Crocodiles and stingers, stone fish, toad fish.....

Mon 31 May 2010 07:22
Position 18.13S 146.12E

It's a month since the last blog--a poor effort, I know, especially since sv Harmonie's is up to date. My excuse? Being without Internet for much of the time, very strenuous hikes, provisioning for long stints in isolated areas, drinking jugs of margaritas in unlikely Mexican-style bars, not having taken any photos, Anne's excellent blogs being available, being able to read the Weekend Australian--the list of excuses is endless.

Anyway, this morning we were at the tip of Hinchinbrook Island, about 80 nautical miles (150 km) from Cairns, and well and truly in the tropics. We've been travelling about seven weeks, with stops of about a week each at Mooloolaba, Mackay and of course, the Whitsundays. We're still less than halfway to Darwin. And would you believe it, we haven't had a single swim in that time, due to coolish weather, murky water, stingers, and recently, crocs. We've seen the odd crocodile warning, even as far south as Fraser Island, but now the signage is much more serious, and in multiple languages. Achtung! we read on bright yellow and red signs, especially near the creeks that the big saltwater crocs inhabit. The signs warn particularly about launching and retrieving dinghies, which makes us feel somewhat vulnerable. Yesterday we planned to hike up a creek to find a waterfall on the west coast of Hinchinbrook Island, but after reading the signs thought better of it. The cruising guidebooks have bold printed red croc warnings next to the description of the anchorages in this part of the world--such a pity as the spectacular scenery and idyllic-looking beaches make this such an attractive cruising ground. There's hardly another boat in sight, apart from the brightly- lit cruise ship that was anchored nearby overnight, presumably to land its passengers on Dunk Island today. We were very sad to see "Closed" signs on the Hinchinbrook Wilderness Lodge yesterday, probably another victim of the global fina

While we see evidence everywhere of the mining boom in Queensland, it's a very different matter for the tourist industry, especially the businesses that have been based on the previously lucrative backpacker market. At Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays where a large fleet of retired racing yachts takes backpackers on adventure cruises to the Outer Reef things were ominously quiet.

At Airlie we almost qualified as locals as we had Robyn Platt and Ron Prowse on board. Robyn's son, Adrian was tragically killed three and a half years ago in a motor bike accident, so it was a bitter sweet return for Robyn. Adrian's business, Ozsail, operates out of the area, run now by Robyn's daughter, Shannon and a great young Kiwi guy, Fraser Yule. We were able to borrow the company car to do major buyups at the Saturday markets and used the local contacts for all sorts of things including fishing advice, buying stinger suits, and best of all, a huge meal of mud crab delivered to us live. The other culinary highlight was being able to buy big bags of frozen mangoes. The guys, on the other hand, were more excited by constantly approached by beautiful young European girls asking to be taken on as crew! I think they found it pretty tempting and were sorry we had no room.

Despite the lack of swimming and snorkelling (evidently the turbid water is due to the runoff from the huge amount of rainfall during April), we really enjoyed our time in the Whitsundays. We spent several days in the southern islands--Scawfell, Brampton and Lindeman where we scarcely saw another boat. The places we enjoyed most were those that had really good walking trails and plenty of wildlife. Anne even shamed me into climbing to Whitsunday Peak, described as a challenging hike. The 360 degree view from the top was certainly worth the exertion. The Queensland Parks and Wildlife and the Great Barrier Reef authorities do a great job with walking trails and free publications, although many of the navigation beacons are missing, no doubt due to the recent cyclone. Bananas are also in short supply due to cyclone damage.

In sharp contrast was Hamilton Island, which has gone seriously upmarket since last we visited. Now run by Wild Oates and Rosemount and Penfolds wineries owner, Bob Oatley, Hamilton has become a glamorous destination, with a fabulous Yacht Club bar and restaurant shaped like a whale's tail. He has also developed Qualia, a very tasteful resort/ holiday home enclave on the northern tip of the island. There's a huge improvement in the new developments which blend into the bush compared with the old Spanish hacienda-type buildings that look so out of place in a lush tropical setting.We didn't dare pretend to be interested in buying a property even though we would love to be shown over Qualia--we might have succumbed! Evidently the restaurant, which is open to those of the public who have deep pockets, is superb. (We were told about it by a friend of Robyn's son who, as an Adelaide lawyer, makes a most unlikely barge operator. He and his wife had been there, so there's obviously money in operating the morning barge from Airlie Beach.) There's also a new golf club on Dent Island. We found the Hamilton Island marina to be excellent and not much more expensive than the much more down market marinas at Mackay and Airlie Beach. One could certainly spend a very enjoyable two or three months cruising the Whitsundays combining the serenity of the undeveloped islands with an occasional foray into Hamilton Island or Airlie Beach. But only between June and October in the stinger off season! The stingers, by the way, are the hideous box jellyfish and the Irukandji jellyfish that is so small that the victim rarely sees what has stung them.

After delivering Ron and Robyn back to Hamilton Island we picked up Annette and Tony Black and departed next morning with fishing rods in action. An hour or so later we caught our first (and only) fish of the trip so far--a very acceptable spotty mackerel that made delicious cutlets on the bbq. A week of constant fishing later--nothing.

The coastline north of the Whitsundays is pretty flat and uninteresting so we put in a couple of long days, well provisioned with pies from the Hamilton Island bakery.

Bypassing Townsville, we spent a couple of days at Magnet (Maggie) Island, which was refreshingly unspoilt, and boasted a great little Mexican restaurant. Having undertaken a very hot steep hike we fell upon a jug of Margaritas and ordered vast amounts of enchiladas followed by excellent tequila lime pie. The proprietor flattered us by saying we looked too slim to have consumed such vast amounts of food. Certainly dinner was not offered that night. We certainly didn't bother swimming in the stinger enclosure where the mesh had far too large a diameter to keep out the Irukandjis. (We read that they are particularly prevalent the week after the full moon--this week.)

Next day we passed Great Palm Island where the infamous Cameron Doomadgee death in custody took place, so well described in Chloe Hooper's The Tall Man, and a case that continues to be hugely controversial. In fact the Aboriginal settlement looks much like any other place--not like the setting for the riot that destroyed most of the public buildings, and for which several of the inhabitants are still in jail. We continued on and anchored off Orpheus Is which is home to a pretty serious marine research station. We were really looking forward to trying out our new stinger suits there, but unfortunately an unusual south-westerly bowled in at about 3am, forcing us to forgo some excellent snorkelling. The swell was far too strong for us to lift our dinghy, so we had to tow it about 20 miles to the lee of Hinchinbrook Island. (Since writing this blog some American friends have just sailed into our bay saying that yesteray they saw the biggest shark they have ever seen in the spot where we planned to go snorkelling off Orpheus Island.)

A two hour trip has brought us through the beautiful Family Isles to the famous Dunk Island, which is famous for its rainforest and wildlife. On the way we passed the Brook Islands where secret mustard gas trials were carried out during World 2 and 50 American volunteers were killed in underground bunkers.

We believe that if you hand over $40 you can use all Dunk Island's facilities. We've heard from fellow boaters that the managers of Dunk are not welcoming to boaters, but I guess we'll soon find out. The weather is still surprisingly cool for this latitude--about 26 degrees, which is very pleasant and makes for great sleeping at night. The next blog will be from Cairns or Port Douglas, after which Internet, phones, radio and tv will be a very scarce commodity. Let's hope the fishing will improve and make up for the lack of onshore temptations.

1. Tony with our only fish


2. A cat John fell in love with on the boat next to us in a marina.


3. Tony searching for the caterpillar that is attacking the basil in


our on-board garden