An oasis on the ocean floor

Yongala is hands down an Australian best.

Kristy’s account from August 2012

I often get asked about my favourite dive site in Australia, and people are often surprised as to how quickly I answer them. No need to think about it, it is for sure, hands down, without doubt the SS Yongala.

Located off the coast of Alva Beach near Ayr the SS Yongala is a passenger ship wreck that went down 100 years ago in a cyclone. There are two options when choosing a dive company, the local Yongala Dive which launches you off the beach in an inflatable or a Townsville operation that has you spending 3 hours at sea just in transfer. The latter I never considered a viable option.

I’ve been back to dive out of Alva Beach on 4 occasions, and for me it just keeps getting better. An afternoon flight to Townsville and a drive down the coast will get you in at the dive lodge in time for a couple of cold ones and an early night’s sleep, because the next day is all action!

From the dive shop the truck takes you down a bumpy path to the beach where you launch for a 20 minute trip aboard the ‘Yongala Express’ out to the wreck. It’s good to bear in mind that you are in completely open ocean without the protection of any reef system or islands. If the wind gets above 15 knots then the dive will be cancelled. The reason for this becomes apparent when you see you dive buddies turn a lighter shade of green and go clambering for the edge of the boat. Just another excuse to get you kit on and get in!

As you descend down the line the shadow of the ship appears before you, but you couldn’t care less because you are too busy breaking your neck looking at the massive fish!! You name it and its there, but not like you have ever experienced before. This time everything is on steroids, huge beyond belief, an incredible frenzy of mega fish all buying for your attention at the same time. The rusty old boat they all happen to be living on becomes insignificant even for the most avid wreck diver.

Marble rays glide past you in numbers up to a dozen as if you aren’t even there, then the odd eagle ray will come in for a quick dance alongside the bull rays. Sea snakes weave their way in between your fins whilst the resident giant grouper and flowery potato cod at the bow of the boat are as big as I have ever seen. Turtles, bat fish, giant Queensland groupers (aptly named VW do to its relative size), schooling trevally, barracouta and on one dive what I thought was a grey nurse out in the blue, turns out she was just a friendly bull shark! I have even been blessed with breaching whales on the boat ride back in.

This is a truly special place. Every dives safety stop is counting down the long three minutes till you get to finally exchange words with your buddy about what you have just witnessed. This is one of the few dives in the world that has left me with adrenalin lasting for hours along with a stupid grin just at the new memory of such a brilliant dive. Amazing dive buddies in Brady, Kat, Kath, Naomi and Carolyn and tropical warm waters obviously help too 🙂

A couple of planning notes if you want to experience the Yongala:

  • the ‘drive down the coast’ is indeed a drive, of about an hour – if you don’t have a handy Steve to chauffeur you, you’ll most likely need to hire a car; Alva Beach isn’t on a handy bus or train line.
  • it’s reasonably expensive – about $250 for a double dive – but as a ‘destination’ dive, it’s worth it, in our opinion. And given you’ve gone all that way, combine it with a road trip to Cairns, where you can then push off into the Great Barrier Reef!