Australia Part III - Queensland Coast from Moreton Bay to Thursday Island (May
to July 2015)
|In mid-May, we departed Moreton Bay (Brisbane
area) and sailed north along the Queensland Coast of Australia, with our
sights set on arriving in Cairns in Far North Queensland (FNQ) by June 10
for a scuba diving trip on the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns is about
850 nautical miles from Brisbane, and we had three weeks to get there -
definitely do-able, but we wouldn't be able to move at our normal slow
pace. We were, however, able to stop and enjoy several spots along
the way, and the weather
was fairly cooperative. Despite all the
boat maintenance we did over the past couple of months, we battled a number of
boat gremlins, which was frustrating. Once we reached Cairns, in addition to our
scuba diving trip, we also did a short road trip, and in early July, we met up with the
an organized group of boats with which we would sail through Indonesia.
After a month in Cairns, we continued north along the FNQ coast to Thursday Island,
a port of entry/exit off the northeast tip of
mainland Australia. In late July we bid good-bye to Australia and sailed
off to Indonesia.
For further details on our adventures
(and misadventures) during these few months, read on...
Passage from Moreton Bay to
Lady Musgrave Island (May 18 - 20, 237 nm, 1 day + 23 hours). We
Marina mid-morning, saying good-bye to our home base for the past couple of months,
and we motored across Moreton Bay in light winds. After spending two months
parked in the marina, our propeller had a fair
amount of growth on it, which slowed our boat speed a bit, but we rode an
outgoing tide which gave us a boost. We chose not to clean the propeller
before leaving the marina because we had been warned that there were bull sharks in
those waters, and we didn't really want to chance any encounters with them.
Our next stop was Lady Musgrave Island, where we expected to find clear blue
water and no bull sharks, so we opted to deal with the slower boat speed
until we arrived there and could clean the prop.
As we crossed Moreton Bay, we ran the motor for about three
hours, checking the engine room on a regular basis, and Rich was pleased that
the new coolant pump and hose he recently installed were working properly.
As we rounded the southeast corner of Bribie Island and exited Moreton Bay,
the wind came up from the southeast, and we set our sails wing-and-wing and
turned off the motor. We sailed for the next 15 hours, but in the wee
hours of the morning, the wind was dying out. Jan was on watch and kept
the boat moving, albeit slowly, under sail. She was also keeping an eye on the radar
and watching a squall moving toward us. The squall hit us around 4 a.m.,
and didn't have much wind in it, but it had lots of rain, and very quickly the
wind shifted north. The noise of slatting sails and
pouring rain woke up Rich, and he helped Jan furl the headsail, and we started the engine. Shortly after turning on the motor, Rich
checked the engine room and saw coolant spraying out of the engine.
Crap!! We turned off the engine and with very little wind, we drifted.
We were not in a great location - we were on the outside of Fraser Island.
The town of Mooloolaba was 70 miles south of us, and Bundaberg was 70 miles
north of us. There was really nothing in between, and we were going
Rich dove into the engine room
and found that a v-belt from the alternator had been rubbing up against the
new coolant hose and had put a hole in it. He tried a temporary fix with
some Rescue Tape® and hose clamps, but that didn't work. Fortunately, he
had saved the old coolant hose, and it was still in decent shape, so he dug it out
of the v-berth and reinstalled it, this time making sure the v-belt wasn't rubbing up
against it. Finally, at 6 a.m., the job was done - the old hose was back
in place, the engine re-started, and everything looked to be running fine.
Rich took over the watch, and Jan laid down to sleep for a few hours.
|The following day was rainy with
light winds. We continued to motor, with no further engine woes,
although our hearts did skip a few beats at one point when the engine RPM's
dropped for a few seconds, and then came back up to normal. We were
guessing that we hit something in the water - perhaps a piece of line, or even
a fish - but since the RPM's returned to normal, we felt reasonably confident
(although not 100%) that everything was OK.
Jan's second night watch was
another adventure when she had to steer between two southbound cargo ships
which passed within a half mile on each side of her at nearly the same time.
Yikes!! The ship on her port
side could not steer further to his starboard because there was an island in the way,
and the ship on her starboard side couldn't steer further to his port because
there was another sailboat he needed to avoid. Jan kept an eye on the
ships' running lights and watched their progress on radar, and our AIS receiver
provided the CPA (closest point of approach) for each ship. She
also talked to both ship captains on the radio, and they could see our AIS
signal coming from our newly installed AIS transponder. However, the situation was
complicated by a couple of other factors. First, about an hour earlier,
Jan noticed that our starboard running light had gone out. She advised
the ship captains of that by radio, so our lack of proper running lights did
not cause confusion. Also, our AIS receiver was giving us a bunch of
error messages, and it was a challenge sorting through the error messages
to get to the information she needed. Although Jan basically had it
under control, she was feeling quite nervous when it was all happening and
was extremely relieved when the ships were safely past. Rich slept
through it all. A couple hours later, our starboard running light
started working again.
Rain squalls while underway to Lady Musgrave
Lady Musgrave Island (May
20 - 22). After our adventurous passage, we were quite happy to pull into
Lady Musgrave Island. Lady Musgrave is an atoll, with a ring of coral
encircling a lagoon and a small island in the northwest corner, and it is also
a National Park. The entrance to the lagoon was well marked, and we motored in and
dropped our anchor in a nice sandy spot. There were several other boats anchored in the lagoon,
including a few tourist charters, but it was a spacious anchorage with plenty of room for everyone. The
water inside the lagoon was beautiful - clear and blue - and after having spent
two months in a marina, the tropical island feeling of this anchorage was
quite welcome. Once we were anchored, Rich launched the dinghy, and he
could see that we did indeed catch something on our prop. He didn't get
a close look at it but told Jan that something was there.
Rich had some cleaning up to do
in the engine room, so Jan jumped in the water to clean the prop. She dove down to take a look a it,
and there was what looked to
be a piece of rope about a meter long in the propeller. She easily unsnagged it and was swimming it to the surface to show Rich when she
realized that she had a dead SNAKE in her hands! OMG!!! She
released it and kicked away from it, thrashing up to the surface as fast as
she could, and screaming as she went. Rich was on the side deck
wondering what all this commotion was about. Once she told Rich about the snake and
calmed herself down, she dove back down to the propeller to scrape off the
encrusted barnacles, and Rich, once he quit laughing, went to work cleaning up the engine room.
Our friends Andy & Sue (s.v.
Spruce) had also sailed up to Lady Musgrave Island from Moreton Bay, and we
were looking forward to scuba diving with them here. The next day was
beautiful and calm, and the four us of did a dive on the outside wall of the
atoll. We didn't see anything unusual on the dive, but the water was
nice and clear, the fish life was good, and it felt great to be back
We weren't the only ones having a bit of bad luck - this schooner ran up
the reef while motoring toward the pass to
the lagoon at Lady Musgrave.
This is a charter boat, and the
guests had to
spend the night on board
waiting for the boat to re-float on the high
As far as we know,
the guests got home safely the next day.
Adult and juvenile trumpet fishes at Lady Musgrave
(photo taken by Sue of s.v. Spruce)
Lady Musgrave Sunset
Although we would have liked to
stay longer at Lady Musgrave, we needed to keep moving north - Cairns was
still 600+ nautical miles away. After spending two nights at Lady
Musgrave, we were preparing to depart, and Rich checked the engine room
and saw water in the bilge - $&!%!! He tasted it - salt water - where was it
coming from?! We hunted around and found the problem. Shortly
after anchoring at Lady
Musgrave, as a couple of
park rangers approached Slip Away in their small motorboat, Jan
went below and turned the Y-Valve on our head discharge hose to go into our holding tank,
so that we would be in
compliance with their "no discharge" rules. The Y-valve didn't turn
easily, and she mentioned to Rich that he should check on it, but then we
spent a bit of time talking with the rangers, and we both forgot about it.
It appeared that build-up in the Y-valve prohibited Jan from turning it completely,
and the holding tank ended up filling with sea water and was now
overflowing into our bilge. By some miracle, our boat did not smell like
sewage! We turned the Y-valve back so that it would discharge overboard
and once we were outside the lagoon, we turned on our macerator pump, to empty
the holding tank - but it
did not work. Just one more thing to fix!!
Great Keppel Island (May
23 - 25). From Lady Musgrave, we did an overnight run to Great Keppel
Island (97 miles, 19 hours). We had light winds at the start of our
passage so had to motor for a few hours, but once the wind arrived, it built
quickly, and then we had a brisk passage under sail. We arrived at
Great Keppel early in the morning and dropped our hook off Leeke's Beach on the
north side of the island. The forecast was calling for a strong wind
warning over the next couple of days, and this was a well protected spot to
ride that out. Great Keppel has some excellent hiking trails and despite
the strong winds (blowing 25-30 knots), we were able to get off the boat
and do a couple of hikes. We took a short walk the day we arrived, and
the next day we did a longer one out toward Bald Rock Point. This was
another nice stop.
This homestead was built in the early 1920's, and the occupants ran
on the island until the 1940's. It must have been a lonely
Messages along the walking track
A windy day at Great Keppel Island
While here, we were sorting out
yet another boat problem - this one with our VHF radio. Since leaving
Moreton Bay, we'd been traveling up the coast with Andy & Sue on s.v. Spruce.
During the passages, we would call one another a couple times a day on the
VHF radio - just checking in to say hello and make sure all was well on board
both boats. There were several times when we called Spruce and they
could hear us, but when they called us back, we could not hear them. The
problem was intermittent, which made it difficult to troubleshoot. Grrr....
(May 26-27). From Great Keppel, we did another overnight passage north
to South Percy Island (102 nm, 19 hours). By this point, we had gotten
far enough north that we had reached the southeast tradewinds,
and they carried us north under sail.
We were planning to do a hike on
Middle Percy Island the following day (after a
good night's sleep) but had heard that the anchorage
at Middle Percy could be quite rolly. Our cruising guide indicated that a good anchorage could be found on the north
side of South Percy Island, so we decided to stop there to spend the night and continue to Middle
Percy the next morning. We scouted out the north coast of South
Percy and found what looked to be about the best spot and dropped our hook.
We spent a quiet day on board Slip Away and joined Sue & Andy for dinner on board
Spruce that evening. The anchorage was not rolly, but the boats
moved around quite a bit due to strong tidal currents, and we could hear our anchor
chain grinding on either coral heads or rocks.
The next morning, we intended to
weigh anchor early and move up to Middle Percy, do the hike, and then leave
again that afternoon. At 8 a.m., we started the engine and tried to weigh
anchor, but our chain was snagged. We tried maneuvering the boat every
which way to get
the chain loose, but to no avail. Finally, Rich got out his scuba
gear and went in the water. He spent about 30 minutes
unraveling what he described as our worst wrap ever around some coral heads -
there was no way we could have gotten free without diving on and
unwrapping the chain. The current was fairly strong, so Rich made sure
to keep a good hold of the chain while he unwrapped it. Visibility wasn't
great, but he said there were some beautiful fishes swimming around the coral
heads. Finally, shortly
before 10 a.m., we were free and we had a nice sail up to Middle Percy Island
(9 miles, 2 hours).
Middle Percy has an A-frame
building on the beach, which serves as a "cruisers' shrine" where
leave a token of their visit - t-shirts, burgees/flags, and other
paraphernalia, including some nice
wooden plaques, with boat names and dates of visits. We found items
left by several boating friends, and we left a burgee to commemorate our
visit. After visiting the A-frame, we did a walk around the island, which
was quite nice, although we saw a number of downed trees, which were a result
of an almost direct hit by Cyclone Marcia in February.
The highlight of the hike around the island was walking through a migration of
butterflies. We've never seen so many at one time - very cool! We finished our hike just before
sunset, headed back to Slip Away, weighed anchor and continued north to the Whitsunday Island
Cruisers' Shrine on the beach at Middle Percy
Damage from Cyclone Marcia
Rich is amazed by all the butterflies on the island
Whitsunday Islands. The
Whitsunday Islands are a popular sailing destination for Australians.
This group of over 100 islands cover a distance of about 100 miles along the
coast and were created from a couple of drowned
mountain ranges. The town of Airlie Beach on the mainland is the main centre where
one can book a tour or charter a boat to visit the islands. There are
some resorts scattered throughout the islands, and Hamilton Island is quite
developed with an airport, but much of the Whitsunday Islands are designated
as National Park. Now that we had reached the Whitsundays, we were just
over 300 miles from Cairns, and still had 10 days to get there, so we felt like we could
relax a little and enjoy this area for a few days.
Lindeman Island Group
(May 28-29). After our overnight passage from Middle Percy (115 nm, 23½ hours), we arrived at the Lindeman Island Group in the southern
Whitsundays. We wanted to do a hike on Lindeman Island the next day, but when we checked out
the two anchorages on that
island, both were quite rolly, so we anchored just a few miles away off
Shaw Island. The anchorage at Shaw was flat calm - perfect for a good
night's sleep. The next morning, we returned to Lindeman (5 miles away), dropped our anchor off Gap Beach
and met up again with Sue & Andy (s.v.
Spruce) for the hike. Locating the trail head proved a bit more
difficult than we anticipated - we were surprised that there were no signs -
but we finally found it and set off. In the past, there had been a Club
Med resort on this island, but it closed down a few years ago, and it appeared
that this hiking trail was no longer being maintained because parts of it were
a bit overgrown. From the beach, we hiked along a trail which took us to
the middle of the island and joined up with another trail which we intended to
take to the lookout on Mt. Oldfield.
As we arrived at the junction (about an hour into our hike), we saw a sign saying the trail was
closed. We found it interesting that the authorities did not post that sign at the beach - who
would start their hike in the middle of the island?! We ignored the sign
and continued on to the
lookout at Mt. Oldfield, which at 212 meters (about 700 feet), provided beautiful views over the island group.
We spent a short time admiring the vista before a rain squall sent us
scurrying for shelter. After the lookout, we continued along another trail that
was so overgrown it was difficult to follow, but it eventually led to the abandoned Club Med resort, where we found a swimming pool full of frogs. On
that trail, both Jan & Sue managed to brush up against some plants which had
green ants on them, and both of them can attest that Australian green ants have a very
After walking around the abandoned resort for a bit, we headed back toward the
anchorage taking a shortcut via the island's airstrip and avoiding the
View from atop Mt. Oldfield on Lindeman Island
Rich with Andy & Sue (s.v. Spruce)
Slip Away and Spruce anchored at Gap Beach
Whitehaven Beach / Tongue Bay
(May 30 - June 1). From Lindeman Island, it was a short hop to
Whitehaven Beach (10 miles, 2 hours) through Solway passage. Slack tide conveniently occurred around 8 a.m. that day, so we got an early start
and had the whole day to hang
out at Whitehaven, which is rated as one of the prettiest
beaches in the world. Whitehaven has a 5 km (3 mile) stretch of
snowy white silica sand, and we anchored just offshore and headed in for a
walk. We'd been forewarned to expect crowds of tourist boats at
Whitehaven, but there were only a couple with very few day-trippers on board,
and the beach is so huge that there was lots of room for everyone to enjoy
this lovely spot. We've been fortunate to see a lot of really beautiful
beaches in our travels, and this is certainly one of them.
Beaches don't come much prettier than this!
Soldier crabs marching on the beach
After our long walk on the
beach, we headed back to Slip Away. The anchorage at Whitehaven is
convenient for visiting the beach, but a bit rolly for spending the night, so
we motored around the corner to anchor at Tongue Bay. When we entered in
Tongue Bay, we noticed some swell
coming into the bay - not a big swell, but enough so that if Slip Away
got turned sideways to it, we would roll. So, we decided to set a stern anchor
to keep the boat pointed into the swell - this way Slip Away would not
roll, and her crew would be much happier!
The next day, we
worked on a few boat projects (Rich fixed the macerator pump), and that
afternoon, we dinghied ashore and did the short hike to a Whitehaven Beach
lookout. On the trail, we met and chatted with the crew from a catamaran
Mon Amie, also
Tongue Bay - owners Fiona & Greg and their friends John, Jan and Ray. Fiona &
Greg live in nearby Airlie Beach, gave us their telephone number and told
us to call and come for dinner at their house when we got to Airlie. How
View from the Whitehaven Beach Lookout - stunning, especially at low
Sunrise in Tongue Bay
South Molle Island (June
1). Before heading to Airlie Beach, we were planning one more stop at South Molle Island.
After two nights in Tongue Bay, we weighed anchor in the early morning and motored
in light winds to South Molle (9 nm, 2 hours). As we approached the
anchorage, we saw another boat heading in the same direction - it was our
friends Sue & Andy on Spruce! Their niece had joined them on board for a few
days, and the five of us did a nice hike to the Spion Kop lookout. After the hike, the
Spruce crew continued on to Airlie, but conditions were quite calm, and the
anchorage at South Molle was quite nice, so we spent the night there.
The two of us at Spion Kop Lookout on South Molle Island
Hiking on South Molle Island
Airlie Beach (June 2 -
4). The tradewinds had been quiet the past few days, but they were forecast
to return in the morning, and the forecast was spot on. At about 6
a.m., the wind piped up to about 20 knots from the southeast. Our
anchorage at South Molle was fine in those conditions, but the wind woke us up, and we wanted
to get an early start. By 7:30, we were on our way to Airlie, an easy
trip under sail with just our genoa (9 nm, 2 hours). Although the bay at
Airlie has lots of moorings for local boats, there was a nice clear area for
anchoring in front of the Abel Point Marina breakwall, with a public jetty inside the
marina where we could tie up our dinghy. We were looking forward to the
stop in Airlie Beach - this was the first town we'd stopped at since leaving
Moreton Bay, so we were eager to find some fresh produce. We were also looking forward
to visiting with Fiona & Greg, the couple we met on the Whitehaven trail.
Our first order of business upon
arrival in Airlie was to find the post office because we needed to mail our
passports and applications to the Indonesian consulate in Sydney to obtain our
visitor visas, which were required before our arrival in Indonesia. The post office was about a 3 km walk from the
marina on the outskirts of town, and it was located in a shopping center
with a Coles grocery store, so we could pick up some fresh produce there. Rich was
also happy to find that there was a Hungry Jack (Australia's Burger
King) in that same center. We took care of business at
the post office and stopped at Hungry Jack for lunch, which was mediocre at
best, and the woman who waited on us was snarky. Jan informed Rich that would be her last visit to Hungry Jack, and although Rich loves Whoppers, even he had to admit
that Hungry Jack's quality control needed some work. After a stop
in Coles, we headed home, and that evening we called Fiona and made plans
to see her and Greg the following night.
The next morning, Jan took
advantage of the marina laundromat to do a couple loads of laundry, and this time she chose the spot
for lunch - a Spanish cafe
in the marina, where we enjoyed some delicious plates of tapas (much better than Hungry
Jack!). In the afternoon, we walked into Airlie's downtown area, which was
quite lively with tour agencies, souvenir shops and backpackers.
There was also a very nice Woolworths grocery store in the downtown area, and we
picked up a few more groceries. That evening, we went to Fiona & Greg's
for dinner. They have a lovely apartment (what we would call a condo) in
the marina. Dinner was outstanding, and we had a fantastic evening talking about
travel, sailing, scuba diving, wine, and a variety of other topics. It wasn't
until late in the evening that we learned that Fiona is a doctor - a
specialist in lung transplants! Although the evening was delightful, we
went home with heavy hearts. Fiona's husband Greg was
diagnosed 18 months ago with dementia, and it has progressed rapidly - and he
is just 60 years old! They too had a dream to travel on their
sailboat, but that's obviously no longer an option. Situations such as
theirs give us an incredible appreciation for our good health and good
Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic
Island (June 5 - 8). Our short respite from overnight passages was over;
it was time to get moving again. We left Airlie Beach and headed to Magnetic Island off the coast of
Townsville (131 nm, 24 hours). Winds were fairly light for most of this
passage (10-12 knots), but with gentle seas, we enjoyed a lovely
Magnetic Island was another
destination where we wanted to linger for a few days. Horseshoe Bay is a good anchorage, and much of the island is National Park with several
good hiking trails. Koalas were introduced on this island in 1932, and
the present population numbers around 800, so we were hopeful that we might have
another opportunity to see them in the wild. Our
friends Matt & Jean (s.v. Superted) and Gerrit & Anne-Mieke (s.v. Fruit de Mer)
would also be at Magnetic Island when we got there, and we were looking
forward to catching up to them.
We arrived at Horseshoe Bay late
morning, dropped our hook and settled in. Our timing was such that we
arrived in Horseshoe Bay at the same time as the Coral Coast Yacht Race &
Rally (which also sailed from Airlie Beach). There were over 50 boats in
the Horseshoe Bay anchorage, but it is a very large bay and did not feel
crowded. The afternoon of our arrival, the crews of
Superted and Fruit de Mer joined us
on board Slip Away for happy hour and an opportunity to catch up. Earlier in the day, Gerrit & Anne-Mieke had gone for a hike in search of
koalas, but the fuzzy little critters eluded them.
Over the next couple of days, we
did two fairly long hikes, both of which were quite enjoyable, but despite our
best efforts, we didn't see any koalas. We talked to a number of other
hikers, and no one else had seen any either. We were quite happy, however, that
we also never saw any death adder snakes, which also live on this island.
Our last day on Magnetic Island was Rich's birthday, and after breakfast, we
headed out on a hike which took us to Nelly Bay on the opposite side of the island.
There we found a cafe for lunch, and then we took the bus back to Horseshoe
Bay, where we stopped at Adele's Cafe for dessert - a waffle topped with
vanilla gelato and maple syrup. Yum!
Beautiful day for our hike on the Forts Track, but no koala sightings
Interesting grass trees
Rich's yummy birthday dessert
Hinchinbrook Island (June
8 - 9, 60 nm, 11 hours). From Magnetic Island, we continued north to
Hinchinbrook Island. Our cruising guide described the channel between
Hinchinbrook Island and the mainland as "the most scenic, calm waterway on the
east coast of Australia," so we thought we'd check it out. Sixty miles
is a long distance for a day sail, and we also needed to arrive at the
southern entrance of the channel near high tide which occurred early in the
afternoon, so we left Horseshoe Bay at 3:30 a.m. The weather forecast was
calling for 20-25 knots of wind, so we were expecting a lively passage, but we
ended up with only
10-15 knots of southeast wind, and it was a pleasant downwind sail.
We arrived right on time to enter the channel just before high tide, and we
continued up the channel for about 8 miles and dropped our anchor near Haycock Island,
a small islet in the channel. It was a delightfully calm
anchorage, although in retrospect, we should have anchored a bit further away
from the mangroves because we had a few mozzies (Australian for
mosquitoes) that evening. In any event, after our long day, we turned
out the lights early, and we had a nice calm
anchorage for a good night's sleep.
Passage from Hinchinbrook
Island to Cairns (June 9 - 10, 122 nm, 25½ hours). Our deadline for
arriving in Cairns was looming, but we were right on schedule. One more
overnight passage, and we would be there. We weighed anchor at Haycock
and continued up the Hinchinbrook Channel for 18 miles. As promised, it
was very scenic, with the peaks of Hinchinbrook Island to the east and the
Cardwell Range to the west. Crocodiles inhabit these waters, and we kept our eyes peeled for
them but saw none.
Anchorage near the small Haycock Island
Peaks of Hinchinbrook Island
We exited the north end of the
channel, set our sails and continued on to Cairns. The
weather forecast for this passage was more accurate than the last one, and our trip was quite boisterous, with
mostly 20-25 knots of southeast winds, and a couple of hours of 25-30.
We also had heavy rain at times, and the seas were quite lumpy. Neither
of us got much sleep that night, but it was a fast passage. We arrived
Cairns just at daybreak, and although we had a berth reserved at the Marlin Marina,
we wouldn't be able to get into our slip until the marina opened later in the morning.
Our cruising guide described the Mission Bay anchorage just outside the marina
as having only a "little swell during strong tradewinds," so we headed there
to drop our hook for a few hours. The anchorage was actually quite rolly,
but we managed to get a couple hours of sleep before weighing anchor and
heading into the marina. We were nervous going into the marina
with the strong winds, but the marina was well sheltered, and we docked the boat with no problem.
Cairns (June 10 to July
9). Cairns is the northernmost major town in Australia, and it's
actually closer to Papua New Guinea than it is to any of the major cities in
Australia. Jan had visited Cairns on her trip to Australia in 1991, but
it has changed quite a bit since then. In 1991, it was a small-ish town
with a few hotels and dive shops. Folks who went to Cairns were mostly
there to dive or snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. But Cairns had grown
up quite a bit in the past 24 years. There are many more hotels, more dive shops and lots of other
tourist agencies, numerous cafes and restaurants and a beautifully developed
waterfront area. The marina was situated on the edge of town, and we
could walk pretty much everywhere. Although Cairns is a tourist town, it didn't feel
like a "tourist trap." We
really liked it.
Great Barrier Reef Dive Trip
(June 12 - 16). We arrived in Cairns two days before the start of
our scuba diving trip - just in time! Since we enjoy
diving so much, we didn't want to leave Australia without diving on the Great
Barrier Reef (GBR). Although there are numerous day trips for diving the
the better dive sites are farther afield, and a live-aboard dive boat was the only option for
getting to them. The week-long live-aboard trips were
too expensive for us, but we found a four-day trip that visited some of the
top dive sites and was within our
After settling Slip Away
in the marina, we packed our gear and were off. We were excited about
the trip, but not thrilled about the weather forecast. The weather in
June is supposed to be reasonably good. Normally, it's a dry time of the year,
and the tradewinds have not yet built to peak strength. But, the weather
forecast for the next few days was calling for strong winds and some rain -
bummer! We weren't too concerned, however, because we would be on a 100-foot
motor yacht, and we didn't have to stand watch or worry about the anchor! We expected the
foul weather would diminish visibility on the dives, but we were on "vacation"
and determined to have a good time - and we did.
We spent four days on board the
Taka II Explorer with a group of 30 guests and 10 crew - nice ratio! We
could do up to a total of 14 dives; Jan did all but one dive, and Rich did all
but two. The diving was very good - not the best diving we've ever done,
but we do recognize that we are very spoiled! We saw some things we've
never seen before, including a couple of pygmy octopus and olive sea snakes
(yikes!) We also saw a clown fish ("Nemo") for the first time. We've
seen many anemonefish (clownfish cousins), but this was the first true
clownfish. But the highlight of the trip (at least for Jan) was an
opportunity to swim with Minke whales. It was Minke whale migration
season, and we had whales swimming around the dive boat on three of the four
days of our trip. Only a few dive operators are licensed to allow their
guests to swim with the whales, and ours was one of them. In reality, we
didn't really swim with the whales, we floated. The dive boat put a
couple of long lines out to the side, and we hung on to the lines and floated
while the whales swam around us. There were lots of rules - no touching,
no swimming to get closer to the whales, etc., but it was a great experience!
In addition to the diving, we met some really super people on this trip.
Taka II Explorer
Clownfish - Nemo & Marlin
Swimming with the Minke Whales
It was such a thrill to see a whale swim by!
Pygmy Octopus - we love the little stuff too!
Divemaster Tim feeding the large potato cod at the Cod Hole dive site
After our dive trip, we spent a
week back in Cairns, chasing after boat gremlins and enjoying the town before renting a car and heading
off on a short road trip to the Daintree and Cape Tribulation National Parks
and the Atherton Tablelands.
Daintree and Cape Tribulation
National Parks (June 23 -
24). The Daintree and Cape Tribulation National Parks lie along the
coast about 1½ hours north of Cairns by car (unless of course, you run into a
lot of road construction like we did!). These national parks are World
Heritage Areas and are significant because they contain some of the oldest
rainforest on earth, dating back over 100 million years to the Cretaceous era.
It was in these forests that flowering plants first appeared on earth!
We've seen some rainforest in our travels, but this was some of the
densest we've ever experienced, and it lived up to it's name - it was very rainy!
Also, just an interesting fun fact - Cape Tribulation was so named by Captain
James Cook because it was here that he ran his ship Endeavour up on a reef.
A guy we met on our GBR dive trip
told us about a crocodile tour - Solar Whisper Boat Tours - on the Daintree River at the southern edge
of the rainforest, and it sounded like fun, so that was our first stop. Despite the delays we
experienced with road construction, we still managed to time our
arrival near low tide, which is the best time for sighting the crocs because
they haul themselves on to the shore at low tide to sun themselves.
The day of our tour was
pretty rainy, so there weren't a lot of crocs sunbathing, but we did
see three - a large female, a "teenager" and a baby, as well as a
couple of snakes hanging out in the trees, and a frogmouth (looks a bit like an
owl). It was a fun and interesting tour, with the guide telling us lots
about the crocs (they have names for all of the adults) and other wildlife in this area.
After the croc tour, we took the
ferry across the Daintree River and continued north. Because the rainforest is so dense, there were no long hikes
park, but there were several short walks, so we stopped and did a few of those
as we drove toward Cape Tribulation. We kept our eyes peeled for
wildlife and were rewarded with the sighting of a cassowary mother and chick on the side of the road.
We had booked a cabin at the
Jungle Lodge in Cape Tribulation, and we checked in
late afternoon. Accommodations were few and expensive in the park.
For AUD $90 (USD $70) per night, we stayed in a campground cabin, which was fairly new
and quite nice with a king size bed, but we did have to use the
campground toilets and showers, which were a short walk away. Jan made one run to the toilets in the middle of the night
and was on high alert for snakes, but thankfully didn't see any. The
campground also had a camp kitchen, and we had brought some food and intended to
cook our own dinner, but the
pots and pans looked a bit grotty.
PK's Jungle Village was across the street
and was having a two-for-one pizza night with reasonably priced pitchers of
beer, so we had
pizza and beer for dinner instead.
Large female croc named Margaret
Rainforest walk in the Daintree
We kept a sharp lookout and stayed away from the water's
edge while walking on the beach at Cape Tribulation
Enjoying a happy hour beer on the porch of our Jungle Lodge cabin
Mum & Chick Cassowaries
More beautiful rainforest at Cape Tribulation
We spent one night at Cape
Tribulation and then retraced our route south. It was another rainy (but
still very beautiful) day
in the rainforest, and we saw another cassowary meandering along the side of the road.
After ferrying across the Daintree River, we stopped at
which sits at the southern end of the Daintree National Park. By the time
we arrived there, it was pouring. Mossman Gorge is an area of spiritual
and cultural value to the local Aboriginal tribes, and it has a nice visitor
center and lovely 5 km hiking trail. We looked around the visitor center
for a bit, and by then the rain abated enough that we felt we could walk the
trail (with umbrellas). After our walk, we enjoyed a nice lunch at the
visitor center cafe.
Wet trail through the rainforest at Mossman Gorge
Mossman River cutting through the gorge
After lunch, we headed back
toward Cairns and as we drove south, the weather improved, so we stopped to walk a few
trails at the Cairns Botanical Gardens. We would be continuing on to the
Atherton Tablelands the next day, but since our route there took us back toward
Cairns, we decided to spend the night on board Slip Away rather than in
|Atherton Tablelands /
Cairns Highlands (June 25 - 26). The Atherton Tablelands were
also once covered in dense rainforest, but volcanic eruptions destroyed
the rainforest, and the area's rich volcanic soil now supports significant
agriculture. Starting from Cairns, we drove a big loop, which first
took us northwest through the mountain town of Kuranda, then west via the
Kennedy Highway over the Great Dividing Range and south into the heart of
the Tablelands. We spent one night in Yungaburra and returned to
Cairns by heading south through Malanda and Millaa Millaa and then east
via the Palmerston Highway to Innisfail, and the Bruce Highway brought us
north back to Cairns. There was a lot to see along this route, and
we made several stops.
We departed Cairns about 8 a.m.
and enjoyed the drive up the mountain roads to Kuranda. We arrived in
Kuranda about 9 a.m. and thought we might stroll around the town and have a
coffee before attending a 10 a.m. Aboriginal Cultural Show, but the town was
still asleep! So, we drove out to Baron Falls and enjoyed the view.
We didn't have enough time to do the canopy walk at Baron Falls, but it
appealed to us, so we decided to come back after the show.
Aboriginal Cultural Show at
Rainforestation was quite good. There were demonstrations of
playing the didgeridoo, throwing spears and boomerangs, and it ended with a
traditional dance show. Up to this point, we felt that our Australia
experience was lacking in exposure to the Aboriginal culture, so this was a
good opportunity for us to learn a bit more. After the show, we returned
to Baron Falls and did the canopy walk, and then we went back into town for
Rich tries his hand at throwing a boomerang
|Jan had also visited Kuranda on her
Australia tour in 1991, and like Cairns, it too had grown quite a bit.
To us, Kuranda had a bit of a split personality. On the surface, it
appeared to be a hippie village in the mountains. But, tourism had taken
hold here, and the streets were lined with shops selling clothing, Australian
Opals, wood carvings and lots of other things we don't have room for on the
boat. There are also walking tours, "duck tours" (in amphibious ex-army
vehicles) and numerous other attractions. Kuranda had a bit of a
"tourist trap" feel to us, so we didn't need to spend much time here, and after lunch, we continued on.
Not all cultures use "western style" toilets,
so towns which get a lot of
foreign tourists (like Kuranda), need to provide user instructions.
From Kuranda, we headed further
into the Tablelands. We stopped in the town of Atherton and visited the Tourist
Information Centre, where we picked up some information on walks in the area,
and then continued on to the town of Yungaburra. We had booked a room at
the Lake Eacham Hotel (locally known as "The Pub"), an old historic
hotel. The hotel was a bit run down, but very charming, and the room
rate was reasonable - AUD $60 (USD $46) per night for a room which was small, but it had
an ensuite bathroom and shower, and included continental breakfast.
After checking into our hotel, we drove out to see the famous "Curtain Fig
Tree" and then spent a couple of hours walking along Peterson Creek looking
for platypus. Rich caught a fleeting glimpse of one, but Jan
missed it. We met and spoke to a number of people along the trail -
everyone looking for platypus but not having any luck with that.
Historic Lake Eacham Hotel
Curtain Fig National Park
The platypus in Peterson Creek were very elusive creatures
The Pub was a popular place for
dinner in Yungaburra, and that night we enjoyed their pork roast dinner special - AUD
$12.99 (USD $11.60) - a healthy serving of meat on a pile of potatoes and
veggies and covered in gravy. We cleaned our plates and were stuffed!
Before and after dinner, we sat by the fireplace (it was cold here!), and
chatted with a few guys (also hotel guests) who lived near Cairns but were here working on
sewer lines. We couldn't always understand everything they were saying
to us (very strong accents aided by alcohol), so we found ourselves nodding
and smiling a lot as they told us some of their life stories, but
they were friendly guys and we had a fun night.
The next morning, we headed out
to see more of the area and do a few walks. We started with a 3
km walk around Lake Eacham, which was very pretty, and we loved hearing the
calls of several whip birds. We looked for saw-shelled turtles in the
lake, a freshwater turtle which is native to this area, but we didn't find
any. We were intrigued by these turtles because they can breathe through
their butts! From Lake Eacham, we headed to Malanda Falls and did a walk
while searching for tree kangaroos. We didn't see the tree
kangaroos, but we did see quite a few of the saw-shelled
turtles in the river. We stopped at the Tourist Information Center at Malanda Falls,
and were lamenting that we hadn't seen a tree kangaroo, and the folks there recommended that we visit the
Factory. They told us the Tea Factory had great tea and scones, and a
family of tree kangaroos lived out there. So, that's what we did, and as
we were walking up the path to the cafe, a tree kangaroo bounded across the
lawn and climbed a tree! Wow - very cool! The tea and scones were
delicious, and we learned a bit about growing tea - something we knew
absolutely nothing about. From Nerada, we headed to Milaa Milaa, and
drove their "waterfall circuit" visiting three beautiful waterfalls
- and hiking
a very slippery trail to the bottom of the Zilla Falls. After the
waterfalls, as we worked our way back toward Cairns, we stopped to enjoy the
view at Crawfords Lookout and made a final stop for a walk at Babinda
Very deep and very blue Lake Eacham
Butt-breathing Sawtooth turtles
Kookaburras at Malanda Falls
Two of us at Ellinjaa Falls
We arrived back in Cairns in
time to get to the SuperCheap Auto Parts store, where we picked up a few
gallons of distilled water for our boat batteries - it was nice not to have to
carry those back to the boat in our backpacks! As we pulled into town, we
got a text from our friends Heather & Jon (s.v. Evergreen) letting us know
about a spaghetti dinner at the Cairns Yacht Club. Perfect! We
joined them and several other boaters for a fun night out.
Back in Cairns. After
our road trip, we spent a couple more weeks in Cairns. We continued to do boat maintenance - still sorting out a
few of the gremlins from the trip up the coast and completing a couple more
"to-do" list items which we didn't get to in Newport Marina. Jan also
topped up our stores of provisions, replacing the items we had used since
leaving Brisbane, and stocking up on the more perishable items like meats and
cheeses. She took advantage of an offer for free delivery from the local
Coles grocery store, and she ordered a freezer full of meat from a local
butcher, also delivered to the marina for free.
also really enjoying the town of Cairns. The esplanade along the
waterfront was a nice place to walk, the grocery store was an easy walk from the marina,
and since Cairns is popular with backpackers, there were some affordable
restaurants in town. McDonalds was only a couple blocks away, and while
both of us enjoyed their ice cream cones, Rich was especially happy that he
could go for a short walk in the morning and get himself a Sausage & Egg McMuffin.
Rusty's Market (weekends only) had fantastic fresh produce, and the Night
Market (every night) was an entertaining place to meander, do some souvenir
shopping and get a cheap massage. One of our favorite places for happy hour was the nearby
Bar, which offered pints of beer for AUD $5 (USD $4) every day from 5 to 7 p.m.,
as well as delicious pizza.
meal we had, however, was at the Salt House Cafe, which was
part of the marina complex. At first, we avoided the Salt House thinking
it was too expensive, but they had a sign out front advertising AUD $3.50
(USD $2.75) beers for happy hour (5 to 6 p.m. only) and 2 for 1 meals Monday
through Wednesday. On our last night in Cairns, we went to the Salt
House for happy hour and an early dinner - delicious fresh Spanish Mackerel - and we were kicking ourselves for not
having tried this place sooner!
Although the Marlin Marina was
in a convenient location, the biggest negative about it was the noise. Helicopter tours of the Great Barrier Reef
took off several times a day from a spot not far from our marina berth - all
conversation ceased when that was happening. Also, with an active
nightlife in Cairns and some of the hot spots nearby the marina, there was
often loud music playing until the wee hours of the morning.
Fortunately, the weather was cool enough that we could close most of our
hatches to minimize the noise so that we could sleep at night.
In early July, activities and
festivities got started for the Sail2Indonesia Rally. Shortly after we arrived in Cairns,
other boats for the rally started arriving. We knew only two of the other
boats signed up for this rally, and there were over 50 total boats registered,
so we were
meeting lots of new people. The rally hosted a couple of gatherings at
the Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron, where we took care of some
paperwork details and learned a bit more about the places we would be visiting
in Indonesia. The final rally event was a "Parrothead Party" with
a local band called the Barbary Coasters singing Jimmy Buffett hits.
Barbary Coasters playing Jimmy Buffett music
Xavier (s.v. Windkist), Lorie (s.v. Kind of Blue) and
Gerrit (s.v. Fruit de Mer)
After the rally events, it was
time to get moving. We had 1½ weeks to sail north to Thursday
Island (TI), where we would clear Australia Customs and set off for Indonesia.
Total distance from Cairns to TI was 400 miles, so we didn't have to rush.
As so often happens, we were one of the last rally boats to leave Cairns.
Many of the rally participants
opted to do day-sails north to TI, which meant traveling pretty much all day every
day and just stopping to sleep at night. On our way from Brisbane to
Cairns, it worked well for us to do some overnight passages, stopping at
fewer places but covering longer distances in a single passage and giving us
an opportunity to explore a bit ashore. We chose to do that again as we worked our way north to TI
- one way is not better than the other; it's just a matter of personal
preference. The route from Cairns to TI required strict attention to
navigation because we were traveling through some reef-infested areas,
but Australia's waters are well charted, and we were able to follow shipping
lanes as we headed north. The shipping lanes were quite narrow in spots,
and we hugged the starboard side of the channel, so that southbound ships
passed us port to port and northbound ships left us on their starboard side
when they overtook and passed by us. (Although Australians drive their
cars on the left side of the road, international navigation rules require
driving on the right.) The shipping lanes were fairly busy - we'd
usually see 4 or 5 ships every day - but we had no problems. We had a
replacement AIS transponder shipped to us in Cairns, so were no longer dealing
with error messages, which was also quite helpful!
Passage to Lizard Island
(July 9 - 10, 143 nm, 143 nm, 24½ hours). Before departing the Cairns
Marina, we topped up our fuel supply (both diesel and gasoline) at the marina fuel dock, and then
motored out the channel. We departed Cairns mid-morning, and winds were
light at first, but the sea breeze filled in quickly. We set our
sails wing-and-wing and sailed north to Lizard Island. We had great
sailing conditions with the tradewinds blowing from the southeast in the high
teens to low 20's. The seas were uncharacteristically flat because the
Great Barrier Reef provided protection from the ocean swell. We enjoyed
these excellent sailing conditions pretty much all the way from Cairns to TI.
Lizard Island (July 10 - 13).
Lizard Island was a place we wanted to stop and visit for a few days.
There is a good anchorage at Watson's Bay, and Lizard Island is a National
Park with several hiking trails. There are also a number of spots to
snorkel and dive around Lizard, but Jan was banned from the water because of
an infected toe - she wore some skin off the top of one of her toes on our GBR
dive trip, and despite her best efforts to avoid an infection, she developed a
tenacious one which required two rounds of antibiotics. The toe was
nearly healed, but water sports were off limits for her for a bit longer.
Rich did get in the water here, but only to clean the prop and boat bottom.
There were no snakes on the prop this time, although we later learned of the
occasional crocodile sighting at Lizard Island. Yikes! Fortunately, there were none
during our stay, and we were told that they would normally hang out in the
mangrove areas, not out in the bay where we were anchored.
Captain James Cook visited
here in 1770 and named it Lizard Island because of the large number of sand
lizards. During our visit, we hiked to Cook's Lookout on
the peak of the island (359 meters or 1200 feet above sea level). From
up high, Captain Cook was able to see a break in the GBR through
which he could sail his ship. The hike was challenging - only 2.5 km,
but steep and with loose footing in places, but we took it slowly and the exercise
There is a resort on Lizard
Island, but it was closed for reconstruction, having suffered some damage from
a couple of cyclones over the past couple of years. There is also a
Great Barrier Reef Research Station on the Island (opened in 1973), and on our
last morning here, we were invited to a presentation there which was very
interesting and informative.
Watson's Bay Anchorage on Lizard Island
We had to hike half-way up the hill to get a good internet
signal (nothing from the anchorage). We called this our
internet cafe, but unfortunately, there was no coffee served!
View from Cook's Lookout
Lizard Island's namesake
Lyle, one of two Directors at the Lizard Island
is originally from Minnesota, but he
has been working
here since the station's inception
|Flinders Island (July 14
- 15). We left Lizard Island late in the afternoon for an overnight
passage to the Flinders Group (83 miles, 14½ hours), dropping our anchor in
Owen Channel between Stanley and Flinders Islands. Our friends Jon &
Heather (s.v. Evergreen) had arrived late the previous day, and when we
pulled in, we launched our dinghy and headed off with them in search of a
hiking trail with some Aboriginal carvings on Stanley Island.
Unfortunately, due to the tides, we couldn't access the shoreline, so we
scratched that idea. Flinders Island looked accessible via
a sandy beach, so we opted for a walk on that island instead. We have wheels on our
dinghy which helps us to pull it up on a beach, but when we put them down and
approached this beach, the area just beyond the sand was soft sticky mud, and
our wheels got stuck. It was a bit of an ordeal trying to get the dinghy
ashore with our feet also getting stuck in the mud. This was not what
the doctor ordered for Jan's toe! Fortunately, it had healed enough to suffer
no ill effects from the adventure, and we eventually made it ashore and
did our walk. The other concern we had was that we were in
crocodile country, so we didn't really want to be hanging out in the water,
but happily, there were no crocs present that day.
Heather & Jan at the "HMS Dart 1899" rock
carving, the legacy of a
naval ship that visited here to collect water from the wells on Flinders
Margaret Bay (July 16 -
17). After spending the night at the Flinders Group, we left early the
next morning for an overnight passage to Margaret Bay (164 nm, 1 day + 4½
hours). We spent a day here, and although there was a walk ashore, we
opted to stay aboard Slip Away and work on a couple of boat issues.
On our passage here, the problem with our VHF
radio had started up again. While we were in Cairns, Rich had gone up
the main mast and cleaned the antenna connection, and we thought that solved
the problem because the radio had been working since then. Electronics
problems can often times be attributed to corrosion in the connections,
especially because they are subjected to some pretty harsh conditions.
However, because we weren't sure if that would solve the problem, we purchased
a spare VHF radio. We were able to order our exact same model from Amazon.com and have it
shipped to us at the marina in Cairns. Even if the problem was not
the radio, we figured that it wouldn't hurt to have a spare VHF on
board. Rich installed the new radio
here in Margaret Bay, and we had our fingers crossed that would solve the problem,
but it did not. So, we needed to replace our VHF antenna, and we weren't
smart enough to purchase a spare one of those.
Underway to Margaret Bay with s.v. Evergreen on a rare light-wind
Fishing boats with which we shared the anchorage at Margaret Bay
|Horn Island / Thursday Island
(July 18 - 19). From Margaret Bay, we sailed north on the final leg of our journey along the
Australian Coast. We passed through the narrow Albany Passage (timing it
right for 2 - 2.5 knots of favorable current), then sailed "over the top"
of Cape York and on to the anchorage at Horn Island, just across Ellis
Channel from Thursday Island (109 nm, 19 hours). The anchorage at
Horn wasn't ideal - it was crowded with rally boats, holding wasn't great,
and there was quite a bit of current, which changed directions with the
tides - a recipe for dragging anchors. But, overall the fleet did a
very good job of managing the situation, and we all kept an eye on each
others' boats, which proved to be quite useful when a couple of boats'
anchors dragged while the owners were not on board.
We were aware that there was a
chandlery at TI and were hopeful that we might be able to pick up the new VHF antenna there,
but unfortunately, our timing was off because we
were arriving TI late on Saturday afternoon, and the chandlery was closed on
Sunday. However, we spoke via the SSB radio to Jorge (s.v. Don Leon)
who was going to the chandlery on Saturday morning, and he volunteered to see
what he could find for us. Rich gave him the specifications of what he
wanted, and Jorge was not able to find an exact match, but he found one that
would work for us temporarily. Thank you Jorge!!
Slip Away approaching the Albany
Thursday Island was quite
different from the other areas of Australia we had visited - it was less
"first-world", dry and dusty and not particularly appealing, so we didn't have
a huge desire to hang out here for long. There was no swimming here
because there were crocs - we saw a big one sunning himself on the beach during the day.
Nevertheless, we needed to take care of some business here. We scheduled
an appointment with Customs on TI to do our clearance paperwork on Monday afternoon,
and that morning we went ashore on Horn Island to take care of a few errands. Rich went off in one
direction to get our diesel jerry jugs filled - since we'd had such great
sailing winds coming up the coast, we didn't need a lot of fuel, but we wanted
to top off our tanks before leaving for Indonesia. Jan went off in
another direction to drop off some laundry to be done at a local guesthouse.
After our busy morning, we caught the 11:30 a.m. ferry from Horn Island
to TI, and found a cafe on TI where we enjoyed lunch
with Gerrit & Anne-Mieke (s.v. Fruit de Mer) and Jon & Heather (s.v.
Evergreen). After lunch, we walked around TI for a bit, and from a
hilltop, we could see smoke from a fire on Horn Island. The fire was far enough away
from the anchorage that there
was no danger to the boats, but the smoke was blowing right through the
anchorage, and we could foresee a very smoky and smelly
Crowded anchorage at Horn Island
View from Thursday Island looking across Ellis Channel to Horn Island
with smoke from the bush fire blowing toward the anchorage
Slip Away and
Evergreen had late afternoon appointments scheduled with Australia
Customs, but we ended up showing up at their office an hour ahead of time.
As we had hoped, they had enough time between scheduled appointments that they
were able to squeeze us in. The rally did a good job of organizing an
efficient check-out process here because we completed most of the Customs
forms in Cairns, so checkout was easy and went quickly. After finishing
with Customs, we stopped at the grocery store and bought as much fresh produce
as we could find (although it was slim pickings!), as well as a loaf of bread
(sold frozen on TI) and some pricey eggs. We caught the ferry back to
Horn Island, and Jon and Rich hung out with the groceries in the dinghies,
while Heather and Jan walked through the smoke-filled dirt roads to pick up
the laundry. Fortunately, the guesthouse dried the laundry in a dryer,
so it didn't smell like smoke.
The smoke in the anchorage that
night and the next morning was not dangerous, but it was quite
unpleasant. The next morning, Rich decided to take advantage of the free
fresh water available at the ferry dock and hauled several jerry jugs to save
some watermaker run time, but after doing so, his throat was sore and he was feeling nauseous. We
didn't really want to leave until early afternoon because we wanted to time
our departure with an outgoing tide rather
than fight a strong adverse current. However, we had a few moments when we
questioned whether fighting a current was worse than breathing the smoke!
Finally, in the early afternoon, it was time to go. We were the last
boat to leave the anchorage that day, although there were a few who
weren't leaving until the next day. It didn't take long once we left the
anchorage to get out of the smoke, and then we enjoyed a very fast ride.
As we sailed across Normanby Sound, our boat speed was reading 6.5 knots, but
our speed over ground was 11.1 - woo hoo!
We said our good-byes to
Australia as we sailed off. We'd just spent over eight months in the land of
OZ, and with the exception of that smoky send-off, it had been an awesome time!
As we sailed
across the South Pacific over the past few years, Australia was a bit of a question mark for us.
Although we wanted to visit Australia, we had some reservations.
First, there was the cost.
Everything we heard told us that Australia is an expensive place to visit. A few years ago, the Australian dollar was quite strong and was
worth more than the American dollar. In 2012, the ratio was AUD $1.05 to USD $1. But we
were quite fortunate in our timing, as the Australian dollar dropped in value shortly before our
visit (AUD 88 cents to USD $1 when we arrived) and continued to decline while we
were there (AUD 77 cents to USD $1 when we left), which made things a bit less
We'd also heard some negative
reports about Australian Customs from other cruising sailors. More
than one person told us that Australian
Customs treated incoming international yachts poorly, literally tearing their
boats apart when they arrived. There may have been some small shred of
truth to those rumors ten or more years ago, but Australian Customs has worked
on improving their image, and recent reports were much more positive.
Before sailing to Australia, we familiarized ourselves with their requirements
and followed their rules. We provided the appropriate "Advance Notice of
Arrival" to Customs, applied for and secured our visitor visas on-line, brought
in only the amount of liquor they allowed and consumed all of our fresh produce
and meats before arrival and/or surrendered any leftovers. When we arrived in Bundaberg, the Agriculture Officer was very thorough in his inspection
of our boat (looking for "exotic" termites), but he did not tear our boat apart.
The Customs Officers were very friendly, did their paperwork and went on their
way, just asking that we inform them of our whereabouts every 90 days (which we
did). Overall, our experience with Customs and Quarantine was very
And, dealing with Australia's Immigration Department was quite easy and not
restrictive as a lot of places we've visited. Most of the countries we have visited offer a 90-day
visitor visa upon entry, which sometimes can, and sometimes cannot, be extended. We were able to secure a one-year
multiple-entry visa to visit Australia, and we did it all
on-line. The on-line application was lengthy, but not difficult, and the
cost was USD $123 per person, which we thought was very reasonable.
So, in the end, we decided not
only to visit Australia, but also to stay for an extended amount of time.
Some of the highlights of
Australia for us included sailing into Sydney Harbour, the unusual wildlife and
beautiful birds, and swimming with Minke Whales on our Great Barrier Reef dive
trip. We also found the history of this British Colony to be very
interesting. Prior to visiting Australia, both of us read Bryce
Courtenay's historical fiction trilogy - The Potato Factory, Tommo & Hawk
and Solomon's Song, which gave us an introduction to this "convict colony." A
few museum visits provided more information, although we have still
barely scratched the surface.
We are completely sincere,
however, when we say that the best part of Australia is its people.
Aussies are some of the friendliest and most hospitable people we've ever met.
The Aussie hospitality started when we arrived in Bundaberg, when Al & Glenda
(friends of friends) showed up at our boat to welcome us and offered to show us
around Bundy. Our friends Peter & Laura in Redcliffe loaned us
their car and bicycles, helped us run errands and hosted several fun get-togethers
and meals at their home. And, the holiday gatherings in Sydney with the Kyd and Rayne families were absolutely wonderful. This past year's Christmas
& New Year celebrations will always be a special memory for us. We
also found a few more new friends - Gary & Wendy from the marina in Newport and Fiona
& Greg in Airlie Beach. We were amazed at how kind complete strangers were
to us in this Land of OZ. Even in Sydney, a city of over 4 million people, if we ever stopped
on the street to look at our map, someone always stopped and asked if they could
help us find our way. Really - it happened every single time! How
nice is that?!
When we first started cruising,
our focus was mostly on visiting tropical islands and less developed countries.
We still enjoy visiting those destinations and have seen some incredible and
remote places, but to be honest, we have also really come to enjoy sailing Slip
Away to first-world countries. Traveling in less developed countries
generally comes with more challenges, so the first-world gives us a break from
that. We appreciate the ease of finding
boat parts and making repairs, the wide variety and good quality of fresh
produce and other grocery items, safe drinking water from a tap, clean public
toilets, good roads, hiking trails which are well marked and maintained, and
many other things that we often take for granted.
First world countries usually also
come with a lot of rules, and Australia was no exception to that. They are
quite possibly the world leader when it comes to rules and regulations - even
worse than the U.S.! When we reserved a mooring at Cammeray Marina in
Sydney, they sent us a four-page contract with incredibly small print - by far
the most detailed marina contract we've ever had to sign. Also, scuba
diving in Australia is big business, and they've developed the most regulated
diving industry in the world. They required Rich to get a "Dive Medical"
(physical) before they would let him dive because he takes medications to
control his blood pressure and cholesterol. Certified divers with asthma
should not even bother to come to Australia to dive because it's unlikely that
they will let you dive. But, that said, the crew on the dive boat was very
thorough in their checks to make sure that they left no one behind, at one point
commenting that they didn't want Hollywood making any more bad movies about
With regard to costs, we found the
stories of how expensive Australia is to be somewhat exaggerated, but a lot
depends on what you're used to. Compared to Mexico, Australia is extremely
expensive. Australia is also generally more expensive than the U.S.
(depending on where you live). But, we've spent the past three Southern
Hemisphere summers in New Zealand, and with some exceptions (such as labor
rates, marina fees and beer), we found most things in Australia (food, clothing,
fuel) to be a little cheaper than New Zealand. Also, as Americans, we
found Australian healthcare (a nationalized, one-payer system) to be affordable,
even though we were paying out-of-pocket. And, we were very pleasantly
surprised to find that Rich's hypertension and cholesterol medications were
cheaper here than anywhere in the world!
We could keep going on about our
impressions of Australia, but then this page would never end. But, these
are just some of the ones that come to mind and that we've commented on when
we've talked to others about our time there. We are absolutely happy with
our decision to visit Australia and stay for over eight months. In fact,
we would have liked to stay longer because there's so much we didn't see.
But time is marching on (actually feels like it's sprinting), and we've set a
goal to complete our circumnavigation by 2018, so we need to pick up the pace.