The Social Life at the MonteBello Islands Was Just Too Much

September 2019

These delightful, far away islands are the highlight of our trip thus far.  Once safely parked up inside the island group, we loved just pottering around in the tender checking out the multitude of islands and pretending to catch fish. The water was crystal clear and if we had more time would have been ideal for snorkeling.

Montebello Islands (view from Alpha Island looking West ish)

Monte Bello means beautiful mountains; I am sure that whoever named this little archipelago must have been having a private joke, as these islands (174 in all, but I didn’t count them) are pretty much flat as a tack.  It would be really interesting to see how they look during a storm as they are really low lying and severely undercut in some places by the currents.

Undercut rocks abound

The Montes are starkly beautiful, peaceful and moderately radioactive (not the best spot to take kiddies or Mothers-to-Be).

In the 1950s the British tested 3 nuclear bombs here.  We walked up the test site at Alpha Island (I found out later that it was the biggest test of them all and at the time it dropped fallout as far as Mt Isa in Qld).  Both our Mothers were not happy about the radiation hazard (the sign gave it away), but we have had our children and are of that age when the length of time for something bad to happen is about the length of time for any of the other somethings-bad to happen (and we didn’t see any two headed fish while we were there).  We did abide by the Dept of Parks and Wildlife advice though and only stayed on the island for an hour.  It was difficult to drag Peter away as he was so happy when he found phone reception on the top of the hill.

Suz at the top of Alpha Island
Peter standing near the sign that gives it away

I thought I would try my something-new-for-the-day and use the Sat phone.  It seems because of our masts, the only place the satphone feels like doing the satellite thing is in the sun up the front and almost hanging over the water (I have improved my satellite location technique considerably and we now just have to be outside).  I phoned my Mum and she promptly hung up on me! The call came in as an unknown overseas number, so she did what we had told her to do with crank calls.  I thought a text approach might work better and sent out a group text to the family.  The technology of the satellite phone is brilliant and I was amazed with just how many satellites the phone could find each time I used it (there are a lot up there).  Technology is now such, that a sat phone is about the same size as the handheld VHF radio, so light and easy to carry. 

MonteBello Islands (view from Alpha Island looking East ish)

[That phone lived in my backpack for the rest of our trip as it was the only means of communication that worked reliably for the Kimberley section of our travels.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to read the manual before we left and as a result, I hadn’t downloaded the software needed to use the satphone as a modem or for updating our weather – learning, learning, learning].

The warm weather is really starting to affect Neon.  I think he has lost a kilo of weight in just fur and is ill with what I suspect are fur balls – he is not talking to us.

As the title of this blog suggests, for somewhere so peaceful and quiet there was an amazing amount of activity here; schools of Angel fish practicing precision swimming around the rocks, blue and silver streaks of something small and fast, Turtles being wanton near the beach, Whales breathing noisily outside my shower window, Manta Rays coming for a sticky beak under the tender, Dolphins laughing at Peter’s lack of angling action, Sea Slugs doing nothing but quite visible in 7m of water, something big with teeth taking off with all Peter’s lures and annoying fish playing with my squid jigs. We even experienced light pollution from the 1000s of stars that appeared from nowhere, nearly drowning out the soft warm glow from the oil platforms on the outside of the islands.  Even as we were leaving a whale tried to cut us off by crossing my path (and I was sticking very close to my path in, as the depths changed to shallow very quickly either side) and just as I had found my bearing to Broome a Turtle teasingly crossed our bow with two birds on it’s shell (I am sure it knew that the camera was out of reach).

Peter was a bit out of sorts.  The Montes is renowned for big fishing but as we do not have a fast, powerful boat like the fishing charters we see heading out each day, and as the tender is not going outside the islands he has had no opportunity to try his hand here.  That changed shortly after we left as he caught a huge (1.1m) Barracuda, his biggest fish ever!  According to the RecFisfWA app they are safe to eat in WA but only rate 3 stars (I think there are some fussy eaters in the world as this one tasted just fine).  The Barracuda is a fast, fearsome fish (check out the teeth) but the Eastern States guys can have ciguatera and should be avoided.

Neon’s Notes – What is the world coming to?  First, I find out that I can’t eat fish as often as I would like and now there are fish that shouldn’t be eaten at all!  Again, I put my paws to the research and delved into this Ciguatera thing.  It does not sound nice at all, there is no treatment and you can’t test the fish before eating it – almost takes the joy out of eating.  It seems that there is a wee bug that lives on coral reefs and produces a nasty toxin as part of it’s normal living routine.  This bug is eaten by herbivorous fish (the ones that eat plants and the bugs living on plants).  These fish now contain more of the toxin but they are ok with it.  Then the herbivorous fish get eaten by bigger fish with teeth and they collect even more of the toxin, but still not enough to worry them.  This process is called bio-accumulation. Finally along comes a hungry cat and eats some of the big fish off the reef (assuming Dad is catching any) and gets a big dose of the toxin – digestive problems, neurological problems, slow/fast heart rate, low blood pressure, hot and cold feelings messed up, numbness, itchiness, dizziness, weakness (actually that sounds like me for the last few days – I need to have a discussion with Mum).  Moral of the research – don’t eat big fish-eating fish from tropical reef regions.

Yet another Sunset in Paradise – it’s a hard life

Cruising Comments:

This is a record of our experience/what we found, and is not intended as a recommendation for others. We measure our depths from the lowest point of the hull of ‘Opal Lady’ (add 1.6m for actual water line height).

Anchored on West side of Trimoille Island, in Main Bay; 20 24.208S, 155 34.018E, 8m water, tide 1.6m, 38m rode.

If you go further in there is a lovely anchorage in Chianti Bay that is protected on all sides (and very popular).

We found the contours matched the charts well.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Wow! Great read Suz!
    I love your toxin analogy! The accumulation is real! I’ve seen it, and lost someone to it too.
    Keep blogging x

    1. Greetings Vona, Now we are back in the land of the internet I promise to catch up on the blogging. Sorry to hear about your friend. Suz

  2. Sounds absolutely beautiful Suz! Glad you didn’t find any two headed fish! Watch out for those wanton turtles and heavy breathing whales. 😊

    1. Greetings Lisa, I wish I’d had a Geiger counter to ‘see’ what it was really like. The scenery and animal life really is impressive. Suz

  3. I thought thats why Neon is there, to test the fish

    1. Shame on you Hugh, I am so not passing that on to Neon. Good to hear from you. Suz

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