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SS YONGALA – No.1 DOWN UNDER

By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose

 

Australia is blessed with many wonderful dive sites, but without doubt its most highly regarded dive site is a shipwreck located off the Queensland coast. This shipwreck is home to more fish and other marine life than you will see at any other dive site in the country, or any country for that matter, and is called the SS Yongala.

 

On the 23rd of March 1911 the 109m long passenger and cargo steam ship SS Yongala was on a voyage from Melbourne to Cairns when tragedy struck. The ship ran into a cyclone and didn’t survive the fierce storm, disappearing below the waves and taking all 123 people on board to a watery grave. Today the SS Yongala rests 12 nautical miles offshore, south of the city of Townsville, and is regarded as one of the best dive sites in the world. The wreck rests on its starboard side in depths from 15m to 29m, the perfect depth for any diver to enjoy.

 

The shipwreck itself is fascinating to explore, although divers are prohibited from penetrating the wreck to help preserve the structure. Divers can see portholes, the engines, cargo hatches, lifeboat davits, winches, bollards, masts and even several toilets. The only problem many divers will find is identifying these objects as the wreck is decorated with the most exquisite coral growth – black coral trees, soft corals, sponges, sea whips and delicate candelabra gorgonians.

 

As pretty as the shipwreck is, the main reason divers love the SS Yongala is the prolific marine life that swarms around this historic wreck. Schooling fish engulf the wreck, commonly seen are barracuda, trevally, snapper, sweetlips, fusiliers, batfish, cardinalfish and baitfish. While reef fish abound, the wreck is constantly patrolled by pelagic fish like Spanish mackerel, giant trevally, cobia, queenfish and wahoo. Some of the larger fish residence include coral trout, estuary gropers, Maori wrasse, parrotfish, pufferfish and giant Queensland gropers, some of which are well over 2m long.

 

If that wasn’t enough the SS Yongala is also home to dozens of turtles, countless sea snakes, stingrays, shovelnose rays, eagle rays, tawny nurse sharks, black-tip sharks and even bull sharks. It also attracts many unexpected visitors like manta rays, dolphins, shark rays, whale sharks and on our last visit we encountered the world’s largest and rarest stingray, a 2m wide smalleye stingray.

 

The SS Yongala can be dived year round, but can at times be affected by strong currents and dirty water (the average visibility is only 6 to 10m, but it can be over 20m at times). However, you don’t need perfect conditions to enjoy all the marine life on this amazing shipwreck. The SS Yongala is visited by day boats operating out of Townsville and Alva Beach, and on special liveaboard trips on the vessel Spoilsport.

 

A dive on the SS Yongala is an experience you will never forget.

 

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