When we left Keppel Bay Marina around 8:30 am on Saturday (10th July), we were optimistic that the winds would stay southeasterly and sufficient strong to carry us all the way to Magnetic Island. By mid-afternoon our confidence was starting to flag and the sails were beginning to flog with insufficient wind to keep them inflated as Tregoning rolled on the swell. Bother! So, we furled the jib and dropped the mainsail and started the motor, which was not an encouraging beginning to the passage. However, by 10 pm the wind had returned and we never looked back, sailing happily past Shoalwater Bay in the dark.
During the afternoon, we had a brief chat with Lynne and Andrew (SV Mischief) who were in Townsville. They were planning to return to Flinders Reef (which they had enjoyed on their Rally) with two other boats to capitalize on the predicted calm weather later in the week. They were expecting to leave Magnetic Island on the very day we were scheduled to arrive there. So, did we want to take a direct course to Flinders and meet them there? This was going to depend on our progress, tiredness, and conditions outside the Great Barrier Reef.
During Sunday we saw the spouts and tails of our first whales of the winter migratory season which was exciting. It also makes sailing at night a little tenser. We had intended to go inside (west of) the Whitsunday Islands as this was a slightly shorter route that would be sheltered from the swell. After having to hand-steer to stay downwind just enough to get past Wigton Island, however, we decided to stay outside the Whitsundays, where fewer gybes would be required to dodge islands during the night.
Some of the many islands to be avoided in the southern Whitsundays
At 4 am on Monday, I was startled by a very loud groaning right alongside Tregoning. I knew it was not a boat noise so I concluded that it had to be whale, but it was too dark to see. I heard the sound twice more at increasing distances behind us, so we probably came very close to a sleeping whale.
Later that day, we gybed to cut west on the south side of Hook Reef, then back and forth to stay out of the busy shipping lane. Looking at the forecasts for 20 knot winds, we decided that it was a bit windy for going outside the GBR to get to Flinders Reef. Also, we would be disappointed if we arrived there to find that Lynne and Andrew had decided not to go, plus we wanted to see Anita and Mike on SV Curried Oats before they moved on. So, we let Mischief know that we were still heading to Magnetic Island.
Passing close to one of the many ships anchored off Mackay
We passed Cape Bowling Green during the third night, and after gybing at the 2 am change in watch, we were able to hold that course all the way to Magnetic Island. Thus, we sailed into Horseshoe Bay at noon without having to make another gybe. We found about 50 boats anchored in the large bay including SV Mischief with the crippled Lynne (badly sprained ankle) and Andrew, waving and calling out greetings. They had decided that her ankle was not fit for the passage to Flinders and she probably could not snorkel much without hurting it further. We anchored just in front of them, beside Curried Oats. Anita and Mike soon swung by in their dinghy as they returned from shore. After catching-up, they left us to finish our initial clear-up, lunch, nap, and take much-needed showers. Overall, we were very pleased with the passage and lucky with the wind.
After a GOOD night's sleep, we watched Mischief and some other boats leave to visit the inner reefs during the calm weather. It was very tempting to go with them, but we needed to get a few things done while we had good access to the internet. Also, we really like Magnetic Island and hated to dash away immediately. So, to get the season's first dose of the island, after we rinsed the salt water off Tregoning's stainless steel, Bimini windows, and cove-stripe, we went ashore to meet Anita and Mike for a lovely lunch at The Early Bird Café.
Lunch with Anita, Mike, and Randall
We then all took a slow bird-watching walk around the village, even though midday is not the ideal time for seeing birds. We identified 25 species and found the short Butterfly Track through some woods which, surprisingly, none of us had visited before. Here, between June and September, many blue tiger, purple crow, and common crow butterflies rest in trees for their winter diapause.
Left: Blue tiger and common crow butterflies - Right: purple crow butterflies
On leaving the Butterfly Track, we noticed a koala sleeping in a tree overhanging Heath Street. We wandered across the main road to visit the Horseshoe Bay Lagoon Conservation Park, and in both areas we saw several wallabies feeding. These were probably agile wallabies which are larger than the Island's allied rock wallabies (which also live in rockier areas) but not as large as the common wallaroos which also occur on the island. Wait a minute...wallaroos? This is yet another type of jumparoo, between kangaroo and wallaby in size and they are nocturnal, so maybe this is why we have not heard of them before. We may need to see them all together in an identity parade (police lineup) in order of diminishing size to have any hope of learning which jumparoo is which...that
would be a challenge to organize.
A black-necked stork or jabiru (to 115 cm or 45 inches tall)
In the Park's lagoon we found several magpie geese, Pacific black ducks, and a single black-necked stork or jabiru. We suspect that the latter bird was the same individual that we saw there last year. Rather disturbingly, the wetland to the west of the pond was covered with the green aquatic fern, giant salvinia (Salvinia molesta
). A native of southeastern Brazil, this noxious weed has become invasive in many parts of the world, and it was disappointing to see it here. We will have to see if Hillary can help us find out who locally might need to know about this infestation.
A dense layer of giant salvinia floating on the Horseshoe Bay wetland
Even more curious was what Anita noticed on a couple of dead trees. There were large holes in the bark in various stages of production, with partly cut discs of bark up high, and shed discs on the ground below.
A dead tree with discs of bark missing (left) or partially removed (upper right)
In addition to the neat removal of the discs of bark, there appeared to be a hole in the middle of the revealed wood and in some of these there appeared to be filaments of wood that were "poking out" or "stuffed in".
Yellow arrows point to bark discs that have fallen at the base of the tree and one of the bark-striped areas with fibers stuffed in the central hole
My immediate reaction was that this was a trick/art perpetrated by humans. But they would have had to get up high and in very awkward positions to access some of the discs. Our next guess was some sort of borer insect. I posted pictures on iNaturalist and so far only one person has commented:
"I too was amazed to see this around Trinity bch. Cairns usually on Albizia procera trees until I sighted a Cockatoo pulling out the bark of a partly made circle and chewing on it - perhaps has a liking to its taste. Don't know if insects started the job or cockatoos all along!
I do not think that it would be appropriate to dig around in the holes given that these are in a Conservation Area, so any other suggestions would be gratefully received
One of the tasks that we completed while we have good cellphone/internet access in Horseshoe Bay, was applying for our second Covid Visas. Our current ones expire at the end of July, so now that is accomplished we will not be tied to places with good coverage for the rest of the month. Medical facilities in Indonesia are in a terrible state with a massive outbreak of Covid-19, so even though we are now vaccinated, it would be dangerous and inappropriate for us to go there until the situation vastly improves, and that is unlikely to occur before the cyclone season starts in November.
In fact, Australia is having a significant outbreak of the Covid-19 delta variant, with rapidly increasing case numbers in Sydney and Melbourne, and a few cases in Brisbane. Many areas have gone into multi-week lockdowns and state borders are closing. For example, only people with exemptions can get into Queensland from NSW, and they have to stay in hotel quarantine for two weeks at their own expense. Yachts trying to cross the border have been turned back and subject to massive fines. The national government is having problems both in acquiring enough doses of the vaccine, and in convincing enough people of the need to get vaccinated.
Before we left Keppel Bay, we heard that Magnetic Island was in a three-day lockdown while contact-tracing and testing was undertaken to make sure that there had been no spread from an infected person who had recently visited the Island. That lockdown had ended, but while we were at sea, a statewide requirements for mask-wearing in public was imposed. There is also a statewide requirement to use the QLD contact-tracing app when entering almost any business, shop, restaurant, etc.
The mask-wearing requirement was relaxed on Friday morning, just in time for us to catch the bus across the Island to Nelly Bay, where we caught the ferry for the 20-minute passage to Townsville. We were joined on this expedition by Anita and Mike who had only driven through Townsville before. Randall had never been, and I had no recollection of my brief visit in 1982, so we were all open to a day of discovery.
Castle Hill - Cootharinga looms over Townsville as seen from the ferry
Of several Aboriginal groups that originally inhabited the Townsville region, the Wulgurukaba claim to be the traditional owners of the Townsville city area, at the mouth of the Ross River. Settlers arrived in the mid-1800s and declared the town a municipality in 1866. It was named after Robert Towns, otherwise, as Randall asked, wouldn't towns-ville be rather redundant? He visited only once for three days but provided ongoing financial assistance to the new settlement. The town initially developed around livestock, sugar, and cotton production. It is the largest Australian city north of the Sunshine Coast (Mooloolaba area), with a population of more than 180,000 (about 30,000 more than Cairns).
Townsville's Customs House, completed in 1902 in the Federation Free Style
The area is in the dry tropics with a tropical savannah climate, significantly drier than the rest of the eastern coastal tropics of Queensland. This is because of the surrounding topography, with mountain ranges circling around the west side of the city. However, just 50 nm further north, coastal rains are shed on the mountainous Hinchinbrook Island which receives some of Australia's highest rainfalls.
Townsville was a major base for Australian and American forces in World War II. At least 70,000 servicemen and women were based there or passed through the town, which at that time had a population of around 30,000, of which 5-7,000 evacuated elsewhere. Many ships were anchored in Cleveland Bay between Cleveland Headland, Magnetic Island, and the mainland around Townsville. In May 1942, the Battle of the Coral Sea was fought northeast and east of Townsville in which Allied naval and air forces repelled a Japanese invasion force that was heading for the key Allied base in Port Moresby, New Guinea. A few months later, Japanese flying boats bombed Townsville but caused little damage. The town remains an important military base and during our stay at Magnetic Island, a large joint Australian and American exercise was being undertaken just north of us, with Chinese spy ships reported to be just outside Australian territorial waters.
Sunset seen from Horseshoe Bay with the USS Alan Shepard anchored in the distance
The pink granite monolith of Cootharinga, was named Castle Hill in 1864, apparently after a similar hill in Dublin or on the Isle of Man. The Hill dominates the city and is a well-loved feature of the landscape of North Queensland. There is a persistent urban myth that Americans troops posted to Townsville during WWII offered to demolish the Hill to build a causeway over to Magnetic Island.
Castle Hill's official height is 286 m (938 feet), a few meters shy of being classed in Australia as a mountain. In 1980, a high school class as a fundraising effort built a 3-m tall wooden pyramid on the top of the Hill which they filled with soil, carried up by the students in buckets. It was dismantled the next day. The group was given credit for making the hill into Castle Mountain for a day, but a note in the local paper perhaps rather diminished their accomplishment:
"The Department of Mapping and Survey yesterday put the height of Castle Hill at 275.8 metres - 18.9 metres short of the height conventionally accepted as "mountain" status."
"The Oxford Dictionary puts this height [mountain status] at 304.8 metres, or 1,000 feet
." Actually, the distinction of a mountain from a hill is arbitrary. For example, in the UK a hill has to rise 2,000 feet above the surrounding land to qualify as a mountain. Regardless, the project raised plenty of funds for the school and made a good story.
Having left the ferry terminal and found a place for coffee and other refreshments, Randall ordered a taxi to take us up Castle Hill. John soon arrived and was very willing to act as our tour-guide on the winding road to the top. There we wandered around the summit admiring the spectacular views. In addition to the modern thicket of communication towers, on the east side of the summit are the remains of an observation and communication post that overlooked Cleveland Bay during WWII.
View northeast from the summit of Castle Hill, looking over Townsville with Magnetic Island on the horizon
Turning to the inland view, we quickly realized that most of the city of Townsville is located to the west of Castle Hill. To the southwest is Stuart Mountain with a large army barracks and James Cook University at its base. Other mountains ring the plain in which the city resides. Closer to the base of Castle Hill, we could also see the road-circuit and pits for a big V8-car race that was scheduled for the weekend. Apparently, quite a few fans will watch with binoculars from where we were standing.
Looking southwest from Castle Hill with Stuart Mountain on the skyline just right of center
Once we had thoroughly sated ourselves with the stunning views, we decided to walk down the Hill. There are several footpaths of varying degrees of difficulty and arriving at different points around the base of the Hill. We started down the road (knowing that it was not particularly steep) and cut across one corner on the Erythrina Track.
Castle Hill summit seen from our walk down the road
Once we got back on the road, Randall and I noticed a rather straggly tree with strange shaped leaves. This turned out to be a plant with a bit of an identity-crisis because its common name is bat's wing coral tree. Also known as grey corkwood, Erythrina vespertilio
(hence the name of the trail) is a tree native to north and north-east Australia.
The leaves of Erythrina vespertilio
certainly do bear a resemblance to a bat's wings
After a delicious lunch at Grandma's, we visited the Queens Gardens. Of the city's three botanical gardens, the Queens Gardens is the formal one. It has a couple of small mazes (not too complicated) but sadly, the central flower beds were between planting.
Castle Hill looms over the Queens Gardens with the pair of small mazes in the foreground
The Gardens had a variety of fig trees, an aviary with native birds (not very well labelled), and a section filled with various types of frangipani (Plumeria
spp.). The various species are endemic to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and as far south as Brazil and north as Florida, but are grown ornamentally in all tropical regions. According to Wikipedia: "The genus is named in honor of the seventeenth-century French botanist and Catholic monk Charles Plumier, who traveled to the New World documenting many plant and animal species. The common name "frangipani" comes from a sixteenth-century marquis of the noble family in Italy who claimed to have invented a plumeria-scented perfume, but in reality made a synthetic perfume that was said at the time to resemble the odor of the recently discovered flowers." To adapt the famous quote of Shakespeare's Juliet, "A Plumeria perfume by any other name would smell as sweet".
Trees in the Queens Gardens with impressive roots: white fig (Ficus virens), pandanas, and another fig
We next walked to the waterfront walkway beside The Strand. Between the mowed lawns along The Strand and the sand of the beach is a band of rather weedy-looking vegetation with the occasional tree. While this is probably a good idea in terms of reducing beach erosion, it gave a slightly scruffy appearance to the beach which was unfortunate. Until this point, everything we had seen in Townsville had looked neat and well-maintained.
A python made from painted "found materials" stones, wire, old ropes, plastic, etc. as part of an arts competition along The Strand which was being judged by People's Choice online voting - beyond the mown grass is the rather weedy band at the top of the sandy beach
While Anita and Mike returned to Magnetic Island on the 3:50 pm ferry, Randall and I walked down Flinders Street in the Central Business District (downtown). Here we saw some fine buildings from the late 1800s but on the whole the area was rather dominated by bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, all of which might be popular with off-duty military personnel. Other than a few gentrified alleys, we found the CBD a bit shabby compared to the area around the Queens Gardens and The Strand. Townsville has a bit of a reputation as a rough city at times and the appearance of the CBD was our first hint that this might be the case. Still, it was worth a visit and we got a few fresh veggies at Woolworths before returning for the crowded 4:30 pm ferry and linking bus back to Horseshoe Bay.
Now a thickly painted nightclub, The Bank was built in 1888 as the Australian Joint Stock Bank
After a relatively quiet weekend working on the boat, Randall and I bought day-passes for the buses and spent a day romping around Magnetic Island. This included hiking up to The Forts and back, a walk we did last year with Anita and Mike. As before, the best way to find koalas is to look for people pointing up at a tree.
How to find a koala...
By this method, we saw six healthy looking koalas, including one which climbed down one tree and up into the next one with a haste that was quite surprising. Of course, when you have half a dozen people closely watching, there is probably a big incentive to be swift.
An obliging koala along The Forts Track
We also completed a bird survey on our way to the top of The Forts, the most notable features of which were a multitude of pied currawongs, a group of bee-eaters flying and calling overhead (another species to add to our list of bird-sounds that we now recognize), and a huge wedge-tailed eagle soaring over the summit.
Cape Cleveland seen from between huge granite boulders along The Forts Track
As we remembered, the views from The Forts are fabulous with dry eucalypt forests of various shades of green interspersed with huge pink granite boulders, many of which seem most precariously balanced. During WWII, many of these boulders played important roles in providing camouflage for the observation towers and gun placements that protected Townsville and the fleet of ships anchored in Cleveland Bay.
One of the WWII gun placements on The Forts Track
As we left The Forts area, we noticed thick smoke and flames in the forest across a ravine. Randall checked online to find that this was part of a prescribed burn, so we were not too worried about uncontrolled spread. But as the smoke drifted over The Forts, we were glad that we were finishing our walk and not just starting it. After returning to Horseshoe Bay on the bus, we ate lunch at the beach, then caught the next bus back to Alma Bay, the community of Arcadia.
From there we walked along the beach at Geoffrey Bay to the Gabul Way, a shiny boardwalk over the cliffs that run alongside the road to Nelly Bay. The walkway's name comes from the Dreaming story of a giant carpet python, Gabul, who carved the landscape to create the islands off the local coastal area. Where he came to rest became Magnetic Island, with his head at the Arcadia headland of Bremmer Point.
The Gabul Way, next to the road from Arcadia to Nelly Bay
We frequently peered over the sides of the boardwalk, searching through the rocks and vegetation for signs of the allied rock wallabies that live on the Island. Sadly we did not see any of these diminutive jumparoos, but this was not a great surprise because they are more likely to be grazing in the early morning or evening.
On arriving in Nelly Bay, we walked to the Mitre10 hardware store, a bottle (booze) shop, and small supermarket. We were intending to catch a bus straight back to Horseshoe Bay but we would have to wait for over an hour. Within a few minutes, however, a bus arrived that was going in the opposite direction to Picnic Bay. We jumped aboard to find that the driver was Jim, who had driven all the buses we had taken that day. He explained that he was going home once he dropped us all at the end of the route but, about 45 minutes later, another bus would come to take us all the way back to Horseshoe Bay. Thank goodness for the all-day bus-pass. Although this plan did not make much difference for Randall, who stayed with the shopping on a shady bench playing games on the phone, I enjoyed wandering along the beach, out on the pier, and past the Picnic Bay Surf Lifesaving Club. We certainly got the most out of our A$7.60 tickets and it was fun to revisit some familiar places.
Soon after we arrived back onboard Tregoning, we heard a helicopter approaching the Bay. I looked outside expecting to see a military aircraft but instead watched as a rescue helicopter dropped a wire to a large motor boat anchored in the middle of the Bay. Crew had obviously been dropped-off earlier and this time they were being picked-up with somebody on a stretcher. It was an impressive mission, first hauling-up one crew member with the stretcher, and then picking-up the other two crew members. The helicopter then left, presumably for a hospital in Townsville. It must have been a serious issue to warrant the use of the helicopter rather than a rescue boat, so we wished the patient and their family well.
A stretcher and crew-member being hoisted aboard a rescue helicopter in Horseshoe Bay
We will probably make one more hiking expedition on the Island before we leave on Thursday (22nd July). When we arrived, I was afraid that we would not be able to venture very far because of Randall's sore foot. However, he managed most of the walking in Townsville and all of our latest hikes wearing flip-flops and having no pain at all! This makes us very suspicious that the problem resulted from his new walking shoes. Of course, flip flops are not ideal for many trails but while we are in Cairns he will look for some type of sandal/shoe that feels something like the flip-flops, possibly with the input of a podiatrist.
Also when in Cairns, I will be seeking advice at a camera shop. My formerly trusty Panasonic DC-FZ80 camera has developed a serious issue with the zoom often not working. I am pretty sure that it is an electronic rather than mechanical issue, so I will look online to see if anyone has had the same problem and can suggest a fix that I can manage. But I fear that it is more likely something that will need professional help. When the zoom works everything is fine, but it can be very frustrating when I grab the camera for a picture of a distant creature and the zoom will not function.
For example, this happened when I spotted this tiny (less than 10 cm) seahorse attaching itself to the rope snubber on our anchor chain. Agggggh! As a result the only picture I could take was with a wide-angle (the default setting for the digital zoom) and I wasted time that I could have been watching the seahorse, fussing with the camera.
A seahorse, just visible by enlarging the photo digitally rather than taken using the zoom (which would have produced a much clearer, bigger picture).
Sadly, this picture is probably not good enough to be certain but I assume that this was either a common seahorse or an estuary seahorse. The water was glassy calm and I could just see the tiny dorsal fin and pectoral fins (at the back of the head where a horse would have ears) beating rapidly to provide propulsion and steering, respectively. But this action provides little power and the tidal current soon carried this tiny treasure away, while I stood on Tregoning's bow cursing, like a sailor, at my camera. Luckily, I had sufficient self-restraint to resist throwing the camera in the water...but only just!
Exactly when we will get to Cairns is not certain. We hope to have a few calm days at the end of this week which should allow us to go out to some of the nearby reefs (e.g., Lodestone, John Brewer). When the wind increases again, we would like to visit the channel between the mountainous Hinchinbrook Island and the mainland. The channel is said to be sheltered and very attractive. Although we look forward to catching-up with Lynne and Andrew on SV Mischief, we have no deadline to be in Cairns. Hopefully, there will be more calm days that will allow us to explore more of the reefs along the 157 nm between Townsville and Cairns at our leisure. But, as usual, we shall have to see...
: During the next few weeks there may be times when we will be out of cellphone/internet coverage, so please be patient if you are trying to contact us.