Australia, Blog

To the Top of Australia; Rain-forest, Reef and Crocodile Rivers

Sailing north from Magnetic Island we were involved a dramatic sea rescue. A crackly, barely decipherable message over the VHF had mentioned a boat was missing from the anchorage we had just left. Hours later Matt spotted a floating object appearing then disappearing with the waves. As we approached it was clear that it was a tender/dinghy with an outboard attached but no visible people. What was it we had heard on the radio? Just a missing boat or was anyone supposed to be aboard? Circling around the dinghy, a call back to the coastguard eventually confirmed that there were no missing persons, just an adrift dinghy. Panic over, we relayed our position and stayed with the dinghy until the coastguard arrived and towed it back upwind to Magnetic Island.

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The resulting good karma brought us Manta Rays circling around Florence as soon as we arrived at our next stop; Orpheus Island. It seemed we were in the prime feeding area as they glided back and forth, close to the boat. Matt jumped in with the gopro but the water clarity was poor so finding them involved some directing from above. Not knowing what else might be lurking in the murky depths, it was a quick dip.

The next morning had us moving on to the Hinchinbrook Channel; often seen as the beginning of this coastlines true tropical region. Signified not by the number of paradise islands, but the volume of rain, rain forest, crocodiles, mosquitoes, humidity and yet more rain. This area is also the start of more accelerated winter trade winds, which will continue up the coast and can blow for months without respite. Hinchinbrook Island is Queensland’s largest national park and the channel between it and the mainland, the most scenic and calm waterway on the East Coast of Australia. At least that was what we had been told was hidden within the clouds. It was somewhere we had hoped to spend more time, yet with all wild places, limited access is what keeps the crowds away. There is only one good anchorage where you can access the shoreline on the island and the bay does not link up with the island’s main walking track. Not liking the thought of having to beat our way through the bush to get anywhere, we decided to leave it to hardier adventurers than us.

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A morning brew with a view in the Hinchinbrook channel

Friends on Osprey greeted us in Mourilyan Harbour, like good friends do, with homemade pizza, beer and tales of the latest weird and wonderful Australian wildlife they have spotted. This time, a cassowary; reputed to be the most dangerous bird in the world, spotted just up the road from our anchorage. Think colourful Ostrich, armed with a helmet on it’s head and dagger on each claw. Clearly the only sensible decision would be to go ashore and find one ourselves. Extensive googling revealed that deaths from Cassowary attacks had only happened when the person fell to the ground, at which point the giant bird went in for the kill with it’s dagger claws. Much discussion and many beers later, we had established the best line of defence. Keep our distance, stick together, put our arms above our heads to make ourselves tall, not run (they can reach 50km p/h and love a good chase) and what ever happened, NOT fall over. Having already survived their own Cassowary encounter, Mark and Marjo left us to it as we set out the following morning in a nervous search for the giant, hostile bird. A short distance up the road, warning signs told us we were in the right area before we spotted a lone Cassowary, stalking around the perimeter of a fenced garden. Watching it peer into the windows, and over the fence, it was clear it wanted to be in the house. Eventually a home owner appeared and called over the fence “oh that’s George, the fence is to keep her away from our fruit trees. She’s not too bad but the other 2 that are usually around here with chicks are aggressive @#$%s ” With that we bid George a polite goodbye from about half a mile away and tentatively made our way back to the boat. Cassowary seen. Lives intact. Now what about those crocodiles?

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The cassowary’s most dangerous weapon is the razor-sharp claw on the middle toe of each foot, which can grow to be 5 inches long. The second largest bird in the world and most dangerous, their kicks can be fatal. They have also inflicted injury by a series of headbutts using their ‘helmet’. (George was apparently named before her sex was known)

Fitzroy Island, provided a great place to wait out the arrival of some post to nearby Cairns (including we hoped, our passports and Indonesian Visas). We lived like the island’s many visitors for a couple of days, hiking to top of the hill, visiting the turtle rehab centre and snorkelling the excellent reef straight from Florence. However we skipped the noisy beach bar, preferring more relaxed evenings aboard.

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The turtle sanctuary on Fitzroy Island is known as the ‘Fat Farm’ as it’s used to fatten up recovering turtles before they are re-released where they were found. This is Jules, a beautiful juvenile green turtle with a love of purple cabbage.
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Although the visibility was fairly poor, Fitzroy Island had LOTS of turtles. We saw at least 8 in one swim.

Cairns was a whistle stop. Picking up parcels, provisioning, chores, yet more provisioning. The only ‘nice bit’ we saw of the place was a walk along the foreshore to the Botanical Gardens. That was until our passports didn’t arrive when we expected, delaying us but meaning an unexpected meeting with some sailing friends we met in Vanuatu. Erica and Gunther had temporarily swapped their boat for a car, travelling the same long miles up the coast as we have. They kindly took us out for the day to enjoy their company in the beautiful Kuranda village and forest.

Cairns Botanical Gardens:

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Cairns

By now we had seen a lot of Crocodile warning signs and heard lots of stories but were beginning to doubt our chances of seeing them in the wild. The mangrove swamp of Port Douglas changed that. The largest of these awe inspiring prehistoric creatures we spotted was 2.5 meters long, a mere baby in comparison to the 4.5 meter adult ‘salties’ that inhabit this section of coast.

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Friends on Osprey in the beautifully sheltered crocodile swamp of Port Douglas

Cooktown was the last ‘town’ on this coast and until very recently it marked the last sealed road for those venturing the remaining 860 km to Cape York ‘the top of Australia’. Cooktown was the place Captain Cook and his men spent the longest time in Australia, working to repair the holed Endeavour in 1770. They made their first true contact with the Guugu Yimithirr Aboriginal people and sighted their first kangaroo here. It became busy gold mine, harbouring thousands of miners and their various vices before the gold ran out and Cooktown was left a ghost town. Fast forward to 2019 and the town is similar to what you might expect from an out of the way town in Northern Australia; one food shop, at least 6 bottle-o’s (liquor shops) and various pubs. The tight, shallow, crowded anchorage didn’t allow for a particularly good nights sleep so having topped up with water and food, we soon headed on.

As well as bringing some welcome shelter from the now relentless trade winds, a stop on Lizard Island gave us the opportunity to both stretch our legs ashore and swim from the boat. The 356m hill above the anchorage is the home of ‘Cook’s Lookout’, the spot Cook climbed when eagerly seeking an escape route from the Great Barrier Reef, which he found in the aptly named ‘Cook’s Passage’ just north of the island. Not eager to leave the reef that has been vastly reducing the ocean swell on our way North, we climbed the hill multiple times, partly because the view was so good, partly because it was the only good place for phone reception on the island. The ability to leave Florence in a secure bay, with easy dinghy access to the beach, no (or very little) worry of crocodiles and multiple walking tracks was a welcome break and part of the reason we stayed longer here than planned.

A visit to the island’s Great Barrier Reef research centre, provided a small insight into the work that is ongoing to protect this precious resource. The ‘Clam Garden’ reef next to the anchorage held more giant (1.5 meter) clams than we could count and some of the best soft coral we have seen.

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Florence at anchor on Lizard Island

Sheltered from the ocean swell by the outer reef and pushed along by the constant 20+knot trade winds, sailing the rest of the coast north was both fast and fun. Most of the journey could be broken up into day sails, if we left early enough, allowing for us to arrive at an anchorage with enough light to drop the hook, enjoy the sunset and a good nights sleep before moving on again early the next day. Not having to regularly sail though the night meant the sleep deprived fog that often accompanies our sailing lifted to reveal a rekindled love of sailing. Ticking the miles away, chatting in the cockpit, reading, playing games and even drinking coffee (usually a big no-no in any swell). There were enough sail changes, reefs and shipping to dodge to keep life interesting, yet the flatter water made for some very enjoyable sailing.

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Before we knew it we were flying through the tide swept Adolphus channel and passing the wind swept ‘tip of Australia’, Cape York. From here we not only say goodbye to Queensland’s rain forest, reef and crocodile rivers but Australia itself. In our wake we leave the country that has felt like home for the last 9 months and head to Indonesia, the country we are excited to make our home for the next 3 months.

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Cape York; the top of mainland Australia

 

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7 thoughts on “To the Top of Australia; Rain-forest, Reef and Crocodile Rivers”

  1. Wow – I’m breathless! Maggi Island to Cape York in one fantastic post! You guys are really keeping up a pace. Glad you got to enjoy a few lovely anchorages along the way and hopefully that whet your appetite to come back some day and have time to smell the hibiscus and enjoy more of the wildlife on offer. Good luck with the Indo passage and all that lies ahead of you. Come back soon. The great southern land will still be here. N‘joy 💙

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  2. Bye bye Matt and Amy, it was so much fun reading your side of how you see our new home country Australia and all the absolutely beautiful picture you’ve taken along the way. We wish you all the best on the next leg of your adventurous journey and are sure that our paths will meet again somewhere. We are off to Indonesia ourselves for a week next week so we’ll do some recon for you 🙂
    Save sailing and we look forward to your next update from the Indonesian waters. Our warmest regards, Ingrid and Alan

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    1. A good sailing friend of ours has given up saying goodbye to friends, as more often than not he bumps into the same people again a few anchorages further along. So we will say ‘see you later’ rather than bye bye. Best of luck with your sailing plans and we look forward seeing you on the ocean one day soon. Please keep in touch. M&A

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  3. Woww another great blog. Really enjoyed reading and watching your travels along the Aussie coast. You inspire those of us on the other side of the world to follow you! Great pictures too. Love your travels. Safe passage to Indonesia!

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  4. Dear Matt & Aimee,
    Just a short note to say that words cannot describe the heartfelt thanks and appreciation for all your beautiful photos and interesting dialog, thereby allowing us less fortunate, “armchair sailors and dreamers” to “accompany” you both on your amazing travels as you “live the dream”…..how very fortunate you both are!!
    In addition, I really enjoy your YouTube documentaries, ( best on the web!).
    Well done and thank you very much!!
    Take care and travel well.
    We wish you both health, blue skies and calm seas….and enough wind!!
    Kind regards,
    Geoff
    Landlubber / dreamer
    South Africa
    meadowgd@eskom.co.za
    [cid:imagedeb214.JPG@da10c56c.42be42ee]
    [cid:image196ace.JPG@2419704b.47b2dc81] [cid:image6f703e.JPG@877e5c67.48b00907] [cid:image940a0e.JPG@ca1445c9.4cac5fe1] [cid:imagea6d872.JPG@de9b2d6f.469dcb2c] [cid:image2b839d.JPG@b4ef79bf.478f9191]

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    1. Thanks for your kind words Geoff. We thank our lucky stars over and over that we are able to see all these things and live this life. We are very much looking forward to when we visit South Africa too.
      Matt and Amy

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