We have been waiting at Cairns for good weather as we are wanting to book Opal Lady in for a bit of repair and maintenance at The Boat Works on the Gold Coast. Cyclone Niran has just passed and is dragging the big weather away with it (to hit poor New Caledonia, which seems to get hit regularly) so it should be a good run down the coast for us. On Friday 5th March 2021 we said goodbye to Cairns and headed south for a choogle down to Bundaberg. Neon has done his usual initial throwing up and is now happily settled on his seat for the duration. It is so nice to be moving again.
We had a lovely first night, with calm seas, and by 9am the next morning we were passing Hinchinbrook Island. We are travelling within 20nm of land and will get closer overnight. Saturday’s excitement was Peter seeing a sea snake doing its thing happily swimming out near the shipping lanes and passing Townsville at 3pm that afternoon.
Sunday morning sees us at the start of the Whitsundays region of coastal Queensland. Our original plan was to stop at Nara Inlet for a rest, but the weather is still good and we feel fine, so we will keep going to Island Head Creek for a short rest there. Island Head Creek had been recommended by our friends John and Tracy as a great spot to stop. Wherever possible we travel just outside the main shipping lane (marked in pink on our charts) so we stay well out of the way of commercial traffic.
After negotiating the shallow entrance and some slightly confusing sand bars, we spent a very pleasant night at Island Head Creek and now just have a short overnight run into Bundy (Bundaberg). We will definitely stay at Island Head Creek for at least a couple of days when we come back up north later this year.
The big quiz question for this trip was to do with the lines of brown ‘stuff’ floating in the water that we were passing through north of Gladstone. As usual the Family and Friends came back with varied suggestions; red algae, left over bits from the coral spawning (but that was ages ago), sand/sediment concentrated by tide/current caught in the surface tension of water (I fear some people were using verbiage to infer actual knowledge), seaweed, and cane husk dust. The winner was Jackie from Darwin with algae (the agreed prize will be a margarita at some future get together). Best effort prize, of you guessed it, another margarita, was Andreas from his covid isolation in Senegal (his was the verbiage). I sent an email to the Lizard Island Research facility (very helpful people) and they replied that the brown stuff is a type of algae commonly called ‘Sea Sawdust’.
8:30pm on our overnight run down to Bundy and we are playing space invaders dodging the LNG tankers off Gladstone. We are red, the tankers are blue and the green is a fishing trawler – very exciting. It took a while to work out the fishing trawler; no AIS (those guys don’t want any other trawlers to know where they are) and the little green thing was dodging in and out of the tankers like a little alien playing chicken. The lights showed that it had nets out, but it moved more erratically than we would have expected if it were fishing – we just kept well away.
I love arriving somewhere after an overnight run, as it means a real cooked breakfast. Often when out, it is Peter’s creamy scrambled eggs on toast, but this morning we had eggs at the little café of the Port Bundaberg Marina. There are other marinas in Bundaberg, but this is the easiest to get into (there is also the option of just anchoring up the river opposite the town – very popular if you don’t have access to a car). Tourists leave for Lady Musgrave Island from this marina, so it is quite civilized; clean toilets, hot water in the showers, big washing machines and the lawns are like bowling greens. And there is a shuttle service into town (about a 20 minute drive).
We are stopping in Bundaberg for about a week so that we can move the car down from Cairns and to catch up with some friends.
Moving the car was moderately complicated as we needed to hire a car to drive 4 hours down to Brisbane, catch a 2 hour flight back up to Cairns and then drive our car the 15 hours down to the boat in Bundaberg! It is worth the effort to have our own car for exploring and I do enjoy a road trip; it always takes me back to our younger years living out bush.
Our friend Jackie in Darwin is from this area and so we caught up with her parents Sandy and Terry while we were here – Sandy makes a mean scone. And the little sailboat ‘Holly Rose’ that used to be berthed next to us back in Mindarie WA, had stopped their circumnavigation here. So, we also caught up with Tatiana and Ian to compare notes about our trips over the Top End. There always seems to be someone to have morning tea or drinks with, wherever we go.
Bundaberg is a town founded on agriculture (it is also one of the exit ports for leaving Australia). The soil is dark and fertile. Driving into town from the marina means driving through kilometers of crops; mostly sugar cane, bananas, sweet potato and Macadamia nut trees, but also a large range of other vegetables.
We got rained on most every day we were at Bundaberg and positively drenched in torrential rain on several occasions. Apparently, they had been waiting for the rain as it had been a dry summer – so the locals were very happy we’d brought the rain down with us.
On one of the drier days, we popped up the coast to visit two towns with absolutely delightful names; 1770 and Agnes Waters. Yummy morning tea at the 1770 Marina café and lunch at the Agnes Water Bakery (I do enjoy a sausage roll with flaky pastry). And then back to Bundy to leave our car with Sandy and Terry while we take the boat down to the Gold Coast.
Two weeks after leaving Cairns we were choogling off from Bundaberg, in rather lumpy conditions, heading for Fraser Island enroute to the Gold Coast.
Sea Sawdust is the common name for a type of cyanobacteria properly called Trichodesmium. It has been seen in most every sea during periods of low nutrient levels and warm still waters. It is a clever little thing because it takes Nitrogen out of the atmosphere and converts it into Ammonium that is used by other marine life (fixes Nitrogen like peas in a vegie garden). It is a major contributor of the marine ecosystem’s new Nitrogen (estimated up to 50%). But there is more! It can also get a little gang of bacteria to work together to release Iron from dust that lands on the water surface (for the whole gang to use). Captain Cook mentioned seeing blooms of Trichodesmium when he was cruising through the Great Barrier Reef. Apparently, these blooms are expected to occur with increasing frequency due to increased Phosphate availability (fertilizer runoff) and rising water temperatures. Close up, to my eye, Trichodesmium looks for all the world like little brown tufts of fibreglass.
Charts; AUS830, AUS829, AUS828, AUS827, AUS826, AUS825, AUS824, AUS823, AUS822, AUS820, AUS819, AUS818
Anchored at Island Head Creek; [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg136]
Berthed Port Bundaberg Marina on the Burnett River; [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg91] [North Australia Fish Finder magazine, ed. 2019/2020, pg. 309] [Beacon to Beacon Guides, Qld Dept of Transport, 2020, 14th Ed, pgs HB4 HB5 HBA.]