Forget the Great Barrier Reef, go dive the Yongala. The waters around the wreck of the SS Yongala are filled with huge marine animals like sharks, rays, groupers, turtles and schooling fish.
Read here how to get the best experience diving at Yongala.
Before I traveled to Australia I thought diving the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns would be where you get the best diving. However being there I realized that Australia offers soooo many other great and unique dive sites. The Yongala wreck is definitely one of the best dive sites to see marine mega fauna, meaning the big stuff, in Australia.
Book in advance
Like most of the time, we did not book in advance and just drove to Alva Beach (guide to Yongala diving) on the recommendation of a friend. The dives were fully booked for the next 5 days but there was a chance that they would have enough people to send a second boat out in two days so we could go with them. We were lucky and it worked out.
Even if you book in advance you need some luck to be actually allowed to go to Yongala. If the weather is bad or the winds are strong it is not possible for the boats to reach the wreck.
We met the group and our guides in the dive shop from where a 4-wheel drive brought us to the beach from where the boats are actually launched every day. After they (girls luckily didn’t have to help) managed to push the boat in and everyone jumped back on board the captain had to manoeuvre the boat through the shallow area to the open sea without getting stranded.
Not a very easy task it seems and now I also understood why it is not possible to go out when the weather is bad. Already on a beautiful day like this it was challenging to get through the waves away from the beach without flipping the boat over. We finally managed to get out and after a 30 minutes boat ride we reached the wreck.
The passenger ship SS Yongala sank in a 1911 in a cyclone. The tragedy happened on her 99th voyage in Australian waters, all 122 of the passengers died. The wreck was only discovered in 1947 and investigated for the first time by divers in 1958.
Over the years, coral, sea fans and sponges covered the wreck as it functioned as an artificial reef. This brought more and more marine life towards this place. The wreck is 110 m long and intact which makes it one of the biggest wrecks to dive on in Australia. However, the dive is more about the incredible variety of marine mega fauna surrounding it.
Too much to look at
Our dive boat was attached to a buoy line leading down to the wreck. We followed the line down and could already see a school of barracuda hovering next to the wreck.
While trying to position myself to take pictures I saw two huge marble rays on the wreck and decided to rather go and take pictures there when I realized that my buddies were all the way down at 30 m. I followed them down.
The whole wreck is surrounded by fish, many of them huge like the potato cod. There is something to see in every direction. I didn’t even know where to look nor to mention of what to take pictures.
Very very poisonous snakes
In the sandy area around I found two different types of sea snakes, the olive green and the banded sea snake. I have never seen this type of banded sea snake before, it is definitely a different one than what they call banded in Asia. Like all sea snakes discovered so far this one is poisonous.
However, they are not aggressive and only bite if they feel in danger. The only thing to make sure is not to be on top of one as they have to go to the surface to breathe.
Reaching the front of the boat at first I didn’t understand what I could see just underneath – it was huge – the biggest bony fish I had ever seen. Wow. It was some kind of grouper which was definitely a lot bigger than I, at least 3 m. Later I learned that this was a Queensland grouper or giant grouper, the largest bony fish that can be found on reefs.
While we ascended a bit further we saw a guitar shark (shovelnose ray) cruising on the top of the wreck. It didn’t seem to mind the divers, none of the fish here seemed to. I was very excited to see this fish as I had never seen one before and haven’t since. They look a bit funny as if they couldn’t decide if they would want to be a shark or a ray.
In addition to all that we saw eagle rays passing by above the wreck many times, schools of sweetlips, giant morays, napoleon wrasse, turtle and just loads and loads of fish.
In the two dives we did at this site I did not have any time to actually look at the wreck although I’m pretty sure that would be great too. There is something to see all the time during a dive and several things at the same time where I didn’t even know where to look. On the second dive I stopped listening if someone banged a tank to show something, there was just too much to see.
I could have dived this site 10 times and wouldn’t have been bored. Incredible! This is one of the best dives I have done so far and the best dive I did in Australia!