Whitsundays - Mackay to Hamilton IS

Day 1 – Wednesday 17 September

We got an early start, packing up the boat and leaving the caravan park by 7am for the short trip to the boat ramp in the Mackay Harbour. A carpark 75% full of cars and trailers greeted us, a sure sign that the weather has come good after a spell of windy days. It took us around half an hour to rig and launch, leaving some of the jobs to do once in the water. The ramp pontoon is very long and we were also able to walk Sandpiper around the end onto the non-ramp side to ensure we wouldn't get in the way. I drove the car and trailer back to the caravan park (the Big4 on the Harbour Road) and parked it, leaving them with a set of keys. They are charging $25 a week, which is pretty good value. A $10 taxi ride back to the harbour had us ready to head off, Christine having finished off the last of the rigging tasks.

The wind was blowing from the west at about 6 knots, enough to give some assistance to a motor sail for the 14nm to St Bees Island. Having some sail up also meant that we avoided the rolling action with a beam sea. The wind freshened a little to the point where we could maintain a stready 6 knots with the motor just ticking over to maintain speed in the lulls.

Along the way, we passed through huge areas of what I thought to be coral spawn, a true “red tide”. I have never seen coral spawn this heavy, our wake leaving a clear path through the mass. Later Christine found that it was a local effect with the red cloud formed by a type of photoplankton that blossoms in August and September.

We arrived at St Bees and Kreswick Islands, and entered the narrow strait between them known as Egremont Passage. The tide was at its lowest point, making it easy to spot the coral heads lining the shallower areas. We anchored up 25m off the edge of a reef, the drop-off falling to 60 foot in such a short distance. Donning the stinger suits (probably not needed but better safe than sorry), we snorkelled over the shallower areas, taking in the beautiful coral displays and the fish cruising along the drop-off.

By the time we had finished a much needed lunch, the tide had risen to the point where we could cross the reef and anchor over the shallow rubble behind it. Later, when the tide had risen over the clean sands closer in, we went to shore and set up the porta-bote as a tender. With the tide to be high again in the morning, we decided to choose a stretch of clean sand and anchor fore and aft for the night.

As the sun set, the birds in the thick forest on the island serenaded us with an incredibly loud chorus. Watching above up the mountainside we could see the White Pigeons manoeuvring for the best roosting place in the last light. Truly, a beautiful place.

Day 2 – Thursday 18 September

We awoke to light conditions from the east, a calm anchorage and the air full of beautiful butterflies. What more could one ask? We breakfasted and prepared to head off, with the tide already falling and threatening our position behind a coral reef.

We motor sailed in 5-10 knot NW winds, keeping a jib up to steady the roll in lumpy conditions. The southern side of Kreswick Is produces some lively seas when tide and wind are opposed and it was some time before our motion settled down.

The 12nm crossing to Brampton Island was pleasant enough once away from the tidal streams near Kreswick. At one point, a baby humpback surfaced a mere 100m off the starboard bow and dived again. Although there was no sign of mum, the large flat areas of water and bubble trails gave up their presence and we held our breaths as we passed right over the pair. They surfaced some 200m behind us and the size of the mother was amazing.

Our target at Brampton Island was Dinghy Bay, a promising looking anchorage with a passage through the fringing coral that we thought we could negotiate. The outer anchorage was already occupied by two keelers so we joined them and took to the Porta-Bote to explore the inner areas. By the time we got organised, the wind had swung to the south, exposing the anchorage somewhat. We motored through the narrow passage and decided that while Sandpiper could handle it with ease, the rising southerly suggested a shift to the northern side of the island was warranted.

A two mile trip around Brampton Is was worth the effort, with the wind rising to 12-15knots and making things lumpy, especially around tide affected headlands. Once in the lee of the island, things settled down and we joined 5 or 6 other boats anchored near the jetty. Throughout the afternoon, the number grew to 12.

We relaxed, lunched, slept a little, read some books and eventually went ashore to inspect the resort. Brampton Is Resort has not operated since 2010, following extensive cyclone damage that put a lot of the Whitsunday resorts out of action. What a shame. The accommodation and buildings look fine, full of furniture, pool tables, bar facilities etc. Some of the rooms are even open for inspection. The obvious damage is with the rail line that ran from the jetty to the resort and the wonderful pool that is full but showing signs of marine growth. It is a real tragedy that such a beautiful resort in such a gorgeous location is lying derelict and abandoned. There are surf cats, jet skis and loads of other paraphernalia just lying about. There were quite a few others from the anchored boats just sitting around the pool areas, all a little sombre. It was like a giant wake.

When the tide rose, we took the opportunity to leave the big cats and keelers behind and sneak right up to the resort and anchor over the clean sands, giving us a bit more shelter than the deeper water off the jetty area.

Day 3 Friday 19 September

Christine has a worsening chest cold and badly needed a day of lazing so we stayed around Brampton Island. Before breakfast, I suggested moving off the shallow sands and back up to join the other boats near the jetty because the tide was dropping. Chrisitne went forward to deal with the capstan and I started the motor. It needs a little kick in reverse to help lower it on the bracket but I was careless and the prop grabbed the tender's painter and threw it around the prop. Some even managed to jam under the prop itself, even though I couldn't see how it could fit, but it meant removing the prop itself. This was too difficult from a bobbing dinghy so we towed Sandpiper to the beach to complete the job. I won't repeat that mistake.

After breakfast and chores, we moved along the coast to fish for a bit. I anchored Sandpiper off a drop-off in clean sand and used the dinghy to access the corals. I only managed a small cod and a Spanish flag, enough for a meal with fried rice but otherwise rather ordinary fishing. It was nearly very expensive fish after it took quite an effort to get the anchor up. Apparently the bottom was not as clean as the sounder suggested. Eventually, a slow move forward on short line broke it free (sorry coral).

The rest of the day was spent resting and reading, although I did go ashore again for another walk through the deserted resort. I came across the tennis courts, still with nets up and capable of being played on with a few branches removed. I never thought to pack the rackets on board.

By evening, there were seven other boats in the anchorage, all catamarans. We elected to stay out with them, the weather being a lot milder than the previous night. This proved to be a poor choice, with northerly swell picking up through the night and causing us to roll badly. Christine is having enough trouble sleeping with her persistent cough causing discomfort without the rolling threatening to throw her out of the bunk. It was a terrible night with neither of us getting a lot of sleep.

Day 4 Saturday 20 September

We rose early and moved as soon as we had enough light. A short run across the shallows gave us protection from the little Pelican Island and we were able to have breakfast watching the anchored cats roll in the continuing swell.

With breakfast and chores complete, we set sail in a light westerly and set a course for Goldsmith Island, via the Finger and Thumb Islands (so named because of the four peaked rock with a single lump some distance off). Our route took us past Coffin and Tinsmith Islands before taking the passage between Linne and Goldsmith. The tide was still rising so we had an adverse current and had to run the motor at low revs to maintain 4 knots. As the tide eased and turned, our speed increased to 5.5 knots over ground. It was a very relaxing trip.

The chart shows that the northern end of Goldsmith has tidal rips. Fortunately, we were early enough in the tide that the standing waves were still small and we rounded the island without incident and motor sailed south along the western shore to find an entrance through the reef in Minnie Hall Bay, The gap is easy to spot and navigation was straightforward with Christine on the bow. A large catamaran was also inside the reef, anchored over a stretch of clean sand. We chose another stretch of beautiful white beach and anchored up in a falling tide.

Minnie Hall Bay is breathtakingly beautiful, the prettiest place we have visited so far. The shallows are alive with life, small crabs, shovelnose rays, blacktip reef sharks, turtles, and a lot of small bait fish. Amazing blue butterflies are everywhere and a variety of wading seabirds patrolled the falling tide line for tasty morsels. Opposite the bay is a small island called Farrier Island, which has six private properties and looks like a little touch of paradise with its gleaming white sands and lines of coconut palms.

We lunched under the shade of a tree on the beach and considered a nap, but the ants ganged up on us and drove us back to the comfort of the boat. We were high and dry, as was the cat, the owner busy attending to a bit of below waterline maintenance. I walked over to the nearby point to partake in a few oysters. They weren't giants but there were enough good sized ones to make it worthwhile.

Later, we walked over to the cat (Saskia) and chatted with the owners, Zane and Julie, for a while. They had spent a year at Airlie Beach, up from the Gold Coast, so they knew the area quite well. With three dogs and a couple of birds on board, it was a real Noah's Ark.

We relaxed for the afternoon, doing a few jobs, a spot of cleaning, cooking and reading. The forecast is for fresh SE winds so we are expecting to spend a few days here. During the afternoon, the wind went to the north and rose to 10-15 knots with gusts to 20 knots. It definitely looks like there could be worse places to spend a few days.

Day 5 Sunday 21 September

We had a lazy day, doing very little except a spot of fishing (unsuccessful) and a few chores in and around the boat. Christine made a spectacular loaf of bread, her best ever. The secret was using her knew thermal cooking pot to prove the dough and get two really good risings. It is delicious stuff.

The expected strong winds did not eventuate but they are promised for Monday. There are a few other around, Zane and his wife on board the 44' cat and another couple in the next bay up, also in a cat. They are Mackay residents escaping for the school holidays.

Tucked into this little bay, internet and phone is very intermittent, with really just enough for SMS and the odd email coming through. It seems to be a bit of a VHF blackspot, with almost no traffic being heard on the usual channels. After a night bumping on the bottom, Zane has anchored outside the reef and can at least manage internet weather forecasts, which he relays to us via VHF.

Surprisingly, we were able to manage television reception while dried out, putting up with the odd bit of pixellation. We watch TV on the computers via a small dongle device. However, once the tide rose and we started to swing at anchor again, it became too hard to hold a decent signal and we went back to watching recorded stuff.

Day 6 Monday 22 September

The promised winds arrived during the night, along with a fair bit of rain. We were snug in our anchorage, dried out for much of the night. Out beyond the protection of Farrier Island, the big seas told the story of 20 knot + winds. A few boats passed by throughout the day but most were probably holed up somewhere. When the rain squalls came through we had some very fierce bullets come through and we had to make sure everything was secured around the boat.

The big seas outside were also sending some low swell into our bay so we moved further up and into a small creek to avoid the rolling. Once the tide fell, we repositioned once again, fearful of biting insects in a dried out mangrove creek.

I did a bit more fishing, over the corals this time and caught four tusk fish to keep us in food for a while. Christine tried her hand at a fruit loaf, but the weight of the fruit kept the rising down and the result, although tasty, was a bit on the heavy side. More yeast next time.

The weather is for more showers and 15-20 knots with 25 knots offshore for the next two days so here we stay.

Day 7 Tuesday 23 September

We remain prisoners in Minne Hall Bay. The rain continued throughout the night and at times our anchorage was a bit bumpy. Further out beyond the reef, Zane and Julie in their cat fared worse with the wind turning south and lumping the seas up for a while. For us, the bumpy stuff was short lived with the tide falling again and giving us some peace.

We gave the boat a thorough clean inside and out. I even managed to get to some of the hull below the water line when we dried out. Christine cooked more bread, rolls this time and I did a spot of trolling. I had a bit of excitement with something unidentified and large on for quite a while. I chased it with the dinghy but it eventually pulled one of the treble hooks out of the lure, which was probably a good thing because we aren't really equipped to handle very big fish.

The rain eased, the wind increased, the day passed. In the late afternoon, Zane and Julie were joined in their outer anchorage by a Bavaria and a Hanse.

Day 8 Wednesday 24 September

Another day of fresh SE winds, our last if the weather forecast holds. I tried fishing again, mostly trolling but nothing showed any interest and reef fishing only produced a couple of small fish. I dropped by to Zane and Julie on Saskia to pick up the weather forecast and was happy that nothing had changed for the worse.

On my return to Sandpiper, I found Christine had cooked a magnificent loaf of bread and had put the yoghurt on. All very domestic.

Our weather imposed stay in Minnie Hall Bay has given us a good chance to observe the local wildlife. A very cute little hawkesbill turtle is a regular around the boat. At low tide, we have even managed to walk right up to it and it seems oblivious to our presence. The bay has its share of beautiful butterflies, with glassy wings, blue triangles and lesser wanders being the most common. Sea birds are not in great numbers, with very few gulls, no terns and only a couple of wading birds, in the form of pied oyster catchers and eastern herons. A lone osprey patrols from the forest tops along the shore.

At times, the calmness and serenity of the bay makes it seem as though we should set off for points beyond but outside the comfort of the bay, the sea is far from pleasant. Still, things are easing and tomorrow should see us leave.

Day 9 Thursday 25 September

Today we escaped Minnie Hall Bay and set off to rejoin our northward voyage. Our route took us through the rest of the Sir James Smith Group, past the Blacksmith Islands, Coppersmith Rock and Silversmith Island.
With a 5-10 knot easterly we had to motor sail but the gain from the wind countered the loss of speed from a contra tide and we maintained a steady pace over 4 knots. The wind on the starboard bow also held the boat steady and the trip was very comfortable in seas still lumpy after the previous four days of fresh winds.
Our first target was Sea Eagle Beach on the South East corner of Thomas Island. The “100 Magic Miles” describes it as having a truly South Pacific atmosphere but our inspection proved disappointing, with a swell making the beach rolly and uncomfortable. A large motor cruiser anchored in close was rolling and pitching so we decided to give it a miss and continue on to Lindeman Island.

Lindeman Island is another of the many Whitsunday resorts that is closed at present, victim of the high Aussie Dollar and rising costs. A fellow cruiser told me that the resort had recently sold to a Chinese consortium. I hope this is true because I don't care who owns these places, I just want to see them open and running. To cruise by resorts that more than compete for location and beauty with anything we have seen elsewhere in the world and to see them closed up and deteriorating is heartbreaking. Surely we can do better than that.

We motored past the resort to the charming Plantation Bay to join five other boats at anchor. We went well inside the others of course, being able to select a clean patch of sand to anchor over and dry out as the tide dropped. We set an anchor then snorkelled over the ground, partly to check out the safety of the area and partly to have a swim. After relocating the anchor a couple of times, we were happy and spent an enjoyable afternoon relaxing and chatting to others.

In the late afternoon, with the tide well down, we spent a delightful time eating our fill of delicious black lipped oysters fresh from the nearby rocks.

Day 10 Friday 26 September

We had to wait for the tide to rise before setting off. The water rose slowly as we breakfasted and we had a lot of time to prepare Sandpiper for sea before we had enough water to actually motor out to greater depths. Even with all sail set, we only managed 3 knots or so against the making tide, the sea being mostly glassed out.

It was a slow trip north to Hamilton Island but pleasant enough. We had to wait until we were a mile or so clear of Lindeman before the phone reception was good enough to call the harbour and book a pen. The VHF didn't seem to be reliable either, with the bareboat charters having trouble reporting back from Lindeman.

The service at Hamilton is certainly good. We were greeted at the harbour entrance, escorted to our berth and the guide was waiting on the pontoon ready to take our lines.

Hamilton Island is everything that so many places in Australia lack, good service, reasonable prices (given the location) and plenty of attractions. We filled our tanks, picked up some much needed provisions at the general store, grabbed some more alcohol and, most importantly, got rid of the rubbish, which had been building up under the bunk.

In fact, we were so taken with the place we decided to stay for two nights and enjoy the delights the resort had to offer and to watch the AFL Grand Final the next day in the comfort of the pub.

The afternoon was very warm, with a complete lack of any wind. We rigged some shade and relaxed.

Day 11 Saturday 27 September

It was another warm start to the day and breakfast was taken outside in the cockpit. From there, we can watch the comings and goings around the marina, always fun, especially as today seems to be bareboat changeover day and lots of provisioning going on.

We walked across the island to Catseye Bay and it's resort, to take advantage of the beautiful freshwater pools. I have been surprised at the free use of freshwater on the island, with people washing down boats being a common sight. The water supplies are a combination of catchment and reverse osmosis, with the latter supplying most.

After an ice-cream, we looked into a helicopter flight out to the reef and some snorkelling. These trips are a bit of a bargain at $399 a head, not something that we would want to do every day but then we probably won't be back this way again. Unfortunately, being school holidays, the trips were fully booked up until October 9th, but eventually we managed separate seats on two helicopters (leaving at the same time) so we booked for a few days time. The plan now is to leave Hamilton and return in a couple of days for the helicopter trip.

The afternoon was spent in the pub, watching Sydney get a terrible beating from Hawthorn. This was rather unexpected but there was no denying Hawthorn's superiority. We enjoyed the company of a couple of other West Aussies and a Brisbanite, up for a holiday. Another young couple of US honeymooners also enjoyed the game, gradually learning more about it as it progressed and conceding that the players were a lot tougher than the American footballers.

On our return to Sandpiper, we found a fancy pants stink boat in the pen alongside. It had its name on its tender, its name on its fenders, its name on its covers, and all dock lines were coiled to perfection.

The previous day, we had had problems with the shore power socket cutting out at regular intervals so we swapped to the other socket to solve the problem. The stink boat owner must have been here before and known of the problem because he had unplugged us and taken the good socket for himself. I could have just swapped them back but instead we did the right thing and reported the problem to maintenance, who had someone there in minutes. The maintenance guy organised another socket for us.