2020 Aus Les Andrews Woody Island
Les Andrew’s Woody Island
I sat on the side of Zoonie’s cockpit the next morning admiring the honey colour of the pink granite rockface enhanced by the early sun. You may be able to make out some concrete blocks moulded to the rock face descending from left to right and the weeping rust marks of the bolts that supported the original jetty that Don Mackenzie and his sons built there back in 1972/3 when he was given a permit to start his tourist business. There is an old photo of the jetty, number 037 and of Don infront of his visitor boat 036. I wondered how on earth anyone could built such a structure in that dangerous location and Don himself named the slope ‘Cardiac Hill’ after he and his sons lugged the massive timbers up there from the boat.
There was certainly a demand for visits to this the only Recherche Island with soil deep enough to support trees. But there were also risks. The island has been swept by fire a number of times, the most recent being in 2006, and if that happens again the resort would be a total loss. Also there is no natural water on the island. Rainwater is collected from the roof of the lodge and stored in tanks and some of the loos are composting ones that use no water and do not smell. This is a real ‘out on a limb’ enterprise.
Rudi appeared on the terrace of the lodge and we waved. I called him up on the VHF and we agreed he would fetch us shortly.
When we arrived at the lodge coffee was being served and the other visitors sat at tables and on the settees.
Les is the one with the mug of coffee and with his partner he owns and runs the Woody Island Eco Tours business. We joined him for a chat. A clever businessman and builder Les has a number of motels he built and this enterprise is run from one of them in Esperance. When he took over the DOEC lease and tourist business from Don Mackenzie’s sons it was in a run-down state, but by adding six mooring buoys tied to the seabed on railway carriage wheels and piles of ships chain, a liquor licence and accommodation at both ends of the fast cat ride he has sown the seeds of success.
The buoys are used by weekend sailors from Esperance and the venue is becoming popular for seasonal celebrations at Christmas and Easter and for music festivals. There are many tents, some with wooden floors, and chalets with balconies where visitors can sit and take in the peace and views to the mainland.
Les hadn’t been planning to come out from Esperance on the morning we met him but two American couples were prepared to pay over the odds to get what they wanted, a trip to the island. The island has a network of walks that are dotted with neat information boards and tame birds fly close to one on their daily feeding errands. There is the beautiful rugged coastline and the movement of the ocean around and over the rocks is mesmerising but the Americans missed all that and instead sat in the dining area for the duration of their four hour visit.
Their loss was our gain because otherwise we would not have met Les until a few days later. He instructed Rudi, who had collected us from Zoonie earlier, that as international yacht visitors we would not be charged for the mooring for the duration of our stay. We appreciated his kindness.
The crew of a small aluminium fishing boat with a cabin had picked up the buoy near us and we learned from the young skipper that he and his German wife had towed it by road from their home in Bunbury so they could bring her visiting parents out to the island on their fishing trip. He told us about the marina in Augusta, just before Cape Leeuwin if we needed to wait for favourable weather before continuing around to his home town in Zoonie. There’s nothing like up to date local knowledge from those in the know, you know.