Island Hopping Northwards

Monday 18th June 2018

Splendid Isolation of Bona Bay

This past week we have been slowly making our way northwards between the Whitsundays and Townsville. We have managed to find quiet anchorages inside the deeply indented mainland and off the dramatic coastal islands that are close enough together to avoid tiring one night passages. Magnificent giant boulders still feature all along the coast, some so precariously balanced they look as if just a small puff of wind would send them tumbling down the hillside. Luckily the weather has been very calm, the lack of wind often producing exquisite, undulating, glassy seas.

Windless days and glassy seas

As we sail we are continuously reminded of just how huge Australia is, with towns and small communities dotted sparsely amongst the miles of empty countryside. Our first stop, just ten miles north of Airlie Beach was one such place, in the large eastern lobe of Double Bay we were surrounded on three sides by a vast uninhabited forest, with only the one other yacht anchored deeper into the bay and the couple of bars of 3G evidence we were only a few miles from civilisation.

We moved on to Bona Bay, in the lea of Gloucester Island, a resort was located a couple of miles south on the mainland but again we sat in splendid isolation. There was a great beach here and the low tide revealed a large expanse of sand and a huge field of pebbles.

Pebble beach at Bona Bay

Thursday found us, after another calm passage, tucked behind the daunting mass of Cape Upstart in Shark Bay. The whole 4 mile length of the bay was lined, behind the trees, with shacks, rough and ready telegraph poles running an electric supply to each. However there was no sign of any occupants.

The water in these bays is murky and in combination with its name we are not tempted in, but again we enjoyed exploring the beaches. Getting ashore at low tide, with a rocky boundary proved difficult but after a bit of searching we spotted a small creek cutting through the sand and guessed correctly that there would be a sand spit at its end to beach the dingy. We wandered up the creeks length to where it disappeared into the mangroves, but the pressence of biting sandflies (or was it the muddy banked possible crocodile country) put us off exploring further.

A small creek entering Shark Bay

Returning to the dingy we took advantage of the flat sea to go out of the bay and around the head of the Cape. Normally pounded by ocean swell it was a rare treat to be able to explore around the massive rocks and crevasses that drop down steeply into clear water and visit the small beaches tucked away near the Capes end.

Enjoying the calm waters, exploring in the dingy.

We now find ourselves in Horseshoe Bay on the north side of Magnetic Island. Named, as many of the places are here, by Captain Cook as he sailed up this same coast in 1770, due to the effect the island had on their compasses. We kept a keen eye on ours as we approached but didn’t have any similar issues. However the journey was marred, not by us getting misdirected but by the loss of two of Ricks favourite fishing lures. The first was taken by what must have been a very big fish, who bending the rod almost double, pulled out most of the 200m of line on the reel before chomping through it to get free. The second loss was more irritating. A small fast tinny crewed by a couple of local idiots drove straight towards us and despite my best efforts jumping up and down miming the fact we were trolling a line out the stern of the boat, they crossed behind us way too close taking our hook, lure and line with them.

Magnetic Island being just off the coast of Townsville and a tourist destination, is much busier than our last few stops, however that does mean bars, restaurants and a grocery store. It also has a few trails, one of which leads a short way through the forest to a lagoon apparently home to a range of different birds. Unfortunately all we found along the path, was yet more large spiders, a flighty kangaroo who made us jump out of our skins as he bounded through the undergrowth and a very boggy end as the trail petered out, the lagoon sitting tantalisingly close just through the trees.

A trail to nowhere

Tomorrow we continue our island hopping, arriving in Cairns at the end of the week. Where hopefully we will find our passports stamped with our Indonesian visas and the rally information packs. The next adventure begins.

Waves, Caves and a Million Eyes

Saturday 9th June 2018

We are lounging in the cockpit trying to take a bit of downtime. We are berthed in the very swish Abel Point Marina in Airlie Beach and all around us is a hive of activity, we feel rather lazy. The boats either side of us are being cleaned and polished to within an inch of their lives, a continuous stream of people are being shepherded along our pontoon on to the various day trip crafts moored at the end, a fun run is taking place on the harbour boardwalk and behind us a small army of crew members work flat out on the 230ft Super Yacht Felix, keeping it in a perpetual state of perfection and readiness.

Super Yacht Felix , they had been polishing the hull all day

Yesterday we had waved Eric and Roz off to the airport, pleased that for the past week the sun had come out and the wind dropped enough for them to experience some of the high moments that a cruising life can provide.

Sunday we continued our journey around Hook Island arriving in Stonehaven Anchorage in time for lunch. There were a few more boats here but we easily found a mooring buoy even if it did mean sharing the musical tastes of our neighbours. We escaped ashore, again clambering around the amazing boulders, Rick climbing high and back into the island.

The volcanic past of these islands is evident everywhere in the rocks. Some are obviously solidified lava, dark in colour they are pocked with air holes and full of stones and debris picked up as the molten flow ran down the hillside. Many are striped with Ferrous reds and oranges, others having been eroded by the sea reminded us of giant apple cores or, as in the case below, giant waves frozen in time.

The rocks at Stonehaven Beach

Luckily the partying crew next door allowed us a quiet night and early the next morning, in our continuing search for good snorkelling, we moved the short distance out to tiny Langford Island. We were again greeted by a dozen or so bat fish but sadly even from the boat we could see that most of the coral was gone, we debated whether it was worth going in to investigate further. The arrival of a dozen jet skis made our decision easy, we moved on to Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island.

Another beautiful bay lined with stunning rocks we took the dingy out to enjoy them close up. Castle rock that forms a small headland is a renowned snorkelling spot but yet again most of the coral was gone. Despite this we did have an interesting snorkel, a few patches of coral on the shore side of the boulders, presumably protected from Debbie’s onslaught, survive, small reef fish clinging on in what remains of their home. There were plenty of larger fish too, including a large grouper and a generous amount of parrot fish. Nearer the shoreside rocks we came across a massive shoal of schooling three inch long silver fish. It’s amazing swimming through the mass of beady eyes all intently watching, a million individuals that swoop back and forward in unison, all the time somehow managing to avoid touching you.

Our next stop was, for contrast, deep inside the 2.5nm long Nara inlet, at only half a km wide we were encased by the high green hills.We couldn’t have wanted for a more tranquil spot, in fact Rick took advantage of the calm conditions, and the extra hands onboard, to drop the main sail and inspect the inmast furler.

Looking down the length of Nara Inlet

At the end of the inlet, off a small pretty beach, a track leads up to a cave that contains aboriginal paintings possibly 2000yrs old. Artefacts found in the cave floor show that it has been used for at least that long by the Ngaro people who have lived in the area for at around 9000 years. On the side of the track and on the platform outside the cave information boards explain the details and the importance of the simple designs and the stories that accompanied them to spread the history and culture of their people.

Aboriginal cave paintings in Nara Inlet.

After a final night back in Cid Harbour, we headed to Airlie Beach and the Abel Point Marina. The wind was, for a change, in the perfect direction, so Eric and Roz took turns at the helm sailing us across the Whitsunday passage on a broad reach at nearly nine knots. A fitting finale to an all too brief return to these lovey Islands.

Fossicking in Debbie’s Wake

Saturday 2nd June 2018

Fossicking is a word we have heard and read frequently while in Australia. Probably derived from the same word in Cornish, where it’s definition is, recreational prospecting for precious metals, stones and fossils. In Australia and New Zealand it has been extended to mean rummaging outside for more or less anything. Unfortunately the great fossicking available, especially on the northern beaches of the Whitsundays, is yet another example of the devastation caused by Cyclone Debbie as it ripped through the area last year. The coral that should be brightly coloured and full of a diverse range of sea life, filling the bays, sits bleached, high and dry washed up onto the beaches.

Cateran Bay on Border Island continued to be delightfully calm, the guide informed us that there was good snorkelling and it had a great beach for fossicking, we took the dingy ashore to investigate. We found a beautiful bay of sand, colourful rocks and yes plenty of coral fragments and shells to rummage through.

Fossicking on Cateran Beach

Our largest find was a huge giant clam shell and the most intricate a delicate but lethal looking crab claw.

Fossicking Prizes

With so much of the coral washed up onto the beach the snorkelling didn’t quite live up to the cruising guides build up, but was pleasant enough, with, once you eyes became attuned to the rather murky water, plenty of fish swimming around the few remaining patches of coral and large boulders. Late afternoon back onboard Raya we spotted two manta rays that had come into the bay to feed. They didn’t come quite close enough for us to jump in with them but we enjoyed the show of their swooping silhouettes just under the water and their wing tips tantalisingly breaking the surface.

Friday we moved on. It was another rough ride as we motored up and over the top of Hook Island and into Butterfly Bay. Extending far into the hillsides, it was obviously protected somewhat from the ravages of the cyclone, the coral here was much healthier and varied. Amongst the many soft corals were stag horn corals, brain corals, plate corals, even some cabbage coral, not so many fish but we did find a huge live giant clam that was nearly as big as me.

The beach was similar to Cateran, full of colourful, volcanic boulders, we spent a great hour or so clambering about enjoying the splendid scenery around us.

Clambering on the rocks in Butterfly Bay

Taking advantage of the increasingly settled weather the next day we moved on to the more exposed Luncheon Bay and the effects of the cyclone where depressingly obvious. The beach was meters deep in coral fragments and the scene underwater stripped back to bare rock.

Beach at Luncheon Bay buried under tons of coral fragments.

In an attempt to keep the interest of the visitors the tourist boats are feeding the fish. Before we had even picked up a one of the public mooring buoys in the bay we were surrounded by bat fish, shaped like angel fish, these eighteen inch giants jostled for our attention in the bright sunlight.

As we snorkelled along the bare rocks, large shoals of fish crowded around us looking for food and as we returned to the boat the bat fish were waiting, snapping up the bread we fed them.

Large bat fish in Luncheon Bay

We left the bay hoping that it wouldn’t be too long before some coral managed to find a way to reestablish itself and return the shoreline to what must have been a magnificent reef.

Evading the Elements

Wednesday 31st May 2018

Late Friday as we stood shivering on a dark night, soaked to the skin, with the wind howling, lightening flashing and thunder crashing all around us, we hoped this was a final fling for the bad weather we’d had for the past fortnight. After hours of heavy rain with the dingy slowly filling we had to face the enevitable drenching to raise it before it was completely submerged.

Although in the marina we have unusually been using the dingy to get around. Being on an outer pontoon the dingy dock at the supermarket and the ferry wharf at the airport are much more convenient than using our feet. And, joining Raya by dingy is far more exciting than catching a taxi, our friends Eric and Roz were arriving in the morning. Having flown half way around the World, leaving the glourious English spring sunshine behind them, this cool, wet and windy period was not what we had wanted them to be greeted with.

Unfortunately the elements continued to be unsettled for the next few days, brusque, cool winds and frequent showers keeping our eyes skyward watching for breaks in the clouds because as soon as the sunshine did break through, it was lovely. We enjoyed a stroll on the beach, a sunny lunch or two at the resort and a few walks.

Roz admiring the view

On the high tide Tuesday we filled up at the fuel dock and left the marina. As we rounded the northern end of the island, losing its protection, we motored straight into washing machine seas. Luckily it was only an hour or so before we entered the Solway Passage, here were much smaller waves but the water was lively in other ways. As the tide rushed through its narrow gap, a strong current helped us reach over 10kts of boat speed. As other streams of water joined the system, strange calm patches amongst areas of overalls and ominous whirls pools formed. A bit scary to look at but not really a problem for Raya to pass through.

We headed to the famous Whitehaven beach. On our first visit to this beach, over thirty years ago, this expanse of fine white sand blew us away, the many photos we still have keeping our memories fresh. This time, with our level of beach appreciation somewhat higher and with the advent of the day tripper, it didn’t seem quite so special. However as we walked away from the crowds and five miles of white sand, with grains so fine they squeaked beneath our feet, spread out before us, it’s beauty was more evident. A ray darted from our path in the shallows, helicopters and seaplanes buzzed over our heads and now protected from the wind the late afternoon sun felt pleasantly warm and on our faces.

Five miles of white sand on Whitehaven Beach

At the top of the beach a ghostly barrier of bleached and broken trees marked the start of the interior woodland, presumably damaged by the onslaught of Cyclone Debbie last year, they appear to have been bulldozed off the beach to maintain the picture perfect vista that has become the ‘poster boy’ image of the Whitsundays.

Piles of dead trees lined the top of the beach

With yet another blast of wind forecast today we have moved on. We poked our nose into Tongue Bay but again it was quite crowded, the freshening winds were gusting down the hill in front of us and despite looking protected on the chart a swell was creeping around the headland.

We sailed on and have found a beautiful spot in Cateran Bay on the north shore of Border Island. The sky is finally cloudless and we have, currently at least, evaded the wind and swell, two beaches and a snorkelling spot beckon.

Anchored in Cateran Bay, Border Island

Cid and Hamilton

Friday 25th May 2018

As we rounded Hughes Point in Cid Harbour and motored into Sawmill Bay, suddenly and for the first time in six days, the wind dropped. The stillness and quiet was wonderful, even the sun was making an appearance.

Anchor down in calm Sawmill Bay, Cid Harbour

The calm conditions were fickle however, any slight change in direction of the wind allowed it to edge around the peaks and down the valleys hitting us with lively gusts and sporadically longer periods of blustery weather. But the sun stayed with us and our surroundings were beautiful.

Beautiful Cid Harbour

With the sea finally flat enough we dropped the dingy and headed for the beach. A short 1.5km trail led over the hill to Dugong inlet. Starting with a set of ramshackle steps at the northern end of the beach it led up into the wooded shoreline. Large Hoop Pines and tall White Cheesewoods dominated the rainforest canopy above us and bright orange fungi, growing on decaying fallen branches decorated the floor. Butterflies fluttered in the air and tiny lizards skittered across the path.

As we began to descend down the other side of the hill the bird song and the rustling from the forest floor, the sounds that had accompanied us for the first half of the walk, gave way to the incongruous thump of Rap music. On Dugong beach a group of young backpackers were enjoying a few days camping. After a brief stroll on the sand we left them to their partying and returned back to quiet f Sawmill Bay.

There is another trail from this beach, leading up to the Whitsunday Peak but with an estimated 4hrs to complete the 5km distance we guessed it was a little steep for us.

Bright orange fungi grow on the wood that litters the forest floor.

Tuesday it was time to move on to Hamilton Island Marina to prepare for the arrival of our friends. This required us to sail south for a change, heading straight into the 25kts of wind, luckily it was only 5miles away. As we poked our nose out from the protection of Whitsunday Island the wind hit us like a brick wall and the choppy sea crashed over our bows, we were glad of Raya’s 30tons and hefty engine. As soon as we cleared the headland we tucked into the coast as close as possible and an hour later were happily tied up in our berth.

We have been enjoying the restaurants, drank Mojitos by a pretty but rather chilly pool and browsed the resort shops. The atypical weather persists but there is a glimmer of hope with an improvement in the forecast for next week. We are looking forward to sharing a sunny exploration of more of the islands and even a bit of snorkelling, so fingers crossed.

Main pool at Hamilton Island Resort

Windy Return to the Whitsundays

Friday 18th June 2018

Thirty one years ago we made our first trip to Australia and for part of that holiday, with a friend, we chartered a bareboat in the Whitsunday Islands. Our first sailing holiday it remains in our memories as a very special time and ever since we started our sail north up the Australian Coast we have been eagerly awaiting our return. However the cool 30kt winds, messy seas and rain that greeted us was not what quite how we remembered things.

Cold wet arrival in the Whitsundays.

After leaving Mackay our first stop was the twin islands of Keswick and St Bees, in the far south of the group, both islands are surrounded by reportedly excellent diving and snorkelling spots. After an uncomfortable few hours sail we headed for what we hoped would be an anchorage sheltered from the wind. There was slight protection but it was really bouncy, we moved around to the channel between the two islands only to discover the tide racing at about three knots and the wind still howling. Conditions were not going to be good for snorkelling even if we did put up with the bad conditions in the anchorages we decided to move on. A couple of hours later and ten miles north we were much more comfortably anchored off Bampton Island.

A combination of a drop in visitors after the 2008 economic downturn and a procession of destructive cyclones has taken its toll on the Whitsunday Resorts and many stand empty and disintegrating. Bampton Island Resort was like a ghost town, ragged tape and boards blocking entry beyond the beach. One villa was obviously occupied by squatters or perhaps a caretaker but they didn’t come out to talk. It was a beautiful spot but with just the occasional yacht passing through it must be a lonely existence.

Derelict Bampton Island Resort

Decaying alongside the villas, was an aircraft runway, a once lovely beachside pool and a small overgrown fresh water lake. As we stood absorbing the desolation here we got the feeling of being watched. We were, and our observer was a large kangaroo well camouflaged in the long grass, Seemingly unperturbed by our presence he stood about 100m away just staring. Could they have had a small zoo here, he looked healthy enough, we hoped he wasn’t alone on the island.

Kangeroo watching our every move

With no let up in the weather and the threat of rain Wednesday we moved on. After studying the chart and cruising guide the next sheltered spot was in the lee of Shaw Island. A few other yachts sat hunkered down in the bay but the island itself appeared uninhabited. The only sign of life were a group of buildings on the opposite shore, on Lindeman Island, as darkness fell no lights came on, no boats had been and gone, this was obviously another deserted resort.

I’m sure in better conditions it would be lovely here occasionally the sun broke through turning the slate grey sea to turquoise and the dull hills bright green but the wind was relentless, the water too choppy and the showers too frequent for us to be tempted to launch the dingy to explore. We read, cooked, played games, watched movies while the weather continued to bash us. Another high pressure ridge is stuck sitting over the North Queensland coast and however many times I look hopefully at the forecast, the winds appear to be here to stay for quite a while yet.

A ray of sunshine creeps through the clouds highlighting Yellow Rock off Shaw Island

Carving Out Three Years

Sunday 13th May 2018

Middle Percy Island, confusingly north of not just South but also Northeast Percy Islands, has a long history as a safe anchorage for cruisers heading north up the Australian East Coast. An A frame hut, complete with BBQ facilities and tables and chairs, sits at the back of the beach in West Bay and stands testament to the friendly welcome extended by the Island to visiting yachts. Absolutely every available space on the walls, ceiling and rafters is home to momentos left by previous sailors.

Every inch of Percy Island Yacht Club is covered in mementos from passing yachts.

Having had a good look around we returned to Raya, Rick itching to add a board to the collection, me unfortunately itching from the dozen or so sandfly bites I had accumulated. Delighting in having an excuse to work with wood instead of engines and plumbing for a while, he quickly produced a fitting record of Raya’s visit. It was especially poignant as we hung it in the A frame on Thursday 10th May, exactly three years since we let go the lines and left the dock in Southampton.

Marking our stay in West Bay

Another interesting feature of West Bay is its secluded lagoon. Only accessible by shallow draft boats at high tide, it sits hidden amongst the rocky shoreline a completely protected haven for those boats that can get in and then take the ground at low tide. We took the dingy in and found not only a catamaran happily sitting on the sand but also a working boat precariously tired to a dock. Part of the Barrier Reef National Park, the Island is managed by it’s only inhabitants, the occupants of the homestead sitting up amongst the wooded hills. The boat is their connection with the rest of the world and the lagoon offers perfect protection from all extremes of weather.

Homestead transport hidden within the protection of the West Bay Lagoon.

The Homestead is attempting to be as self sufficient as possible, raising goats and chickens, growing their own fruit and vegetables, producing honey and generating their own power. If they have any excess produce they are happy to sell it to yachties. We started off on the track that lead across the island towards the house but about halfway, not really needing any supplies, we got lured down a more intriguing, smaller path. The ground around us was covered in ferns and scrubby hebes and the canopy above our heads full of squawking crows, through the trees could be glimpsed inviting blue sea. Our intrepid adventure however, was easily stopped by a large web stretching across the path, it’s brightly coloured creator very much at home and only millimetres from Ricks head.

Giant Golden Orb spider

Early Friday morning, we headed to Mackay. The large tidal range here, at over 6m during spring tide, doesn’t just enable boats to enter secluded lagoons, it also means there are strong currents helping or hindering each passage and anchoring requires some mathematical juggling. In the marina even the provisioning needs to be timed with the tide, full trolleys and steep ramps don’t go together well. Still after three years each new place surprises us with its own unique challenges.

Pontoon ramp at low tide

Soldier Crab Creek

Tuesday 8th May 2018

Light blue soldier crab

After a couple of days of high winds and torrential rain, this morning we could see blue skies between the clouds and the barometer had fallen slightly. A firm ridge of high pressure has passed over the Queensland coast and we have sort shelter in Island Head Creek.

We enjoyed our couple of days off Second Beach on pretty Great Keppel Island, a popular spot, there were quite a few boats dotted around, however when we chose to go ashore the beach stretched out pristine and empty. With only a small surge coming in we decided to try out the new dingy anchoring system Rick had been working on in his head to stop the dingy continually being caught in the surf. Attaching a long second line to the head of the anchor Rick balanced it on the bow, he pushing the dingy as far off shore as he could and particularly beyond the breaking waves, and then tugged the line pulling the anchor into the water. The long line was then secured around a rock high up on the beach ready for us to retrieve the dingy on our return, hopefully without getting wet.

With half an eye firmly on the dingy we headed for the rocks at the end of the beach. It was nice to stretch our legs, the nearby islands complimenting the view. As we walked along the tide line we marvelled at how amazingly clean the beaches are in this part of Queensland. And the dingy stayed exactly where we had left it bobbing quietly and dry beyond the surf.

Rock climbing Second Beach, Keppel Island

Notorious for the swell that creeps into the bay in anything but calm conditions we knew that this was not going to be a good place to be for the weather coming in on Sunday. So early Saturday morning found us heading 60nm north to Island Head Creek. We had visions of returning to murky water and muddy banks, we couldn’t have been more wrong. It was a stunning spot, blue water, sand banks and high, craggy, green hills surrounded us.

The quiet was absolute, despite the numerous different types of birds we could spot through the binoculars. Great egrets and other waders searched for food in the shallows, large flocks of terns and gangs of pelicans rested on the sand flats, an osprey harried a group of gulls for their catch and a couple of oyster catchers, easily identified by their bright red beaks, pecked at the sand. We could see absolutely no sign of human activity, no huts, no other boats, no radio masts, no phone signal or internet, and as the sunset, no artificial lights not even the loom of a nearby town. Gradually the stars appeared, first in the still orange of the western sky Venus emerged, then in the east Jupiter began to shine brightly. As the darkness further encased us a remarkable dome of stars filled the blackness above, so close you could almost reach up and touch them.

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t going to allow us to appreciate the beauty of this splendid isolation for long. Sunday morning brought strong winds and heavy showers, a complete rainbow formed so close I couldn’t actually photograph the whole thing.

A complete rainbow arched across the creek

Gradually the winds built and the silence was replaced by the howl of gust through the rigging and the slap of waves on the hull. As Sunday moved into Monday sustained torrential rain joined in the mix and continued throughout the day. A few other boats came in to take refuge, the rain obscuring them and the high hills around us.

Although we were in a safe spot, the anchor holding tight, bad weather is always tiring. We decided to stay here another day to regroup, allow the ocean swell outside to reduce and give ourselves the opportunity to go ashore.

Sand banks Island Head Creek

Island Head Creek is in a military training zone, walking on the beach is apparently tolerated but going any further inland is forbidden, we headed for the expansive sand banks adjacent to us. It was a strange place, think, small desert dropped into a river delta. The birds, alerted by our engine, disappeared as we approached and at first sight the sand banks appeared deserted. Then I spotted a tiny crab, his shell a vivid lilac blue. As I beckon Rick over, I realised the entire bank was alive, there were a million of them scurrying beneath our feet.

Armies of light blue soldier crabs marching up the beach

This really had been a perfect anchorage, protecting us from the weather, charming us with its scenery and delighting us with its inhabitants. Unfortunately with no phone signal here or I suspect at our next destination, Middle Percy Island, this blog will have to await publication a few more days.

Rosslyn Bay

Thursday 3rd May 2018

We have spent the last week at the friendly Keppel Bay Marina in the appropriately named Rosslyn Bay Harbour. I did suggest that the name similarity deserved a discount but none was forthcoming. A discount would have been welcome, as we approach the popular cruising area of the Whitsundays, marina fees are creeping up and in this part of the world staying anywhere other than a marina is often not an option.

The island anchorages are sometimes protected from the wind but it is very difficult to find anywhere that escapes the Pacific swell. This swell also plagues the mainland beaches. Add in the difficulties of crossing bars to enter the few creeks and rivers, the struggle of finding somewhere to get ashore that has access to services and the problems we have with everywhere being rather shallow for our 2.4m draft and marinas have become our safe havens.

Life in a marina is not all bad, especially one as nice as Keppel Bay. At 3am last Friday morning, as we motored away from Lady Musgrave, we crossed latitude 23.50 S, the Tropic of Capricorn. Arriving in the marina a few hours later we rejected the traditional ‘got here beer’ for a slap up ‘got here breakfast’ at the cafe and it really did feel like we’d arrived in the tropics. The birds all appeared to have gained a new set of colourful feathers and exotic voices and bright tropical flowers lined the waterfront path. Even the air felt and smelt differently.

Looking out from Double Head across the marina to a Rosslyn Bay

To add to its charms the marina also has a nearby beach, a few local walking trails and a courtesy car for short provisioning trips to Yeppoon and a visit to the farmers market. This far away from the big cities and hordes of tourists, gone were the containers of olives and feta marinated a dozen different ways, there were no stalls of artisan bread and displays of rather dubious local art were conspicuous by their absence. Yeppoon’s Saturday market, the local town’s farmers market, had just local farmers selling cheap and seasonal fruit and veg.

Yeppoon in fact had all the facilities we needed including a very helpful post office where Wednesday we very reluctantly posted of our passports, to go in with our visa applications to the Indonesian Consul.

Looming over the marina and the nearby beach, is Double Head. Through the bush and ferns are two steep, but luckily short, paths to follow. One took me up to a look out with in one direction a great view out to sea and the surrounding islands, in the other across a crevasse, an exposed 60 million year old geological phenomena. Fan Rock was created by magma escaping through weak spots in the earths surface, the molten lava slowly cooled from the outside inwards, causing the rock to crack into hexagonal tubes that fan out from its centre producing a structure that looks almost manmade.

Fan Rock

As we have travelled north my walks have become increasingly deserted and on occasion I have begun to feel slightly vulnerable. Vulnerable to what I’m unsure, wandering muggers, deadly spiders, rambling rapists, venomous snakes,? What I was not expecting, as I rejoined the steps down from the look out, was to be accosted by a band of Jehovah Witnesses smiling and eagerly thrusting out their pamphlets towards me. Who exactly they thought they would find to convert on this lonely hill was a mystery but they were always going to draw a blank with me.

Deserted Kemp Beach

With a few days of calm weather in prospect, today we have moved out to Keppel Island. There is a bit of swell rocking Raya to and fro, lines of squally rain track across us and there is only minimal phone signal. However in between downpours the water is blue, on the pretty islands around us, numerous beaches beckon and the forecast is for plenty of sun tomorrow.

Turquoise Lady Musgrave Lagoon

Friday 27th April 2018

Raya anchored in Lady Musgrave Lagoon

The turquoise that is produced by shallow, clear water, over white sand, under a tropical sun, is bewitchingly beautiful and after spending the summer in the coastal waters, rivers and creeks of Eastern Australia, Tuesday entering the lagoon off Lady Musgrave Island on the southern tip of the Barrier Reef, felt like coming home.

It had been a good trip over, the brown water of the Burnett river magically changing to blue as we headed out to sea. There was, the now normal, beam swell setting us rocking but it was calm enough for us to feel that we could, between us, land a fish if we caught one, so we put out a line to troll behind us. We weren’t however expecting our catch to be quite this big, it did take quite a while to land this giant!

Fishcakes for supper for the next three weeks.

Just after midday Lady Musgrave Island appeared as a dark slither on the horizon, then we spotted the white of breaking waves on the outer reef and as we neared, the wonderful turquoise of the inner lagoon.

The pass through the reef was narrow but clearly marked. Its been a while since we have navigated through areas of coral so we entered slowly and carefully motored around anything we spotted on the seabed until we found a large enough space of clear sand to anchor. There were a surprising number of other boats anchored but the lagoon is over a mile long and there was plenty of room for everyone.

Lady Musgrave Reef on Google Earth, a jewel in the dark ocean

Early the next day we took the dingy ashore to have a look around the island before it got too warm and the tourist boats arrived. We were glad we had put on our sand skippers, the beach was strewn with fragments of coral. As we strolled along the water edge we spotted oyster catchers, egrets and some small green turtles. Pretty Australian firs and screw pines marked the edge of the beach and protected the Pisonia trees that grow in the interior of the island. The Pisonia tree has very broad leaves that are a favourite nesting location for Black Noddies. When we rounded the corner onto the western side of the island the extent of their numbers here was revealed. Suddenly what must have been a thousand birds burst from the trees filling the sky, creating a noisy natural spectacle above our heads.

Thousands of Black Noddies take to the air.

We returned to the boat and cooled off in the calm sea. With the only ripples coming from our own movements we floated gently and let the warm turquoise sea envelope us. Looking back Raya floated resplendent, reflecting in the glassy surface.

Then as the sun became higher in the sky we went over to the southeastern reef to snorkel on a couple of bommies. The visibility, was surprisingly, a little murky but we were just happy to be back amongst the colourful fish and varied corals.

Even the tiny Damsel Fish added to the days turquoise colour scheme.

As we dined on steak from the bbq, with a salad of ripe Australian tomatoes and a glass of full bodied Australian red wine, we agreed it had been a very special day.

Unfortunately the weather again dictated that we leave before we were really ready. As we left the next day through the pass, the water was crystal clear and we realised we should have been snorkelling this side of the reef, but too late, we had a night passage to contend with. Keppel Bay Marina in the aptly named Rosslyn Harbour, about 110nm NW and back on the mainland, will be our shelter from the strong winds forecast for the next few days.