Grind the rail(way)s: 5 days ‘train-ing’ to dive in Queensland
Okay, so the train may not scream wild and crazy road trip, but that’s exactly why this nostalgic form of transportation is making a huge comeback in the travel sphere.
Not only are they seriously decked out nowadays (hello 24-hour Club Cars, fine dining, and reclining seats so comfy they give La-Z-Boys a run for their money), but they give travellers a deeper sense of connection to the places their travelling to – and we’re not just talking on land.
One of the best things about letting the Fat Controller take charge on your next diving adventure 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 Spirit of Queensland 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 this route provide the perfect jump-off points for some of the most famous dive sites in Australia, plus you’ll get a front-row seat to Queensland’s iconic landscape reel, showcasing World Heritage rainforest through to sugarcane fields and our stunner beaches.
Grab yourself a train timetable and get ready to dive (then relax) to your heart’s content.
*The Spirit of Queensland heads south from Cairns to Brisbane every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday at 9am. The journey can also be done in reverse.
Stop 1: Cairns | The gateway to the outer Great Barrier Reef
Start your journey in Cairns with a day trip onboard Quicksilver‘s Silver Series vessel, Silverswift, and visit not one, not two, but THREE different dives sites on the outer Great Barrier Reef: Flynn, Pellowe, Milln and/or Thetford Reefs.
Chosen for their magnificent coral gardens, diverse marine life, and top-notch (and consistent) visibility, this day trip offers serious scuba fiends a combination of underwater time from dramatic wall dives to intricate coral formations.
If you want to pair your dive with some more leisurely activities (aka snorkelling, ‘laxing, and scoffing down delish buffet lunches), Great Adventures offer introductory and certified diving as part of their Green Island and Outer Reef day trip tours; as does Sunlover on their daily cruises to their brand new, multi-level pontoon (complete with theme-park waterslide) at Moore Reef.
By the time you get back to port you’ll be ready to hit the hay. But if you do manage to kick on with a few bevvies to toast the start of your adventure, rest assured you’ve got a whole day of train travel tomorrow to play catch up – just make sure you make it to the station at 9am to board!
Stop 2: Ayr | Home of the SS Yongala
As the sun starts to set into the wetlands flanking the last few kilometres of your journey into Ayr, step off the train at this quiet little Queensland backwater – 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 discovering one of the best shipwreck dives in the world.
Lying 22 kilometres from the mainland and 28 metres below the surface, the famous SS Yongala met its unfortunate demise when it sank off the coast of Ayr during a tropical cyclone in 1911.
Being the only reef formation in the area mean this old girl packs a heap of (marine) perks: come face-to-face with turtles and Queensland gropers, glide alongside manta rays and whale sharks or be mesmerised by a swirling vortex of schooling barracuda.
If you’re lucky, you might even come across majestic humpback whales during their migration season.
Stop 3: Proserpine | Explore the Whitsundays
There are SO many spots to snorkel and dive around the Whitsunday Islands (did you know there’s 74 of them?), and while that may seem a little overwhelming, Cruise Whitsundays can easily hook you up with the diving goods on a day trip to their pontoon at Hardy Reef.
Here, newbies can try diving for the first time with their Discover Scuba program, or more experienced divers can join a divemaster on a tour of specially selected sites teeming with coral gardens and marine life.
Southern Cross Sailing Adventures also offer diving on a day trip onboard their newest vessel, The Bullet, where you’ll speed on over to Whitsunday Island for a squiz at Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach, before jetting to Hook Island or Hayman Island (the best location is decided on the day) to meet up with their dive team.
Stop 4: Gladstone | Jump off for Heron Island
Ribboned by white sands, crystal clear waters, and acres of coral teeming with colourful marine life, Heron Island is just a two-hour ferry ride from the marina and is a must-do location if you enjoy getting down under(water).
Known by divers as a scuba mecca, you’ll find more than 20 different diving sites (ranging from deep drop-offs and shallow lagoons to the famous Heron Bommie) easily accessible from the shore.
Heck, you’ll probably spend more time under the sea than above thanks to the short ‘n’ sweet commute (most are just 5-10 minute boat ride from the resort) allowing for up to three dives per day!
Stop 5: Nambour | Last call, the HMAS Brisbane
The last stop on the diving train!
Lying 27 metres below sea level, the HMAS Brisbane is a retired Royal Australian Navy missile destroyer turned artificial reef after it was scuttled and denoted in 2005 to begin its new life on the sea floor off the Sunshine Coast.
Now, it’s one of the top dive sites in Australia, home to thousands of fish and soft coral, and some of the best swim-throughs you can experience: glide down the boiler-room-stack, through the ship’s corridors, and even turn the handles and dials in the control room.
So, what next?
The train trip may be over, but your diving adventure doesn’t have to stop here. Gain your creds (and the ultimate bragging rights) when you get your PADI diving certification on the Great Barrier Reef.