From fish-surrounded dive destination to historic oddities, Australia has several shipwrecks that are worthy of further investigation. And you don’t have to don the Scuba gear to see some of the most spectacular.
Where? Houtman-Abrolhos Islands, WA
Beacon Island in the Abrolhos Islands, site of the Batavia wreck. Photo: uy de la Bedoyere/Wikimedia
Australia’s most notorious shipwreck is more famous for the extraordinary story of mutiny, madness, massacre and desert island survival than the wreck itself.
The Batavia came a cropper on Morning Reef in 1629, then all hell broke loose.
Shine Aviation runs island tours that fly over the wreck site, while the Museum of Geraldton has several artefacts from the ship and the WA Shipwrecks Museum in Fremantle has the stern. See shineaviation.com.au, museum.wa.gov.au
The HMS Sirius
Where? Norfolk Island
The rugged coastline of Norfolk Island. Photo: Alamy
The HMS Sirius was the First Fleet’s flagship. It was to Australia what the Mayflower was to the US. Alas, it didn’t last all that long after dropping off those first settlers in 1788. Two years later, the Sirius met its end at Slaughter Bay on Norfolk Island. It was a body blow for the fledgling colony – the Sirius was the main supply ship. The wreck site is too dangerous for snorkelling, but the Norfolk Island Museum has anchors, cannons and other artefacts. See norfolkislandmuseum.com.au
The SS Yongala
Where? Townsville, Queensland
Photo: Nadia Aly/TEQ
Regularly cited as one of the world’s best wreck dives, the SS Yongala lies close to Townsville. Since sinking in 1911, the Yongala has effectively become a mini reef within the Great Barrier Reef system, surrounded by coral and luring in massive shoals of fish as well as turtles, rays and giant groupers. That the wreck is remarkably intact is something of a bonus.
Adrenalin Snorkel and Dive runs day tours to the Yongala from Townsville. See adrenalindive.com.au
The HMAS Brisbane
Where? Sunshine Coast, Queensland
Photo: Nigel Marsh/TEQ
Not all shipwrecks are the result of tragic accidents. The former HMAS Brisbane was deliberately scuttled off the Sunshine Coast to form an artificial reef. It has done that job remarkably well, and now the 133 metre-long destroyer stands in relatively shallow water, surrounded by swirling schools of fish. It takes 15 minutes to get to the wreck by boat from Mooloolaba, and Sunreef runs diving tours. See sunreef.com.au
Where? Coogee Beach, Perth
Photo: City of Cockburn
Not all wrecks are the preserve of divers. The Omeo Wreck in Perth is a big favourite with snorkellers, partly because it’s so easy to get to. About 25 metres off the shore of Coogee Beach, the stern post still sticks out, but the rest of the ship is only two to four metres underwater. Better still, it is the centrepiece of an underwater snorkelling trail featuring loads of other sunken objects and art installations.
The Tangalooma wrecks
Where: Moreton Island, Queensland
Photo: The Edit Suite/TEQ
If it’s wreck snorkelling you want, however, it’s tough to beat Moreton Island off the coast of Brisbane. Here, 15 wrecks were deliberately sunk next to each other in order to provide calmer moorings for the boats.
But these wrecks – mostly disused barges – have also created a spectacular drift snorkelling trail. You can use the current to slowly float over them, barely bothering with a kick of the fins. The Tangalooma Island Resort offers guided snorkelling tours. See tangalooma.com
The SS Maheno
Where? K’gari, Queensland
Photo: Matt Raimondo
There are other Australian wrecks that are more fun to explore, but few are as visually stunning. Back in 1935, the SS Maheno ran aground on Seventy Five Mile Beach on the eastern side of K’gari (Fraser Island). Since then it has slowly rusted away, and is now reduced to a harrowed, evocative metal shell.
The Darwin Harbour shipwrecks
Where? Darwin, Northern Territory
Darwin Harbour became something of a ship graveyard during World War II, as Japanese bombing raids took their toll. In all, 27 Allied ships were sunk here. Most are now underwater, but not all.
Sea Darwin runs cruises to see a couple of the more visible shipwrecks – the SS Neptuna and USS Peary – while telling the story of hell being unleashed from the skies. See seadarwin.com
The Ships’ Graveyard
Where? Garden Island, South Australia
Photo: Michael Waterhouse/SATC
Between 1909 and 1945, the North Arm of the Port Adelaide River became a dumping ground for ships that had outlived their usefulness. They were brought up the river on their final voyage, then left amongst the mangroves for ruination. In all, 25 ships were left around Garden Island, the remains of which can be seen amongst the washing tides. These wrecks now form a maritime heritage trail, for those who enjoy looking at rusting metal. See environment.sa.gov.au
The PS Rodney
Where? Near Pooncarie, NSW
Not all shipwrecks are along the coast. The PS Rodney is inland on the Darling River. When water levels are low, its remains stick out like a whale’s ribcage. The story of how it got there is what makes it special, however. In 1894, 150 striking shearers boarded under the cover of darkness. The Rodney was carrying strikebreakers to the Tolarno station, and the strikers pursued it from Echuca until they could finally destroy it.
Disclosure: David Whitley has been a guest of Tourism Australia and the state tourism boards.