The wreck of the SS Yongala is considered to be one of the best wreck dives in the world and arguably a must-see dive if coming to Australia.
The Yongala Shipwreck is a 110m long former steel passenger and freight steamer which sank during a cyclone on March 23rd, 1911 with the loss of all 122 people aboard. It was not until 1958 that the wreck was first dived and due to its remote location, it has remained mostly untouched. The wreck begins 15m below the surface and extends down to 30m. Since it is the only large reef structure in the region, a huge variety of marine life gathers at the wreck creating Australia’s best dive site. She lies on her Starboard (left) side.
The wreck itself lies 12 nautical miles off of Alva Beach (near Ayr) in central Queensland. There are 2 operators visiting the wreck.
Out of Ayr there is Yongala Dive (see our web site here for details). This trip runs every day and uses a smaller boat taking only 12 people, so it does book out fast. However, the advantage here is it only takes 30-40 minutes (it takes 3 hours from Townsville!).
Buses run from most cities to Ayr and there are free pick-ups mid-afternoon from the Ayr bus stop that take you to the dive shop.
There is accommodation at the dive shop which is dorm style bunks or there is a double room available (double bed) and the prices include continental breakfast. AUD$29 per night for a dorm room and $66 for a double room per night. (See link above for photos). Bar b que lunch is included in the price and the facilities are charming, and typical Queensland.
Ayr itself is about 1.5 hours drive south of Townsville and 2.5 hors north of Airlie Beach. Plenty of camp sites and accommodation here if you don’t want to stay at the dive shop.
Out of Townsville there is Adrenaline Dive who run day trips there Wednesday and Saturdays (note, they need minimum numbers of 11 to run, so are prone to cancel). It’s a larger vessel and takes 3 hours to get to the wreck and 3 hours back. Departures from Townsville and Magnetic Island.
What do I need to be able to dive the Yongala?
Because the Yongala lies in 30m of water you ideally need to be a minimum of Advanced certified diver to freely dive the wreck.
However, if you are Open Water certified, and have proof of 6 logged dives (your training dives count as 4), then you can take the trip but will need some additional training in Deep Diving. This can be done either by showing you have previous Deep Dive training, or by taking a Deep Orientation Dive (extra $25) with one of the Instructors.
Minimum age to dive the wreck is 14 years of age.
Divers with less than 20 logged dives must go with a complimentary dive guide.
If you have less than 20 logged dives, and have not dived within the last 6 months, you will also need to arrange a refresher. This can be done the day prior to your trip.
This dive site is not suitable for snorkelers. Non-divers can go on the boat, but will have to pay full price.
2 dives are taken on the day trips and usually last for 40 mins with an hours surface interval.
Any divers travelling alone will be provided with a dive buddy, and guides are complimentary.
Like most wrecks, you need the first part of your dive to orientate your way around her, especially when the viz doesn’t allow you to see more than 10 m of her at any given time (note: average visibility here is 15m). But it’s actually an easily navigated dive along the top ridge, as there are buoys and lines at the bow and stern. Remember this wreck is in the middle of a shipping channel so strong currents are common.
You are not allowed to enter the wreck as your bubbles, and the oxygen within them, can oxidise and corrode the structure. Big fines discourage anyone from doing so and its strictly policed by the dive operators. Its also a grave site so out of respect for those who died on the wreck some respect needs to be shown.
Having said that there is so much to see and few divers will ever witness so many schooling fish in the one location.
The surface of the wreck is encrusted with growth of one kind or another: soft corals, whip coral, bryozoans and plenty of colourful sponges. Living and swimming around all of this are myriads of little fish, yellow and black damsels, anthias fish, coral Bream and patches of young lunar Fusiliers.
Further away from the protection of the wreck itself swim some of the larger pelagics. Huge Queensland Grouper (2.5m long and nicknamed “V.W.”) and Maori Wrasse (called Napoleon wrasse in Europe) are regulars here along with Potato and flowery cod.
Reef sharks are common and occasionally you will see Manta rays and Bull rays swimming around the wreck. Last time I was there I spent swath seemed like hours (but was probably only about 5 minutes!) playing with some very inquisitive olive brown sea snakes. Also regular residents here are Green and Hawksbill turtles, coral trout and schools of barracuda circling around the baitfish.
Between July and September its Minke whale migration and you can often see and certainly hear them, close to the wreck.
As for the wreck itself you often forget to look at the structure due to intense marine life that totally absorbs you. The bow (front) of the vessel has probably the best variety of life so plan to send some time here. It’s also the deepest part so be wary of your time. The wreck is intact so the structure is visible all the way around From the top (Port side) you can look down into the wreck and see the cast iron bath and toilets. The engine room, anchor, funnels and rudder are all still visible and you get to see all of the top deck,
Diving is great all year round, although different in summer and winter. Seasons are the reverse of the northern hemisphere.
Please give plenty of notice during September to January is peak season here so book well in advance (2-3 weeks ideally)
• Winter (June to Aug)– offers warm, clear days with better visibility (15-25m), wind sometimes stronger and water temperature a little cooler 21-25 degrees Celsius
• Humpback whales are common during June to September, manta rays etc (august onwards)
• Land temp approx 25 degrees Celsius
• Spring/Summer (Sept to Dec)– warmer water (25 – 30 degree celsius) and generally offers lighter winds. January to April is wet/cyclone season with high humidity but can offer some great diving with large schools of bait fish around and therefore lots of feeding action
• Visibility approx 10-15 m
• Land temp from 28 – 35 degrees Celsius
Yongala Dive operates daily except for Tuesdays
Take the fastest trip to the historic S.S. Yongala wreck, voted as one of the Top 10 Dives in the World. Yongala Dive will take you to the wreck in 30 minutes. The artifacts, marine life and variety of corals that cover the wreck are spectacular. It’s a dive experience you will remember for the rest of your life!More Info