While it boasts a few bars, restaurants, and even it's own nightclub, I don't think Ayr would have held our interest if it weren't for it's proximity to Alva beach and the Yongola Dive site. As it was, our stop there was a blip while we waited for a shuttle to pick us up from the bus drop-off, then we bumped along through sugar cane fields to get to the beach side lodge. We got the low-down from those who'd been diving the day before, then tucked in to bed in anticipation of our early morning briefing.
To date, this is by far my best dive site. On a scale from one to ten this is an eleven (read in Genie's voice) and my other dives have been an eight maximum. If anyone is considering a dive holiday in Australia this should not be missed.
Yes, it is better than the reef. It has everything the reef has in a smaller harmonious package.
Because of it's depth (20 metres deep at the highest point, about 28 meters at its deepest), you must already be open water certified in order to take plunge. As a result there aren't many backpackers who talk about the dive site, and very few boats make the trip out.
I would compare Yongala to a nice little restaurant that knows you and gives you larger portions or a free appetizer. A lesser known place with a lot to offer.
The dynamics, history, and preservation are all very fascinating. Firstly the boat sank 100 years ago in a cyclone and all 120 some odd passengers died. In the 1950's, while removing leftover war mines, the US Navy identified an anomaly in what was otherwise 30m deep ocean with flat sandy bottom, 20km away from the nearest reef. They reported it on their charts, but didn't send any divers to check it out. It wasn't until some time, research, and hard work later that a few guys diving the wreck were successfully able to identify it as the Yongala. Then in the 80s the site was classified as a Heritage site which essentially amounts to preserving the wreck and all it's new inhabitants to the max. You can read in more detail from the maritime museum site.
The Yongala Express is a speedy little day boat that gets there in a half hour, with 8 divers and 4 crew. The seas were rougher than I would have liked (25-30 knots) and this was especially noticeable after we set up the mooring line and were just rocking up, down, and side to side at the mercy of Poseidon. The anticipation was rising and I'm suiting up then it hits me, my throat gets tight, my eyes water and I quite literally hurl my head, and then my breakfast, over the side.
Oh well, a little sea sickness isn't reason to stop and the only way to feel better is to get underwater. Buddy check, backwards roll, SPLASH. We follow the descent line and at about 10m I turn my head and see nearly the whole length of the wreck. Breathtaking. A massive structure with so much life. Thank you Australian government for the fore site to declare this a Heritage site. What a place to get Advanced and Enriched Air certification.
The sites protection from fishing and looting gives the plant and animal life the chance to grow to larger then average size. This meant plenty of marble ray sightings (some up to 2m in size) and the chance to see huge groupers, including one they called Vdub because it is similar in size to a Volkswagen Beetle. Please continue to ignore us divers!
Thank you to everyone at the Yongola dive site! If anyone plans on diving in Australia, say Hello to all the fishes for us.