22 Sep Cruising North to the Australian Great Barrier Reef
On June 5, after six months of being tied securely to the dock in Manly, Queensland the state opened for in-state travel. As Covid-19 numbers became under control, and the state border was still closed, we felt comfortable sailing North and discovering the Queensland Coast. During June and into the beginning of July there were no new cases reported. As of July 25, Queensland had 5 “active” covid cases.
Queensland is the second largest state in Australia, the East Coast of Qld is 3765 nm (more than 2 x the length of the US Atlantic Coast). Before Covid-19 our plans had been to sail to Indonesia in July; however, as country borders remain closed, we decided to take advantage of cruising and exploring the Great Barrier Reef!
Within our first month we sailed from the Brissy area in Moreton Bay, over the Wide Bay Bar to Pelican Bay, up through The Great Sandy Strait to River Heads, then up the Mary River to Maryborough. We planned our passage times fairly well for higher tides. We spent a week on a mooring in Maryborough, where the local yachties took us under their wings and we explored a city famous for Mary Poppins, as the author, PL Travers’ was born there. The rich history of the area engaged us as the Port of Maryborough was where nearly 21,000 migrants entered Australia from 1863 to the end of the century.
While coastal sailing we have found it imperative to pay attention to tides, being informed can help with favorable currents as well as keep you from running aground. We planned our exit from Maryborough at an hour before hightide to travel down the Mary River. Our experience has taught us that in shallow waters the best time to travel is on a rising tide, however when travelling in a river it is as important to go with the current which means when you are heading down river the tide will be going out and the water getting lower. Inauspiciously, by the time we reached the shallows near the Mary River mouth, we felt a little drag then found ourselves aground, and spent several extra hours waiting for the tide to come back in, until moving on. (BTW.. As the saying goes there are four types of skippers, those who have been aground, those who are aground, those who are about to go aground, and liars.)
Our Queensland journey continued to Fraser Island and Kingfisher Bay. Then across Hervey Bay, up the Burnett River, anchoring in the Bundaberg Town Reach. We enjoyed being in the “middle” of town as it was easy to walk and ride our bikes around town, check out new restaurants, go shopping and wash laundry, before heading back down the river to wait out strong winds prior to starting our journey into the Great Barrier Reef!
We were excited to visit Pancake Creek and once we arrived were invited to join a group of Aussies for a bush walk up to the Bustard Head lighthouse. Our local “guides” filled us in on history, flora and fauna. As we were taking a picture of a big spider one of our mates asked… “Do you know if that is a variety of Spider that jumps?!!!” Whaaaa…??? Once we arrived at the lighthouse, we joined another group for the official tour and found the history interesting. Our mates skipped the tour, but we were told to walk to the other side and check out the amazing view!!! It was spectacular.
While hanging out in Pancake Creek we inflated our stand-up board and kayak and enjoyed paddling around on the calm days. However, being the only ones paddling around we stayed quite aware as Bull Sharks and Crocodiles have been spotted in this area! We have had nice temperatures mostly in the 70’s (21.11 c) during the day but expect things to be warming up soon. We have not been in the water, partially because of the cooler temps, but also because of the animals that may be lurking!
As we cruise north in the Great Barrier Reef it feels like we are on vacation, finally taking a real holiday! We have time to explore and cruise at a snail’s pace, as we will want to be back south of Bundaberg for the beginning of cyclone season, around the end of November. Keen to experience as much of the East coast as possible we decided to make many stops on our way North, visiting Islands, hiding out in rivers and marinas when the wind is strong. We had a favorable stop at Gladstone Marina, (possibly the most affordable marina in the Great Barrier Reef). We enjoyed riding our bicycles (“push bikes”) to get around the hilly town. We found a circuitous route to the grocery stores to purchase additional provisions.
By the end of July we had sailed North of the Tropic of Capricorn and arrived at Great Keppel Island with its beautiful sandy beaches and tropical water. There are anchorages on most sides of the Island, so while we were there, we found ourselves closing watching the wind and being ready to relocate and pull up anchor if necessary. After experiencing both rolly and calm anchorages, the bush trails, exploring, and discovering the resort life on the island, we sailed across to Great Keppel Bay Marina in Rosslyn Bay. From here we would be sailing into a more remote area, so we were thrilled to borrow the courtesy car to re-stock Maia. As such, we had a couple busy days exploring the area, eating out in restaurants, provisioning (shopping for food and other necessary supplies), doing laundry, cleaning Maia inside and out, refilling our water tanks.
It was warming up; we had reached 80 (26.66c) degrees! As we headed North, we made notable stops in Port Clinton, Pearl Bay, Hexham and Middle Percy Islands. We found the tropics beautiful with lovely anchorages, beaches and wildlife! Whales, dolphins, turtles, birds, butterflies, spiders and snakes!
As we were quietly sailing along one arvo (afternoon), we had an unexpected encounter. We heard a whale spout (a sound of rushing air) and began looking around. Next, we heard whale calls coming from underneath us! Dick and I looked at each other, wondering what was happening? Subsequently a humpback popped up two boat lengths behind us, it was exciting and scary! We heard more whale sounds and then the whale resurfaced behind us a second time. What a breathtaking and surreal experience.
Curlew Island was a pretty stop before heading to Mackay Marina. It was time to re-stock again and we found the town a goldmine of shops. A terrific camping store, health food store, along with Coles, Woolies and Big W, grateful to have our “push bikes” with racks to carry all our goodies back to the marina. It was a 40-minute ride each way and we were happy to have a bike path to ride on. At the marina, we re-filled our propane tank as well as Maia’s fuel tanks.
Sailing on to Shaw Island, we had arrived in the Whitsundays, the touristy part of the Great Barrier Reef. We were loving the scenery, we felt it to be a little alpine-like, reminding us of Northern California. We spent several windy days and nights in this comfortable anchorage.
Within the cruising world, we tend to travel on similar routes, as the Ocean currents dictate the best ways to travel. We had met a yachtie, Jeanette (sv Monkey Island) and her family in Tonga and then spent some time together in a marina in New Zealand. She was now working at the popular holiday destination, Hamilton Island. We made a quick overnight visit and loved our short time on the Island. We were impressed with the wonderful restaurants, the grocery store at the end of the dock, convenient laundry facilities and access to the resort pools, hiking and up-close visits of Lorikeets and Parrots at Bob’s Bakery.
Our next stop was Airlie Beach, where we were meeting up with other yachtie friends we had run across in New Zealand! Here we genuinely enjoyed the Coral Sea Marina, with its awesome floating cruisers lounge, free courtesy Utes (small trucks), nearby shops and restaurants.
We delighted in our next week sailing up the coast, finding secure and picturesque anchorages. East Double Bay kept us sheltered from the winds. At Cape Gloucester we reconnected with cruisers we had met in Kingfisher Bay. We appreciated the beautiful Shark Bay near Cape Upstart but had a bumpy night anchoring inside of Cape Bowling Green. However, the next morning the tide had fallen, and we woke to a quiet, still, and gorgeous morning before pulling up anchor and motor-sailing into Townsville.
When we arrived at Townsville Yacht Club Marina, we were greeted by Arliss and Eric, sv Corroboree, whom we had last seen in New Zealand 15 months prior and we had first met in the Marquesas, French Polynesia! It was wonderful to catch up, enjoy time together and get the low down on Townsville. We explored and found Townsville a large urban Centre and a great locale to provision with a variety of stores and a Farmers Market every Sunday.
Laura escaped the boating life for a few days and took a peaceful train ride on Queensland Rail, North to Cairns. She stayed with Cheryl, Lauren and Robbie in Port Douglas, they delighted in the wonders of nature as they took a couple of day trips to the Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation in Daintree National Park.
Meanwile, Dick enjoyed attending a car race on the streets of Townsville!
We had heard wonderful things about Magnetic Island and loved our time on the island. The buses made it easy to move around the area. Seeing Koalas in the trees in the bush was magnificent. Along the Fort track we found a network of hikers spreading the word of where the Koalas could be seen. What a thrill to see a “Mum & Bub” low down in the crook of a “eucalypt” tree where we were able to observe them closely while they slept and we gaped as they adjusted their cute furry bodies and small hands and feet. We were treated to additional views of Koalas sleeping quietly up higher in trees along the track! Besides the Koalas we enjoyed the sights, sounds and Island life on Maggie. We spent five nights at the Horseshoe Bay anchorage even though we found it rather bumpy and a couple nights in the Marina where we were able to hire a boat cleaner and got the bottom of Maia scrubbed.
As October was upon us, it was time to begin heading South as Summer and Cyclone season were quickly approaching.