Yongala Wreck, Queensland, Australia

Friday 8th July 2016

Six years. The amount of time I have talked about diving the Yongala wreck but never managed to get there, before now. The Yongala wreck is voted by many as one of the best dive sites in the world so it has a lot to live up to.

I met Mark in Townsville coming off his liveaboard trip and we headed down to Alva to dive with Yongala Dive in the morning. Alva is just over an hour’s drive from Townsville.

Firstly, how big are the Mosquitos in Alva?! Luckily the dive shop was well equipped and had plenty of insect repellent to spare as I had not brought any with me.

The shop has a great layout for gearing up and the crew load the whole boat for you so you don’t have to lift a finger. They are pretty cruisy at the shop there, and mostly deal with tourists on a regular basis so there is definitely no sense of urgency to gear up and head off.

About ten of us headed out for the beach launch in the troopy and it reminded me of launching the boat at Stradbroke island. We were on a large rib and it was very spacious, so I was happy. We were lucky to have flat seas and it was a lovely thirty minute ride out to the site.

For the first dive, Mark and I descended and at five metres we swam inside a school of a few hundred Barracuda! We could have hung out there for ages with them but I was keen to get onto the actual Wreck. So down the line we went through the big Barracuda eyes.

The visibility was ten to fifteen metres and cloudy in the distance with some floaties coming through in the current. The current was mild and I was expecting something a lot stronger. I was so impressed with the colour of corals littered all over the wreck and the abundance of fish.

It was sensory overload with me not knowing what to film first. I spent quite a bit of time on the bottom at twenty seven metres with an Olive Sea Snake that was hunting. Later on I saw another three, one with a Maori Wrasse and Coral Trout huddling together.

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I had never seen so many Maori Wrasse on one dive site before. I must have seen about a dozen or more. Lionfish, Bat Fish, Emperor, Coral Trout, Malabar Cod, Queensland Grouper, huge Mackeral and even bigger Great Trevally darted in and out of the wreck.

As we circumnavigated the wreck on the Starboard side it was absolutely covered with baitfish. So thick it looked like a large net from the distance. Layers and layers of fish upon fish hid larger Pelagics that were getting cleaned behind them.

Despite diving Nitrox 32, it still ate into our NDL’s fairly quickly and I wished I hadn’t spent all that time filming the Sea Snake on the bottom when there seemed to be many all over the wreck.

Maximum depth twenty seven metres. Maximum dive time fifty minutes.

On the second dive I chose not to take my camera, mainly as the batteries were about to die and Mark didn’t have his camera either. I figured we could do some reconnaissance of the wreck and find some good spots to film for tomorrow. Of course we were bound to see something amazing as you know is always the way when you leave your camera!

We started on the Starboard side this time and there were a school of meaty beautiful looking Queenies getting cleaned on top.

We headed down to the bottom and Mark pointed out a Giant Moray Eel being cleaned.

I saw something in my peripheral vision so I turned around to see a stunning three metre Bull Shark swimming beside me! It was so close I could clearly see the detail on its face and beady greenish eye staring at mine. I yelled out to Mark and he saw it as it turned and swam off into the cloudiness. It was the closest I have ever come to a Bull Shark and pretty exciting!

I kept an eye out for it and it did come back in and out of vision a few times as we proceeded along the wreck. We got to the Bow and there was a school of Snapper and Sweetlips hanging about underneath.

I glanced out into the murk again off the Bow hoping to see some more Sharks and OMG…the biggest Shark I have ever ever seen came about! I was screaming at Mark SHARK SHARK and he glanced up as it turned. When it turned to swim back away, every single living thing cleared the area!

It seemed to be on a mission though so I was keen on not being part of that mission and headed up towards the topside of the wreck. It was an absolute Monster and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

On the top of the wreck we saw some huge Bat Fish getting cleaned with their big clowny mouths open. I saw another two Bull Sharks on the Port side of the wreck, one about two metres and smaller one swimming beside it. A large school of Queenies chilled in the blue as we ascended to the line.

As we made our way up the line another Bull Shark glided underneath us! It was about two metres and weirded me out as it went out of vision really quickly. Once on the surface I pulled myself very quickly on the line to the boat.

I don’t know what it was about the Bull Sharks but I didn’t like the thought of them being under me when I was on the surface. It’s strange because I’ve been in the water with Tiger Sharks, Great Whites, Hammerheads, and lots of other Sharks but I’ve never felt anxious about those ones. I think it was seeing the sheer size of the Monster one on the Bow that was patrolling that shook me a bit.

Pumped and super impressed with today’s diving. The Yongala wreck has absolutely lived up to its reputation and I cannot wait to see what tomorrow has to offer!

Maximum depth twenty seven metres. Maximum time fifty minutes.

Saturday 9th July

I remembered last night why I don’t stay at backpackers. A group of young Irish and Scottish people arrived at the house late and ended up drinking until 1am or 2am. Needless to say I didn’t have the best sleep even with ear plugs in.

We also managed to get bogged in the soft sand on the way to launch the boat off the beach this morning. The tractor towed us out though and we headed out to the site. Pretty good conditions again today, slightly choppier on the water.

Mark and I were the first to descend and through the same school of Barracuda we saw yesterday at ten metres. We hung with them for a while then I spotted a huge Marble Bull Ray off the stern and swam in for a closer look. I managed to get right behind it, its tail brushing against me.

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An Olive Sea Snake was making its way down from the surface whilst large Great Trevally’s patrolled the Starboard side of the wreck. Thousands of baitfish darted together in unison and the video lights pinged off them like little stars in the sky.

We saw some beautiful Coral Trout, Maori Wrasse, and Silver Mackeral. I looked off into the blue hoping to see the Bull Sharks we saw yesterday and this time film them.

We headed down to the Bow and saw two Queensland Grouper in the current, a large Sting Ray sat emerged in sand on the bottom and there were big Kobia swimming in and out of view.

At the Bow I missed a Green turtle that swam right behind me, as I filmed three large Malabar Cod hanging around the mooring line, and then a school of Sweet lips under the Bow with some Snapper.

As we proceeded around the Bow and onto the Port side of the wreck we saw a large school of Snapper and the school of Barracuda above still circling. Lots of Maori Wrasse, soft corals, and beautiful Angel fish covered the topside apart from one baron patch. Mark saw a Bull shark in the distance but I missed it.

Water temperature was twenty four degrees Celsius and I was toasty warm in my 6/7mm wetsuit.

Maximum depth 27 metres. Maximum time 50 minutes

On our second dive we headed to the Bow along the Starboard side again. We were two thirds there when I saw a large Bull Shark in the distance and it was bee lining directly towards me. I pointed my camera, hit record, and thought shit its coming right towards me…

Following it were twenty odd Queenies, large Kobia and Snapper as well as some Remoras clinging to it. It came directly towards the camera and turned about two metres in front of me. I followed it trying to catch up. The Queenies were rubbing themselves against its coarse skin. I kept following it as we swam past all the other divers. When I realised I wasn’t going to catch it I stopped filming and let it swim off.

The more I saw the Bull Sharks the more comfortable I got with them in the water. Only problem was now I had to swim the whole length of the wreck again to get back to where I was before with Mark.

I caught back up to Mark and we revelled in our victory of seeing the Bull Shark. I was ecstatic with the experience and also glad that Mark had realised I had taken off after the Bull Shark and not just disappeared. That’s the beauty of diving with a mate whom you have dived with for several years.

I felt lopsided in Sidemount after the swim and soon realised I had forgotten to switch regulators and instead sucked down one tank too much to twenty bar. Because the tanks are aluminium when they are emptied they get buoyant and that’s why we put a weight on each tank to try to counteract this .

I switched to my other tank that had a good hundred and ten bar in it and informed Mark of what I had done and that we would turn the dive and head back to the mooring.

We spent some time at the mooring line before making our ascent up to the boat back through the Barracuda.

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Maximum Depth twenty six metres. Maximum time fifty five minutes.

Sunday 10th July

After a good night’s sleep this time (four glasses of red wine and a travel calm will do that). We headed back out on Yongala Dive’s smaller boat called the ‘Phantom’.

We were about to get into the Phantom after the beach launch but there was an issue with a part needing to be replaced so back to the shop and waiting for twenty minutes until they fixed it up.

On our second attempt, the sea was a bit choppier then yesterday and the Phantom was a wet boat so we got drenched heading out. It was much smaller so there wasn’t a lot of room compared to their bigger boat.

I had mentioned to the other divers that they should take some sea sick pills as there were people that got sick yesterday and it was rougher today. No-one decided to take my advice though, despite one of them admitting they suffer from sea sickness.

Mark and I headed into the water first. The visibility was down to ten to twelve metres and there were a lot of floaties in the water. This was probably because there was no current at all. We saw a few Olive Sea Snakes, Large Sting Ray in the sand, Doggy Mackeral being cleaned on the stern, lots of Cod and Great Trevally, school of Snapper, and Queensland Grouper.

Watching the pelagics being cleaned was really interesting against the colourful soft corals and waves of baitfish teaming over the wreck as Mackeral and Trevally hunted for their mid day snack.

I saw another Bull shark in the same area, mid-way on the Starboard side of the wreck. It had a few Queenies following it and they rubbed up against the Shark’s coarse skin. I swam over to it and it came back for a bit hovering above the sand before it departed again. It appeared to be the same friendly Shark we had seen the day before.

Maximum depth twenty seven metres. Maximum time fifty five minutes.

During the surface interval, like I had warned them…two divers were suffering from sea sickness and bent over the side of the boat.

I tried not to look at them hurling as it was making me feel sick as I gobbled up my juicy watermelon.

On the second dive we saw pretty much the same marine life. No Bull Shark this time. Lots of Maori Wrasse and Angel fish. Some Kobia on the sand. Batfish getting cleaned on top of the wreck and Olive Sea Snakes hunting.

The water was a touch colder today but still pretty warm in my 6/7mm wetsuit and my beanie and waterproof and wind proof jacket made all the difference on the surface.

Maximum depth twenty five metres. Maximum time fifty five minutes.

Monday 11th July 2016

Today it was bumpy getting out to the site. I sat on the side of the rib and it was like kite surfing bouncing around up there which was pretty fun!

Mark and I were asked to get in first which was great as there were no other boats on the site. We descended on the Stern this time and again there was no current at all and we were able to just swim down to the wreck.

There was a huge school of smallish Snapper hovering to the Starboard side looking surreal something like an Escher picture.

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The staunch Queensland Grouper hid amongst them.

Mark and I decided to swim up and down the Starboard side of the wreck today as we hadn’t been seeing anything too exciting on the Port side.

I saw a Bull shark in the distance. Mackeral and Great Trevally patrolled the top of the wreck in hunting mode and baitballs of fish darted in and out of range.

As it was my last day on the wreck I thought I had better take some actual footage of the wreck itself so I explored the crannies, windows, engines and masts. Looking through the top windows you could see through layers of fish to the next opening. Bottles lay on the sandy bottom.

Time flew and before we knew it we had ended the first dive.

Maximum depth twenty five metres. Maximum time fifty five minutes.

I was gutted it was now our last dive on the wreck and still no current. I would have liked to have had some current on the dive site as I can only imagine how much more epic it could be with some bigger animals coming in and in particular the Rays which I had heard a lot about but had missed for the most part on this trip.

We descended down again through the Snapper who we had to part slowly with our legs, as they were in no hurry to move away, as if we were swimming through a chunky soup.

Olive Sea Snakes swam up for air to the surface. I filmed some of the bright purple, and yellow soft corals that popped out from the wreck. Beautiful Maori Wrasse looked up shyly and posed for the camera. They looked just stunning.

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I swam out into the blue about twenty metres from the wreck to look for Sharks and Rays. After a few minutes a Bull Shark headed towards the wreck so I took off after it. It turned at the wreck back towards me and I managed to get some nice footage of it about a metre from my camera. Mark took a few snaps of me filming it. It was awesome!

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A school of Fusiliers swam over some Coral Cod getting cleaned. I noticed a Sea Snake on the sand hunting so descended to the bottom to film it. A large lonely Cod sat on the sand and I went over to it. It looked sick, and the top of its fins seemed to be falling off. Perhaps it was dying out here. It definitely thought I was the least of its problems, and didn’t seem phased with the Sea Snake pushed its way in on its patch.

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I pointed out the Sea Snake to Mark so he could get some shots and as I looked up I saw another Bull Shark with some Queenies following it.

As I neared my decompression limit and gas was getting low I headed back to the Bow to ascend. Mark managed to get right in front of the Queensland Grouper and get a great shot of it with its mouth open. I ascended up the line, looking down on the Yongala I was sad to be saying Goodbye.

The Yongala definitely lived up to its reputation of one of the best dive sites in the world. I was blown away by the abundance of life on it, and how for such a compact site every dive was different and exciting.

July was a great month to dive it because the temperature was beautiful  up top and not too muggy, and the water temperature was about twenty four degrees which is just inside my wetsuit allowance, and I didn’t feel cold at all in my 6/7mm. Although other divers were a bit cold in their 5mm wetsuits so I recommend a rashy, hood, gloves and a good jacket and beanie for the surface interval.

The dive operator was very helpful and provided yummy snacks and water on the boat as well as a bbq lunch at the shop afterwards. I was very impressed with the service of the crew.

I will definitely be coming back again, hopefully next time with the rebreather which would be worthwhile as I imagine I would get even closer to the Bull Sharks and the Queensland Grouper to name a few animals. I still am yet to see the elusive Small Eyed Rays which I have heard a lot about it.

Recommendations if you like the bigger animals are to keep looking off the wreck into the blue. From my experience on this trip the Bull Sharks seemed to always be there swimming in and out of vision. If you’re not looking you could easily miss them. But then again not everyone likes Bull Sharks so maybe you would want to!

Stills are frame grabs from 4k footage.