From nearly 8000 shipwrecks around Australia, here are the 10 best dives sites.
SINKING SLOWLY DOWN THE descent line, the dark silhouette of the marine grave of 122 people emerges out of the blue. The SS Yongala, which disappeared during a cyclone in 1911, is rated by many diving enthusiasts as the one of the best dives in the world. Its exact whereabouts remained a mystery for nearly half a century and rumours abounded for years of a ghost ship seen in the vicinity of where it was lost.
A more recent event also haunts this site. In 2003 American Tina Watson drowned while diving with her husband Gabe during their honeymoon. Gabe was later charged with manslaughter and nicknamed the 'honeymoon killer; in a court case that has been as controversial both in Australia and in the USA.
An Aboriginal word originally pronounced 'Yonggluh' meaning 'broad water', the SS Yongala lies on its starboard side 30m below the surface on the sandy bottom. It has since become an artificial reef and home to hundreds of species of marine life. Divers can catch glimpses of groups of spotted rays swimming in unison above each other like stacks of pancakes, loggerhead turtles, triggerfish, groupers, white tip reef sharks, iridescent purple soft corals, octopuses, sea horses and guitarfish. Highly venomous olive sea snakes who, with no natural predators, are fearless as they swim near divers.
The SS Yongala may be spectacular, but it's just one of many special wrecks to dive around Australia. Here are 10 of the best shipwreck dives around the nation:
There are 1249 registered shipwrecks in Queensland.
1. SS Yongala
Location: 90 km southeast of Townsville; 10 km away form Cape Bowling Green. Strong currents have been known at this site, so it is recommended for advanced divers only.
2. Lady Bowen
This four-masted schooner sunk on Kennedy Shoal, off Dunk Island on 19 August, 1894. Like the SS Yongala, this wreck has formed an artificial reef covered in hard and soft corals that's also home to similar marine life. Lying upright in 34 m, the hull is still clearly visible. About 60 minutes by boat from Mission Beach, this wreck is also recommended for advanced divers only.
There are 1548 registered shipwrecks in WA.
Deliberately scuttled by a crewmate in Shark Bay in 1901, this is the largest intact, wooden wreck on the Western Australian coast. About 10 km north of Cape Peron in Francois Peron National Park, this wreck sits at about 6 m deep and is home to a stunning proliferation of marine life. Although only shallow, divers should be aware of the currents and it should only be dived on a turning tide. Novice and visiting divers should dive with an experienced operator.
4. SS Orizaba
On 17 February 1905, this 140-m-long streamer travelling from England to Fremantle ran aground in shallow water. All the 160 passengers and crew survived. Located in the waters off Rockingham (an hour's drive from Perth), this wreck sits in 7 m of water and is good for beginner divers.
There are 237 registered shipwrecks in the NT.
5. Usat Meigs
Usat Meigs is a 131-m-long USA transport ship that sank during the first Japanese air raid against the Australia mainland in World War II, on 19 February, 1942. Sitting at 18 m, it is considered Darwin's greatest wreck site. It is home to many kinds of fish including large estuarine cod, pigmy barracuda, golden snapper and angel fish.
There are 1113 registered wrecks in Tas.
6. SS Nord
This 88-m-long cargo steamer sunk on November 8, 1915, after striking a sunken pinnacle near Hippolyte Rock a few miles from Tasman Island; all the sailors survived. Rated by those in the know as Australia's best wreck dive after the SS Yongala, it sits upright in 42m of cold water with strong currents. This site is strictly for experienced divers only.
NEW SOUTH WALES
There are 2112 registered wrecks in NSW.
7. SS Satara
On 20 April, 1910, SS Satara struck a reef just south of Seal Rocks in NSW and sank shortly after. All aboard survived but the wreck wasn't discovered until 1984. Lying on her port side in 35-44 m of water, this 130-m-long vessel often requires more than one dive to explore her fully. It's a good spot to see grey nurse sharks and giant black cods. However, the depth, distance from shore and raging currents means this is a site for experienced divers only.
8. Lady Darling
On midnight 10 November, 1881, the day before Ned Kelly was hanged, this 58-m-long cargo streamer hit a rock just south west of Montague Island and sunk. All on board managed to escape unscathed, more than can be said for our most infamous bushranger, such is life. The wreck was discovered in 1996 when it became entangled in the net of a fishing trawler. Sitting at 30 m on a sandy bottom, the bow of the vessel has come away from the stern. With its prolific fish life, sponges, anemones and sea squirts, it's one of the NSW's better dives. However, with its deep location this is an advanced dive.
There are 905 registered wrecks in Vic.
9. Loch Ard
One of the State's best known shipwrecks, this iron clipper used to carry cargo between Liverpool and Melbourne. On 1 June, 1878, hampered by mist, rough seas and a wind whipped up by the Roaring Forties, Loch Ard struck Mutton Bird Island near Port Campbell and sunk soon after. Only two of the 54 on board survived. Sitting 25-30 m deep and subject to unpredictable weather and strong currents, this site should only be tackled by experienced divers in March, April and May. For more information see this pdf.
There are 772 registered wrecks in SA.
The Zanoni, which sank in 1867 during a freak storm on a trip between Port Wakefield and Port Adelaide is the most intact 19th century merchant sailing vessel in South Australian waters. Although all on board survived, it was discovered until 1983. Lying at 18 m on a barren sea bed, this vessel is part of Adelaide's Underwater Heritage Trail and includes three other shipwrecks located in Gulf St Vincent: the Grecian, Star of Greece and Norma. Starting at the Star of Greece, off Port Willunga, the trail extends to the Zanoni about 15 km south east of Ardrossan, there is a memorial plaque placed adjacent to each wreck. For more information see www.environment.sa.gov.au.
10 great shipwreck dives around Australia - Australian Geographic