Scuba diving inTownsville, Magnetic Island and the SS Yongala
- Explore the mighty Great Barrier Reef and local islands
- Dive one of the top ten wrecks in the world, the SS Yongala
- See the Southern Hemisphere’s longest single drop waterfall
- Relax on secluded beaches on the stunning Magnetic Island
Home to the historic wreck of the SS Yongala, the longest single-drop waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere, and the southern section of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, the Townsville region guarantees striking landscapes, stunning islands, and diverse wildlife - above and below the water. Experience one of the top ten wreck dives in the world, relax on pristine beaches, or explore lush rainforests from the unofficial capital of North Queensland.
Scuba diving in Townsville and Magnetic Island
Schooling FishYear round
Macro CreaturesYear round
Diving from Townsville focuses on nearby Magnetic Island, and the Palm Islands of Pelorus and Orpheus, along with the SS Yongala and the outer Great Barrier Reef. Operators offer both half-day and full-day trips, depending on the destination and number of sites visited, as well as over-night liveaboard safaris.
Magnetic Island lies less than 10-kilometres from Townsville, while the islands of Pelorus and Orpheus are over 50-kilometres further north. Visitors can expect to find much of the Great Barrier Reef’s iconic marine life on the fringing reefs of these coastal islands, with the likes of wobbegong and epaulette sharks hiding amongst the complex coral structures. And, while the islands’ proximity to land limits visibility a little, there’s plenty of tiny macro creatures and colourful reef fish to keep divers occupied.
Accessing the outer reef from Townsville requires longer boat rides than it does further north. In fact, popular offshore reefs such as Wheeler, Lodestone, and John Brewer are all located over 70-kilometres from the marina. Of course, this separation ensures exceptional visibility, diversity, and pelagic action. Created over thousands of years, the isolated pinnacles, sloping bays, and steep reef walls here provide habitats for an impressive number of invertebrates, fish, rays, sharks, and turtles.
For something slightly different, the Museum of Underwater Art – or MOUA – has a number of serene underwater attractions to explore. The installations include a collection of sculptures blending natural marine forms with influential Australians who have made significant contributions to marine science and conservation.
Diving the SS Yongala
Located around 90-kilometres southeast of Townsville, the SS Yongala is one of the top ten wreck dives in the world. The vessel lies on its starboard side in 28-metres, creating an isolated 109-metre reef with an impressive variety of marine life - most of which reach astonishing sizes. Visitors have reported Queensland grouper the size of a car and giant trevally as big as a diver. Currents are strong, allowing eagle, marble, and even manta rays to hang effortlessly above the superstructure, while bull and grey reef sharks patrol the perimeter. Incredibly, it is even possible to see humpback whales passing by in winter.
The wreck lies three hours by boat from Townsville and rough sea conditions can sometimes prevent operators from running. Alternatively, the SS Yongala can be reached in just 30-minutes from the town of Ayr, an hour’s drive south of Townsville. The shorter trip means that diving on the wreck is offered more regularly and operators are less likely to cancel due to weather conditions.
Reefs, wrecks, schooling fish
Beginner to professional
5 - 40m
5 - 40m
22 - 30C
- Travel back to the Jurassic era with a trip to Hinchinbrook Island where crocodiles lurk among the mangrove-covered banks.
- For the best chances of spotting humpback whales, visit in June or July.
- Multiple-day safaris help you maximise your time on the Great Barrier Reef and provide unparalleled views of the Milky Way at night.
- Spend a day or two learning about this region’s local Aboriginal tribes, including their extensive history, rich culture, and deep connection to the land.
About Townsville and Magnetic Island
Located over 1,000-kilometres north of Brisbane, Townsville is the unofficial capital of North Queensland. Built on the shores of Cleveland Bay, the town is dominated by the huge red granite mass of Castle Hill, which provides a stunning backdrop and offers panoramic views of the city and across the bay to Magnetic Island. The Ross River flows through the town centre towards the marina, which in turn is linked to the palm tree-lined boardwalk known as The Strand. Here, visitors will find picturesque picnic spots, swimming beaches, and restaurants and bars with stunning views over the water.
A chain of beaches stretches north from the city towards the Paluma Range National Park, the southern gateway to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Adventurous travellers can explore the wild landscapes here, including lush rainforest, the southern hemisphere’s largest single drop waterfall, and Hinchinbrook Island, the largest on the Barrier Reef. Inland guest can enjoy the laid-back charm of Charters Towers, and to the south, the rich, fertile plains of the Burdekin region are home to the largest sugar production area in Australia.
Townville is accessible by regional flights from all of the main cities in Australia and is just a short one-hour direct flight from Cairns. The airport is five-kilometres from the city centre and ferry terminal, where boats to Magnetic Island depart. An airport shuttle operates seven days a week, but bookings are essential. Alternatively, the airport has vehicles to hire, public buses, coaches, taxis, and ride-sharing services.
Magnetic Island is reached by ferry from Townsville which takes approximately 40 minutes to arrive in Nelly Bay. Vehicle hire, buses, ride-sharing services, and bicycles are all viable options for reaching your accommodation and exploring the Magnetic Island National Park.
Where to stay
Townsville is a predominantly administrative town that is split into distinct areas by the Ross River and Castle Hill, so picking the right location is important. The city’s Esplanade is found on the north side of the river, sandwiched between the ocean and Castle Hill, combining convenience with unparalleled views. This area is much-loved by locals thanks to its beautiful parks, coffee shops, and stunning evening walks. On the south side of the river, Palmer Street offers several hotels and more refined restaurants with a view of the city harbour.
Magnetic Island is home to a number of accommodation options, ranging from five-star resorts to simple hostels - with everything in between. The majority of accommodation is found on the southeast side of the island, close to the ferry pier, with the remaining options situated on the north side, which promises a more relaxed beachfront ambience.
Guests hoping to visit the SS Yongala from Ayr have limited choices for accommodation, with only a small handful of hotels, motels, and caravan parks located in the town itself.
Dive seasons and weather
Townsville and Magnetic Island enjoy a fantastic climate throughout the year and, whilst still tropical, this destination is considerably drier than Cairns for instance. The weather here is mostly warm with blue skies and low humidity, making it possible to dive in any season. However, the extra distance between the mainland and outer reefs, means any rough conditions caused by strong winds can sometimes disrupt diving operations.
The wet season runs from November to March, bringing short but heavy thunderstorms. Entire days of rain are relatively rare, though tropical cyclones are possible during this time. December is the hottest month with air temperatures ranging from 24-32°C. Townsville’s dry season runs from May to October, with July bringing the coolest average temperatures of 14-25°C.
Jellyfish season generally lasts from November until May. The risk of marine stingers on the Great Barrier Reef is low, but becomes significantly greater around the coastal islands. Stinger suits are recommended and are available for hire on tour boats.