Most people associate north Queensland of Australia with the city Cairns as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. The city of Townsville, approx 250km south of Cairns, is often overlooked by the average tourist, yet the wonders accessible through here, is a world class dive experience.
Townsville is a city with population nearing 200,000 people. Although international tourists often overlook this sleepy yet culturally enriched place, it is a popular destination for domestic tourists who come here to take part in the city’s many activities. For experienced scuba divers, Townsville is also the gateway to the holy grail of ship wreck diving in Australia.
It is the home of the S.S. Yongala.
I had arrived without a booking, so luckily there happened to be a cancellation on the day that I was able to join a group of keen adventurers for an early morning dive. I have never visited a wreck before, so as we hopped into our wetsuits and strapped on our tanks, I nervously followed the dive leader into the water.
The dive site is around 40 meters, with the tip of the wreck appearing just over 20 meters in depth. After a few minutes of descending in what seemed like infinity of blueness, we start to see the blurred outline of a ship.
S.S. Yongala was a passenger and general cargo ship built in London in 1903, sunk in a cyclone in 1911 along with all its crew and passengers. The wreck wasn’t discovered until 1958, some 50 years after the tragedy, and during this time, has become an important structure in sustaining many marine creatures in a location considered to be an ocean desert. Corals freely hang onto the rusting railings while fish, crabs and turtles are able to use the inner compartments to escape from larger predators. The Yongala is said to be the best wreck dive in Queensland and many consider it as the best wreck dive in the world as well. Toilets bowl, dinner tables and stools and if looked closely, some human bones, dinner plates and bed frames can still be seen broken and scattered. Schools of fish, large and small, as well as turtles and sea snakes make the site so alive. Rays and gropers are also common residents here. We slice through the water slowly, admiring the colours and movement of this marine community.
Besides the diving, Townsville is also the gateway to explore Magnetic Island. I took the chance to stock up on crafts and handmade souvenirs at the Sunday markets, and made sure that I visited the Reef HQ Aquarium, which houses the world’s largest living coral reef enclosure, for those not keen on getting wet. Those into culture will find themselves busy with visiting the many museums, and Castle Hill has many walking tracks for those looking to more outdoor activities. Unfortunately, the water areas in Townsville are more mangrove than beach. For swimming sandy beaches you’ll need to drive out of town and visit one of the northern areas.
As for me, I simply enjoy sitting at a cafe on the waterside, and relax under the Queensland sun.