly into the path of a cyclone and sank south of Townsville. There were no survivors and nobody knew what happened for years until the wreck was discovered after WW2. Now the wreck is a haven for sea life and is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.
Please note all of these photos are taken either of me, with me or by me and there would be millions more of huge rays and sharks and turtles but as I was working I often had to leave my GOPRO on the boat!
I went there as a pretty young diver, I did my Advanced course there and completely fell in love. Years later I went back as a Dive Master Trainee and lived and worked there for three months and it was probably the best decision of my life. The company who trained me was Yongala Dive, a small Dive Shop and hostel in a teeny tiny place called Alva Beach- to call it a one horse town would make it seem too big, this place isn’t even a one foal town, it’s the most isolated place I’ve ever been but it is also one of the most wonderful.It’s very quiet, it’s stunningly beautiful and it’s the kinda place there is always a little trouble. Not the vicious trouble you get in the city but the sort of good-natured trouble that you can’t help but laugh a little at. Someone’s gotten a little too drunk and stolen a frozen chicken out of a freezer, the local pet dogs come and go as they please, the children run and scream and play in the mud until they are filthy but they’re all gap-tooth-smiles and laughing. This is a place where you would describe people as ‘good country folk’. Anyway enough about Alva beach, maybe I’m getting a little nostalgic.
As far as diving is concerned I would definitely use Yongala Dive; of course, I’m biased but I love the company. Luke is one of the most committed dive instructors I’ve ever met, he’s been diving there every day for years and knows all the animals like the back of his hand. If you want to see a shark or a particular nudibranch or plant or literally anything he’s your man. Everyone who works there is dedicated to the wreck, and its the closest company to the site, only about half an hour/ 45 minutes by boat away.
The site is incredible, you descend down the line and see almost nothing but open water until this ghost of a ship emerges from nowhere. A huge hull appearing from nothing, covered in every colour of coral. The animals who live there are the definition of great, they are not only incredible, beautiful and rare but they are ENORMOUS. Imagine the biggest puffer fish you’ve ever seen and times that by 10, it’s like the flora and fauna are on steroids. I wish I could show you my videos, the photos just don’t do it justice.
The best time to visit is between the months of August and October. The sea is warming up but not yet warm enough for the swarms of jellyfish that invade during the Australian summertime and as the humpbacks are migrating with their babies you’re pretty likely to see them from the boat, you’re almost sure to hear them singing during the dive and if you’re very lucky you might just see them underwater.
A word of warning though, this is not a dive for beginners. The current is very strong, the sea often rough and I would only recommend the dive to strong swimmers. Although Open Water Divers can dive there escorted by an Instructor I would recommend that you get some experience under your belt before you go. If you’re desperate to go and don’t have enough time try to book a day when there is guaranteed good weather (although the current cannot be determined until you actually get out there).
A word of advice that you’ll thank me for- take sea sickness pills. Please, please, please take the pills ahead of time, people get ill at the site all the time. The boat ride is no trouble but it’s an hour on the boat between the first and second dives and since it’s in the middle of the open sea those big rollers have a way of making people feel awful. I worked there for 3 months and I’d say that someone was sea-sick pretty much every day because they didn’t listen to the staff’s warnings.
You also need to understand Decompression Time/ No Deco Time, it’s something you should already know but please swat up on your understanding of it for this site. I had to explain it every morning and I don’t think most people really understood what I was really talking about.
This magical, beautiful site is so completely breathtaking. I think the first time I saw it, with clouds of 30 to 40 Eagle Rays gliding over the top of the ship it brought tears to my eyes. This place is one of the last havens for the large animals of the sea, the rare, the tiny, the ugly and the downright bazaar they are all here and this is a must for anyone who loves diving. For me this place is almost like a church, the tragedy that became the SS Yongala has now produced something incredible, this huge beautiful ship is now the most beautiful and vital grave possibly in the world. You can keep the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids of Giza beauty begins and ends with the SS Yongala.