Friday, 15 August 2014

Australia, Whitsundays (Nara Inlet to Whitehaven) - 08/08/14

Garth edged closer to the wild cockatoo sitting on our bow, a crust of bread in one hand and a cheeky grin quickly spreading across his face. The happy fellow was chilling out on our pulpit, right at the front, jumping from one side of the boat to the other. Garth specifically pointed out that we shouldn't feed wild animals... And then couldn't help himself. He threw a few pieces of bread to our friend, who jumped down onto the deck and accepted them graciously. Then after chatting to him for a while, Garth decided to try and coax the bird into taking some out of his hand. He held out the whole crust, so there was a bit of space between the boy and the bird, and our visitor sidled along the lifelines to where Garth was sitting. He cautiously leaned forwards then snatched up the whole crust and flew back to his spot on the bow to enjoy his loot. He started ripping it to shreds in an attempt to extract all the seeds, making a royal mess on our deck. Once we recovered from our laughter, Garth tried to take the huge piece of bread off him, which was when he exited the scene and escaped onto the first spreader of the boat next to us. I don't think they enjoyed the spray of crumbs he then rained down upon them. Whoops.

We decided to name him Steve. Who over the next three days from our anchorage at Nara Inlet, Garth trained to be his friend. He thought it was hilarious. At first because the birds are both magnificent and entertaining up close and later because now they're going to continue to annoy people. Steve came over to visit every morning and afternoon, his presence announced with a loud squawk after the initial thumping noise from such a heavy object landing on our boat. We ignored him some mornings when we were still in bed, and the squawking ceased when Steve realized we weren't going to come out. We figured out he had all the boat people wrapped around his little finger on our second day there, when he landed on another boat and charmed them into submission as they too fed him and took pictures. He brought a friend (or maybe a girlfriend) with him the second day. She was much more shy than him, hanging back and taking a long time to come anywhere near us. But Steve was literally eating out of Garth's hand. My crazy husband put a gardening glove on and held his hand out with the food on his wrist, hoping they would perch on the glove.

They both grabbed the leather with their sharp beaks and instead tried to pull him closer to them. Steve tried leaning forward as far as possible, which resulted in him landing face first on Garth's hand as he refused to let go of the lifelines with his feet. He eventually discovered that Garth was friendly, and was perching on the gloved hand before the end of the day.


Pulling the glove closer

The last day we were there Garth decided we shouldn't feed then again. Then when they arrived he couldn't help himself, and let me give them some sunflower seeds. Steve does not care for sunflower seeds. He happily ate some when I scattered them on the deck, but when Garth tried to feed him he was having none of that. Garth was the bread machine, and Steve would accept nothing less than bread from him. Before we left Nara Inlet, the cheeky bugger was quite happily sitting on Garth's arm while he ate his breakfast, much to my husbands delight. If we'd stayed longer I'm sure Garth would have gotten him to sit on his shoulder and say hello (he was trying SO HARD, repeating it over and over again - he thought it would be hilarious when Steve started talking to all the other boat people at random).

The cockatoos really were adorable though. They would land on the stays and hang on sideways before maneuvering their way down using their beaks as an extra foot. And they would sidestep back and forth along the lifelines, or perch up on the solar panels or spreader bars just watching us. The day we left they were strutting up and down the deck like they owned the place. They gave off an aura of intelligence though - they knew which boat was ours, and they could tell the two of us apart from each other. I can see why people keep them as pets - they're amazing birds.

Nara inlet was pretty, although the highlight was definitely the cockatoos. We parked up for a few days to get some repairs done and as a result we've finally fixed the broken windows. Finally. They're not as pretty as before, but they're also no longer rotting after the addition of some fiberglass, epoxy filler and sika.

It was an amazingly calm anchorage there in all wind conditions, but there's not much to do and nobody else seemed to stay more than a night. There's a short walk to a cave with some Aboriginal paintings, which were interesting. I did a day trip to the Whitsundays five or six years ago and when I reached the top of the hill I realized that Nara Inlet had been one of the stops on my trip. It was like a blast from the past - the place was exactly the same. From the water however, it looked the same as all our other anchorages - pretty water, interesting rocks and a picturesque backdrop of hills and mountains.

Aboriginal paintings

We went for a walk along the rocks, where we stumbled upon a tradition that has clearly died off in recent years. Hundreds of boats that had been there in years past had painted their names onto the rocks, along with the year they were there. The American ones often had 'USA' scrawled proudly alongside their names, but the origin of all the others remains a mystery. The ones we could read dated back to the 50's and seem to have stopped 10 or 20 years ago. One was even done by stencil, suggesting that leaving your mark behind was a common thing to do.

We headed to Whitehaven Beach once our repairs were done, which I'd been looking forward to immensely. Another stop from my trip many years ago, I remembered white sand, clear water and being surrounded by beauty. It's what comes to mind whenever anybody mentions a tropical paradise. Coincidentally it's a great kiting spot so Garth carefully timed our stopover for when there would be wind.

Shameless selfie at Tongue Point lookout

We're parked up at Tongue Bay, which is a really nice anchorage. There's turtles everywhere again - I've come to expect them now. I'll be confused when we go back to the real world and I don't get greeted by exciting wildlife every morning and afternoon. There's a pretty walk over the island from our anchorage to the beach, which winds in amongst the trees and goes over a nice boardwalk at the end. There's another path that heads up into the hills and ends at a lookout up above everything. It was a short walk and had a beautiful view.

The view from the lookout

Forest walk

Sunset over our anchorage at Tongue Point Bay

We spent three days at the beach. I can't remember ever just spending a day at the beach before - when I was younger I'd take my board into the water and would have to be dragged out by my mother. Literally. She would yell at me to come in, and after a billion 'just one more' waves she'd come and chase me to the shore. When I was older I hated the sun. And the sand. I guess I still do... I used to get upset when the tiny grains of sand made it into my car, and now I get upset when they're in the boat. I always kept a body board in the car though, just in case I ended up going for a quick paddle. But I would never just go to the beach and park up in the sun with a packed lunch and a book. That's exactly what we've been up to for the last three days though - Garth kited while I lazed around and read a book. It was fabulous.

A few times a day he would come get me and I'd have a quick go on the kite, slowly getting better each time. Slowly. He snapped the kite lines on our last day so I didn't get a turn, but at the end of day two I could go for about 50m before falling down. And when I lost it I could bounce back up and keep going. So that was exciting! Considering the epic nosedives I'd managed the day before... I'm surprised there's any water left in the ocean after the amount I ended up swallowing. I was not impressed with the stingrays, who may have inhibited my learning process - they were everywhere. And they were huge. They would always scoot away as soon as you came near them, but I didn't like looking down to see that I was about to fall onto a giant stingray. They were not my friends.

Kiting over scary stingrays

There were a few other kiters around, but not as many as you'd expect. Jeff's boat was parked up next to ours and he came out kiting for the first two days - he was much better than Garth but it was still fun having somebody else around. We're never very social and usually keep to ourselves so it was really nice to have some good company. The first time I got on the kite I dropped it immediately - concentrating isn't my strong point and Jeff was doing awesome jumps in the corner of my eye. So I was watching him instead of the kite... Maybe one day I'll learn to focus!

The beach itself was a bit strange. We were kiting at Hill Inlet, which is technically still Whitehaven Beach but is actually separated by a channel of water. You can walk across at low tide. It felt like we were all alone, in the middle of nowhere. We'd be the only people on this huge expanse of sand and it was hard to believe we were anywhere near civilization. Then a tour boat would arrive and dump all it's people off. The beach would be really populated for about an hour then they were all herded back on board and taken away again, leaving us on our own private island. It was actually a bit funny watching them - they all did the same thing. Get off the boat, be impressed by how beautiful it was, do the walk up to the lookout, come back down and kind of mill around the water before getting back onboard. None of them seemed to know what to do. Only a handful of people got in the water over three days, out of three or four boatloads a day. They all just stared at the water. Stared at the sand. Took photos and then gazed in wonderment at the kites. Jeff would tease them, swooping the kite low over their heads, doing awesome jumps right in front of them or heading straight for the beach then turning away just before he got to them. They absolutely loved it. Garth is still too scared of crashing into people to come that close to them, so he wasn't as entertaining. When I was kiting and a big tour group were leaving they were all watching me. I launched myself into the air and landed face first in the water, crashing the kite. Garth said he could hear every single person onboard inhale in sympathy as I hit the water... Not quite the same.

The sand is beautiful. It's really fine, really soft and really white. The sun was out for the first two days and I was in and out of the water, washing all the sand off. Yesterday the wind was stronger and the sand was like wind blown snow - it was getting everywhere. All through my hair. In the bags. In my food. There was so much of it in my book that I couldn't close it until Garth swept each page out with a brush back at the boat. I just sat with my back to the wind all day, piles of sand building up around me. Not much fun. It will be a long time before we get all the sand off the boat, out of our hair and off our clothes. 

My pasty white skin actually looks tanned next to the sand at Whitehaven


Cartwheels on Whitehaven Beach

Friday, 1 August 2014

Australia, Whitsundays (Bait reef - Airlie) - 29-07-14

We're all alone. All of our people have gone home and we're parked up outside Airlie Beach. We've decided not to be sad about losing all our friends or dwell on all the things we'll miss about having company (like the way Sam always gets sick of snorkeling first and then has hot milo waiting for us. Or how excited Sarah gets about everything. Or how wonderful Tom is for chefing us up a meal every single day. Or how helpful Garth's parents are with absolutely everything. Or the fact that now I actually have to do things instead of just passing out instructions). Instead we've decided to be excited about all the things we can do again now that we're alone. Like never having to wear clothes again. Ever. And not having to whisper when we wake up in the morning. And restoring our home to normal now that we have all the space back. But we're definitely going to miss having our friends and family around all the time. It was actually really amazing that they were all able to come out and visit us at all. Boat time works very differently to land time and 'sometime in the beginning of July' or 'when there's wind' aren't that helpful when you're trying to book flights.

Sarah and Tom

Our last few days with everyone were a lot of fun at least. Once the wind calmed down a bit we headed over to Bait Reef, which was just round the corner from Hook. We were worried about going in while there were strong winds which is why we waited, but the entrance was actually really easy. You could clearly see all the patches of coral (though Garth was up the mast to make sure) and as long as you keep the yellow marker on your starboard side it's a piece of cake. There's actually a really wide space to go through, unlike at Lady Musgrave which was really narrow and scary. Just don't try and cut in between the stepping stones that border the anchorage. Just don't. One of the gaps looks wide enough to squeeze through. I'm pretty sure it's not.

Bait Reef

Bait reef was awesome. We looked up where to go before we lost our Internet reception and this is all we could find. Which was pretty helpful. But irrelevant, because the whole place is really awesome so it doesn't matter where you go. We did try to hit up a few of the different areas that were listed though. We moored on the buoy straight in from the entrance (the most easterly mooring). In case that's helpful to anyone.

Sarah is really, really scared of sharks. The dive site I found said there were a few resident reef sharks in the area so she was really nervous. She spent the whole day before and that morning worrying about being eaten alive while Sam innocently hummed the Jaws music. We finally convinced her to get into the water so we could go exploring. She was back on the boat screaming about 15 seconds later... When she jumped in and looked down the first thing she saw was a big reef shark heading straight for her. Except reef sharks don't look like the cuddly, friendly fellows that they are. They look like sharks. With sharp teeth, a pointy nose and that distinctive fin that comes to mind whenever anybody yells 'Shark!' She grabbed the fish book (which has been super handy, thanks Mike!) and flipped through all the shark pages. It was definitely a white pointer. It was going to kill us all.

Garth went looking for it and confirmed that it was a reef shark, so we all got back in and held hands as we swam towards the reef. Another shark swam under us on the way over, but it was smaller and the distinctive tips to mark it as a reef shark were clearly visible so the frightened girl section of our group calmed down a bit (I'm not keen on the idea of hugging a shark either).

Just swimming around the boat was pretty epic on its own. There was a massive Maori Wrasse hanging around, at least 1m long. And he had lots of massive friends, including a few of the tuna looking guys who stole Sarah's flipper at Manta Ray Bay. They were huge! I don't know why huge fish are scary. They're just fish. They're not going to eat me. But we both know they could if they wanted...

Big Fish! These are the ones that look like tuna but probably aren't

The most amazing thing about this reef was definitely the coral formations. The coral itself was really corally, with an interesting variety of soft and hard. But it was the way it had grown that made this place so epic. The first place we went was straight out from the boat, further east. The whole place was made up of big walls with deep crevasses in between them. It was like a huge maze with little pathways everywhere! There were lots of outcrops to dive under and tunnels to swim through. Then we'd stumble upon a lagoon and you'd have to find the next pathway in the maze. So that was a really interesting snorkel. It was the first time I've wished I could dive - you could see the bottom the whole time but it would have been cool to have more time under water to explore the walls and crevasses.

Pathways through the coral

Looking towards the eastern side of Bait Reef

Later that afternoon and again the next day we explored the southern side of the reef. We took the dinghy all the way over to the buoy for the 'Manta Ray drop off,' and were immediately kicked off by a big tour boat. They were the only tourists we'd seen in ages though, and they were a long way away from our anchorage. The reef there was similar to the maze section on the eastern side, but this time we paid more attention to the tide and went in between high and low. So we had enough water under us to swim over the top of the coral... At low tide the reef is too close to the surface.

Swimming over this reef was actually a bit scary, if you're the kind of person who is easily frightened by unknown sea life. There were lots of deep caves and crevasses, with huge fish lurking in them. But aside from that the whole top of the reef was made up of twisty curvy coral, with tiny holes and caves everywhere. Fish were swimming in and out of them all over the place and you'd often just see a pair of eyes or a dark hole underneath you, unsure of what might pop out.

A blurry pic from the southern side near Manta Ray Drop Off

That area had heaps of sea anemones with clown fish hiding in them, which was pretty awesome. There weren't many nemo looking fish - each one was a different colour. But they were really cute!

The current out there was really strong and it was impossible to swim against it. We spent a lot of time and energy trying to go in the wrong direction as we looked for manta rays in the deep, but we eventually gave up. Garth ended up towing the dinghy behind him and we just let ourselves be pushed back over the reef towards the boat. We found two turtles on the southern end - one on top of the reef in shallow water and another swimming in between two walls. We saw one more pop up next to us as we were heading over there in the dinghy. Yay, turtles!

The southern end

As we were swimming along the edge of a shelf we found ourselves in amongst a massive school of tiny fish. They went as far as we could see and took at least five minutes to pass, so we were just engulfed by them. The water around us looked like it was full of glitter, all shimmery and shiny. Then as we were playing in amongst the fish a manta ray swam under us. We couldn't see it very well because of all the glitter, so we both dove down to investigate. It was only small but was moving fast. I thought it looked a bit bigger than a normal stingray, but Garth said it was quite far away and about 2m wide. So definitely a baby, but exciting nonetheless!

Glitter water from thousands of tiny fish

A very blurry, very far away manta ray

Garth discovered that when you dive down in a passageway you can hear whale cries echoing through the water - in some places the passages amplified the noise. Which was really amazing. So we spent ages diving down and floating up to listen to the whales singing and crying and just generally making noise. You could hear them near the surface as well, but the further down we went the longer you could listen for - you had to wait for the bubbles and other noises to stop in order to hear properly. I hadn't noticed the noises before that, but when I watched the gopro videos from the day before on the eastern side you could hear them really loudly as well.

The stepping stones were really interesting, and I guess what all the divers go out there to investigate. They're really different to most reefs and are exactly how you'd picture them - big long columns of various widths coming up from the ground. They're quite big (15 - 50m across, according to the dive site), and they're all covered in coral. Swimming over the top is just like swimming over a normal reef, except everything is quite flat and even. The sides have bigger coral on them, and are equally as interesting. So they were pretty cool and we explored all the southern ones really well.

Looking towards some of the Stepping Stones on the southern side of the reef

So that was Bait Reef. We would have liked to explore the stepping stones around the entrance and look at the other side of the reef on the southern end (there's a mooring buoy there so we could have gone over in the big boat) but we ran out of time. I'm so glad we had the opportunity to go over to that area at all - Hook and Bait reef are much further away from land and a lot less populated with tourists. Plus I got to swim with turtles, sharks and a manta ray all in the same day, so I'm pretty happy.

We went back to Airlie via a rocky anchorage on the east coast of Hook Island and then Cid harbour, but we only stopped there for lunch. Then everybody took off for their real lives, with work, Uni, families and bills to tend to. While we parked up in a nice bay and watched the sun set. It's a bit surreal remembering what life was like before the boat.

We did a lot of our provisioning for the South Pacific from Cannonvale, which is round the corner from Airlie. The anchorage there was just down the road from the supermarket, which is a lot closer than anywhere else we'll end up on the way down the coast. The only other convenient place to provision from is Yepoon because they have a complimentary car if you stay in the marina. But we can't afford any more marinas! So we're stocked up on food. We also got a heap of things we needed to start tackling our list of repairs, along with 10L of antifoul paint (We got 10L for almost the same price as 8L when it's on sale) The guy even had a nice dog and he said he could ship us more if we needed it. Just in case that's helpful to anyone - I prefer to buy stuff from nice guys with dogs than from big companies. His name was Sean). So we're ready to start thinking about leaving the country! We just have to explore the Whitsundays a bit more first...

An afternoon yacht race near Airlie Beach

Xxx Monique