Cairns and the Whitsundays

Cruising Cairns and the Whitsunday's

When I left off last time we were in Cairns with a broken anchor winch that was all fixed, nevertheless we ended up staying in Cairns for 3 weeks, whilst there we managed to get lots of work done on the boat. We had our engines taken out and serviced, Rudy overhauled the all other winches, we cleaned, we polished and Tiata was ready for our next adventure, south to the Whitsunday’s for Christmas…..

We had a marvelous time in Cairns, we caught up with, and made new friends and we hired a car for a couple of days to explore the hinterland. The first day we actually ended up joining a friend, Bruce we’d met at Lizard Island who had also hired a car and his being a Mercedes and ours being a very little Getz we where happy to join him. We headed north stopping of at Yorkey’s Knob, taking in the wonderfully scenic coast road. From there we headed up the range stopping off at a peculiar little diner at Mt Molloy with ‘killer’ hamburgers before making our way up to the magnificent Barron falls.

The next morning Rudy and I were off again, we jumped into the diminutive Getz, not as flash or spacious as the Mercedes but it was new, air-conditioned and red… We decided to head south to Innisfail which was still draped in tarpaulin, a sad reminder of the cyclone early in the year and still so much to do. From there we headed up the range following what is known as the ‘waterfall trail’.
Along the way we saw our first Cassowary in the wild, what an amazing bird. We stopped off at some beautiful falls all of which full, invigorating and just a short walk from the road. From there we made our way to Ravenshoe which has Queensland largest wind farm, giving power to about 3500 houses, it is an awesome sight to drive over the hill to be faced by these slow turning giants.
By now we were ready for a break so we made our way to Atherton Tablelands and to Atherton for lunch and a stroll before making our way to the lakes district.
Most of the lakes looked only about half full, a vast difference from the abundant falls we had just seen. We stopped off for many a walk seeing a couple of very impressive Fig trees. In Mount Hypipamee National Park which is a World Heritage listed park. It has this amazing a volcanic pipe, formed when a volcanic vent exploded violently creating a sheer-sided crater. This gaping hole is 70 metres wide with sheer granite sides that plunge 58 metres to the lake below. The lake itself is 82 metres deep! You look way down to the vibrant green still water below; it doesn’t look like anything could live in but as truly spectacular as nature is, a range of creatures survive in this amazing environment. (see below, top left)

Cairns is beautiful, there is a wonderful boardwalk that looks out over the bay bursting with a vast array of birdlife, there is a huge funky pool that is a great place to cool off on a hot day with great facilities for a BBQ, it’s delightful and always very popular. The gardens are, I can only say, spectacular, there are many fantastic choices of places to eat and Cairns is surrounded by the most beautiful mountains you feel as though your in a big cuddle. We headed down to the Whitsunday’s for Christmas but decided to come back to Cairns in January to sit out the cyclone season.
The Whitsunday’s
The northerlies set in just as we were heading south, which was great luck and we made quick passage to Zoe Bay on Hinchenbrook Island arriving on the second day by early afternoon which gave Rudy plenty of time to cook up a roast on our new Cobb Oven – yummy.. Zoe Bay being south-east facing (the winds predominately blow from the southeast) is very dependant on the weather; it’s a lovely bay with rainforest reaching the beach. At the north of the bay you can edge your way up the river which is lovely and protected and on the south there is a track to a beautiful waterfall.

We awoke the following day to beautiful weather and light winds blowing from the north/east, we set up the spinnaker and it was a full 10 hours before we had to take it down, we had a beautiful day lazing on the decks we even had a BBQ while sailing and the ocean was lovely and flat, later that afternoon and after hearing that the weather was to change for the worse over the next few days we decided to do an all-nighter to get us to Bowen and the north of the Whitsunday’s before they arrived.

After changing our sails to prepare for the shifting winds and to settle in for the night, we were happily treated to a breathtaking sunset and moon rise. The colours of the sinking sun, was just awesome and the rise of the full moon, marvellous… we were guided by the light of the moon over the quiet seas.

Rudy did most of the watch though he did go down for a few quick naps, we had plenty of snacks and treats to help us go the distance – you have to have treats……. By early morning the winds began to swing around and we were treated to some gorgeous predawn slop, and after a beautiful run the last 10 nautical miles were slowwww…. We approached Bowen by early morning. We set the anchor then we both went down for a well-deserved nap.

We were up just before lunch and as we knew of a great café just off the beach just near Queens Bay we jumped in the tender and headed ashore only to be treated to a “closed” sign. And with not another café in sight we decided to refuel and water up, and by early noon we headed off to Cape Gloucester which was only a quick nip across the bay.
We awoke the next the next morning and the winds, as promised had picked up to a brisk 20/30 knots. Therefore, it we decided to head north to the next bay just off the mainland called “Double Bay South”. There are several lovely bays on the coastline, which make there way down to Airlie Beach. There we were protected from the blowing winds. It was cloudy with light showers, but it was warm and Rudy cooked up an amazing lunch and then we sat and played scrabble while looking out over the cloud-sheathed mountains of the Whitsunday Islands.
For next few days the winds stayed brisk and from the south-east so we had fun playing around the northern end of Hook Island, we stayed in beautiful butterfly bay, normally a very sort out spot (as there are only a set number of moorings up in the bay) but being a couple of weeks before Christmas the Whitsunday’s was delightfully quite with very few boats around, we did some snorkelling at Manta Ray Bay which has some of the best prettiest reef and beautiful fish in the area. We were greeted by a flurry of beautifully coloured fish and to our delight a gorgeous enormous Maori Wrasse which was at least 4 feet long, if not more, he played with us around the boat before we headed in beach and went for a lovely snorkel.

Clouds were building and the winds were blowing so we set sail making our way down the west side of Hook Island and into Nara Inlet. Nara is a lovely long narrow fjord and a protected refuge in strong weather. We spent a couple of days here enjoying the peace and tranquillity and spent our time exploring the area.

There is an aboriginal cave with paintings and from there you can make your way to the top of a waterfall, dry at the time we were there as it only flows in wet weather or after a heavy downfall. Whilst enjoying our sojourn I decided to take up rowing our tender for exercise and to have a real close look this beautiful area.

I began rowing down the very end of the Inlet, beautiful and so quite. I came across a hammerhead shark, then another and another, there was about 6 or so and one biggy (about the size of my boat) which swam towards me a few times – “I suppose for a bit of a look at me as I was watching him”, it was lovely to be so close, as they lazily swam about.

I also caught sight of numerous turtles, plenty of fish and eagles soaring overhead, the day overcast and showery. I went back in the afternoon at low tide to see if the sharks were still there, and yes they were but out in deeper water. It’s quite rocky but at low tide I was able to find a stop that wasn’t to covered in rocks and oyster shells to drag the tender out of the water and to go for a bit of an explore in the bush, where I entered it was the end of the valley the ground steep, strewn with huge boulders. It was quite, so very quiet with only the sound of an occasional call of a bird in the distance. I eventually made my way back out and climbed the rocks which gave me superb view right up the channel.

The weather was looking grim for the next couple of days, so now seemed as good as time as any to head into Airlie Beach for some reprovisioning of supplies and water. We anchored off the Airlie Beach Yacht Club, which allows dingy access. We did what we had to do and enjoyed a couple of meals out and then after a few days the blustery weather started ease up. There was a hint of some light northerly’s in the coming days, so we slowly made out way south stopping along the way. Staying a couple of nights at Cid Harbour, Whitehaven Beach and on to Thomas Island which is in the southern group of the Whitsunday’s. With the promised light northerly winds and dazzling weather, we headed to the islands southern anchorages.

We didn’t see another boat for the next 3 days the weather glorious we played around Bill bob and Turtle Bay’s like new born babes dancing around paradise, we explored beaches, we swam, we walked, the water so clear, so blue, we fed eagles.....

The days moved on in a slow dreamy pace and we meandered our way around the Islands, the weather stunning, we began making a slow passage back to Airlie for a few last Christmas treats; the weather was looking great for Christmas period with more light northerlies so we decided to head back to gorgeous Turtle Bay off Whitsunday Island.

We awoke Christmas to a beautiful day, the water still and clear, I started the day with a row around the bay spotting many fish, turtles and even a couple of reef sharks. Rudy had organised a roast and potato salad for Christmas lunch so was eager to get started so after a divine swim he was into it, we have a cobb oven which works with heat beads thus it was one of those long slow roasts. We had a lovely relaxing lunch which was delicious and long with lots of cooling swims and by early afternoon, as the weather was so beautiful we decided hoist the sail and have an afternoon sail around Whitsunday Island, sailing past the white sands of Whitehaven beach then with a bit of a wind change we put up the spinnaker to be lazily blown around the Island – definitely a Christmas to remember.

We had organised ourselves a Christmas treat, a stay at Palm Bay Resort on Long Island where you moor in a little bay that has room for only 5 boats through a narrow channel and the tie your vessel stern to a palm tree, It’s a intimate style boutique hotel with only 21 bungalows all facing the bay, we had to pay a little mooring fee (compared to the price to stay) and we had full use of all the facilities and we did.. We lounged around the pool drinking exotic cocktails and that night we had a gorgeous meal in the restaurant – it was too good.
We left Long Island after a lovely stay and started our journey north back to Cairns we stopped to re-provision the boat in Airlie before heading north, we stopped at Townsville for New Year’s Eve, it was a very hot and steamy day and we went for a walk along the boardwalk and stopped of at the pub for a couple of early new year drinks. We enjoyed a nice night with front row seats for the early fireworks and then the skies opened and it poured and poured and poured for about 4 hours, in that time we filled 4 buckets of water form the run off from our tarp. We headed off early the next morning and made our way to Opherous Island for an overnight stop then onto Dunk Island which we stayed for a couple days.

At Dunk Island there is a fantastic bar/restaurant on the beach which serves lovely light meals and the views we looked out over the water, there are lovely walks on the island and the butterflies are beautiful and numerous and true to the Dunk Island logo the electric blue Ulysses butterfly was plentiful and fast.

From Dunk we had a long day’s sail to Fitzroy Island which is only an hour from Cairns we were booked in at the marina on the 8th so we still had a couple of days to play with and the weather being beautiful and calm it wasn’t hard to take. we stayed at Fitzroy of a couple of days then decided to spend a night on the reef, we left Fitzroy early morning and made our way across to Green Island and luckily when we got there it wasn’t as busy as we had expected it to be and even better there was a mooring that we were able to tie to. Green Island is a coral cay, which is a sand island that has built up over 1000’s of years; it a very popular tourist spot so weren’t sure what to expect.

There’s plenty to do on Green Island we started by walking around the Island spotting many birds from egrets, doves, pigeons, pheasants there is also a Crocodile farm which was started in the 1970’s by George Craig after a career of croc hunting in Papua and New Guinea’s Fly river, it was very quirky filled with many relic’s from P/NG, the crocs were fit and feisty as we happened to be there on feeding time (Rudy’s now definitely wanting a tinny or hard bottomed boat before heading north) and boy did they put on a show; there were also turtles, tropical fish, crocs, crocs and more crocs. After such an active morning we had a lovely lunch at the resort on the island then we went back to the boat for a bit of a snorkel.
We arrived back in Cairns the next morning it was lovely to get back to what will be our home for the next few months, my brother and his family were also heading up for a holiday so we were looking forward to taking them out on a sail. The day we organised to take them out was perfect 5 – 10 knots, we decided to head down to Fitzroy Island and had a lovely trip out, we had a great day snorkelling, swimming, exploring the Island and a yummy BBQ after a full day we were able to have a bit of a sail back a delightful day was had by all.

So after a wonderful Christmas we are now knuckling down for the summer, hopefully picking up a bit of work and getting the boat organized to undertake our next journey in which we plan to head north to the Torres Strait, across the Gulf of Carpentaria to Darwin, the Timor sea and on to Broome – another escapade in the making….
We have had an extraordinary year filled with many wonders; so far we have knocked up 3028 nautical miles (5605km) since leaving Brisbane in May 2006 and look forward to amassing many more through out the year.