A little over a week after being in Airlie and a good 5 day weather window opened up to get out to the reef. Yeah! It was monday morning and off we sailed at around 9am to spend the night at Butterfly Bay (north Hook Island). This would allow for an easy 17nm trip the next day out to Bait reef, the closest in the group. Our passage was a mix of sailing, motorsailing and motoring, with the wind (well breeze) ending up on our nose. It was a pleasant day none the less and as usual it felt good to be heading back out to nature. Swearing we would never spend the night on one of those loud clunking public moorings again we decided upon a compromise as a trial (seeming moorings are sooooo much easier in these deep water parts and pulling up 30 metres of chain with no electric anchor winch). As long as the tide and wind would not be against each other we would try. I also created a mooring fender by tying my yoga mat around the beast (I told hubby I would use it my mat on this trip!!).
TUESDAY: Just after day break we set sail for Bait Reef, passing through the shipping channel that runs between the reef and the Whitsunday Islands (good environmental protection eh?).
As we neared Bait reef it was time for bommie spotting action. As often is the case I was my usual Mrs Cautious and Radha was his Mr She’ll Be Right. Between the negotiations we made it onto the mooring that was the most difficult to get to surrounded by the most bommies and all these little squid.
Okay so excitement level had risen a notch or two after this and we were ready to hit the reef (not literally) and go snorkelling! (Sorry camera stayed on the boat). As we swum back to our boat a large fish greeted us and escorted us back to the boat at which point I stayed in the water to make friends with it. Unbeknown to me Radha went and got some food for it. All of a sudden this friendly curious fish turned into a ravenously, hungry darting fish and yes I got a little scared and called to Radha for help only to see him dropping food into the water. Okay he may not be a shark but he was big and did have teeth! Radha thought it was hilarious…so did I 🙂
And that concluded our first day on this part of Great Barrier Reef, some dinner, kirtan and off to sleepy time with a sparkling moon overhead and a cool breeze through the hatch. It was almost too good to be sleeping inside.
Wednesday: Our plan for today was a morning snorkel and then head out to Hardy Reef. Once the sun was up enough to be shinning on the reef we took our tender out to find a different patch of reef. We found a good sandy patch to lay the anchor but had to add some extra weight as it was dragging on the bottom (being very shelley). A piece of lead in our canvas bucket and a chain did the trick. I had heard the expression of coral being like an underwater garden before but this was the first time that I really experienced that. Many of the soft corals looked like little bunches of flowers and not in the bright colours often depicted in paintings. This was a garden of pastels; shades of cream, yellow, blue, green, pink and violet, filled with clams just as colourful and many, many fish.
The highlight of this snorkel was the family of clown fish that Radha found on the edge of a bommie. There was mummy, daddy and a wee little baby keeping sheltered amongst it’s soft, swaying home. All in all the snorkel was bloody fantastic and got a definite thumbs up! You know one of the great things about Bait Reef is that it is not very far away from land, you can still see the islands which gives you a sense of security. There seems to be enough public moorings to go around and getting into the moorings was easily navigable with the good conditions and sunshine we had. Oh and we hoisted the phone up the mast and got internet reception for a weather update just a FYI.
Well now it was on to Hardy Reef. And yes we got to see a whale! It was a little close. It came up for a breath about 20 metres away from the boat when Radha saw it, then it submerged again heading just slightly south of our path. We held our breath for a few seconds hoping all would be clear, which it was, but it does take your breath away a little being so close to such an enormous creature.
You do need to work the tides to get into Hardy Lagoon as a ‘waterfall’ occurs at the only entry way, caused by the run off from the reef. We tried to time our run to be there once it had stabilised (approx. 1 hr after low tide on neap and 2 1/2 hr after low on spring). We were early and the waterfall was still in full swing. As we motored around waiting another boat joined the queue.
Our first attempt was unsuccessful. We thought we had made it, having made our way through the narrowest section but then the outflow was still too overwhelming and we started to get pushed backward. Radha began to steer us out but then ended in limbo for a few seconds as the incoming and outgoing didn’t want us going anywhere! Well we made it out, waited for 15 minutes then tried again. Easy peasy japaneasy! We layed the pick and took in our surrounds.
Thursday: Snorkelling day. We admit we did not feel as comfortable and safe as we did at Bait. No we really felt ourselves out in the wilderness here.
Later in the day we went for a super long tender ride (Radha did want to find Heart reef) which was awesome. Did see a few sharks though…..But wow the expanse of this reef system was truly something. It is HUGE. You do have to make sure though if exploring with tide going low that you can make it back as the reef shallows. Well that was us for the day, and for Hardy, tomorrow we were going to head off back to Airlie. But tonight we enjoyed being alone in Hardy Reef lagoon.
The following morning it was time to leave. We were a little nervous about getting out. The passage is not very wide at all and there is a bommie that you must pass over. I was up the front and we were going okay but then we started getting pushed to starboard. I didn’t see but Radha said it was close as he turned the boat to port, lucky we were going out on highish tide, which gives you a little more room. Did I say this passage was narrow! From there our passage was sweet. We did motor most of the way with a long trip ahead and what little wind there was on the nose. As we passed Hayman there were some whales playing near Blue Pearl Bay. Then not long after the wind picked up and we had a great close hauled sail back to Airlie finishing off a fantastic trip to the outer reef.
Next post…Double Cone and Grassy island, away from the northerly blow