Posts Tagged ‘Snapper Island

Cairns to Hope Island

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Half Moon Bay Marina & Yacht Club at Yorkeys Knob.

16° 48’ 04.86” S

145° 42’ 27.04” E

This is a smallish marina – 200 berths on 3 jetties – with a new club house overlooking the basin, and we were lucky enough to get a berth for 4 nights. It had been recommended to us by several yachties as a pleasant alternative to Cairns Harbour and it has an unusually relaxed and intimate atmosphere compared to the other marinas we’ve stayed at.

The water was muddy and there weren’t many fish to see. A sign warned of crocodiles and I kept a sharp and hopeful lookout for pairs of googly eyes protruding above the surface, but was disappointed. We’re now in serious crocodile territory and they’re known to infest the mangrove swamps and creeks from here on north, especially the Daintree River, but we have yet to see one.

Aside from providing crocodile habitat, mangrove creeks are a refuge for boats during tropical storms. The marinas around Cairns provide protection against cyclones but nevertheless, when an alert is sounded, yachts are required to make for the many large mangrove-lined creeks running off nearby Trinity Inlet, where they go as deeply into the thickets as possible and moor up in a web of criss-crossing lines. The photo will show why: those roots could tangle up even the fiercest winds and waves.

We spent most of the 3 days in Cairns working on the boat, so didn’t see much of the surroundings. The Captain wanted to install a new circuit breaker for the loo holding-tank macerator pump and get the generator electrics fixed once and for all. I wanted to clean the boat properly for the first time in a couple of months, laundry had accumulated, and there was also provisioning to do. Generally it was a case of getting prepared for the next part of the trip. From here on, it’s unlikely we’ll be pulling into any more marinas for at least a month unless something goes wrong. Shopping will become more difficult and we hope to be doing most of our re-fuelling from Sea Swift’s ‘mother ships’ that travel between Cairns and the Gulf of Carpenteria. These supply fuel to the shrimp trawlers that ply the northern waters, and fresh food and other supplies to the otherwise isolated communities within the Gulf area.

Cairns lies on the Barron River floodplain and the rain-forest clad mountains of the Great Dividing Range rise straight from these flat lowlands, which are covered in sugar cane fields, of which many are now being sold for development.  We had arrived at the beginning of the sugar cane harvest. Anchored at Orpheus Island, looking toward the mainland, we had watched the cane fields being fired, sending great plumes of smoke into the sky and, at night, creating glowing islands in the distant dark. Here, they were harvesting the cane without burning the fields first. On the day we left, under a low, dark, heavy sky, in fields bordered by palm trees with limply drooping fronds, green machines moved slowly along the face of each row, raising puffs of pale dust and shredded leaves that settled quickly in the still, humid air. In the distance, cane bins – narrow-gauge railway box-cars made of steel mesh – were being heaped high with pieces of chopped sugar cane before driven along temporary tracks to factories for processing.

The climate in North Queensland is tropical and people here divide the year into 2 seasons: The Wet and The Dry. During the wet season the temperatures are between 30° and 35° and it rains. It rains a lot. Between November and May, some months average over 400mm of rainfall and locals who can afford to leave for Sydney or Tasmania, do so. During the dry season between June and October the average monthly rainfall is 35mm and the temperatures are about 25°. This is when yachties and other tourists from the south come up to play among the corals of the Great Barrier Reef and visit the rain-forest.

We did take one day off boat slavery to take the Sky Rail Rainforest Cableway to Kuranda. The Sky Rail project caused an international uproar in environmental circles when it was proposed, because it traverses the heart of the World Heritage listed Barron Gorge National Park Wet Rainforest. For once, all the fears proved groundless and hundreds of people a year glide above the rainforest canopy without harming it, while learning enough about the biology of the area to be impressed and made aware of both its importance and richness.

Those fears were reasonable, however. These are the oldest (415 million years) continually surviving and truly pristine rainforests on earth, and once covered the entire Australian continent. Now, although they cover only about one thousandth of the Australian landmass, they contain:

65% of Australia’s ferns

21% of the country’s cycads

37% of its conifers

30% of its orchid species

36% of Australia’s mammals

30% of its marsupials including tree kangaroos and possums

60% of its butterflies

Kuranda itself is an ‘arty’ town. It was originally built in the late 1880’s during the height of the area’s timber industry and short-lived gold-rush. Coffee was grown there for a while, until severe frosts in the early 1900s wiped out the crop. In the 1960s it became hippie heaven – sorry: ‘alternative lifestyle’ heaven – and remnants of that era can be seen at stalls selling hash pipes and incense as well as local honey, stuffed cane toads, chunky leather goods, mandalas, wind chimes, dream-catchers and massages.

We passed on the cane toads. These are an invasive species in Australia and are toxic enough to kill a dog that is unlucky enough to bite one. They’re such a pest that in parts of Australia where they are common ‘sports’ have developed in which cane toads are used as balls, such as cane toad golf and cane toad cricket. In an attempt to dispose of the corpses, people have come up with several bright ideas: having them tanned, then stuffed and mounted in antic positions, or turned into coin purses with dangle-y legs and glass eyes, or into singularly hideous, flabby, leathery toad-shaped objects to strew around casually or keep in a pocket (as one does). But we did visit the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary and Birdworld.

Birdworld was by far the more interesting and amusing. We were warned before entering about dangling earrings and eyelets on hats – the birds like to pick them off. No one mentioned that rubber shoes are vulnerable. A macaw decided Croc-strap was what he wanted and had neatly gnawed one of mine in half before I could gently remove him. It’s well to be gentle when dealing with an animal that can bite your little finger to the bone if it feels so inclined.

Once the shoes had been stowed in my bag and out of sight, the bird decided I needed a pedicure and began biting crescent-shaped chunks out of my toenails. Another parrot played kissy-face, nibbling off my lip-gloss, which was a rather weird sensation, but parrots seem to like me so I wasn’t too worried about being bitten. Boris – as we subsequently learned he is called – remained on my shoulder during the rest of our visit, quietly crooning to himself and occasionally leaning over for another gentle nibble of my upper lip. The macaw was packed off to indulge his foot fetish with some other hapless tourist while we went to see the cassowaries, which were the real object of our visit.

They’re extraordinarily dinosaur-like creatures – much more so than ostriches or emus – and have huge appetites. One in captivity reportedly ate 20 mangoes in two minutes! They’re native to the Australian Wet Rain-forest, and are absolutely essential to the survival of over 150 plant species. Some of the fruit they can digest is so toxic no other animal can eat it, so cassowaries are the only animal that can disperse these seeds. Should the birds become extinct, so will the plants dependent on them in the wild.

Cassowaries have also had a rather bad press, being called ‘the world’s most dangerous bird’. As is usually the case, translated into less anthropocentric language this means ‘able to defend themselves effectively when harassed or threatened’. They will chase humans – usually when they’ve been led to associate humans with food and when none is forthcoming or when people infringe upon their space. They also seem to have a marked dislike of dogs and will chase cars, though more cars and dogs kill cassowaries than vice versa. But the injuries cassowaries cause consist of the occasional puncture wound or bruise – rather like the injuries inflicted upon paparazzi by celebrities who’ve finally had enough.

There has been only one properly documented death-by-cassowary. This was in 1926: a 16 year-old and his younger brother were trying to club the bird to death and the older boy suffered a puncture wound in the neck, from which he bled to death while trying to run away. Serve him right.

We left Cairns on the morning of August 10th, in a fine, persistent, unpleasant rain that didn’t let up all day. We anchored off

Snapper Island


16° 17’ 33.63” S

145° 29’ 27.04” E

The first attempt failed, but we changed position slightly and the anchor bit the second time, which was nice because by then we were soaked to the skin. The anchorage was lovely though, even in the rain, and we were sitting amidst trawlers that are part of the Cairns shrimp fleet. These wait at favourite anchorages during the day until evening – when the shrimp come out – to begin trawling.

Sure enough, come dusk, they all lit their lights, turned and slowly moved off into the distance, booms on either side of the boats lowered and trailing their nets, like a bevy of 18th century ladies lifting their panniered skirts with both hands

Now we’re moored off

Hope Island

15° 43’ 328” S

145° 27’ 385 E

But the coordinates are of no real use, since this is a part of the Great Barrier Reef that Google Earth shows only as a dark splodge without detail!

The day was flat calm when we left Magnetic Island – spookily so, as we motored slowly into a misty white void over a flat calm sea. The surface was littered with drifting sticks and logs – small and large – which had come down the Daintree River, so a sharp lookout had to be kept for really big ones.

Later, and quite suddenly, the wind blew up and had soon it reached 20 knots+ with an accompanying chop. These aren’t really the conditions in which to navigate coral reefs because charts don’t show individual coral heads – the lookout needs to be able to see them. But because the tide was so low the reefs were above water and we decided we could afford to take a chance, with the proviso that if the going got really hairy we’d just keep sailing through the night.

We moved along at about 1 knot until – what luck! – we found one of only two public park mooring buoys was free! And we’d arrived after 3:00pm, which meant we could stay the night, which was as well because the wind didn’t drop. We’re still here, in fact, as is the boat on the other mooring. It’s been blowing 20+ knots all day (12 August) and no one in their right mind would venture out here to go snorkelling.

Tomorrow the wind should moderate, and we’ll be sailing overnight to Lizard Island.

That’s all for now!

Best from us both,




Written by mnestis

August 12, 2010 at 9:14 PM