'Train-ing' to dive
If your diving certificate took precedence over a driver’s licence, or you’re not a big fan of air travel, have you ever considered grinding the rails for a diving trip with a difference?
The train may not scream glamour or wild and crazy road trip, but one of the best things about letting the Fat Controller take charge is that ‘no-fly’ periods after you’ve been on SCUBA are irrelevant, so you can dive right up until the moment you leave.
Queensland Rail’s Sunlander service runs along the coast from Cairns to Brisbane, offering the perfect platform (excuse the pun) for the avid diver who wants more than just a day trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. The stations along the route provide the perfect jump-off points for some of the most famous dive sites in Australia.
Grab yourself a train timetable and get ready to dive to your heart’s content.
Stop 1: Cairns – The gateway to the outer Great Barrier Reef
Head out for a day trip with Quicksilver onboard their vessel, Silverswift, and visit three different dives sites on the outer Great Barrier Reef. With tropical, warm water, immaculate coral reefs and thousands of fish, it’s a great way to start off the trip.
By the time you get back to port at the end of the day you’ll be ready for a good night’s sleep. The train from Cairns leaves at 9am, you can watch the beautiful scenery roll by as you travel towards another must-do destination.
Stop 2: Ayr – Home of the SS Yongala
As the sun starts to set into the wetlands that flank the last few kilometres of your journey into Ayr, step off the train at this quiet little Queensland back water – a far cry from the (relatively) bright lights of Cairns!
The bus from Yongala Dive will pick you up from the station and whisk you back to their accommodation in time for some dinner and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow will be a big day at the best wreck dive in the world.
Prepare yourself for what I consider to be one of my most exciting, adventurous dives to date. Twenty-two kilometres from the mainland and 28 metres below the surface lies the 100-year-old wreck of the famous SS Yongala.
Come face to face with huge fish, big sharks, gigantic rays and lots more as you travel along the hull of the ship. Huge in this case means whale sharks, humpback whales, resident bull sharks and manta rays. You can even stop off and pretend to go the the toilet on its deck. Two dives here are never enough.
Stop 3: Proserpine – Alight here to explore the Whitsundays
From the moment you board the bus to Airlie Beach you know you’re heading towards a real holiday town. The cheery driver drops you at your hotel reception and from here the town is your playground.
There are so many spots to snorkel and dive around the 74 islands of the Whitsundays. Cruise Whitsundays offer day-trips leaving from Abel Point Marina on their wavepiercer vessel Seaflight to their pontoon at Knuckle Reef.
Here you can try diving for the first time with their Discover Scuba program or more experienced divers can join a dive-master on a tour of this spectacular coral reef.
Stop 4: Gladstone – Jump off here for Heron Island
The port town of Gladstone is the departure point for one of the most beautiful coral cays on the entire coast, Heron Island.
The train arrives early in the morning leaving you ample time to grab some breakfast and make your way to the ferry terminal. It’s two hours by boat to the island which lies amongst the Capricornia Group of reefs and is one of the must-do locations if you enjoy getting underwater with a plethora of marine life.
As you arrive and pull into the channel alongside the wreck of the Protector it feels like a typical desert island; blue, crystal clear water, low green trees, birds and fish dancing in the water and the scene of many an idyllic sunset.
With over 20 different dive sites ranging from deep drop-offs to shallow lagoons, there’s good reason the annual dive festival attracts hundreds of people from all over the world year after year.
Stop 5: Nambour – Step off here for the HMAS BRISBANE
It may not be the Great Barrier Reef proper, but visiting this wreck, six kilometres offshore from Mooloolaba, adds another string to your Queensland-dive-experience bow.
A short taxi ride from Nambour station is the headquarters of Sunreef Dive. Find yourself some local accommodation and prepare to join them on a ‘Voyage of Discovery’ to the bottom of the Coral Sea.
The wreck was scuttled in 2005 and now forms a home for thousands of fish, soft coral and has some of the best swim-throughs I’ve ever experienced. Swim down the boiler-room-stack, through the ship’s corridors and even turn the handles and dials in the control room.
To me overland travel is much more rewarding then jumping on a plane… but then I did drive around Africa in 2008 and not fly there. Taking the train through Queensland showcases the varying landscapes from rainforest, through sugarcane fields, along beaches and into the backyard of suburbia.