Hello from Perdika in the Whitsunday Islands – Aussie’s premier yachting playground.
June has, thankfully, been neither as dramatic nor as tough as May, and we have managed to edge ourselves 500 miles up the coast of Queensland in relaxed fashion, taking in several sights along the way.
Our very first experience of Australia was by way of its entry formalities. All very friendly, but … Richard from Quarantine arrived first, and charged us £100 to rummage thoroughly through the boat – including an examination of our bicycle tyres - and to remove a quantity of our precious provisions. Next Spencer and Loretta from Customs arrived with their truly stupendous array of forms for us to complete. Not the best welcome – it could only get better – and did. A wonderfully therapeutic reward for the Tasman crossing was our visit to my uncle and aunt on Tamborine Mountain, an hour’s drive south of Brisbane. This is a peaceful and hilly area covered in luxuriant vegetation, a world away from, but with views right down to the long frenzied strip of Gold Coast holiday skyscrapers. They live in a fabulously picturesque restored 100 year old ‘Queenslander’ – a traditional colonial type wooden villa built on stilts with a grand staircase leading up to the front door and verandah. Set in a veritable jungle of a garden – exotic foliage with parrots and all manner of brilliantly coloured birds visiting the bird tables, it could not have been more restful and different from our recent ocean experience. We spent several very happy days there bushwalking and checking out the local sights during the day, being entertained from a great library of cultural videos each evening and thoroughly spoilt by my aunt’s scrumptious cooking. My uncle, who I hope won’t mind my mentioning is well into his 70s, walked us off our feet – teasing us first with gentle strolls through the bush on well laid out trails, culminating in the rather more challenging ascent of Page’s Pinnacle, which he euphemistically described as ‘a bit of a scramble’- quite scary I thought!
Once back on the boat, we decided to indulge in some city life and ventured the dozen or so miles up the Brisbane River right into downtown Brisbane for a few days. Rocked and rolled every 15 minutes or so by the ‘City Cats’ – fast ferries manically rushing up, down and across the river, we nevertheless spent a very enjoyable time taking in art galleries, shops restaurants and various sights. It seemed a very ‘manageable’ sort of city – not too big, not too small – exploiting to the full its location straddling the winding river, with ferries, bridges and promenades. Sadly, as is so often the case, we didn’t really have time to do full justice to the place. Next time ….
By this time, the dreaded jobs list had started reasserting itself in the form of a fridge breakdown and a few minor casualties from the Tasman. The fridge initially responded to a kick, but soon broke down again. To deal with this and the other repairs, we moved north about 50 miles to Mooloolaba, which turned out to be an excellent centre for sorting out all sorts of boat problems. We also finally solved our long-standing gas supply problem. Ever since we bought the boat we have been unable to find gas bottles of exactly the right size for our gas locker, and have had to make do with various rather inadequate containers, most of which have now been condemned as too rusty to be refilled. It turns out that Australia produces a bottle of precisely the right dimensions. We have now re-equipped and need no longer live in fear of running out of gas mid-meal mid-ocean. I can’t tell you how satisfying that is!
In Mooloolaba we started on the first of several grand reunions with cruising mates not seen since the Pacific last year. Don and Joy from Anita 2 are based there and made us very welcome, taking us on trips sightseeing and helping us enormously with their local knowledge in sorting out what we needed to get our repairs done. While we were still there, Simon and Sarah on Vagabond arrived up from Sydney where they had spent the past six months. Anita 2 are now basing themselves permanently back home in Australia and so we have now made our fond farewells, but Vagabond will be continuing on with us, planning their return to the UK on the same timescale. Subsequently we have met up again with the crews of three other boats last seen in Fiji and have enjoyed an extremely sociable time.
From Mooloolaba we continued northwards up the coast to Fraser Island – the largest sand island in the world. This is separated from the mainland by the Great Sandy Strait through which we passed over the course of three or four days. The passage follows an extremely tortuous and shallow route, the timing of which is strongly dictated by the tide which flows in from both directions meeting at ‘the hump’. Quite a navigational challenge - we managed to get ourselves aground just the once and had rather hastily to pump up the dinghy and row out an anchor to kedge ourselves off. Luckily, on a rising tide, all went well and we got on our way without too much embarrassment! It is a wonderfully tranquil wilderness area. Chris decided he could happily spend the rest of his life in a spot incongruously named Garry’s Anchorage! Not a used car lot, as its name might suggest, but an idyllic back-water between a driftwood covered beach and a sandbank which came and went with the tide – guarded at low water by a lone dingo.
From this area we made a leap of about 300 miles of very fast sailing up to the cane farming town of Mackay, where we picked up my cousin Susanna who is spending her holiday with us. We are now in the Whitsundays – a group of 76 islands just into the tropics, inside the Great Barrier Reef. Perfectly designed for sailing with anchorages to suit every wind direction dotted around all over the place, there are several yacht charter companies operating here. Unfortunately the weather, which at this time of year should be clear, dry and sunny is wet and a touch miserable. We had one good morning climbing Whitsunday Peak – 1,500 feet – fantastic views, but too much of our time has been spent waiting for the sort of weather to tempt us into the water for a spot of snorkelling. Never mind, we still have 600 miles of the Great Barrier Reef ahead of us – and plenty more of Australia to look forward to. There is currently a strong wind warning in force, happily coinciding with yet another sociable reunion meal tonight, but we’ll soon be on the move again.