The highest single drop waterfalls in Australia are Wallaman Falls. A relatively small deviation from Ingham took us up into the hills again and after a steep climb over 500m from sea-level, into Girringun National Park, we were confronted with a surprisingly spectacular sheer cliff face where the water plunges 268m into a pool below that is 20m deep. It was well worth the visit and we even got five minutes of sunlight between the drizzle.
We’d set ourselves a long drive for the day so after a brief lunch we set off back down the hill to the coast. We didn’t stop in Townsville and a last minute change of plan saw us head for the town of Ayr, 100km south from Townsville.
I had booked a dive the next day on the S.S. Yongala, reputed to be one of the best wreck dives in Australia. With winds forecast at 25 knots I was expecting a cancellation but it was confirmed and my excitement levels rose as I had only done one dive in the last 11 months. We also had the car booked for a service in Townsville the next day so poor Amanda drew the long straw to drive back the 100km with the kids. We were told it could be serviced in Ayr but when we phoned the garage at 5pm the response was that the service desk was closed – better to go where they understand customer service.
The morning was sunny again with less wind and I was dropped at the dive shop at 7.30am. The kids were actually excited because they had been promised a trip to the aquarium where a whole portfolio of talks awaited them.
The S.S. Yongala was a passenger ship that sank in 1911 in a cyclone as it headed north up the coast on its 99th voyage to get a refit. All 122 on board died but the wreck was not found until 1958. The Navy performing a mine sweep in the area had noted its probable position in 1947 but the charts with notation were only rediscovered later. The wreck is accessed via a 30 minute bumpy ride in rigid hull inflatable dive boat.
The wreck itself lies on sand and as such provides an artificial reef for a plethora of underwater life. The wreck is covered with corals and among these a profusion of small fish thrive. Schools of damselfish and glass fish shimmy and start in unison as larger predatory trivially and mackerel cruise past. Coral trout and enormous cod lurk in the shadows of the holds, and under the rusting infrastructure. Large Moray eels surveyed the scene from their hide holes and Batfish the size of dinner plates cruise around in small schools. The more you look the more you find. Turtles kept popping up all over the wreck, as did the highly venomous and ever-curious olive sea snakes. Dense schools of jacks and other medium sized fish aggregate at the bow and stern, barely moving as you swim through them. We were blessed with great visibility making it an unforgettable day’s diving.
Unbeknownst to me my kids were revelling in a more controlled marine environment at the same time. On my return they were gushing over Myrtle the one-eyed Turtle that they saw in the turtle hospital (of course), and the talks they had been religiously attending all day in Townsville aquariuwm, Reef HQ. They had been watching Nemos at close quarters, had up close fun in the discovery lagoons and even tried on old school pearl diving helmets.
This was a day to remember!