28 Aug 2019

28/8/2019: Yeppoon, Capricorn Coast (because the Tropic of Capricorn passes through it!), Queensland

We started our sail southeast on Saturday morning knowing full well that it was going to be a beat into the prevailing wind and swell but hoping both being forecast to be light would make the going fairly easy. And that's how it transpired to be ... not too much slamming into waves but slow, slow progress. On Saturday in over 9 hours of tacking back and forth across the wind we managed to make only 30 miles southeast before dropping anchor at dusk, and with 360 miles to cover we realised that sailing alone wasn't really an option, we're far too impatient! So when Sunday morning dawned and the winds were still from the southeast, on went the engine and we motorsailed on the Rhum line directly towards our destination to make more progress.

Saturday was the final day of Hamilton Island race week and as we left Airlie Beach and turned into Whitsunday Passage we were faced with the sight of about 100 yachts, all flying colourful spinnakers, sailing across our path! As we were all under sail the 'rules of the road' determined that we technically had right of way and so they had to manoeuvre around us but there were so many of them that we decided to put in another tack to port in the hope that we could keep out of the way and pass behind the majority of them. It  seemed a good plan but when we ran out of sea room in the narrow passage and tacked back to starboard, we found ourselves heading directly into the returning race fleet. This time however they were the stand on vessels and we were the ones to take evasive action trying to negotiate a path through the myriad yachts crossing our path.  So we ploughed on, trying to time passing between boats without having to deviate from our course too often and safely made it through. Phew!

Fortunately on Sunday evening the winds moved to the northeast and we enjoyed several hours of sailing, gladly giving the engine a rest and, making decent progress, we decided to keep going until the early hours of Monday morning to make the most of it. Dropping anchor at 2.45am in a sheltered bay on one of the many Barrier Reef islands, this time West Bay on Middle Percy Island, we gratefully climbed into bed for a few hours sleep.

Monday morning dawned with what little wind there was being from the southeast again so it was back to motorsailing with 105 miles to cover before the next convenient anchorage on Great Keppel Island. Once again in the early evening the winds switched to the northeast and so off went the engine and peace reigned for a few hours, this time arriving at our overnight spot at 3.30am. This bay turned out to be a rolly anchorage so we didn't sleep too well!

We'd already decided to break the journey southeast in Keppel Bay close to the town of Yeppoon so that we could explore ashore. So on Tuesday afternoon at around mid-tide we arrived at Keppel Bay Marina and tied up at the pontoon ready for a good night's sleep. And boy did we sleep, 11 hours straight through, awaking this morning feeling refreshed and raring to go.

Picking up our hire car at 9am headed south along the scenic coastal highway leading to the small town of Emu Park, home to the famous singing ship memorial to Captain Cook who discovered and named Keppel Bay back in 1770. Yet again the guy had been here before us, a very common feature on our Pacific odyssey!! This modern installation has three tubes drilled with holes which play a note as the wind blows over them. With very little wind we could barely hear anything but there was a definite background noise emitting from the memorial.

There was also a very moving memorial park in honour of WW1 Australian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the Allied Forces. The centrepiece depicted a group of sixteen ANZAC soldiers walking along duckboards on a ridge to relieve their comrades at the front line near Hodge in Belgium in October 1917, silhouetted at dusk against the evening sky. It's an interpretation of a photo taken by Australia's official WW1 photographer, Frank Hurley.

As with so many of the other places we have visited in Queensland so far, everything is well cared for, no litter nor graffiti, lawns mown, flowerbeds weeded. Whether it is creating employment opportunities or just national pride we don't know but it certainly shows up much of the UK! The sunshine and beautiful backdrop help too!

Driving on from Emu Park we headed inland towards Rockhampton through pleasant but very arid countryside and woodland. Our next stop was the Koorana Crocodile Farm, set in the middle of nowhere and the first commercial crocodile farm in Queensland being established back in the 1980s. Back then there were only 3000 saltwater crocodiles left in Queensland having been hunted to near extinction. Campaigning for a change in legislation to permit commercial farming of these reptiles, the owners set up their farm to try to kill the black market and give the remaining crocs a fighting chance of survival. They obviously wanted to make a profit too!! Conservation Through Commerce is their strap line and it's obviously worked: over thirty years later they have 5000 crocodiles at their farm and the wild population has increased to 150,000.

Neither of us had any idea of the cost of crocodile leather, nor items made from it, before we arrived but are now in the know! Untreated leather is priced at US$26 per centimetre, and a grade A processed skin US$400 per centimetre. No wonder belts were priced at $250, purses at $650 and handbags $2,500!!

All crocodiles grow bones in their skin making it very hard wearing and inflexible in all but one direction. Saltwater crocodiles only grow these bones along their spine and so the soft underbelly is ideal for leather goods. Throw in the size these beasts grow to (usually an adult male makes 5 metres but one was captured in Texas at over 20metres!) then they are the ideal breed to farm. Breeding pairs, or sometimes harems with one male having several partners, produce one clutch of eggs per year which are removed for incubation within the farm. Interestingly the temperature in the incubator room determines the sex of the baby croc and so is set to yield about 80% males and 20% females, the males being both hardier and larger ... more profit!

Many of the larger residents on the farm have been captured by the owner, removing a threat from local parks and waterways. These creatures can stay underwater for up to six hours, jump their body length, move at 20km per hour, don't even make a ripple moving through the water and lurk at the waters edge. Hardly surprising many unsuspecting fishermen and people paddling along the foreshore are attacked, not even realising there is a croc nearby. In that regards the visit to the farm was essential, making everyone 'crocaware' so to speak. It also put paid to myths about zigzagging away from a chasing crocodile (it doesn't work!) or climbing a tree to escape (they can wait at the bottom for up to 3 months without water, plus whack the tree repeatedly with their tails to knock prey out of it). Definitely the best advice is to stay away from their likely habitation!!

Our informative and enthusiastic guide introduced us to several residents, feeding them chicken legs etc., and was obviously passionate about these dangerous creatures. More dangerous by far than their close relative the alligator (a pussy in comparison) he  explained that anywhere in Queensland north of Mackay and Airlie Beach is really no go for swimming off the beaches and that is why so many towns have onshore lagoons for people to enjoy. Fortunately the crocs rarely swim out to the Barrier Reef Islands (a good job given we paddled for miles along Whitehaven Beach!) but have been known to swim up to 1600km offshore! There's apparently no escape from them!! Fortunately we're now moving south into areas too cold to sustain them. Note to self: No swimming until in New South Wales!!

The finale of the tour was handling a two year old saltie called Harley, whose snout had been conveniently taped closed! Apparently used to being handled I wasn't keen but after Paul survived the experience I gave it a go. Harley was surprisingly cool to the touch and soft-skinned, reasonably heavy and very docile, thank goodness!

Actually there was one other finale, dining on crocodile pie for lunch! Surprisingly tender and tasty, a cross between fish and chicken, it's high in protein and low in fat so very good for you!!

 We rounded off the day by driving further inland to visit Capricorn Caves, a cave network formed in an old coral reef pushed above ground millions of years ago by plate tectonics. Unlike many caves we have visited before where dripping water has formed stalactites and stalagmites, this is a dry cave network with around 30 chambers of which we visited 9. The 'cathedral' chamber has incredible acoustics, supposedly better than the Sydney Opera House (or so they claim!) while the zigzag passage (effectively squeezing through a lengthy narrow crack) is not for those prone to claustrophobia!

So all in all a fascinating, varied and full day!

One final note: guess what Paul Hogan wrestled in Crocodile Dundee? You've guessed it, an alligator!!!

20 Aug 2019

21/8/2019: Airlie Beach, Queensland

We're enjoying our time in Airlie Beach, the ease of access to restaurants and shops, the smart marinas and nicely landscaped boardwalk along the bay. Money has obviously been invested to lift it from the old loud and brash gateway to the Whitsundays it was always considered to be. We haven't found it to be like that at all.

All that said it is still a tourist town with tours out to the islands departing throughout the day, so we decided to hire a car and go in search of real Australia which we most definitely found in the small townships of Bowen and Dingo Beach about an hour's drive north of Airlie.

Bowen is a classic reminder of a typical small Queensland coastal town of the 1970s, or so our guidebook informed us. Wide streets, low rise buildings, wooden buildings, and next to no-one around. That is until we discovered Jochheims Pies up a side street. More of which later.

Bowen was founded in 1860 and was the second biggest and busiest port in Australia at the turn of the last century. The first flying boat, named Corialanus, landed here, a variety of mango is named after the town and the movie 'Australia' starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman was filmed here in 2007. Nowadays however the town feels like it is in decline with many shops empty and few visitors, but everywhere is spotlessly maintained and as with other places we've visited there is an absence of litter and graffiti, refreshing to see.

The other thing Bowen is known for is the colourful murals depicting the various events and facets of the town's history painted on walls throughout the centre of town. We didn't find all 24 of them but the ones we did see were very detailed.

And now back to the pie shop! Started in 1963 by a man and wife team, Darcy and Merle Jochheim, the business today is now run by their daughter Jayne and her husband Paddy. While much of Bowen seemed like a ghost town, Jochheims Pies and Bakery was heaving with locals sitting outside enjoying morning coffee, and early lunchtime diners (ourselves included) tucking into pies inside. The place was buzzing, spotlessly clean and the pies delicious. I opted for meat and pea pie (minced beef in gravy topped with a layer of mushy peas ... obviously not just a UK delicacy after all!!) and Paul went for the spicier beef and chorizo.

I got chatting to Jayne, and she happily told us all about the business and filming of Australia, pulling out a photo album from that period. The streets of Bowen were covered over with earth and 400 cattle driven through town, while a film set was erected on ground just outside town. Many locals rented out their home for AUS$2500 a week, a real windfall for them, and others were extras in the movie. Apparently Hugh Jackman loved the beef pie and was a regular diner. We think the town of Bowen is still a little bit starstruck!!

Our return took us through the sleepy village of Dingo Beach on the Cape Gloucester peninsula, a few houses backing a pretty beach. Unlike the drive to Bowen through fields of sugar cane, getting progressively more arid, the drive along the mountainous peninsula was far more scenic with cattle grazing and signs warning of kangaroos and wallabies. We didn't see either, well not live specimens anyway!

19 Aug 2019

Airlie Beach, Queensland, 19th August 2019

It's my birthday today, twenty one for the third time, where has the time gone? Still, can't dwell on that, there's too much of life still to live, and today is no exception. After a lovely bacon and egg breakfast sandwich (it's so nice being back in civilisation where we can get proper provisions!) we went segwaying in the rainforest. We have done this a couple of times before, but when it comes to getting back into one of these strange machines after a long period of absence, you always wonder if you are going to make a complete fool of yourself by falling off.

Fortunately, we both remembered how to do it, and there were no embarrassing moments! We went 5km into the rainforest, stopping off on the way to discover some facts about the world's second most poisonous plant, a completely inocuous looking heart shaped leafed thing that if you brush up against it, it leaves you in absolute agony. The guide did mention a story about a policeman who, about a century ago used a leaf to clean himself up after going to the toilet and ended up shooting himself dead as he was in so much pain afterwards and couldn't stand it any more. Warning! Do not try this at home!!

We also had the opportunity to climb inside a giant strangler fig.

It was very impressive looking up inside this leviathon.

On we went further into the rainforest until we reached a river and stopped for a snack lunch, thoughtfully provided as part of our trip. It turns out that the wife of the tour operator is a professional baker, and her chocolate brownies were to die for (hello, my name is Paul, and I am a chocoholic). After relaxing by the water for a while, the photo opportunity was too good to miss.

On the way back, we were able to go at our own speed, and we took off on our own, leaving the novice riders to go at a slower pace, made it back to the car park, then turned back to meet up with the following group, so we really made the most of the time allowed. All in all, a great morning.

In the afternoon, we took a courtesy bus around to Northerlies, a waterfront restaurant that had been recommended to us. We enjoyed a late lunch of Wagyu burgers with fries, sitting in the sunshine overlooking the sea. There are so many yachts in this area to look at. After  our meal,  we chatted with a group of locals who were on the next table, then we got a taxi back to town and relaxed on board for the evening watching a movie. All in all a great day!!

17 Aug 2019

17/8/2019: South Molle Island, Whitsundays, Queensland

Yet another scenic former mountain top today, former home to a luxury resort before a hurricane flattened it a few years ago, and now largely national park with wonderful hiking trails, how could we resist?

By 10am we were ashore setting off on a 'bush walk' through the dry rainforest and up onto an open plateau. Myriad colourful butterflies fluttered around us as we enjoyed the gradual climb up to Spion Kop, a rocky outcrop towering above Bauer Bay where Tumi was snuggly anchored. A much easier climb than yesterday but the views were equally special.

We were lucky enough to see another kookaburra today and this one was much closer when it sang it's song ... it's really distinctive. The variety of vegetation in the dry Forest is fascinating, ferns, palms, eucalyptus trees, trees that look like Ponderosa pines, and lots of fallen logs being devoured by ants. It's a very different feel to the UK!

Tonight we are at anchor in Airlie Beach, the mainland town that acts as the gateway to the Whitsundays. It's a bit of a party town but has a nice feel to it. We'll probably hang around here until a suitable weather window arises for our journey south to Bundaberg.

16 Aug 2019

16/8/2019: Cid Harbour Whitsunday Island, Queensland

We earned our lunch today … up reasonably early we embarked on scaling Whitsunday Peak, 407m above sea level (and that's where we started of course!) and it was basically 2.5km straight up! Our legs aren't used to such a challenge after 9 months afloat but we made it along the trail through the dry rainforest in around an hour. Walking out onto the rocky outcrop at the top revealed a stunning 360 degree view over the surrounding islands …. we can now really see why someone rather poetically described them as a handful of emeralds tossed onto turquoise velvet.

Paul got to tick off another box on his Australia list, this time sighting a kookaburra in the tree alongside the trail. A relative of the Jay family it has a very distinctive call. We were the first people climbing the peak today and so Paul, leading the way, cleared it of all overnight cobwebs as he strode out and scared away the critters, only nearly treading on one snake! I'm very glad he went first!

The anchorage at Cid Harbour is very sheltered and pretty, and popular too with both cruisers and sharks! Signs warn against swimming following a number of shark attacks in the last year … we're happy to comply! We'll spend another night here before venturing to the mainland over the weekend.

15 Aug 2019

14/8/2019: Nara Inlet, Hook Island, Whitsundays

The Aborigines in this area were actually called Ngaro, which is where the fjord like inlet got its bastardised name of Nara. We pushed our way into the inlet almost to the end where we tried unsuccessfully twice to drop the hook, but the bottom of the inlet was silt so soft it was like silk to the touch. We moved a bit farther out and managed to get the anchor to bite properly.

All around us in the tree lined inlet there came the squawking sounds of hundreds of sulphur crested cockatoos, and some even ventured down to sit on the backstay of a catamaran we were invited to have sundowners on last night. A very unusual sight for us, but exciting too.

The main reason for our visit to the Nara Inlet was to see the aboriginal art in a cave up on the hillside. We ran the dinghy up onto a small beach that had steps rising up the hillside and we followed them. Passing several brightly coloured butterflies on the way up, we finally arrived at the cave. We also passed signs that respectfully asked us to request permission from the spirits to visit the cave. This done, we want to have a look at the art.

The paintings have been carbon dated and are 5000 years old. Still remarkably well preserved as you can tell. It was well worth the visit.

13 Aug 2019

12/8/2019: Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island

We're blown away by Whitehaven Beach and so are still here four days on. Yesterday we hiked up to a look out and saw the full magnificence of the beach from above, all 7km of it it transpires! 

The locals are very friendly too. It's the Hamilton Island race week very soon and a lot of boats are here a few days early. It's apparently a big thing in the Australian sailing calendar, almost as big as the Sydney Hobart race but with not as big an international profile. We had drinks on board one of the race boats last night, skippered by a chap who owns a vineyard in the Yarra Valley, called Medhurst Wines. They make the Lonely Planet guide so are presumably a sizeable concern … and very nice wines they are too! Everyone is so welcoming and obviously impressed we have sailed here from England. Offers of local advice are readily forthcoming as are offers of sundowners. It felt strange leaving the company of the rally after 7 months together but we're soon slotting back into the cruising community!

We've got lots of photos to upload but will have to wait for a stronger signal ....

12 Aug 2019

11/8/2019: Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia

We're in the Whitsundays, a group of islands about 20 miles off the Queensland coast and they're simply stunning! Peaks of the mainland mountain range that became islands when sea levels rose, they are rugged, heavily vegetated and with divine white sand beaches. Throw in wall to wall blue skies and temperatures in the mid-twenties and spectacular sunsets, then life's good!

The largest island is called Whitsunday Island, home to Whitehaven Beach, one of Australia's best beaches and we have to see it's probably one of the nicest beaches we have ever seen in all our travels. At least a couple of miles long of the finest white sand (apparently it's 98% silica) it actually squeaks when you walk on it. A trail runs from the southern end over to Chance Bay and we risked the venomous spiders and posionous snakes of the Australian bush to walk over this morning … with no sightings of either thank goodness!  We did however see a Monitor Lizard looking rather like a spikeless iguana, various butterflies, a snake and lots of birds.

The waters surrounding the islands are reef-laden and a lovely turquoise, requiring careful navigation. Being inside the outer reef, they are reasonably calm and a haven for breeding humpback whales. On our journey up the day before yesterday they were very much in evidence, regularly breaching, slapping the water with their flippers to attract attention before diving deep with the tail flukes being the last sight. It's such a privilege to be able to see these magnificent mammals frolicing unthreatened by man.

7 Aug 2019

7/8/2019: Mackay Queensland Australia

We had planned to have been in the Whitsundays by now but instead decided to order and have installed a replacement heating element in the hot water heater, something that failed in Vanuatu. We have needed to run the engine to heat the water and not be able to use the equivalent of the immersion heater in recent weeks and so needed replacing and the chandlers here in Mackay were able to source the spare so it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Anyway we now have lashings of hot water again, all the more important now we are in cooler climes!

This morning we ventured into downtown Mackay to join a heritage walk around the city, learning the history of the town and its forefathers. The town first came into being in the mid-19th century, named after John Mackay and Englishman cattle farmer who established the first ranch in the area. In those days the river wasn't navigable, there being a long sandbar blocking the entrance to it, but one of the many cyclones that have hit the coast over the centuries washed it away and the Port of Mackay came into being. The first ship was tied up to a tree in 1862 and the tree remains growing today some 157 years later.

A particularly strong cyclone with an associated 6 metre high storm surge devastated the town in 1918 washing away most buildings and depositing ships and boats well inland, including one on the top of a hotel! Many able bodied men were away at the time and the town lost all power and communication, only being able to notify authorities in Brisbane when an enterprising local flashed a message by Morse code to a vessel offshore.

As a consequence of this cyclone, a lot of rebuilding was undertaken in the 1920s and Mackay has a definite Art Deco feel to the place. We learnt that there are different Art Deco styles: Hollywood, Liner, Egyptian etc and Mackay town centre has examples of most.

All being well we'll be on our way north to the Whitsundays tomorrow!

4 Aug 2019

4/8/2019: Cape Hillsborough National Park, Queensland

We were up very early this morning (4.30am!!) to travel up to Cape Hillsboro about 50km north of Mackay. The reason? To see the wallabies and kangaroos that come down onto the beach at dawn to eat the mango shoots washed in on the tide. Sadly for us no kangaroos put in an appearance but the wallabies put on a great show with their play-boxing and hopping around.

Nicky and Peter off Chanto (who sailed directly to Brisbane rather than Mackay) flew up to join us all on the trip and for the farewell awards dinner this evening. It was fun to be together again and after returning from the trip we enjoyed a boozy lunch on board Tumi. The awards dinner was a fitting farewell for the four boats leaving the rally in Mackay, ourselves included, with lots of good wishes and talk of reunions. It was also a celebration of us all crossing the Pacific, not an achievement to be taken lightly. As one fellow participant said, 'we are all not just quite but utterly exceptional people'. I don't know about that but it is certainly the biggest achievement of our lives and one that we will probably never top!