Monday, 20 February 2017

Episode 56 The Whitsundays



For Episode 55 we sailed from Lizard Island out to the Ribbon Reefs for some diving, then down to the Low Isles, Port Douglas and Cairns before riding out bad weather in Dunk Island and finally enjoying a week in The Whitsunday Islands prior to Paul’s parents George and Chez flying in for a visit.

Our location for this episode

Our route for this episode

We hired a car on the 25th January and went and picked up George and Chez from Proserpine Airport which is about a 45 minute drive from The Whitsunday’s main resort town of Airlie Beach.

It was a busy 24 hours with the car as it allowed us to refuel, reprovision and do other running around.

The following day was Australia Day.
There were mixed reports of possible fireworks that night at Airlie and activities, food stalls and markets around the foreshore.

However by midday the council workers were still mowing the foreshore lawn and only a few tents were semi-erected so we walked around to have a look at the new Port of Airlie Marina before sailing out to the islands after lunch.

The marina has some large and flash boats in the private berths.



On the other side is a beach that is made from reclaimed land and sand that was brought in from other areas.
It’s nice that the locals now have somewhere great to swim and relax aside from the pool in town which is always packed with young travellers.


In the trees around the beach we found loads of Black Cockatoos eating the nuts and fruit.


We had a fantastic sail out to the islands and we sailed nearly door to door to a protected bay called Stonehaven.
There were a few boats proudly flying Aussie flags and we had ours up too along with the Boxing Kangaroo flag (which is synonymous with Australian sailing).


Langford Island is only across the passage from Stonehaven and we took George and Chez there the next morning in the Tinny.
It was spring high tide and the sand spit that links the 2 islands was completely underwater.
The water was also higher than the mangroves which created a narrow strip of water which was filled with fish.



The snorkel was fun but with the high tide it was a little bumpy and the viz wasn’t very good.



We had never been to nearby Black Island before so we stopped there for a look on the way back.
A charter boat had set up a sun cover over the tables for their customers but we were able to have morning tea under it while they were all having a snorkel.


The island is small but very nice.



With SE winds forecast, we sailed around to the protection of Butterfly Bay.
However it was windy and the seas were up and even the most protected mooring in the bay (which we fortunately had) was a little rolly.

Despite the bumpy conditions, we took George around to Manta Ray Bay in the tinny while Chez had the morning off.
Manta Ray Bay is packed with fish that are used to being feed by the charter operators.
However it is a lucky dip as to what fish will turn up when you arrive.
The week prior we had a lot of Bait fish but only 2 medium sized Maori Wrasse and one Black Trevally.
This time we had less bait fish but the added bonus of 5 Maori Wrasse, 1 of which was huge and very friendly.

At first we got George to feed them from the boat to get them interested.
It was difficult for Paul to get decent under/over photos with the waves and swell – but we jagged a few…..




Once in the water, George had the opportunity to get up close with the big Maori Wrasse and by the end of the session it was getting lots of cuddles and pats from all of us.


After the feed we went for a snorkel and George found a large Jellyfish that had lots of smaller bait fish hovering around underneath it and in its tentacles.
Paul was very happy. We had seen one the previous day but he didn’t have his camera with him.


On the way back to Butterfly Bay, we stopped in at Maureen’s Cove to have a look around.
It was amazing how high the coral beach was now compared to 5 years ago.
We can only surmise that a cyclone had pushed all the coral up to make a very steep beach.
It made a great view from the top overlooking the bay.


The picnic tables are now overgrown with trees which makes an awesome natural shade cover.


Someone was very creative (and clever) using dead coral to make a sign which was on one of the tables.


The walk up the water course is always great and gives you to opportunity to look for Butterfly’s and Goats.

We found lots of one – but none of the other….


The watercourse we walked up was green and leafy after all the rain and there we lots of flowering plants.



We enjoyed it so much that the next day we took Chez for a fish feed at Manta Ray Bay.


It was our third feed at Manta Ray Bay and this time it was different again with over a dozen Bat Fish turning up.


After the feed we had a BBQ lunch at Maureen’s Cove.



The roots of the Pandanus Trees creating the canopy of shade over the tables were unusual.


It rained for a few minutes as we were preparing lunch but fortunately it passed and stayed away until we were having a swim prior to leaving.
By the time we got back to Lorelei it was pouring.
A quick check of the weather forecast revealed a change with a lot more wind, storms and rain predicted for that afternoon and evening.
So we packed up and set sail for the safety of Nara Inlet which was a 2 hour run south.
It rained on and off most of the way but by the time we arrived it was black with low dark clouds and A LOT of very loud thunder and lightning.
Transiting most of the way up the inlet to seek protection seemed like the logical thing to do.


That night it rained and rained!
There were swirling winds from all directions and bullets of wind coming down off the peaks at sometimes well over 35 knots.
Paul had to get up every few hours to double check the tinny was ok and still floating.
Needless to say by daybreak we were a little tired but every water tank on the boat was chock-a-block full.

By 10:30am the rain had cleared, the sun was out and every boat (except us) had left the inlet.
We were left alone with the roar of about 20 new waterfalls that had developed overnight with all the rain.
Normally dry rocky slopes were converted into cascading water courses for only 24 hours.
So we jumped in the tinny and spent the day exploring these new attractions of the inlet.









We went and had a look at a water course that has the most prominent waterfall in the inlet. It runs most of the time during the wet season but varies in intensity.
This day however, it was pouring down and the noise was very loud up close.
  

Note Lisa, Chez and George swimming in the pool at the lower right

We were able to have a few swims with the best one being at the bottom of the main waterfalls which had high flowing but safe swimming holes.
We named this one the “Turbo Tub”


When the ground dried out a little we took the track up to the Ngaro Aboriginal Art site.
We were shocked at the transformation of the site over the past 10 years.
There is now a much better laid out trail with decent stone steps along with a series of boardwalks and timber stairs that lead to viewing platforms, information boards and the art site.




Sadly the old boardwalk through the art site cave has been removed and replaced with an external viewing area meaning you can no longer get close to the artworks to view or photograph - unless you have a powerful and low light zoom lens.


We also noted that the trail leading from the art site to a rock ledge that gives the best view over the inlet has now sadly been closed off with an electric fence.

Despite the huge amount of money being spent on the area, the dingy access is still terrible and dangerous with the only access being over slippery and sharp rocks at the water’s edge.
With most visitors being tourists in rent-a-yachts with inflatable tenders, you’d think they would come up with something easier – and safer.

With nicer weather the next day, Paul and George did a long paddle around the inlet and Refuge Bay, stopping for swims along the way.



We moved down to Cid Harbour early the following day to escape the swell that had started to invade the inlet.

We had just arrived when we were dosed with a large rain squall.
George and Lisa took advantage of the cooler conditions with an impromptu deck-shower.


When the rain cleared we headed into Sawmill Bay and explored the area.





On the beach is a monument celebrating 200th year anniversary the passage of Captain Cook’s ship “The Endeavour” through the Whitsunday area.


The walk from Sawmill Bay to Dugong Beach is only a short and easy 1km path but the rainforest along the way is excellent.
The bay was logged for its large Hoop Pine trees in the 1930’s.
Thankfully many were not cut down due to the difficult access and now they are protected – and huge!!




We saw some very big spiders that had webs spanning the width of the path.

Note the huge spider on the left that George is looking at

With the rainwater still pouring down the water courses, we found a little pool to sit in and have a fresh water dip.


That 5 minute dip turned into a marathon session of dam building.
Firstly we started by moving a few rocks under us to make sitting on the sand more comfortable. They were placed onto a few other larger existing rocks that started the wall – and so it began.
Within 2 hours we had the wall in an arc that had raised the water level over 60cm/2 feet.


By 3 hours Paul and George were done but no amount of coaxing could stop Lisa and Chez from continuing to raise the dam wall higher and higher.
At the 3 hour mark the wall had raised the water level to 100cm/3feet but the water pressure on the wall meant we had to put a spillway in the middle to ease the pressure.


We returned to Lorelei with fingers that were all shrivelled up from hours in the cold fresh water. So we relaxed with a drink and watched the sunset.


We woke with a startled fright the next morning only to realise it was a very loud squawking Sulphur Crested Cockatoo that was hanging off a wire only 2meters/6ft above our bedroom window.
It was making all sorts of racket and didn’t seemed too fazed by Paul getting up close for a photo.


The upside of the Cockatoo saga was Paul managed to get some nice sunrise shots too.


We loaded up the tinny on high tide and went and explored the nearby Dugong Inlet.
We knew there were mangroves at the end of the inlet but didn’t realise how far they actually penetrated into the interior of the island.
We spent hours winding up and down the different creek arms exploring in the glass-out conditions.








On the way back we stopped at a small rocky island that had loads of big Hoop Pines.



We saw a large bird’s nest on a branch that had many birds coming & going and even witnessed some other birds trying to raid the nest, which caused a lot of heated activity around the nest.


Looking back to Whitsunday Island, we could see a headland packed full of Hoop Pines that was bathed in sunlight.


We enjoyed another great sunset that night and just as the sun was setting a large sunset/dinner cruise boat from Hamilton Island came into the small harbour.





We enjoyed exploring Dugong Inlet (which is just north of Cid Harbour) so much that the next day we decided to explore the beaches south of Cid Harbour.
The two highlights were Joe’s Beach and Nari’s Beach.

At Joe’s beach we saw a Goanna foraging around the camping area.
It wasn’t at all fazed by Paul getting up close for photos.



The campsite was great and the tables and chairs were surrounded by light rays filtering through the forest canopy.


Joe’s Beach had one of the only beach side palm trees in the area.


Nari’s beach was also very nice and we had a refreshing swim there.


It was so hot during the heat of the day what we returned to our dammed waterhole for a cool fresh water swim.
We found fish swimming in it and some large insects around the edge.


HOGGERS, HALONS AND HAMO

At the end of our last blog we had indicated we were staying in the Whitsunday’s for at least a month more.
Lisa’s best friend from school, Kate Halon (who lives in the USA) saw the comment and contacted us to see if we would still be around from the 3rd to the 7th of February as she would be in the area.
Sure enough we were and plans evolved for us to try and link up.
As it turned out Kate and her sister Beth had secretly planned a surprise 5 day getaway to Hamilton Island for their mum Claire’s 70th birthday which was on the 5th of February.
Casa their dad didn’t even know of the plans!!!
But what they didn’t realise was it was also Paul’s 48th birthday on the same day.
So we decided to book Lorelei into Hamilton Island Marina from the 5th to the 7th and have a joint birthday bash – which was also going to be part of the surprise.

We arrived at Hamilton Island on the 5th at 9am and realised our 20 meter marina berth was in the middle of millionaire’s row!
Lorelei was surrounded by scores of large and very flash looking luxury power boats that were worth 10 times what she was worth (but had probably seen a 10th of the world she had…..)


Lorelei (with her Tinny sticking out of the 20m berth - oops...) in the middle of a stack of million dollar power boats.



 By 9:30am Kate and Beth were already on board for a very happy reunion. It had been many years since we had caught up and it was smiles, stories & hugs all round.
To our surprise, they had organised lunch at their Villa for all 8 of us (4 Hoggers and 4 Halons) and weren’t taking no for an answer.

We walked to their Yacht Club Villa to find an incredible 3 story Villa overlooking the Dent passage with 180 degree, million dollar views.



Casa, Claire, George and Chez (who had her 70th birthday only 3 weeks prior) got along famously and the conversations, eating and drinking went long into the afternoon.

Beth prepping a lovely lunch

Besties since primary school – Kate and Lisa

Casa cranking up the hotplate and the best balcony BBQ views ever!!

Birthday lunch

Birthday buddies – Paul and Claire

Late in the afternoon we went for a walk around the Marina foreshore.



We also walked around the base of the new Hamilton Island Yacht Club but we thought it was weird that it was closed (on a beautiful Saturday arvo) and we couldn’t go inside.






We enjoyed a great sunset before having Paul’s favourite meal for dinner (Wonton & Noodle Laksa) and crashing into bed after what was a BIG day.


There are only a handful of cars on the island and the main way of exploring and transiting around Hamilton Island is by Golf Cart.
There are literally 100’s of them buzzing around the island during daylight hours.
We had booked a 4 seater Cart for a 24 hour period and picked it up at 8:30am the following day.


Lisa and Chez navigated while Paul drove and the girls were on a mission to explore every street.
For the morning we concentrated on the northern part of the island.

We went up to Observatory Hill and were surprised to find the observatory was gone and all the remained was a round concrete slab.


The area now has a café with fantastic views, a lookout and the surrounds are beautifully manicured.


The church grounds (which is very popular for weddings) were also in beautiful condition.


The best view on the island is at One Tree Hill that looks back down over Cateye Bay.


We ventured down to Cateye Bay and had a wander around the area.
The beach is nothing like the magnificent Whitehaven Beach only a few miles away on Whitsunday Island.
Instead it is a bay filled with coarse sand, rocks, milky water and the resort facilities like catamaran sailing, paddling boarding, etc. can only be done on the higher tides.


With a bay like that, it’s little wonder that the many swimming pools along the bay’s foreshore have been constructed.



We went past some ponds that were surrounded by lush plant growth with some unusual ferns and flowers.


With all the rain, there were thousands (literally) of tiny frogs jumping around on the paths and foliage.


Before lunch we stopped at Foots Sculpture Shop which has been on the island for over 20 years.


The cast bronze and marble pieces range in size from smaller than your hand up to 2.5m/8feet tall.
They are not cheap but the quality and finish is world class.




The Marina precinct is popular with eateries that has everything from a bakery to fish & chips to fine dining.
With many offering takeaway meals, the water’s edge is a popular place to eat.
The local birds, particularly the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, also like to eat there.
Despite loads of “Don’t feed the bird signs” many tourists get a kick out of hand feeding them.
Over time they have become very brazen and often walk right up while you are still eating rather than waiting for the left over scraps after you have gone.
We watched one bird pick all the chocolate coating off an ice cream and proceed to get it all over its head and face. It was pretty funny to see it again 4 hours later with a brown head.


In the afternoon we ventured to the island’s south side.
It is a lot less built up and there are large areas of untouched forest with over 20km of walking trails.

The road south offered great views over the Marina precinct.


The airport is surprisingly busy with both large & small planes and helicopters, many of which are conducting short joy flights for tourists.

We enjoyed watching the seaplanes taking off and landing with their undercarriages down below the floats.



The one bucket list thing we all wanted to do was have a drink or a meal at the new Hamilton Island Yacht Club.
So we went there to find it open as it was closed the day before.


We walked around the entrance and had a look at the Rolex welcoming sign.
 Then we noticed the Rolex clock was not working.
Not exactly the best advertisement for the brand!


We enquired inside about a dinner booking only to be told by the staff that the building (despite having “yacht club” printed on the entry sign) is in fact NOT a yacht club but is a function centre.
However we were welcome to look around.
Sure enough the rooms inside of the building were empty function rooms.
We were so disappointed!!
We half expected an amazing public bar adorned with tons of yachting memorabilia and photos from the annual sailing regattas, race week, etc.
Despite the size of the place, there was not one single piece of memorabilia or a photo on a wall anywhere.
The only highlight was a copy of Wild Oats XI bow on the outside and a cast of the stern in the entry foyer.



We had a walk around and noticed many other people also making negative comments.





On the way out a female staff member at the front counter told us that the outdoor bar is in fact open for cocktails at 4pm.
We said “Great, but its 4:45pm?”
The reply – “oh it’s overcast today so we decided not to open……….”

And that folks was our wonderful experience at the flash new, architecturally designed masterpiece that is the “Hamilton Island Yacht Club”
– oops sorry “Hamilton Island Function Centre”.

So instead we went back up to the Café on One Tree Hill and had cocktails with a magnificent view.


We stayed for the sunset but with all the cloud cover back over the mainland, it wasn’t so spectacular.


The next day was go, go, go from day break as we shopped for fresh food provisions, dropped the golf cart back, filled water tanks, checked engine room systems, got sails prepped and ready to leave.
George went to the bakery and snuck some Vanilla Slices on board (our favourite bakery treat) for morning tea which was great.
It was blowing 15-20 knots but just as we were about to leave, the wind died for 5 minutes giving us a pleasant run out of the marina.



We motored into the Dent Passage, turned up into the wind right in front of the Halon’s villa, hoisted sails and sailed off towards Hook Island with the Halons waving us goodbye from their balcony, prior to boarding their plane flight home a few hours later.
It was a fitting end to our few fun days in Hamo.


With a strong wind forecast the next day we sailed past Cid Harbour and Whitsunday Island and onto the more protected (or so we thought) Macona Inlet.

Macona Inlet is parallel to Nara Inlet and we assumed it would be safe and calm in the inner anchorage.
However that night the swell invaded and it was quite rolly and none of us had a good nights sleep.
So the next morning we motored into the wind and back to Cid Harbour.
Fortunately it was only 1 hour away but the boat coped a lot of salt water over the decks.
Cid allowed us to get back on top of things like sleep, swimming, clothes washing and making some baked treats before we were refreshed and ready to go again.

With the strong wind warning still in effect but rapidly dropping over the next 48 hours, we sailed up to Stonehaven to do some protected snorkelling and to prep ourselves for our first trip out to the Great Barrier Reef since we arrived in The Whitsundays.

We reefed down the sails and took off (literally) in 25 knots of gusty wind.
Fortunately it was downwind for the first half and with being fully powered-up (and sometimes well over-powered) we roared along with current assistance at up to 9.5 knots boat speed.
Lisa had to hand steer as it was too hard on the auto-pilot through the lulls, gusts, lifts and knocks.


As we gybed and rounded up, we sailed up the side of Hook Island.
 Lorelei had gone from running off the wind to reaching and she was healing over nicely.

Note Lisa working hard steering to bring Lorelei back downwind after
rolling up into the wind due to being overpowered in the gusts.

With 2 miles to go, we had some crazy strong bullets of wind that pushed speed to the max and leant us right over being so overpowered.
We all thought it was fun until we got hit with one huge guest in the flat water of Stonehaven Bay (only 500m from the moorings). Lorelei heeled over so far that her gunnel was well under and the sails ended up in the water.
Paul and George were standing on the downside and were calf deep in water.
We could hear things flying everywhere downstairs but were powerless to stop the carnage.
Heck we could barely stand up ourselves!
Lorelei has 7.7 tonnes of lead in her keel and being a cruising boat, rarely heels beyond about 15-20 degrees.
In fact, aside from our knockdown in Micronesia in 2013 (where the mast hit the water) it’s the greatest angle we’ve ever been over on our side.
We all laughed about it for a day, it only took 10 minutes to clean up downstairs and nothing broke so we chalked it up to another crazy sailing experience.
It’s a pity we didn’t get a photo – the looks on everyone’s faces were priceless......

The bullets of wind that were hitting Lorelei when we were on the Stonehaven mooring were so strong that it was pulling the mooring float right down under the water.


Within an hour of being moored up, we were snorkelling along the reef that was only 30 meters/100ft from the boat.


Amazingly the coral was in excellent condition and by far the best we had seen since we’d been here.


Paul made sushi that night which we enjoyed upstairs at sunset.


With the wind still at 20 knots, we spent the next day exploring the area.

We went to visit Steens Beach but it was spring high tide and the beach was all but underwater and a little bumpy from the onshore wind.
So we went around the corner to a more protected area and had a walk along a beach which was lined with Casuarina Trees overhanging the water at high tide.



Behind the beach was a small inlet that was filled with water from the spring high.
It was only shallow so we walked the length of it.



From the small ridge between the inlet and the beach we could look over towards Hayman and Black Island.


We went to Black Island for morning tea.
We had been there before but this time the tide was dropping and it allowed us to explore the remote beach down the protected side of the island.



On the remote beach we found a large Osprey sitting in the tree and lots of smaller White-breasted Woodswallows flying around.


The Woodswallows would sit on one branch, fly around in a loop and return to the same branch. It made photographing them a little easy with their predictability.
When we looked at the photos when we got home, we discovered the flying loop was to catch insects and we had photos with them in their mouths.

Note the Insect in the mouth of the one on the right


With the tide falling even further we went to the sand spit at Langford Island.
It was just exposed and still quite narrow.



On the way home we found another Osprey sitting on a channel marker.


It was still windy on sunset and we doubted whether we could go to the reef the next day, despite the weather forecast.
However we woke to glassy conditions at 6am and decided to give it a go.

It was a little bumpy at first but by the time we got to Bait Reef around mid-morning, the seas had dropped and we had fantastic conditions.
We did 2 long snorkels during the day and both were excellent with the coral in fantastic condition and tons of baitfish around the Stepping Stones.


The wind stayed away all day and we had a great sunset followed by a super calm night.


We did 2 snorkels the next morning with one on the Stepping Stones (which we flew along with the current) and a second one that was much milder in the middle shallow section of the reef.

When we got back to Lorelei, there was a big Black Trevally under the boat.
Paul and George were able to jump in with him while Lisa and Chez fed him from the back duckboard.





With the NW winds increasing we left the reef and sailed back to the Islands.

We arrived at the top-end of the Islands at 6pm but the wind had shifted from the NW to due north making all the bays exposed so we had no option but to sail around past Stonehaven, down the side of Hook Island and into Nara Inlet.

It meant we had a sunset under sail which was very enjoyable.




We arrived at Nara after dark and 30 minutes prior to the full moon rising so it was pitch black.
However the entire inlet was lit up like a Christmas tree with around 50 boats on anchor.
We had to slowly weave our way in but once inside there was a lot of room and we found a place to stop without any dramas.

It was a good decision because it blew fairly strong from the north that night.

The next morning we were off again early to explore the eastern side of the island which we had not been able to do yet.

It was another great sail out through the Hook Passage and down past the mountainous peaks of Whitsunday Island.


We stopped at Tongue Bay so we could walk to the most famous lookout in The Whitsundays as it overlooks Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach.
However Tongue Bay was very rolly and we rechecked the weather forecast to find it had changed again making the bay ever more exposed and rougher for that afternoon and evening.
So we took off again and motored down past Whitehaven Beach and around to Chance Bay on the southern side of the island.
Chance Bay is rarely visited during the popular winter months as it’s exposed to the ever-present SE trade winds.

The beaches are stunning so we put the tinny in, loaded it with alcoholic bevvies & nibbles and had a drink and a swim at each of the beaches spanning the 3 southern bays.





We arrived back to Lorelei in time for a great sunset light show and the full moon rising over the islands.



By the time we awoke, the wind had swung to the SW but was very light.
By 8am it was sooo hot and only got hotter and more humid as the day went on.

We motored back around to Whitehaven and this time it was offshore and perfect.
We jumped in the tinny and first stop was the walk and lookout.
Being so early, we beat the worst of the heat, got the Hill Inlet water levels at mid tide (which is perfect for the photos) and the best thing – we beat the tourist boat rush.

Fortunately the walk is covered by the tree canopy and shielded us from the sun.


We arrived at the 2 viewing platforms to find both completely empty.
Perfect timing!!!




By the time we got back down to the beach and looked up, the viewing platforms were packed full of people.


We had a swim, then an explore up Hill Inlet in the tinny, followed by another swim, back along the beach towards Lorelei for another swim and finally returning to Lorelei for more swimming.


It was so hot in the arvo that we swam or took a shower about every 45 minutes.

At 5pm we moved down to the southern corner of Whitehaven Beach once all the day trip boats had left.
Paul sat in the crows nest while Lisa motored Lorelei down along the beach.


We anchored up with only one other boat in the corner.


For sunset drinks we went ashore.
Initially we set up on the tables under the trees.
There were Goannas and Curlews around the tables and in the tree overhead.






Looking at Lorelei through the trees

With the beach facing east and the sun setting behind the beach, we moved down to the water’s edge to swim, have a drink in the water and to escape the insects in the bushes!!
The glassy conditions (which you rarely get at Whitehaven Beach…) made for awesome sunset photo opportunities.





Everyone flaked into bed buzzing after an awesome 30 hours.
The next day we nearly called a lay-day as we were all pretty tired but the Whitehaven Beach madness started at 9am with 100’s of people unloading from vessels of all types, sea planes and helicopters.

We lifted anchor and moved north to Cateran Bay on Border Island.
Despite being to the Whitsundays on numerous occassions, Border Island is one place that we have always wanted to visit but never had.

The coral and underwater caves on the east face of the bay were excellent but sadly the viz was terrible.
We stayed in the shallows to make the best of it.

In the afternoon we climbed through the Grass Trees up to the saddle ridge in the centre of the island.


The views looking south to Haselwood Island and north back over Cateran Bay were excellent.



Lisa and George had to add an extra rock each onto the existing cairn at the top.


We were all pumped to leave the next morning for the outer reef. However it blew all night and we woke at Cateran Bay to stronger than forecast winds, bumpy seas and bleak overcast skies.
We were lot leaving for an 8 hour passage in those conditions!
However the forecast still looked great for many days to come and it looked like our reef trip might be extended right up until when George and Chez were thinking of flying home.
So we sailed back to the western side of the islands that was closer to the mainland and would give us internet and phone reception.
George and Chez booked their flights home for 1 weeks’ time and we all spent the day relaxing, editing photos, doing computer work and prepping to go to the reef.

SAVING THE BEST TILL LAST….

The 24 hour delay worked wonders and we woke to a sunny day with 10-12 knot SE winds.
This allowed us to sail most of the way to the reef.
By the time we were nearly there, the wind was dropping so we motored the last hour in.
Paul sat in the crows nest as we slowly navigated through the narrow passage in the reef and into the small lagoon at Little Black Reef.

 

With still 3 hours of light remaining, we put the kayaks in and Paul, George & Lisa went kayak spearfishing around the walls of the inner lagoon.


We managed to get 4 Coral Trout, 2 of which Lisa turned into Grilled Lemon Fish for dinner.

The sun was setting when we arrived back and Lisa was down on the lower duck board filleting the fish.
Paul and George were taking sunset photos when they spied a very large shape come out from under the duckboard.

Note the large Hammerhead Shark in the top of the photo

We barely had time to warn Lisa before a very large Giant Hammerhead Shark swung back around and came straight in at the duckboard on the surface.




The shark stayed around for a long time. It got bolder & bolder and was charging the duckboard right on the surface. It was amazing to watch such a large animal turn so tightly, quickly and aggressively and it was very hard to predict its movements.
Paul had his mask and underwater camera on deck and considered jumping in with it but it was just after sunset, getting dark quickly and a little too aggressive.

So Lisa left the duckboard and finished filleting the fish on the back deck.


After a great sleep that rivalled being in a marina berth, we woke to absolute glass out conditions.
And it stayed like that all day….

The snorkelling gear was loaded into the tinny along with Paul’s UW camera and we went to snorkel the outer edge of the reef.


What was great was the huge amount of caves and cut in’s on the reef edge for Paul & Lisa to free dive through and also superb coral and fish life on the reef top shallows for George & Chez to enjoy.


The caves and swim-throughs were extensive,
Many of them had multiple chambers with lots of entry & exits.
Some even had light rays filtering through the holes in the reef top.


The glassy conditions made for great reflection shots as the shallow reef top reflected up onto the underside of the surface.




With the light rays also coming up out of the depths, we were able to get some fun free diving and light ray shots too.


Even the 3-6pm afternoon snorkel still had mirror smooth glass out conditions.



It was pretty amazing to have such still conditions when we returned to Lorelei at around 6pm.


There was a friendly Giant Trevally (which we named Tim) that hung under Lorelei for the entire time we were there.
He hoovered up all our food scraps and fish bits from the fish filleting.



Day 3 we woke to more of the same – glass out conditions.


With the continued perfect conditions, we decided to explore some other parts of Little Black Reef and across the channel to the larger Black Reef.



The motor across the lagoon was fantastic in the ultra-clear conditions.



We tried a few spots but the water was green and the coral not as good so we went back to Little Black’s SW outer wall and explored a new stretch of the wall which was much better.





That afternoon Paul and George went fishing with soft plastics on the outer reef edge.
George caught 3 Coral Cod but all were undersized and Paul hooked something that was way too big to stop on 30lb gear.
So we went home empty handed and a bit less tackle in the box than when we started. Oh Well…..

Day 4 on the reef turned out much the same – more glassy conditions, an early morning fish and 2 snorkels (which were both excellent) before sailing back to the Whitsunday Islands at 2pm and arriving after dark at 9pm.

The following day was spent cleaning up, washing and sadly helping Chez & George get packed up and ready to leave.

We all enjoyed a final sail to Airlie Beach, had a farewell meal, hired a car and drove them to the Proserpine Airport for their flight to Sydney.



So that’s it for another Episode of our sailing adventures.
It’s been a great month with George & Chez on board Lorelei.

It was always going to be a gamble having them in the Whitsunday’s during peak monsoon (cyclone) season but we all accepted the risk.
As it turned out the weather overall was pretty good and we only had a handful of days of rain and overcast conditions.
There were only 2 or 3 days where the wind got over 25 knots.

The upside of this time of year is it’s out of trade wind season (which is in winter) when it blows constantly from the east to south making many bays and anchorages untenable for many months.
Over the course of the month we had winds from virtually every direction which allowed us to explore bays and anchorages on every side of the main islands of Hook and Whitsunday Island.

The downside is the higher temperatures & humidity, storms & squalls and the risk of a tropical low or cyclone.
Additionally in the summer months you should wear a full length stinger suit for any in water activities to protect you from the low-risk but potentially fatal marine stinger encounters.
We wore then for every snorkel but didn’t worry when swimming.

Sadly we felt the coral overall was in poor condition around the Whitsunday Islands after the violent storms and cyclones over the past few years.
It certainly isn’t what it used to be 10 years ago!
That combined with the well below average underwater visibility (which is normal in the monsoon season) meant the snorkelling was ordinary at best.
We didn’t even bother to do a single scuba dive….
Thank goodness we were able to get out to the Great Barrier Reef twice which had far better coral structure, fish life and viz.
Bait Reef was pretty good and Little Black Reef was excellent.

George and Chez leave with many memories and we leave to head south in a few weeks after doing a few more of the local walks and strenuous climbs first.

Our destination is the extensive Swains Reef system on the southern outer
 Great Barrier Reef.
Hopefully (weather permitting) we may even make it out to some of the southern Coral Sea atolls too.
Either way, both areas are places that Lorelei has never been to before and we are getting excited……

We are in the early planning stages to meet up with 2 more cruising yachts that may link up with us for some fun in that area too.

Stayed tuned for the next Episode in around 4 to 6 weeks time.

Paul and Lisa Hogger

Yacht Lorelei




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