Lizard Island

Zipadedoda of Dart
David H Kerr
Fri 19 Sep 2008 22:25

We paid our marina dues (very reasonable at Mirage Marina), topped up with diesel and headed off on the tide at 0900 on the 12th September. Bound for Lizard Island some 115nm North of Port Douglas. It was a grey start to the day, with little or no wind so we motor sailed to start with. But it wasn’t long before the wind piped up and the sun came out. The further north we went the winder it got and the warmer it got. Hooray for the sun and wind!!  WE had a cracking sail, albeit somewhat torturous, weaving our way inside the Great Barrier Reef, dodging all the reefs, Cays, Islands and Islets…not to mention quite a few very large commercial vessels. Some of the shipping lanes are very narrow, so lane discipline was mega important.


We arrived in the anchorage (Watson’s Bay) off the North West coat of the Island at around 0300. There was no moon and quite a few boats at anchor. Several with no anchor lights on. There was also the fun of having to contend with winds of 20 to 30 knots (even in the lee of the Island) and some coral reefs within the anchorage. As we made our approach, looking to find a suitable slot, it was amusing to see that most of the boats who had previously been sitting in the dark, were now using up some precious amps in the form of active anchor lights. In the event, all went smoothly and we completed manoeuvres at 0330, and tidied up the boat so that there were no flapping strings and things to keep us and others awake.  After a little night cap and an unwind, we retired to bed at around 0400.


This is a beautiful and secure anchorage. So it is easy to see why it is so popular.


    Watson’s Bay from the north. Note the coral reefs all around the anchorage


As soon as we had breakfasted, we noticed that a couple of boats had left at first light (Pelle V being one of them) and so we raised the anchor and moved in as close to the beach and the coral reefs as we dared. This, to get some rest bite from the howling wind and also to minimise the distance for the dingy ride to the beach.  It made little difference to the wind velocity getting closer to the beach, but mercifully it shortened the distance to the shoreline. As you can imagine, having a shower on the boat was pretty superfluous when ploughing ashore, head into 25knots of breeze in the dingy. We were soaked to the skin as we dragged the dingy up the beach on our first sortie ashore!


There are two principle reasons why you would, no SHOULD, visit Lizard Island. The first of these and the least obvious, is for the flora and fauna. The second is for the history of the place.


This was an Aboriginal settlement before the white man came along. It was also a place which was deemed to have significant importance for a ceremonial and tribal customs for the Aborigines.  The Island is a strictly controlled national park and is managed by the Queensland Government who have a research station here as well as an airstrip. It was at the afore mentioned airstrip where we discovered the BWR latest business adventure……………………


  So this is what “Rally Control” do in their spare time!


The local government has been working closely with the Aboriginal elders to restore parts of the Island and to ensure there is managed respect for the sacred parts of the Island.


The other unavoidable reason is of course the Islands link with Captain James Cook and his ship the famous discovery vessel the Endeavour.  Cook did not in fact bring Endeavour here, it was left at Lookout Point. Rather he came along with his botanist, Mr Banks in their pinnacle in 1770. Cook’s interest in the island was to use the high peak on the island to survey the barrier reef for a way out. He had become increasingly concerned that there would be no way out of the northern end of the barrier reef, and that he would not be able to sail Endeavour south against the prevailing SE Trade winds and currents.  So a way out was needed, and this was the highest point in the area (all 358 metres of it) to check if an exit existed.  It did. It is now imaginatively called Cooks Passage. Although once thru’ it Endeavour ran into horrendous seas in the Coral Sea and he later returned for the protection the Great Barrier Reef gives from the ocean swell and breaking seas.


No prizes for guessing why Cook gave the Island it’s name………………..




We stumbled over this Monitor Lizard, sunning himself on a pathway near to the airstrip. He was well over three feet in length. We saw another one the next day on our way to Cooks Lookout, that was even bigger and much meatier……….


As it was relatively late in the day when we went ashore on the first day, we had decided to explore the Island, rather than head off of to Cook Lookout in the midday heat. There are several well marked paths and sign and information boards provided by the Parks Authority. These were very helpful and informative. Though I have to say there did seem to be an overwhelming political correctness as far as the Aboriginal ancestry was concerned.


But there is an astonishing variety of nature to be sampled on this small Island. From Mangrove swamps, with large fresh and salt water fish………





To wild Yams,,,,,,,,,



The picture above is principally of the flower of the wild yam bushes. It was a glorious livid yellow with a red and orange centre. They were some 2 inches in diameter. The fruit, (aka Yams), are the size and colour of Avocados when fully ripened.


Also to feast the eye, were a wide range of shrubs and trees, some with exquisite flowers, like this delicate Apple Fruit tree blossom…….




There were very many varieties of wild birds, too. Parrots, miniature Doves and simply radiant small birds, with iridescent yellow chests and emerald green throats, with long curved beaks. Much as we tried, these illusive creatures refused to stay still long enough to be photographed. So you will just have to take my word for it!


The coral reefs looked stunning and pristine too. We were tempted to go snorkelling on these to see the Giant Clams and the abundant tropical fish…but with water temperatures of only 22°C, and an ever present howling wind, we chose not to. But from the boat we could see huge Parrott fish  in abundant quantities. We know now that Parrot fish also like bacon rind…cooked of course.


The last day was devoted to the arduous accent to Cook Lookout. 358 metres above sea level may not sound a lot. But, it is definitely not for the unfit or anyone who’s not able bodied. There are some very steep granite boulders to negotiate and tricky loose skree to contend with. Along the way there are several natural stopping points to enjoy the spectacular views and to get your breath back!  The path is well marked for the most part, and on the more difficult granite slopes, the Parks department have used an angle grinder to create steps that are strategically cut into the stone surfaces to ease the climb.


The views and sights along the way are really worth the effort. The gum trees giving some shade from the blistering sun. In amongst these trees were some large ants nest constructed around the main trunk and branches.



These same trees lay a carpet of dried bark and leaves which is home to many a small creature. This can be a little disconcerting when you hear their scuttling noises amplified by the dried ditrus from the trees, on hard granite surfaces. We did not see any snakes, but many small lizards and quite a few spiders. One black & white one landed on Jennie, as she was resting below a tree. She took this ever so well, and managed the last 75 metres of the assent in a little under point zero 3 of a nanosecond………..only joking of course. She loves spiders really, especially if they might be poisonous ones.


After a trek of one and a half hours, all of our efforts were rewarded, once we got to the top.


    Not that the crew was pleased with herself ……


To the left of the picture above is a large cairn which has been constructed with surrounding rocks, by the many visitors to this spot. At the base of the cairn is a wooden box. Inside the box is a Tupperware container. Inside that….yer, yer,  I know  “get on with it”!  There is a visitor’s book. What a great idea. You have a sense of achievement in climbing this historical place where one of the all time great explorers stood before you…a mere 338 years ago.  It was very revealing to read through this (once the vision had cleared) and to read the comments from all our BWR friends who had got there before us. We were particularly amused by the comment from the crew of the yacht Spectra, and I quote “Shame Cooks didn’t think to build a bar here while he was at it. We could have murdered a beer by the time we got up here”. Wonderful sense of occasion boys!


The walk back down was equally challenging. By the time we were back on the gorgeous soft sandy beach, our legs were like jelly.  It was also midday by now, so we retired back to the boat (down wind this time, so nice and dry).  Then had a thoroughly enjoyable lunch, followed by a siesta.  The rest of the day was spent chilling out with a good book and getting ready for our planned early start,   the next day.  All set for “Going over the Top”……………………..