Further on up the highway, 115km past Bowen, are the towns of Home Hill and Ayr, separated by a mill, a few kilometres of cane fields and the iron framework of the Burdekin River Bridge. This gaping river, one of the north’s most famous landmarks, is still liable to flood during severe wet seasons, despite having to fight its way across three weirs and a dam.
On the northern side, AYR is a compact farming town that’s fast becoming another popular stop on the farm work trail. The highway – which runs through town as Queen Street – is where you’ll find the bus stop and all essential services.
Ayr’s other attraction is easy access to the wreck of the Yongala, a 109m-long passenger ship that sank with all hands during a cyclone in March 1911. It now lies intact and encrusted in coral in 14–28m of water, and is home to turtles, rays, moray eels and huge schools of barracuda, mackerel and trevally, making for a staggeringly good wreck dive. Yongala Dive run trips for certified divers only.
Be aware that the wreck is in an exposed location, and it’s not much fun diving here if the weather is rough; this is also a demanding site – deep, with strong currents and startlingly big fish – and it’s best not to go unless you’ve dived recently and logged twenty dives or more.