What is the best wreck dive in the world?

No doubt the question of ‘what is the best wreck dive in the world?’ is fiercely debated with literally hundreds of wreck dive sites vying for the title, but on a recent diving trip to Australia I came across a wreck called the SS Yongala, which surely has to be considered as one of the best.

It was my first trip to Australia and despite limited time, scuba diving was naturally one of my #1 priorities so we took a 3 hour flight to the Whitsunday islands on the East coast approximately half way between Cairns and Sydney. We decided against the obvious choice of the great barrier reef off Cairns, mainly because of limited time but also because I was keen on seeing the humpback whale migration from the Antarctic to the Arctic which is best seen around the Whitsunday islands. This experience did not disappoint, as we took a boat from the mainland to Whitsunday island we not only saw around 5 or 6 humpback whales, some with their calfs, but we also saw a manta ray meandering along the coast and dolphins and turtles! It truly was a spectacular sight and not something I will forget.

Humpback off Australia coast

Whitsunday island was beautiful too with sand whiter than white and so fine it squeaked as you walked on it. The water was perhaps a little cold for swimming so we took in the sights and headed back to the boat and onto hook island, which is where we would do a couple of dives. The reason for visiting the SS Yongala was simply because the diving was actually quite disappointing here, with no more than 10m viz an other than a rather large grouper the sealife was relatively limited to standard reef fish. Heading back to the resort we asked our divemaster for any recommendations to make up for this and he happened to be a former instructor for Yongala Dive, the only dive operation at Ayr beach which is the closest mainland point to the wreck, and so we took him up on his suggestion to drive North for 2 hours and check it out.

SS Yongala

That evening we jumped in the car and set off for Ayr, until that day an unknown town in the middle of nowhere and upon arriving at the lodge I did begin to wonder whether it was a good move. The town was devoid of life and Alva beach was totally deserted, the only signs of life were a few divers staying at the Yongala dive lodge, which was from what it seemed the only accommodation available and soon enough we checked in and settled down to a quiet evening, looking forward to the next day of diving.

After the obligatory sizing up, signing of forms and general preparation we were soon on the boat for a bumpy 30 minute ride out to the site. We were given a briefing on the history of the wreck which you can read about on the Yongala Dive website, and we were soon in the water. There was quite a lot of chop, but from what we heard the conditions were good for the exposed area and this turned out to be true with visibility around 15-18m. As we descended we were instantly surrounded by a school of chevron baracuda and by the time we reached the hull of the wreck a marble ray gracefully swam by – what a start! The wreck was teaming with life, from schools of jacks to groupers, to potato cod.

Diving on the SS Yongala

Everything seemed to be oversized too, the groupers were 6ft long, the batfish were 1m wide and the wrasse as large as I have ever seen them. Another huge marble ray was lying in the sand next to what I thought was a shark but turned out to be a cobia fish (a shark lookalike) and a variety of sea snakes were swimming around us including olive seasnakes and banded seasnakes. Such was the sheer variety of fish that it was easy to lose focus on the incredible wreck they lived on, which went down in tragic circumstances in 1911 during a cyclone and remains closed off to divers. Everyone was simply blown away from the dive and we were all talking about what we saw all the way back to the lodge, and for everyone in our group at least when asked the question what is the best wreck dive in the world? The SS Yongala would certainly be a contender.