Archive for the ‘Queensland 2012’ Category

SS Yongala

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012
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SS Yongala is the most famous wreck dive in Australia and for a good reason. This passenger ship hit a cyclone in 1911 and sunk with everyone aboard. The fate of the ship was a mystery for many years until in 1958 it was found by a pair of skindivers. These days its a popular dive site with Yongala Dive Center in Alva Beach and a few operators based in Townsville organizing trips there.

The wreck is 109 meters long and sits in 30 meters of water. The topmost section of the ship is 16 meters below surface. The wreck is considered a grave site and no penetration is allowed. Additionally, all touching or collecting artifacts is strictly forbidden. Permanent moorings lead down to the bow and stern of the ship. The currents in the area can get quite nasty and it’s highly recommended to keep physical contact on the mooring lines until you are down on the wreck.

While the wreck itself is interesting enough, the best part of the dive is all the marine life. The sandy bottom around the wreck is totally featureless and all the marine life in the area congregates on this artificial reef. The variety is quite astounding too, from huge schools of small fish to massive gropers, sharks, turtles and large rays. The site may be little remote but it’s still well worth a visit!

The ride from Alva Beach to the wreck takes little over half an hour on the dive boat Yongala Express. The dives are done as double dives with the surface interval spent on the boat. During the wait there’s some snacks and history lesson about the boat. Getting the boat in water and back out is bit of an involved operation. Everything went reasonable smoothly, the only major issue was our transport breaking down on the first morning. Everything else from boat to people was quite professional, but the ancient

I did four dives on the wreck over two days. The area is fairly exposed and weather can often get quite nasty. We had some taste of that during the first day, nowhere near as bad as a bad day outside Port Phillip Bay. But still some rough seas, we ended up with almost half the boat being badly seasick. Luckily I still seem more or less immune, luckily enough.

Particularly the first two dives were quite an experience and bit overwhelming too. There was simply too much fish life all around the wreck to properly focus on anything. At times you couldn’t even see the wreck itself behind all the marine life! The combination of too many interesting targets, some current and relatively depth of the dive all meant that I didn’t have much chance to focus on good photos. Additionally, between the first two dives there was quite a bit of condensation inside my housing as I didn’t cover it properly. When I got in the water I noticed there were quite a few water droplets inside the dome water! I was worried at first but as the droplets didn’t seem to move and there were no visible leaks I kept on going with the dive. While there was no damage to the equipment the issue still messed up photos for this particular dive. The fisheye lens kept auto-focusing on the droplets on the dome and even on the photos where I got the focus right the droplets are visible as faint smudges. On this dive we saw several large rays and there was also a large school of big barracuda swimming above the wreck.

After the dives Joey was busy doing her gas mixer course so we didn’t get much chance to hang out. Everyone went to bed early again and prepared for the second day of diving. This time around weather was better and we had several new visitors below the surface as well. On the way down the mooring line there were several sharks swimming past us. I was being a good diver and sticking close to the mooring, some of us got bit more adventurous and tried to get some close-up shots of the sharks. Luckily there was lots of stuff to see down on the bottom as well, several sea snakes were around and a few massive marbel rays let us get really close. On the last dive we also had a few whales in the area, we only heard their song but they got pretty close to us. On these two dives I was able to focus more on photography. No spectacular shots but still some decent ones, particularly some nice marbel ray shots and wide-angle views of the wreck itself.

After the dives I hang out a few more hours at Joey’s place and then she dropped me at the nearby town of Ayr where I waited for the night bus to Cairns. It would have been nice to stay a little bit longer, but unfortunately diving the Yongala gets quite expensive and there’s nothing else really you can do in the area. Besides, at this point I was way over my limit for second-hand smoking. Between Moreton Bay liveaboard and Alva Beach it felt like at least half the people were smokers. Not the healthiest habit, particularly for divers!

Finch Hatton and Platypus River

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012
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After the liveaboard Nicky, Crystal and I drove the short trip north to Mooloolaba and spent the night there. In the morning I met up with John and the rest of the crew of the Ultimate Boys’ Road Trip, the girls stayed behind exploring the area while waiting for their flight back to Melbourne.

The drive north was pretty uneventful and fairly boring, the distances in Queensland can be pretty enormous! At least John’s car is pretty comfy so the ride wasn’t too bad. Eventually we got to Rockhampton just north of the Tropic of Capricorn and spent the night there. We got up reasonably early in the morning and then picked up the final member of our gang who lives in Rockhampton. Then we started the long drive North to Finch Hatton, a small community around 60 km inland from Mackay. Things didn’t go quite as smoothly as on the previous day, there were lots of road works on the way and we got stuck behind a huge truck for several hours! Doing 50 km/h on a highway was not very enjoyable!

Finch Hatton is mainly interesting for the national parks and the animals in the area. It is also the only place in the world where you can (allegedly) dive with the platypus! This was obviously the purpose of our visit. Rainforest Scuba is the only dive operator in the area, we met with the nice lady running the place and picked up some tanks and weights. Then we headed to the nearby river for our dive.

The dive site is in a shallow small river. The deepest point was only 5 meters but the platypus typically hang out even shallower than that. The bottom there is really silty, so we split up a bit to keep visibility up. We did find quite a few platypus burrows, the strange creatures build their nests at the end of long tunnels. Unfortunately all of them were hiding in their burrows, typically the best time to see them is near dawn or dusk so we were a couple of hours early. It was the mating season when they are usually more active during the day as well, but we didn’t get lucky. Apart from the platypus the dive site is pretty boring, the only interesting things down there were small turtles and eel tailed catfish. We still spent quite a while looking for the platypus but eventually we had to give up.

After the dive we had some dinner in a local pub. It took a while to prepare and people were getting little anxious already. The meal was definitely worth the wait, one of the best I have had in Australia and prices were cheap too! When we finally got back on the road it was already dark. After some windy small roads we got back to the main highway and kept on drive North, at least in the evening roads were pretty much empty and we were able to pick up a little speed.

It still got quite a while to get to our destination, by the time we finally got to Yongala Dive Center in Alva Beach it was already close to midnight. Quite a few hours later than originally planned! I quickly met up with Joey and then everyone headed to bed, we all had an early morning and some exciting dives ahead of us.

Moreton Bay Liveaboard

Friday, September 7th, 2012
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On Friday I caught up with Nicky, Crystal and Steffi from the dive club and we drove north to catch our home for the next few days, the dive boat Big Cat Reality. This was actually my first liveaboard so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But I ended up having a great trip and we visited some excellent dive sites in the waters near Brisbane. I also did my 200th dive during the trip, a lightly chilly experience with only swimsuit on and the water temperature around 20 degrees.

For me the definite highlight of trip was seeing all the big stuff. We saw quite a few turtles, some rays and various sharks, including grey nurse sharks and wobbies. There were quite a few nudibranchs as well on several dives, but I focused on the larger targets and used my wide-angle lens all the time. There were also quite a few whales in the distance and right after our last dive we actually had a pair of whales swim right past our boat. Sadly my camera was still in the housing and I didn’t manage to get any good shots.

The trip catered well to advanced divers too, we did quite a few deeper dives and a couple of times I ran pretty close to deco limits. In addition to as poor plebeians with only our fins for propulsion we also had a pair of guys cruising around on their scooters. It looked cool enough, even if they definitely scared away some of the marine life.

While the diving was great, we did have a few technical issues on the boat that interfered with an otherwise great trip. First of all, one of the ladies’ toilets was having serious some problems. By the end of the trip the stink in some parts of the ship was getting quite unbearable, luckily we . At one point we also got our anchor stuck on the bottom. While it took the crew quite a while to free us, we were still able to stick to our original schedule more or less and didn’t have to cut into dive numbers. Apart from that everything was done professionally and I enjoyed the trip quite a bit!

My original plan was to spend a few more days in Brisbane after getting back to the shore and then move on to Alva Beach to dive the SS Yongala and say hi to Joey. However, on the boat I ran into John from Professional Dive Services who had planned a road trip to Yongala right after the Moreton Bay liveaboard. So instead of spending more time in Brisbane, I caught up with John and others on Monday morning and then we were on our way on the Ultimate Boys’ Road Trip to SS Yongala!

Brisbane – The Journey Begins

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

The starting point of my Queensland trip was the sunny Brisbane. I hadn’t really made specific plans before flying there apart from the liveaboard I had booked for the following weekend.

I spent a couple of days walking around the city and enjoying the sights. Brisbane is really pretty city and particularly the areas around the river are very nice. During that time I also visited the Botanic Gardens in the city. The Gardens are quite enough and right in the middle of the city too. I didn’t have time to explore the city properly, soon enough it was time to meet up with Nicky, Crystal and Steffi and head for the liveaboard trip.