05 June 2016 | Refuge Bay
21 May 2016 | Port Bundaberg Marina
06 May 2016 | Brisbane, Australia
05 April 2016 | Brisbane, Australia
28 October 2015 | Noumea, New Caledonia
10 October 2015 | Port Vila, Vanuatu
27 September 2015 | Lamen Bay, Epi Island
26 June 2016
In 1770 Captain Cook and his crew approached an Island of beautiful bays, forested hillsides and smooth, massive, granite boulders. Struggling with the ship's compass to get a proper fix on its location, he remarked that it was 'magnetical'. And history was set. Known for centuries as Yunbenun by the Aborigines, the European settlers renamed it Magnetic Island. Regardless of any historical judgment, we can certainly attest to its magnetic properties. We found it difficult to pull ourselves away.
Horseshoe Bay has excellent protection from the winter tradewinds. The wind may have been howling just around the corner, but in the anchorage, it was flat calm. We didn't exactly have the place to ourselves but the bay is so large, that there was plenty of room. 'Maggie' is a popular holiday destination and is so close to Townsville that it's considered a suburb.
Of course with the tourists and locals on weekend getaways comes development. But just the right amount. There are plenty of amenities but miles and miles of unspoiled natural beauty (over half of the Island is a National Park). We hiked numerous well marked trails (which we shared with hundreds of tiny 'skinks' [lizards], and even spotted a koala bear!), and visited some of the most beautiful beaches we've seen anywhere (a couple of which even have shark nets so they're swimmable!). We rode the bus to Nelly Bay to check out the main town and the Marina (for future consideration... very nice).
We stayed long enough to be able to order our favorite dishes without a menu at our favorite beachside pub. This is definitely one of our favorite places so far.
But we still have lots to see and do, so it wasn't easy, but we somehow managed to peel ourselves away from its magnetic charm.
Change in Plans
22 June 2016
After years of cruising we should know better than to commit to anything in writing. As they say, sailors' plans are written in sand. But this time it had nothing to do with the weather or just a fickle change of heart. Our 3 month tourist visa was coming due and we needed to leave the country for a short time to 're-set the clock' for another 3 months if we wanted to stay longer. Our travel agent recommended Townsville as a convenient location to fly out of for a short, inexpensive getaway. So we high-tailed it from the Whitsundays to Townsville and flew to Bali for a few days - definitely the oddest travel circumstance either of us have ever had. Our mini 'forced' holiday to this exotic paradise involved hopping on a flight at 01:30am (on a discount airline. Sometimes you get what you pay for....), checking into our room an hour before sunrise, and lazing around our resort (gorgeous and very good value compared to the airline) for a whole day and a half before being shuttled back to the airport for another overnight flight back to Townsville. We were reluctant to leave our boat unattended for any longer, so unfortunately, our trip was brief and our only exposure to Bali's rich culture, traditions and tropical scenery was limited to within the walls of our resort. Perhaps another time...
Doing the Town in Townsville
18 June 2016
OK, we're in Townsville. I know we said we were going to kick back in the Whitsundays for a couple of months, but we're 135 nautical miles North. And there's a good reason for that, which I'll explain later.
As soon as we checked into the marina in Townsville we slipped into walking shoes and headed into town to explore. It was a Saturday afternoon so we looked forward to immersing ourselves in the hustle and bustle of the locals' weekend activities.
How were we to know that everything shuts down at noon on Saturday? Instead of the hustle and bustle we expected, we found ourselves in the eerie quiet of deserted streets, with the wind picking up dust and blowing the odd plastic bag past locked, shuttered storefronts. Things got even more interesting when a siren started blaring and a police car screeched to a stop across the street. After a heated interaction, a Main Street 'resident' was scooped up and hauled away in the back seat of the police car.
Not the best first impression but we weren't about to give up yet. We eventually found a breezeway where a few restaurants were opening up for the evening, so we stopped in for a drink. We had a great time watching fashionably hip locals trickle in, eventually amassing into a vibrant crowd out celebrating the weekend.
Shops may be closed on the weekend, but the Aquarium wasn't, nor was the movie theatre. So Sunday morning we headed out again. We checked out 'Reef HQ', which is apparently the world's largest living reef aquarium. The coral exhibits were outstanding, as was the range of marine life, but what really made our visit memorable were the knowledgable, informative staff. Our visit re-ignited our enthusiasm about snorkeling the reefs (and reinforced my obsession with protecting against the various poisonous and lethal predators here. Yikes!)
Next on our agenda: a stroll along the 'Strand' seaside walkway, where we passed at least 100 fully uniformed soldiers marching in the hot mid-day sun with their heavy gear. A group of Harley riders made their anti-establishment message clear, revving their engines as they rode down the street. An impressive war memorial for the 'Battle of the Coral Sea' is situated at the end of the Strand, where, among other exhibits, a cleverly designed schematic diagram of the routes and key events of the WW11 battle between the Japanese and Allied forces is carved into the sidewalk. The military presence here is amplified by fighter jets that frequently roar across the sky in unison, helicopters that dart into and (just as quickly out of) view, and the navy vessels that we've spotted from time to time during our passage North.
The third item on our To-Do List was to hike up Castle Hill. We hardly needed directions as the towering, steep faced red hill is the city's primary landmark. We crossed town to a trail at the base of the hill. For the next couple of hours we hiked up seemingly endless sets of granite steps and along steep, heart-stopping cliffside paths to the top. The stunning panoramic view made it all worthwhile, and after snapping off a few photos we scrambled back down and across the other side of town to our final destination for the day: the movie theatre (nothing like a good comedy and a big bag of popcorn as a reward for a full day of exploring)!
Topping Up and Getting Wet
07 June 2016
We spent a productive 24 hours at20 15.85' Abell Point Marina in Airlie Bay. Included was a trip to the grocery store to get supplies, a trip to the wine store for the same, a trip to the fuel dock to feed our diesel tanks and a great evening out to get our fill of good Italian cuisine. We had to limit our visit to one day as we were informed that five million dollars of liability insurance was not enough and although we could stay one night, we would have to increase it to ten million before we could return!
The next morning's destination was Butterfly Bay back on Hook Island. This bay is located on the North side and provides good protection and minimal swell in the prevailing Southeasterly winds. On our way we crossed what seemed to be a causeway for butterflies with hundreds passing over our boat from one island to the other. We arrived around noon to find two boats we knew tided up to mooring balls. They said that they had ended off other boats trying to get the last ball and saved it for us. While grateful, I'm a bit skeptical about that story. Maybe they were hoping for some of our fresh produce as a reward.
After picking up the mooring ball and getting settled, we, for the first time in Australia, went snorkelling (I don't count the time I risked my life by putting my head under the water to check the dingy!).
Let me say at this point, we realize that we've been spoiled rotten when it comes to snorkelling, having spent the last 3 years in the South Pacific Islands where diving is spectacular. Unfortunately the visibility in Butterfly Bay was poor, partially due to the water and partially due to the time of day and limited direct sunlight. However, it was great to be in the water again and the coral formations were worth the effort. And yes we survived, even though we are constantly being told that everything in Australian waters wants to kill you!
05 June 2016 | Refuge Bay
After a couple of nights in Stonehaven Bay helping friends celebrate another birthday, we parted company and headed a short distance to Refuge (not to be confused with refuse!) Bay. This is a very well protected bay and because of its location and entrance, it provides a comfortable anchorage in winds from any direction up to 25 knots (according to our cruising guide). As the winds were supposed to pick up, it seemed like a good choice. After an uneventful, although somewhat rough trip around the Southwestern point of Hook Island, we dropped our anchor in the middle of a flat calm bay. We shared it with only two other boats.
The next morning we went out for an 'excursion' around the bay in our dingy and spent a couple of hours lazily rowing in and out of mini bays that make up the shoreline. This was the kind of cruising we had hoped for. At one point while drifting along the dead silence, Kim commented 'Do you hear that humming?'. Indeed I did and initially thought it was the sound of an outboard somewhere in the inlet. However, on further investigation we determined it was coming from our dingy.
We knew we'd had a small leak in one of the pontoons for some time (due to the need to intermittently pump it up). But to this point we were unable to find its source. This provided a perfect opportunity to investigate and we found a few bubbles coming up at the stern of the dingy, suggesting the leak was on the bottom of the pontoon. Now it was just a matter of pinpointing it.
When we returned to Exit Strategy Kim 'kindly' got my diving mask (not hers) and I stuck my head under the water to look at the bottom of the pontoon. (Did I tell you this bay used to be called Shark Bay and the guide book advises against swimming?) Luckily I was quickly able to find the leak by a tiny trail of bubbles, and came up with my head intact! The trick was to find a way to mark the hole so I could patch it (as it had been impossible to locate when the dingy was out of the water).
Two years earlier our daughter had given me a "space pen" for Christmas. Luckily one of the features of this pen is that it writes underwater! So again Kim kindly got me the space pen as I sat in the dingy. As advertised the pen marked a circle around the leak while underwater with ease. Again my head broke the surface intact. No sharks in sight. The patch was applied a few days later and all is well.
We spent a couple more days in this tranquil setting but then being short of provisions and fuel, we headed tor Airlie Bay Marina to top up.
A Great Barrier Birthday
02 June 2016
We fast-tracked our trip North to celebrate Toms Birthday in The Whitsunday Islands and catch up with friends that we met in Mexico and French Polynesia years ago. Its amazing how small the world has become - wherever we go we seem to be reconnecting with friends we've met somewhere along the way during our travels. Makes us feel very lucky.
Now that we've reached the Whitsundays we feel like we've finally arrived, as this is the Australian experience we were looking forward to. Situated at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays are touted to be Australia's best cruising grounds. Our glimpse so far: we're attached to a nice secure mooring ball in a picturesque bay, surrounded by warm turquoise water fringed by green hillsides. A perfect snorkeling reef is a short swimming distance away, and there are great hiking trails close by.
It doesn't get much better than this!