Next stop Darwin

Harvey & Sue Death
Sat 7 Jul 2018 23:59
12:26,94 S 130:51,07 E

We left Airlie Beach to start our passage north to Darwin, stopping en route
at Magnetic Island close to Townsville. The Island had a big military
presence in WW2 - Townsville was a major supply base for the Pacific and
fortifications were built on top of a hill on Magnetic Island to protect the
town from naval attack. We walked to the top of the hill to view the
military remains and also to take in the stunning view. The highlight of the
walk though was to see the cute koala bears nestled in the branches of the
Eucalyptus trees lining the walk.

Another 250 miles up the coast we stopped in Cairns a large, sea side town,
buzzing with tourists.

As we go further north and closer to the equator the weather definitely has
a tropical feel to it and although now (winter) is the dry season there's no
doubting the amount of rain that must fall in the wet season judging by the
lushness of the forests surrounding Cairns.

The big draw for most people to Cairns is access to the Great Barrier Reef.
We couldn't leave Australia without diving the reef as it is on every divers
bucket list. We signed up with a dive operator and found ourselves on the
largest dive boat we have ever seen. The size of a cross channel ferry with
three storeys, it can carry 180 passangers, and this is only one of many
boats that depart from Cairns everyday - the reef is a big money spinner in
Cairns. Most of the passengers on board had signed up for a days snorkelling
and there were only a handful of divers. Sadly the diving did not live up to
our expectations. There was a lot of dead coral, whether this is due to
cyclone damage, global warming, over use by the day tripper boats, or a
combination of the three I don't know. Or it could just be that we have been
spoilt by the remote and beautiful places that we have dived over the past
18 months such as the Great Astrolobe reef in Fiji and the Tuomoto atolls.

We hired a car and explored outside the Cairns. We went up to Port Douglas a
much smaller, up market resort with lovely shops and restaurants.

In Cairns the fleet split, some are going up the coast to the most NE tip of
Australia to Thursday Island where they will clear out from Australia and
depart to Indonesia. We are going to Darwin from where we will clear out,
but before that we have two weeks in the UK to look forward to.

Because of our time schedule we left a few days before the others and for
the first couple of days of our passage we followed the coastline, sailing
between land and the Great barrier reef. This made for quite sheltered, calm
waters but our track was littered with small rocks and islands, its also a
busy shipping channel so we had to be on our toes keeping a good look out,
especially at night!

After three days sailing we anchored at Thursday Island for a night, which
is the most northerly point of Australia. This would be the last land we
would see for four days until our arrival in Darwin. We decided to stretch
our legs and take a wander around the town. It was like entering a third
world country, with a largely Aboriginal population, it was hard to believe
we were still in Australia!

From there we headed due West following the sunset across the Arafura Sea /
Indian Ocean. A huge expanse of grey rolling water with not another vessel
in sight. At least we had brisk winds blowing us along and arrived half a
day ahead of schedule.
Entry into Darwin isn't straightforward. All boats entering a marina have to
first be treated by Biosecurity for marine pests and diseases. A diver
checked the hull and squirted disinfectant/pesticide into our water intake
Also it is very tidal with up to 7 metre tides and its shallow. All the
marinas have lock gates and we squeezed into the lock with less than a foot
on either side. At low tide outside the marina, it dries to mud!

Arriving in Darwin, at last I feel as if I am in Australia! I loved the
cosmopolitan cities of Sidney and Melbourne, but Darwin is different - men
are men, and women are Sheila's!

Everything about the place: the intense heat, the arid landscape and the
really laid back, friendly people are exactly as I imagined Australia - just
think Crocodile Dundee!!

It's quite a compact city with mainly modern architecture because large
parts of it were destroyed by Japanese bombs in WW2 and what survived was
destroyed by a massive cyclone on Christmas Day 1974.

We've only got a few days in Darwin because we are flying home today for a
couple of weeks , to the heatwave, Wimbledon and of course footie!!

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