Monday, 7 November 2016

Episode 53 Darwin to Gove

For Episode 52 we explored Broome before travelling for 8 weeks NE through The Kimberley and exploring lots of new Bays & Rivers, fishing and looking for Aboriginal Rock Art & Boab Trees.
At the end we spent 3 days and nights sailing across the Joseph Boneparte Gulf before arriving safely back in Darwin.

Our location for this Episode of the Blog.

Our route for this Episode of the Blog.

Back in Darwin we tried to anchor out in the harbour to save a bit of money but with the intense heat, volatile weather and crazy afternoon storms (like it was peak monsoon season) we had no choice but to head through the lock and into the Marina at Tipperary Waters.
It proved to be the right decision. The next few arvos we received some thumping storms that came in from all directions.

We spent a few days going hard-core from dawn until dusk washing, cleaning and tidying up both inside and out.
After 3 months in the Kimberley with no rain, it took a bit of elbow grease!!

However after talking to friends in the Marina, we found out that it had been hot and stormy for most of September (We arrived in September’s last week).
In fact we discovered it was the wettest September in Darwin since records began in 1900 and the 2nd hottest average temperature for a century!!!

When the rain backed off, we dropped the Tinny into the water and spent 2 full days doing modifications to her to fix the niggling teething issues we had whilst in the Kimberley.
We grinded off the bow handles and added a rub strip right around the boat.
We also installed an automatic electric bilge pump system to cope with it filling up during the storms and did some changes to the outboard motor and it’s mounting brackets.

Despite the heat, we assembled our bikes and did a series or rides around Darwin.
The first sorties were for supplies and marine parts but after that we started to explore the city.

Darwin’s foreshore is awesome as the city is set back from the water and there are parklands and lots of leafy areas with walking/cycle tracks to explore.

All along the tracks are lookouts with memorial and monuments dedicated to the Aboriginal traditional owners, early white explorers and WW2.

A gun from the US Ship USS Peary that sunk in the Harbour during
the WW2 attacks (more on that later….)

The waterfront precinct has a fantastic area cordoned off for swimming with lots of areas to relax.

The fresh water wave pool is a big hit with people of all ages.

We rode out along Stokes Hill Wharf and it was cool to see the large Paspaley Pearl boats up close as we had seen them from a distance many times in The Kimberley.

The wharf also had 2 visiting Canadian Warships.
The security crew were walking around the decks armed with large machine guns which we thought was a little overkill.

On our first Saturday morning, we visited the Parap Markets.
They have been going for years and are popular with both the locals and tourists for fresh food, arts and crafts.
The most iconic stall is Mary’s famous Laksa which many people have for breakfast.
It is always busy and tastes terrific!!!

When we had exhausted the closer locations on the bikes, we hired a car for a week and set about doing larger sorties.

The time with the car was equally divided between reprovisioning for Lorelei’s next big sailing stint (another remote 8+ weeks and 800 miles) and exploring.

Once the fuel, stores and food supplies where packed on board, we could start to enjoy some travelling.
The first stop was the Litchfield National Park.

We had planned to visit Litchfield with George and Chez on the road trip but concentrated on Kakadu instead.
Then friends Cyn & Lindy shouted us a 1 hour helicopter flight over Litchfield which was so awesome but we hadn’t yet explored it from ground level.

So we packed the car up with camping gear for a 3 day trip to the park.

First stop inside the National Park was the Magnetic Termite mounds which fascinated us when we had seen them from the air.
They are different from the normal tall and roundish mounds as they have a wide face which faces east/west to receive maximum sunlight but are very thin when you look from the north/south.

When we arrived we were really disappointed to find a touristy board walk overlooking a field of the mounds but the area was all condoned off and from the board walk you were still 100’s of meters from them. You needed a powerful zoom lens for a photo - Crazy!!!
It was Paul’s number one thing he really wanted to see and was pretty disappointed with how the National Park had it set up.

So we hopped in the car to leave and drove out only to find a large group of mounds down in a paddock across the road. It was a bit hike to go down to see them but it was worth it so we returned to the car park, walked across the road and explored the area ourselves.

2 photos showing a front and side view of a Magnetic Termite Mound

The tops of the Mounds were sharp and ragged

Amongst the Magnetic Mounds were also a series of the normal Termite Mounds in colours from yellow to grey.

A Termite Mound with Attitude!!!!!

Next we visited the first of the waterfalls – Florence Falls.
Sadly the lower plunge pool was closed due to maintenance for 2 weeks.
We thought the timing was a little silly as it coincided with the 2 weeks of School Holidays and the pools are a popular area for families during that time.

It was stinking hot in the middle of the day and we still wanted a swim so we walked down to a small but fast flowing creek up from the waterfalls and had a long relaxing swim with no crowds.

The Tabletop Swamp was a quirky and uncrowded place.
It had glassy water making for great reflection photos and lots of species of birds.
We saw Kangaroos in the bush behind the marshy areas and mating Dragonflies.

As the afternoon started to cool off with a storm front approaching, we went on towards Buley Rockhole to enjoy another swim.
The easy-to-access middle pools were filled with loads of kids and families so we walked up to the top ones which were empty.

We then went past the hordes and walked right down to the bottom pools which were a lot bigger and also uncrowded.

We decided to camp for the first night at a campsite near Florence Falls.
We picked one of the smaller sites and it was very private.

In the morning we had a lot of wildlife around our campsite with heaps of birds and a few lizards all scavenging for food.

We headed to Wangi Falls first but it was so crowded and the walks were closed due to a fire so we took a quick photo and left.

Tolner Falls was much less crowded and we decided to do the circuit walk despite it being well over 30 degrees already.

The walk follows the river edge and past some big holes that the water passes down through. Years ago you could explore this whole area on foot but now it’s closed due to a colony of rare Bats.

The Cycad Palms at the end of the walk looked like they were feeling the heat too.

We found a signboard saying an area called The Cascades was open and it is usually quite so we went there.
It required a 3.5km round trip walk to reach the swimming holes.
It was interesting to watch cars of young Aussies arriving, grab their gear, go to the sign telling of the walking distances and return straight to their car and leave because it was too far.  Good for us and those that wanted to make the effort…..

The Cascades were great and by far the best spot for us in Litchfield.
The walk up required crossing the watercourse a few times.

The main swimming hole and waterfall was mostly shaded from the sun and so refreshing.

We ended up staying there most of the day swimming and exploring the area.

After the success of Paul’s night Boab Tree photos in The Kimberley (See Episode 51 and the pic below), we wanted to try some other dusk/night photography with some other iconic top-end attractions and the Termite Mounds were the perfect choice.

So at 4pm we went back to the paddock where the termite mounds were and Paul spent over and hour looking at sun angles and marking locations to take the shots along with setting up all the gear.
We got the chairs out and sat in the paddock waiting for the sun to set.
With just 5 minutes before sunset we heard a crash through the bush and out onto the plain steps a Water Buffalo.
Paul managed to get a quick photo.

Then came another and another and then some young calves with some very large and protective adults with huge horns.
They had also blocked our exit path between us and our car up on the road so we were a bit worried.
They froze when the saw us but a few of the bigger ones started to advance towards us and that’s when we really got scared.
Lisa picked up her chair and bolted for the trees on the side of the paddock but Paul had two complete camera set-ups on tripods in 2 different locations.

Paul was probably more angry than scared and started yelling a series of expletives as he started to pack up.
Well the Buffalo must have understood the words and took off running at full speed back down the paddock, past Paul and away into the bushland.
Paul watched them go and they weren’t stopping so he figured it was all good to stay and continue.
However no amount of coaxing was going to bring Lisa back down from the roadside….

He got the shots but the sunset was not as red or colourful as had hoped for.
After dark, every bit of noise coming out of the bush had Paul worried that the Buffalo might have returned.

Once back in Darwin we continued the tours with some of the areas we wanted to visit that were too far on the bikes in the extreme heat.

We went out to East Point to visit the Defence of Darwin Museum but were really disappointed to find the entry fee hideously expensive, particularly considering it is a government run museum which covers the wartime history of the city.

So instead we had a look at one of the two large gun emplacements that were put in at East Point during the war.
At 9.2” they were Australia’s largest guns at the time but after the war the gun we visited was sadly removed (by a Japanese company of all things??) and sold for scrap.
It’s value as a post war attraction and part of our history would have far surpassed the removed value.
We later found out the other one is intact and inside the Museum…..

The mounting location of the removed gun

In The Kimberley we saw heaps of Kingfisher birds but they were hard to get close to for a decent full-frame photo.
We walked out of the gun bunker and there in a tree at eye level was a clean looking Kingfisher (unlike the dirty mud covered ones in The Kimberley).
So Paul walked quietly towards it and took the photo.

We went to the Aviation Heritage Centre and paid the far more reasonable price to see their fantastic display.

The highlight is the huge B-52 Bomber which was donated to the centre by the US Air Force. It is the only B-52 on display outside of the USA and its huge wings span the entire width of the hanger.

The engines are massive and dwarf all the other planes underneath them.

The tail fin almost hits the roof and is ginormous!

The bomb bay is open and empty and they have a movie about the aircraft running. It can fit about 40 people!!

The other highlight is the Australian F1-11 Fighter.
After being at many Riverfire’s (Brisbane’s annual night festival of fireworks and light displays over the river & city) and other air shows where the F1-11’s do a fuel “Dump & Burn” it was great to see the jet up close.

There were loads of other planes from old pre WW1 bi-planes to modern jets and even 2 large helicopters.

A WW2 B-25 Mitchell

A WW2 Spitfire

Outside were more aircraft but the one that took our fancy was a Douglas DC-3 in excellent condition.
We have scuba dived on a few of these planes and even visited one that crashed in The Kimberley so it was great to finally see one completely intact and able to walk around.

A DC-3 we dived on in The Marshall Islands

The wreck of the DC-3 we visited in The Kimberley

The centre also had a section on the Bombing of Darwin during WW2.
We had no idea about the extent of the war time attacks on the city and it is a sad story that all Australians should be aware of.
It was the Japanese Fleet which attacked Pearl Harbour that sailed to Darwin to commence the attacks on 19th Feb 1942 – four days after Singapore had fallen.

To put it into perspective – over 2.5 times the amount of bombs were dropped on Darwin in the first attack than at Pearl harbour.
Nearly 200 planes unleashed hell on the city.
Over 250 people died and 350 were injured along with the destruction of over 20 aircraft, 8 ships (and another 36 damaged) and most of the city’s Civil and Military facilities either damaged or destroyed.
More than 60 subsequent air raids were unleashed on Darwin over the course of the war.

The destroyer USS Peary that was in the harbour received a direct hit from a dive bomber and sank with 88 people dying. It is the largest US loss of life in a single incident within Australia’s borders.

The museum had a series of bombs and planes that were salvaged from the attacks.

On our last Saturday in Darwin we fasted all day and then went to an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet restaurant called Seafood on Cullen.
We had booked with our closest friends in Darwin - Chris, Cyn and daughter Grace along with the walker family – Clint, Jackson and Lachlan.
It was a great night out for us to say a sad farewell but it was nice to get dressed up for a change and eat out.

We had some funny antics both before and after dinner at a Crocodile statue on the foreshore across the road.

Lisa dressed to impress……

Our Darwin Besties…..

Gracie being a Cowgirl – NT style…..

After 12 days in the marina we had the servicing and maintenance completed on Lorelei and had visited most of the things we wanted to see in Darwin, so we packed up and left the Marina.

It still wasn’t the right weather forecast and wind direction to sail east across the Gulf of Carpentaria and onto Queensland but we couldn’t justify sitting in the marina paying the expensive daily rate, so we simply anchored in the harbour out the front of the Stokes Hill Wharf.

We had all these grand plans of going fishing and more cycling but we were so tired from non-stop go-go-go, that we decided to have a few days of being inside out of the sun and doing computer work, photo editing, cooking, watching movies and the Bathurst 1000 car race.

The sunsets each night of the wharf and the city were very different.
Sometimes it was clear, sometimes cloudy and even a few stormy nights.

After a week the weather forecast for 10 days was still for predominately east winds.
We were not prepared to sit for that long in the harbour so we looked for other options.
The stand out choice was to do some fishing at the Cobourg Peninsula which was about 150nm NE from Darwin – and at least it was heading towards where we wanted to go….
The Cobourg has world class reef & estuary fishing and the fishing resorts in the area charge around $4-6k for a week of quality fishing.

After the mostly terrible fishing experiences we had in The Kimberley we decided to give the area one last go to see if we could land some trophy fish.

The area is Aboriginal land so we had to apply for a permit to enter the area.

We decided to break up the trip into 2 long 75nm days which required us to leave at 4am.
That way we could take advantage of the tides and currents for maximum assistance and to also have us at our anchorages before nightfall.

The first night we stayed in a small bay under the tip of Melville Island.
Despite it being open and exposed, the wind dropped out overnight and we had a very calm evening with a nice sunrise whilst under motor the next morning.

We arrived at the Ranger Station at the entrance to Port Essington (The main fishing area of The Cobourg Peninsula) at 3pm and expected we would have to go ashore and make contact, show our permit, etc…
However we called them up and they must have had a copy of our permit and just told us to head on into the bay and just let them know when we were leaving – Simple!!

So we headed the last 15nm into the bay and were anchored up at the mouth of the 2 small river systems in the southern end by 5:30pm.

We were stoked as it meant we were a day ahead at our fishing destination and could get straight into it the next morning.

The next day was only 1 star rating on the fishing almanac but it gave use a day to do a reconnaissance mission to explore the area and work out the hot spots.
The following 4 days were the 4 and 5 star almanac fishing best times for the month as it coincided with the full moon and spring tides.

We tried an exposed rock bar at the river entrance first.
Despite the 1 star rating it was fishing chaos with a fish hooked nearly every cast.
After the mods to the tinny and only loading the fishing gear all back on-board only 30 minutes prior, it took us a while to get organised and into the fishing groove again.
We decided it best to have an alternate cast each to minimise the pandemonium of double hook-ups on light gear.

We caught lots of different species but the Trevally species accounted for most hook-ups.

They were crazy and we had them jumping over each other to get to the lures.

A few times Paul got the leader caught around the hooks of the lure during the cast and upon retrieval the lure doesn’t work and just turns upside down and skims along the surface. He even got 2 hooks up on Trevally when this happened as the lure bounced over the surface like a popper.  Crazy stuff!!!!

The craziest story of the day was from Lisa.
She hooked a 6kg juvenile Giant QLD Grouper while we trolled up in one of the creeks for Barramundi.
We had it next to the boat and it looked beautiful with its yellow and grey colours. They are not common and are protected so we were going to net it, take a photo and release it.
Just as we were going to net it, an equal sized Malabar Grouper came up to the surface and grabbed the tail of the lure that was sticking out of the mouth of the QLD Grouper. So then she had 2 fish totalling over 10kg hooked – one of which was very green! Down they went fighting against the line and each other. It was chaos! Somehow the QLD Grouper got off and Lisa landed the Malabar Grouper. So she landed a different fish to the initial one hooked.
We looked at the 3 treble hooks on the lure to find 2 sets of hooks were severely mangled and almost straightened out.
AND once again the catch was on her lightest rod and reel set-up and the one that landed the epic Tuna in the last Episode.
Silly, silly stuff!!!

We caught lots of other smaller fish species in the rivers too.

We returned to Lorelei sunburnt and stuffed at 2pm.
Our tackle had been tested to the limited and despite our lures being, smashed, bashed, reefed, snagged, foul-hooked and double hooked up – we were really surprised that we didn’t lose any.

If the first day was fun, then second was epic for Lisa and in her 40+ years of fishing it was one of her best ever sessions.

We threw a few lures around the rock bar on near glass out conditions and it was quality not quantity with Lisa landing the first fish – a great sized Golden Trevally, which we then released.

We headed into a new creek in a second bay that we hadn’t explored yet.
It was low tide and rising and we only had 60cm depth along the sand flats and into the river mouth.
It got deeper once inside the river and we trolled up the river until we found a large drain system that was mostly still dry.
It was so shallow in the sections that did have water that we put the engine down from shallow drive and the leg sat in the sand and held us in position.
We proceeded to cast lures around into the small drains and gutters within the sand flats.
We struggled to find a lure that would work properly in the shallow water so Lisa pulled out a box of “special” Barra lures her dad Jack had given her at Christmas to try. Admittedly they didn’t look anything like the “normal” Barra lures and had alternate colours too. Lots of them had big teeth marks in them.
Jack and Carol have landed a lot of Barra so we didn’t doubt they would work.
So Lisa tried one and 2 casts later she had landed her first Cobourg Peninsula Barramundi of 56cm.

Two more casts later and she had landed a PB Giant Threadfin Salmon of 95cm.

Well if that wasn’t enough then the very next cast she hooked a horse of a Barra that ran, jumped and kicked all over the place.
Paul even had time to get the camera out and get some shots of the fight.

It wasn’t until we had it in the net that we realised how big and heavy it actually was. It was certainly a Trophy sized Barra and another PB for Lisa.
We took some photos and managed to successfully release it.
We could only estimate its length as it was a full spread hand-span longer than the fish measurement sticker in the Tinny.

Lisa landed a few more but 20 minutes later the water was up over the flats and it was all over for the session.
Lisa had landed a stack of great fish to Paul’s none….
Needless to say we marked the spot on the Chartplotter and planned at least one more session there.

The next morning we had glass out conditions which made for a great sunrise.

We went a little earlier on the tide to the same fishing spot.
The creek doesn’t have a name so Lisa named it Barradise Creek.

We were so early that it was only 40cm max depth in the channel and Lisa had to sit on the bow of the Tinny even with the engine in shallow drive so the prop didn’t hit the bottom.

We got to our hot spot to find the Birds were also waiting for the action to start.
Our log that we normally tie alongside was high and dry.

It was a session of quantity over quality with many smaller Barra caught.
Lisa used her Dad’s lure again and had landed and released 4 Barra before Paul had even had a hit.

As the tide came up, the action hotted up and we started to land some bigger ones.

By now it was Lisa 5 / Paul 0 for the session.
So Paul stole Lisa’s rod with the gun lure and landed one.

Lisa not to be out done, grabbed her other rod and put her Mum Carol’s favourite Barra lure on and within 2 casts had another.

Carol’s “Blue Rebel” lure hanging under the fish

Lisa got her gun lure back and the next Barra swallowed it whole so it became the one we kept and took home for dinner.

Note the lure deep inside the Barra’s mouth

Another view of the small lure right down inside the Barra’s mouth.

Paul managed to land one more and Lisa landed 2 more and a Mangrove jack before the water came up over the muddy flats and the 90 minute session was over.

Once again Lisa had landed a lot more fish than Paul (4 times more actually but who’s counting – and that’s fairly normal…..).

Day 4 was the 5 star day and Paul was up early to re-rig all 4 rods as the leaders were all trashed from the previous day’s session.
He seriously contemplated sabotaging Lisa’s rigs but thought the better of it……
Additionally we rigged up a few fly fishing rods between 8 & 10 weight and thought we’d try to land a Barra on Fly.
We were so excited and pumped for a great session but our hopes sank when we got up the river to find the flood tide screaming in.
Despite the back eddies where we were fishing we knew the Barra wouldn’t like the super-fast flowing water.
We tried anyway and Lisa got a Barra after only a few casts and it was still very low tide so we had a little renewed hope.
Paul got one soon after but that was all we got for the session as the water came up over the mud flats really quickly and it was all over in 40 minutes.
It was still 2 days from spring tides so we knew the water movement would get even worse so we packed away the fishing gear for a few days.

After cleaning up, washing and much needed out-of-the sun day, we decided to explore Port Essington’s historical highlight – The Victoria Settlement.

The settlement was yet another futile but failed attempt at the English Government to establish a defence post along the shores of Australia’s top end in the early 1800’s.

The nearby Fort Dundas and Fort Wellington had already been abandoned and so they tried again with their pre-conceived English ideals of how a
settlement/armed fort should be built.
The buildings were mainly stone with large internal fireplaces and they cleared all the shady trees away from the buildings. Crazy!!!
Why they chose an area more than 20 miles down into a remote & isolated bay that was hot, humid and subject to an intense wet season & cyclones is anybody’s guess.
It was established in 1838 but after major disruptions to the local Aboriginal Communities (and introduced western diseases), cultural misunderstandings, and a huge loss of life from the hardships (1/3 of the population died of Malaria alone…), the Settlement was abandoned 11 years later in 1849.

It’s little wonder that the local Madjumbalmi Aboriginal People even want to preserve the Settlement.
However it is now Heritage Listed and is being maintained in a joint operation between the Aboriginals and the NT Parks and Wildlife.

Ironically, the place cannot be accessed by road.
The only visitors it would ever receive are from the exclusive fishing resort, cruising yachts (of which there would be only a handful at best each year) or any other super adventurous campers or fishermen brave enough to bring a tinny here by 450km of very rough road from Darwin.

We went ashore at the Settlement early to escape the heat and do the 4km round trip walk that takes you through the Settlement.
The first stop was at the Ammunition Magazine which was built down into the ground.

We walked onto the Cottages that housed the married couples, which for some strange reason were separated from the other accommodation.
All that’s left are the foundations, the brick walls, fireplaces and chimneys.

The Blacksmiths forge was still there further down the track.

The large wharf and storage buildings along the water’s edge were destroyed by a cyclone in 1938. Now all that is left of the wharf is a large pile of rocks that extend out into the bay the drift wood that covers them.

The biggest building was the 4 room Hospital with its cooking facilities built above and behind it. All that’s left of the Hospital are the lowers stones marking the layout.
The cooking building above is in much better condition.
Despite the size, the Settlement probably needed a bigger hospital.
At one stage more than half of the Settlement was desperately ill and crammed into the Hospital.

The most sober area was the Cemetery.
Whilst there weren’t too many headstones and crypts, the list on the monument showed a large list of people of all ages that had died at the Settlement.

On the way back we found the kiln on the other side of the Settlement near a mangrove creek.

We returned to find our Tinny high and dry on the sand.
We knew the tide would be going out whilst we were on the walk, but we didn’t expect that much. We had to wait for 1 hour for the tide to come back in enough for us to float the Tinny out into the bay.

On the high tide we took Lorelei 5 mile around to the adjoining bay for a few days to see if we could find some more Barra fishing spots that were less prone to strong water flow during the spring tides.
We did a long reconnaissance mission around the bay in the Tinny.
Despite there being creeks marked on the charts, all we found were small mangrove inlets that were very shallow and were barely wide enough to get the Tinny into.
So after 2 days we aborted and took Lorelei back to our original anchorage that was not only closer to the better fishing locations but also a lot more protected from the wind and chop.
Thanks goodness we did move because for the next 2 days it blew an
un-forecasted 30 knots and it was way too rough to launch the Tinny.

Fortunately that also allowed the spring tides to pass and by the time the wind was back down to a manageable level, we could fish once again.

We would have much preferred to leave and get going east but it was still 15-20 knots of east wind outside the protection of the bay and we weren’t punching into that no matter how much we wanted to go.

So we went fishing……
The first day it was still flowing a little too strongly but we did get 3 Barra each and a stack of other hook ups on Barra that we lost when they jumped and threw the hooks.
Paul lost a massive Barra when it did a big jump and spat the lure out.
He was gutted!! It wasn’t quite a big as Lisa’s big one but it was still a very big fish and would have been his PB Barra ever.

As the tides advanced the sessions became later and later.
It was getting to the point where the peak fishing time was right on dusk.

So for our last session we went up one hour before low tide to make use of the most amount of fishing time.
We grounded the tinny as the tide dropped around us and we were able to fly fish into the shallow gutters.

It was going to be a race to see whether the best tide height and fishing time would come before the sun set.

As the tide turned and started rising, the fish came on, but it was getting overcast and dark.
We landed a lot of small Barra, Lisa got a good sized Mangrove Jack and Paul landed his first Cobourg Giant Threadfin Salmon.

The race was on….
The sun was setting and the fishing was hotting up.

Paul really wanted to land that still elusive trophy sized Barra but in the end it was Lisa (once again) that scored the final one with a medium sized 70cm Barra that made for a nice photo with the setting sun.

We took a final photo of the sunset before getting back to Lorelei in complete darkness with both the Tinny and Lorelei having no lights on.
Thank goodness for the GPS chart-plotter in the Tinny.

So that was our 10 day Cobourg Experience.
It was an excellent suggestion by Lisa to make the effort to go there rather than just sitting in Darwin Harbour waiting for the easterly winds to abate.
We would’ve waiting nearly a month……!!!!
We had hooked over 40 Barramundi, landed 30 and lost about a dozen or so to dislodged hooks during the jumping fights.

The next day we planned to leave but it was overcast, squally and the current was running in not out for most of the daylight hours meaning we would be pushing against it for the 25nm run back out of Port Essington.

We had dinner and by 8pm the skies had cleared, the wind backed off, the tide had turned and so we elected to leave.
We motor sailed out of the Port and hit the open ocean at 11pm
– more like it hit us.
Within 30 minutes of rounding the cape and into the passage east, the wind swung onto the nose and picked up, so did the swell and the sea went really lumpy.
We were committed and we smashed, punched and rolled our way to Crocker Island where we arrived at 4:30am wondering why the heck we left a perfectly good anchorage!!
As we crept into the calm and shallow bay we both stayed on deck as it was overcast, raining, pitch black and very difficult to see. We didn’t have our radar on preferring to use our eyes and instruments upstairs in the cockpit.
So we anchored up in the dark and went to bed.
At 7am Paul woke up and went upstairs to check our position in the daylight to find we were only 30m away from another cruising yacht.
They stupidly had no anchor light (or any other lights) on overnight and we could have easily collided with them if we’d come in only a few degrees difference in angle.

The upside was we had finally made the break from The Cobourg Peninsula and had started on the 500+ mile run across Arnhem Land and on towards Gove.

We stayed a full 24 hours in the protected bay on Crocker Island before leaving again.

With easterly headwinds still forecasted, we pushed on at 5am each morning and were usually anchored up by around lunchtime.
Being Aboriginal land, we were permitted to anchor but were mostly unable to go ashore, go fishing, etc.

We did 5 days straight of 30-40 mile runs to keep pushing east.
All the time the waters were very shallow and we had to negotiate many small islands, reef patches, shoals and channels between islands.
On one day’s run of 45nm where were up to 10nm offshore the depth was never deeper than 9m/30ft. Crazy!!!

We had arrived at the Goulburn Islands and were happy to see a telephone and internet tower on the island which supported the Aboriginal Mission there.
We were able have a good look at some detailed weather forecasts online.

Going further east from the Goulburn’s meant we were passing an Aboriginal area that was off limits if you did not have the correct permits. It is a 200 mile stretch of land and that meant a 36 hour non-stop run.

We were very fortunate to have the winds drop out to “light and variable” forecast for 48 hours so we pushed off and crossed our fingers for no significant easterly winds.

As we left we realised that the annual coral spawning must have occurred overnight as the sea surface was covered in miles and miles of stinky brown spawn.

The further offshore we went we found light NE winds so for part of the crossing we could sail or motor sail to reduce the overall fuel consumption.

We found a quiet anchorage in the Wessel Islands at 5pm on day 2 and enjoyed a nice sunset and a big meal.

The next day we weaved through the extensive amount of islands and passes that make up the long, thin chain of Wessel Islands and finally arrived at Gove on the last afternoon in October.

We had successfully crossed Arnhem Land (the square section at the top of Australia) and were now poised to tackle the Gulf of Carpentaria and onto the tip of Australia once we had finished in Gove and had a reasonable forecast.
As we headed towards Gove we could see through the haze the huge Bauxite refinery owned by Rio Tinto.

We entered the harbour and sailed past a large ore bulk-carrier that was being loaded with raw Bauxite.

The harbour was well protected and the yacht basin was alongside the refinery.
We arrived at 5pm and the afternoon glow highlighted the boats and refinery.

The ore dust in the air made for some very red sunsets.
This was a super-yacht that was anchored behind us.

The next day turned into a mission.
We met up with our friends Grant and Glynnis from Sea Wolf 2.
Paul and Grant went to the Sea Swift wharf to get diesel fuel.
They had over 700 litres worth of jerry cans (for the first run…) and the male staff were very helpful and even offered to put them onto a pallet to get them closer to the fuel bowser.
That was until a B#T@H of a young lady came down from the office and tore strips off us for not booking ahead (which Grant had done 3 hours prior in person), for coming on their busy Monday and for bringing Jerry Cans.
Her body language was priceless.
Needless to say we didn’t get any fuel.
Funnily enough Peter and Helen our other friends off Lazeabout also went two hours later (not knowing we had tried) and received an even worse reception from her to the point where they wrote a letter of complaint to Sea Swift.

So instead we hired cars and the boys spent the day going back and forward to the BP fuel station in Nhulunbuy while the girls went to the supermarket and brought the food.

Between the boats that day, we estimated we brought over 4000 litres of fuel (in jerry cans) from BP.
And that didn’t include the bulk of the other cruising boats in the harbour that were also refuelling later in the week.
That’s A LOT of missed revenue from Sea Swift because of a female staff member with the worst attitude we’ve ever seen.

By sunset we were all stuffed but we’d only been in Gove for 24 hours and the 2 major jobs were already done.
So now it was time to relax, explore and play.

The next day was Australia’s most famous Horse Race – The Melbourne Cup.
We got dressed up and headed to a buffet lunch at The Arnhem Club in town.
There were the six of us from the day before and it was as great day out.
The race is at 3:00pm in Melbourne but the time difference meant it was on just after lunch at 1:30pm local time which was perfect.
There were a few winners at our table and that meant a few more drinks and lots of laughs after the race….

The harbour foreshore is like a boulevard of broken dreams with scores of derelict boats that have been washed up onto the shoreline after violent storms and cyclones.
It’s an appalling mess and we can’t believe that nothing is done to make the vessel owners responsible for the removal.
The upside for Paul was they made great photo subjects at dusk as he did a series of time exposure/light painting photos of them over 2 nights.

On the Wednesday night we had dinner and drinks on-board Lorelei with 2 local couples Chris & Phoebe and Aaron & Jade.

Chris, Jade and Aaron are very well known in the spearfishing world as they are extremely confident spearos.
Chris is sponsored by Aimrite (the brand that Paul uses and used to wholesale) and Jade & Aaron also use them too.

It was awesome to catch up with these super nice people.
Despite being mid-week, we had a very late night with a lot of food, drinks and endless spearing stories.

Team Aimrite Gove

On the Friday the bulk of the cruising boats decided to leave to attempt the crossing of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
We were still not so sure it was the best possible forecast so we stayed.
Our other ulterior motive was that Chris was taking his boat out spearing on the weekend and we were invited.
So while the boats one by one left the harbour, we got out the spear gear and spent the afternoon replacing rubbers and servicing the gear to make sure it was all 100%.

The slight spanner in the works came when Chris called to say the BP fuel station (and the only fuel station in Gove/Nhulunbuy) had run out of unleaded fuel (gasoline).
There were many unhappy people and the timing was terrible being a Friday arvo and jeopardising a lot of people’s weekend plans.

Fortunately we had loads of fuel from our refuelling only 4 days prior and more than enough to fill Chris’s Haines Hunter trailer boat.

Refuelling - Normally it’s a small boat bringing fuel out to Lorelei
(particularly in Indonesia) but now it was the other way around.

There were 5 of us - Chris, Jade, us two and another new person we had just met, Levi.
So we took off for the Bromby Islands which were 25 miles north of Gove and up towards the Wessel Islands.
We did a series of drift spears in different locations.
Each location had a different type of underwater terrain and therefore a different target species.
The viz wasn’t fantastic but there were loads of fish in all sizes and a lot of sharks.

Once a fish was speared you had to get it up to the surface as quick as possible and into the boat so the sharks didn’t get it – or you!!
There are also Crocodiles in the area but fortunately we didn’t come across any.

We speared ourselves silly and had half the large ice box full of quality eating fish by 4pm.
We were all stuffed by then so we headed home stopping regularly to get a cold beer or Jack Daniels from the esky.

Mid way home antics…..

We openly admit we are a little reclusive when it comes to spearing.
We generally spear alone when on Lorelei and prior to going cruising, we only speared with long term spearing buddy Greg Holmes.
However these guys were so awesome to spear with!!!

They speared just like we do, have the same rules and practices, the same skill levels, the same tastes in music blasting out from the boats stereo and even drink the same alcoholic bevvies as we do.
It was soooo much fun and we arrived back at Lorelei grinning like Cheshire Cats and very appreciative to Chris, Jade and Levi for letting us join them.
They are 3 of the nicest people you could ever meet and there’s nothing like local knowledge….

Spanish Mackerel all-round

Some of the other quality table fish we speared
Black Spotted Tuskfish and Coral Trout.

We got back to Lorelei to find a present in our cockpit.
Jade’s husband Aaron and their 2 kids had elected to go fishing and crabbing in the harbour instead as Aaron was on call for work and couldn’t stray too far.
They had caught a few Mud Crabs and left 2 huge bucks in the cockpit for us which we were super excited about.

We also found some other smaller critters on the boat when we got home. 
For their size they were really big.

The scheduled leaving time kept getting shoved further and further back as the local crew kept wanting to hang out.

So on the Sunday we decided to return the local hospitality and have a Sunday arvo sail with them on board.

It ended up being 8 adults and 5 kids under 7 years old.
It’s the most we’ve ever had on board to go sailing and the kids loved it.

We had lunch in the harbour and that gave everybody a chance to get used to being on the boat before setting sail and heading out from Gove at 1:30pm.

The kids had fun helping raise the sails and the 3 older girls worked out they could get one hand each on the double-handed winch handles which when combined, gave them enough power to set the headsail.

Even Evie at 2 years old was out on the rail and smiling as we reached along at 7 knots. She is the youngest person we’ve had sailing on Lorelei.

The older girls loved being up on the bow and coping a bit of spray as we pushed through the swell and wind chop.

By 4pm the kid’s lifejackets had become pillows and Fraser decided our packed up RIB made a nice bed and they crashed out on the front deck as we sailed home. 

On our last day in Gove, Chris and Phoebe had a day off work so they kindly picked us up in their car and took us to some of the areas more scenic spots and into town for a final re-stock of fresh food and groceries.

The first stop was to the Yirrkala Aboriginal Community which is about 30 minutes’ drive from Nhulunbuy.
Yirrkala has a large art centre that has the biggest collection of Aboriginal Art we have ever seen. Whilst there are some outstanding pieces that are for viewing only, most of the artworks are for sale.
Sadly there is no photography allowed inside otherwise Paul would have gone berserk with the camera. We did find some pics on the net….

There were many artworks painted onto timber or bark.

They also have an in house silk screen department, a sound studio and artists on-site making the artworks both inside the building and the outside courtyards.

The walls of the surrounding buildings were painted in huge murals that had incredible detail.

Chris and Phoebe have an awesome 4WD and it received a workout along the dusty red dirt roads and the sandy coastline.

We drove to the Rio Tinto mine site where they work and had a look at the huge ore crusher and 30km long conveyor belt that transports the bauxite to the port.

Back along the coastline, Chris drove us up onto sand dunes to enjoy the views, right down onto the water’s edge and lots of places in between.

Some of the tracks had very soft sand and were quite tight requiring low range and locked diffs.

For our last stop we went to a beautiful beach called Little Bondi.
Chris parked the car and let the dogs have a run while we had a swim.

We walked up onto a headland that had cliff edges that outlined the bauxite seams which gave us a understanding of the mining practices.

As we walked back, Paul snapped a photo of Chris out on a rock ledge.
Lisa then spied a Crocodile sunning himself on the rocks below.
We were all a little amazed at the croc’s haul out location as it was a headland that had a lot of swell and wave action.
It dived into the water before Paul had a chance to get another photo but we did see it in the background of the original photo.

Despite the croc nearby, we walked back around to the beach and had another swim with the dogs.

Note Chris’s 4WD on the beach in the top right

Paul had fun trying to photograph the dogs after their swim.

The NT Parks and Wildlife dune re-stabilisation program is
obviously working very well at Little Bondi…..

By the time we returned to town, went shopping and got back the boat ramp, it was nearly sunset.
Once again we were buzzing from another awesome day!
We were very appreciative to Chris and Phoebe for showing us around their favourite local places, many of which are not on the tourist map.

So that’s it for our Top-End Darwin to Gove experience across Arnhem Land.
If it’s one thing to be said, the locals Territorians certainly know how to make us feel very welcome and we are stoked to have met so many fantastic people.
To our new Gove and Darwin friends – Thankyou, Thankyou, Thankyou for your wonderful hospitality over the last few months!!!!!

So we leave today (8th November) to do our first Gulf of Carpentaria crossing and onwards towards the tip of Australia.

Bye NT – it’s been fun !!!!! QLD here we come…..

Paul and Lisa Hogger.

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