Our Diary Australia - Part 4

Goat Stew and Census

It's been two months since leaving and we're now sitting in Airlie Beach, 1200 kms north of Brisbane - (speed around 60 kms/day) with around 2,500 kms to Darwin, our planned stop for the end of this season.

So what's taken us so long? Moreton Bay was cleared in two days, the anchorage behind the wrecks at Tangalooma not being very secure gave us our first introduction to the Queensland coast - strong south easterly winds and rolly anchorages. We were told that Mooloolaba would afford us great protection, however the wind was so benign we motored to the anchorage in the pool up river past the marinas, a lovely spot! On the way we decided to get rid of the first 25m of our anchor chain. We continued to have problems with it jumping off the gypsy - we worked out the links were work-worn after so much use! Anchoring in Moreton Bay had reminded us of this so, in flat calm conditions as we motored north, Keith got out the loppers and chopped of the offending amount and added this to the sea bed. This action improved matters no end. In Mooloolaba we met up with Murray and Toby and spent a great evening on board over dinner and a few bottles of wine. Our stay here was cut short as the good weather continued - again light winds meant that we were motoring and headed for Fraser Island. After a still night at anchor at Double Island Point, we entered the Sandy Straights through the notorious Wide Bay Bar. Cruiser tales abound about this regularly moving sand bar with rolling surf and numerous ship wrecks. Our experience was far from this, with help from the local Volunteer Marine Rescue, who gave us specific waypoints to get through, although we did surf a little as we

entered the Straights but an easy crossing. We were now into tidal waters, a bit like the UK really. Having done our homework we took the tide through the shallow Sandy Straights and ended up at Kingfisher Resort in Harvey Bay, our planned stop. Following the advice from Keith's daughter, we organised a day trip around Fraser Island for the next day.

Fraser Island is purported to be the largest sand island in the world - some 100kms long. The ocean side is a long beach that is used as a main highway. Surprisingly although the island is one big beach it is covered in sub tropical rainforest with towering pines and eucalyptus trees, huge fresh water lakes and streams - an amazing place. The tracks are treacherous and four wheel drive is a must.

Rob and Gemma from "Orinoco Flow" have settled in Gladstone after their trip across the Pacific a few years earlier so this was our next main stopover. We were now in day cruising mode and planning to get to get as far north as we could in day hops. Bundaberg and Pancake Creek were our intermediate stops before we pulled up in Gladstone Marina. It was lovely to catch up with Rob and Gem, we spent nearly a week there doing a bit of maintenance and helping them "landscape" their garden, mainly by applying layers of mulch on their extensive garden beds. Gladstone is in the midst of a mining boom with coal, natural gas and aluminum being their main resource. Surprisingly these huge industries are totally unintrusive and on the outside Gladstone is just a sleepy mid-sized Australian town.

The period of light winds was replaced by steady south easterlies. To take advantage of these we headed north - the sandy islands of Moreton Bay and Fraser being replaced by rugged rocky islands; submerged mountain tops from some long lost mountain range, now covered in impregnable scrub. We were also within the protection of the Great Barrier reef, so were hopeful of clear warm water and calm seas. From Gladstone we passed Curtis Island, site of the planned huge coal seam gas project, and anchored off Cape Capricorn. Great Keppel Island was our next stop although we stopped overnight at Hummocky Island, just because we could. Great Keppel is a resort island that has seen better days. The planned Club Med development hit environmental concerns and is still in limbo; very sad as this would be a lovely destination - beautiful beaches, walks and many activities are available. The route to Middle Percy the next major stop is through a military zone. When we arrived at Keppel we discovered that there was a huge military exercise with the US on this 10,000 sq km wilderness and the area was closed. Fortunately this was due to finish in a few days and cruisers were stacking up waiting to transit this area. On the 1st of August there was a mass exodus, including Alan Lucas, the author of many of the Australian Cruising Guides used by most boaties in Oz. A blustery sail ended up in Pearl Bay, where we spent a rolly night behind one of the off lying islands. The forecast was for strong winds for a few days so we decided to hole up in Island Head Creek a few miles further north. This part of the coast is picturesque with isolated, unspoilt mountainous and woody inlets. After a calm night at anchor we had a surprise visitor. At around 10.30am a police boat turned up, checking up on all the boats in the area, supposedly doing safety checks, etc., including breathalyzing suspects - Keith included, to our great amusement/fury!! After checking our equipment and documentation we were left alone... We had a great sail to Middle Percy arriving in this wonderful anchorage - finally a coconut-fringed beach! On the beach is a huge A frame building, built as a meeting point for cruisers; many visitors have left a memento of their passing, not to be out done we painted a piece of drift wood and nailed it up for others to see. It was great to see names of our cruising friends who had passed this way previously. While we were at anchor we had a visit from one of the other boats passing on an invite from the residents of the island to a "goat stew" the next night, with a donation of vegetables being gratefully received. Armed with a bag of veggies and a bottle of wine we joined the other twenty or so guests at the A frame. At the back was a huge fire and large cooking pot, standing on the table was a lovely baby goat frolicking around. "Is that dinner?" Keith asked. "Unfortunately not. The menu has been changed to kangaroo stew." (The hunting that day had not been good, the wild goats on the island were too elusive, although a roo had succumbed). The evening wore on, beer and wine consumed, some volunteered to prepare the veggies, which were duly added to the pot. Part way through the evening, a bleat was heard from a backpack hanging on a post. The backpack owner then removed a hungry Joey from the pack and it was passed to a willing visitor for bottle feeding. Conversation continued and after a few more beers it was revealed that the joey's mum was the "guest of honor" at the dinner. Both Christine and I lost our appetite at this stage and crept back to the boat - we have eaten many different things on out travels (including kangaroo) but this was a bit too basic for comfort.

We were now in the Northumberland Island group commonly known as the Whitsundays. Captain Cook named many of these islets after geographical locations in the north of England, such as Penrith, St Bees, Carlisle, Keswick, etc. We decided to stop off at Scawfell Island then Brampton. Brampton was another resort island now closed pending redevelopment. There was one lonely caretaker on the island stopping looters from taking items. We couldn't see the attraction of this island - it was ok, but we had seen much nicer ones on the way so the development into a five star resort didn't make sense to us. We had been receiving news via the ABC during our trip and one item intrigued us - Australia's five yearly census. They gave out a phone number for people to call if they had not received a form, we were interested in how they coped with people like us - in Australia, there is a large population of transients: Grey Nomads, cruisers, back packers and workers in remote locations. So, as a test, Christine phoned the Help Line. The first question was the hardest, what is your address!!! Unsurprisingly, they couldn't cope with "at anchor off Brampton Island" and settled for "Beach Road, Brampton Island"!! Eventually we were given a password so that we could fill the form in on-line. When we did eventually complete the form it was apparent that this transient sector of society has been overlooked and basically we will be classed as homeless, and living on the streets, which I am sure will not correlate to the income level stated!! Interesting!

We were now in the southern Whitsunday Islands and winds were forecast to move to the north. To await the return of the southerly air stream we anchored on the south side of Goldsmith Island. This was a lovely anchorage, hardly visited. At low tide the beach was covered in blue soldier crabs marching along the beach and in the shallows large rays patrolled. We spent three days here with two other boats Cutty Wren and Elysion (another long term cruising couple). The wind turn southerly in the middle of the third night so we upped anchor under bright moonlight and moved 5 miles around to the sheltered north of the island before moving to Shaw island further north. This was a good anchorage to stop a while in order to do some laundry and chores. The new washing machine proved great - especially at spinning the laundry which reduced drying time. The 20 knot winds also helped!

After these and in settled weather we headed for Lindeman Island where we sited a humpbacked whale and her new calf surprisingly close. Although we'd seen whales regularly on our trip north, they were too far away to get good photos; this pair were within a 100m so we stopped a while to watch. Following a lovely walk on the island we sailed passed Hamilton Island and anchored in Cid Harbour on Whitsunday Island. Here we caught up with Magic Carpet - we had crossed the Pacific with Chris and Karen in 2005 so it was great to catch up. They were moving to Nara Inlet on Hook Island to ride out more northerly winds and here we had a great evening swapping news over dinner.

We were now running out of fresh supplies so decided to run to Airlie Beach to stock up, which we have now done and are now sitting out some reinforced trades (around 30 knots) before heading out to the Whitsundays again and then continuing our trip north.