Jumping in the water the first thing I noticed was how strong the current was. My dive buddies quickly floated down the surface line to the buoy connected to the descent line. I however still had to get my camera from the boat and was struggling against the current whilst it was passed down to me.
What is the SS Yongala?
The SS Yongala was a passenger ship which did regular trips around Australia. On March 23rd, 1911 she was on route from Melbourne to Cairns when she encountered a cyclone. She was due to stop in Townsville the next day, however her lack of arrival did not raise concern due to the assumption that she had taken cover from the cyclone. After three other ships arrived in Townsville a few days later the alarm was raised, and the SS Yongala was reported missing. The ship and her 122 passengers and crew remained missing for a further 50 years.
In 1943 a minesweeper passed over the wreck and marked it as an obstruction on their map but thought it to just be a coral shoal. After the war finished the Navy investigated the obstruction and discovered that it was in fact an object about 300 feet long and was probably a wreck of a steamer. The Yongala was the only ship to have been reported missing in those waters and therefore the Navy did not follow up their investigation any further. Bill Kirkpatrick was the first person to dive the wreck in 1958. He managed to salvage a steel safe. The safe was unfortunately empty but did provide a serial number which was traced to having been supplied to the SS Yongala during her construction in Newcastle in 1903. This however did not confirm that the wreck was the SS Yongala, and therefore more salvage dives were arranged. Eventually the ships bell, with the words “Yongalla 1903” engraved on it, was found.
Nowadays the wreck is one of the best dive sites on The Great Barrier Reef. She rests on her starboard side in approximately 30 meters of water. The wreck is in open water with no protection from the reef and is therefore prone to strong currents and choppy surface conditions.
After being underwater for over 100 years the wreck is now covered in marine life. The first thing I noticed as we descended the line to the stern of the wreck, was the school of over a thousand glass fish hovering over and around the wreck. There were trevally darting in and out of the school trying to catch lunch. I knew it was going to be an exciting dive. On our first dive we took the deck side of the wreck. We quickly found a turtle hiding in one of the openings, but I wasn’t able to get a photo as the current swept me passed too quickly. Entranced in the soft corals and glass fish combinations, I looked up from my camera to see a giant marble ray gently cruising over the wreck, this time I fought the current to get a picture.
During our surface interval we heard that another group had seen a guitar shark on the hull side of the wreck. Of course, it became our mission for the second dive to find said shark.
This time I kept my eyes out into the blue, but I didn’t need to as the guitar shark swam right below me. It was very shy and didn’t let me get too close, but I still got some pictures.
How was the reef?
There was absolutely no evidence of The Great Barrier Reef being dead at this site. In some cases, it was actually hard to see the wreck through all of the coral and fish life. Yes, this may not be a coral reef, but it is still within The Great Barrier Reef Marine park and is subjected to the same environmental conditions as the rest of the reef. Here those conditions are not having any effect on the quality of coral and marine life. This Dive site is far from dead!
Should I dive there?
Although this may be considered a difficult dive due to the current and depth, it is definitely something worth doing. The abundance of marine life is just incredible, and two dives were not enough. I will be going back soon.
If you want to dive this wreck, I strongly recommend Yongala Dive. Their dive center is situated in Ayr, about 1 hours’ drive south of Townsville. From here it takes just 30 minutes to reach the wreck, meaning you can have two dives and be back in time for a BBQ lunch at their campsite.
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