Thursday, 10 July 2014

Australia, Lady Musgrave Island to Yepoon 07-07-14

We were sitting in the dinghy with Garth rowing us over the reef at lady Musgrave Island. "Let me know when you see a turtle," he said. He was facing backwards to row, so I was supposed to be watching where we were going. "Okay," was my immediate reply. "Oh, there's one. And another one!" Cue me sticking the gopro under the water as we rowed over them and onwards to the next one. And that was pretty much Lady Musgrave Island - it was literally swimming with turtles.

We picked up Garth's parents in Bundaberg, said a temporary goodbye to Sam and headed over to the island. Although I'm surprised we stayed afloat with the amount of food on board - Mike and Christine have never once let us go hungry in their presence. Even on skiing holidays when lunchtime rolled around they would produce a huge esky full of food and lay out a feast fit for a king. When we go skiing on our own we take peanut butter sandwiches. So we knew we would be eating well for the next two weeks while we had them onboard.

Bundaberg wasn't very exciting so I won't even mention it, except to say that Sunday is not a good day to visit if you want shops to be open. Sailing up the river at night was fun though - there were little fishing boats zipping all around us. Then sailing back down again during the day was interesting, as the countryside all along the river is mostly farmland with tractors and sugar cane fields lining the water.

Being back in the ocean was much more eventful, as I saw my third whale on the way to Lady Musgrave. Mike was at the helm when he pointed out a big group of birds ahead of us just off our starboard side. We were heading right for them. You often see groups of birds and they are usually just a good indication that we should be putting the fishing line out. These birds were weird though. There was so many of them in a really concentrated circle, and they were viciously attacking the water rather than just swooping at it.

I was watching them for less than a minute when a blue whale launched himself up in the middle of all the birds, right next to us. It felt like his head was out of the water for an eternity, while he swallowed all the fish and then lowered himself back down into the water again. I saw a white shape dart under us and go over to the other side, and for a while we could see sprays of water and general chaos in amongst all the birds. Garth informed me that whales often work together to round fish up into a tight little circle before taking turns to go underneath them and swim up through the middle for a nice meal. So that explained that. It was magnificent though - we could see all the lines on his skin really clearly. If I'd had the camera handy I would have gotten a good shot, but I wasn't going to run off and miss it.

Lady Musgrave Island is amazing. I remember holidaying in Bagara every year as a child, which is right next to Bundy. All the tourist brochures and signs there were advertising tours for Lady Musgrave and Lady Elliot Islands. The images on them were always of pretty fish, beautiful beaches and interesting reefs through crystal clear water. So this was one place I was really looking forward to going to. It didn't disappoint.

The snorkelling was amazing. I'm trying to think of a better word, but that's the only one that seems to fit. The island is surrounded by reefs, and the anchorage is in the middle of  them all - the only way to get in is through a very narrow entrance. Then once you manage to get secured on a spot of sand in amongst all the coral, you have your pick of reef to explore.

Which was great in theory, but we kept getting stuck on the boat. It was a long way to shore in big waves with four of us on a two person dinghy. So the trip was wet and uninviting. It would have been okay if you took away the icy southerly wind blowing on our wet skin, but there it was. We managed to get into shore just before the sun went down on the second day and we briefly explored the reef between us and the island. It was magnificent! The coral was bright and there was an abundance of fish, which we were very excited to discover. There were a few unwelcome sea creatures as well though - I was swimming over a little cave when I realized there was a huge carpet shark hiding underneath me. I got the hell out of there and only came back when I had Garth for protection.

We were stuck on the boat for another day - the wind got stronger and the waves were throwing our poor little boat around. Then we lost the dinghy. The day before we heard somebody pleading on the VHF for help finding theirs after the rope snapped and the waves took it. Our rope snapped and the waves took it. I don't know how we're even still alive. Thank god the guy on the boat next to us saw it go and chased it down for us, or we would have been in for a bad holiday. I wanted to hug him. Now it has a new painter and 2 lines securing it instead of one...

Garth and I eventually got sick of being trapped by the wind and went to shore anyway. The dinghy didn't tip over. Success. We went to the other side of the island near the campground to go snorkelling this time, where we found all of the turtles. As in, ALL of the turtles. They were under the dinghy, they were swimming with us on the reef and they were chilling near the shore. It was awesome.

We swam way out onto the reef, where we nearly got eaten by a shark. Though to be fair it didn't seem that interested in us. I thought it was a little reef shark swimming quite close to us as we stopped dead in our tracks and waited for it to pass. However, Garth later said it was further away than we thought and quite a bit bigger - murky gopro footage confirmed this (we need to get a dive case for clearer footage). It was a black finned reef shark and about 1.5m long - big enough to take a chunk out of my leg, but not big enough to eat me. Although they don't usually like to eat people as a general rule (I added that for the benefit of my mother).

We went out with Mike and Christine the next day and Mike stumbled across a big manta ray in the same area, making it the most interesting reef we've seen so far. I loved it there! Mike was not impressed with being face to face with a strange ray, which apparently circled him threateningly before swimming off to find someone else to examine. Mike however fled the scene, as well as anybody can flee in flippers, and decided he was done with bitey things for the day.

The island itself was really pretty, but it reminded me of a scene out of a horror movie. We walked along a track from the camping site to the beach near our boat and it wound through dense trees. There were birds everywhere, screeching and circling us. They weren't afraid of people, the breeze from their wings rustling my hair as they flew right past my head. When you looked up into the trees there were countless black shapes above us with glassy little eyes staring down. I got the feeling that if we got stuck in that forest we would eventually be eaten alive.

We did a night passage to Hummocky island when the weather calmed down enough for us to escape through the reef. The passage there was was nice and uneventful, which is just how I like night passages to be. We had planned on finding some walking tracks across the island, but the only signs of civilization were one set of fading footsteps in the sand and an old notice informing visitors that it was a national park. What it did have was an abundance of butterflies. I'm not sure if it's breeding season or if they were just hanging out, but we were completely surrounded by fluttery wings and pretty colours swirling all around us in a flurry.

It's amazing how different the scenery is after the sun has come up.

So we had fun running around in amongst them, then we set off again for Great Keppel Island. We didn't explore it properly - we just went ashore for bread and an ice cream. But it was beautiful. The beach was lined with palm trees, there weren't many people around and the water was pristine. We anchored in five metres and I could see every shell, contour and ripple in the sand underneath us. There was no murky haze as the water got deeper - it was as if I could just reach down and touch the bottom.
Now we're in Yeppoon, catching up with my dear friend Nyssa and her new family. It's nerve wracking having small people running around on the boat! She is an excellent silversmith, and has made us beautiful bon voyage presents. Now Garth has a new wedding ring! Hopefully this one won't get lost.

My darling Sarah is here too! Which is exciting, because her and Tom are making their way North to meet up with us in the Whitsundays after Garth's parents have to head home. So now we're going to chase her, with a passage to the Percy islands and then another one back into Mackay. It will take her a day and us a week, so I guess we're losing the transportation game. But we have whales and turtles so it's okay.

Xxx Monique

Snorkeling at Lady Musgrave:

Walking across the island:

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