The trip to Darwin is loooong and tiring and hopefully our experiences will benefit our friends behind us.
The best advice I can offer is leave early so you do not have to rush.
Because of our Grand Canyon trip in the US we did not depart Scarborough until May 10 and as we wanted to arrive in Darwin by July 4th this made the trip more like a delivery than a cruise-- not fun. Basically we just got up at 6 am everyday and put in 50-60 miles and anchored and got up again the next day and did the same thing. We did not EVER get in the water once and rarely lowered the dinghy off the davits. Fortunately we had seen some of the islands on our trip to and from the Whitsundays in 2004. Better to leave in March if you can.
The Whitsunday's, Lizard island and Great Keppel are the main cruising exploring places. Nice hikes on Keppel and several of the whits as described in 100 magic miles. The Whitsundays are worth a week or so and Airlie Beach is a fun town. Best spot there is the anchorage on the NW corner of Hook island - Get there about 10 am and get one of the 3 inside moorings to get out of the roll. Then take your dinghy to the NE corner bays on Hook for the best snorkeling. Cid and Nara are comfortable in any weather.
We also enjoyed MacKay and Roslyn Bay. Good Saturday fruit and vege markets in Roslyn (Yeppoon), Airlie and Cooktown. We bussed to an interesting aborigine museum from Yepoon but make sure to go at the time for a guided tour or you miss too much- we read about it in Lonely Planet.
Townsville, and Gladstone are standard towns but nice. Cooktown quaint and quite small- bad anchorage if it is at all windy as we did 360's around our anchor all night. Cairns is touristy but nice. You can anchor out at Townsville, Cairns and Airlie. We picked up a cheap mooring in Gladstone and used the marinas in Roslyn Bay and McKay.
In reading Lucas you are struck by how many anchorages along the QLD coast he describes as rolly- we thought he must just be a wimp but after our trip to the Whitsundays in 2004 we decided he was right so this time we made non-rolly anchorages our priority. Kesswick- St. Bees, Scawfell, Blunt Bay on Percy and Island Head Creek are all good.
Our selections from Whitsundays north and approximate miles in between are listed here-- all were comfortable.
Airlie to Glouchester 22, Glou to Upstart 46, Up to Bowling Green 45, Bowl to Townsville 27, Towns to Orpheus 50, Orph to Dunk 52, Dunk to Mouralyn 22, Mour to Cairns 55, Cairns to Low Islets 42, Low to Cooktown 40, Cooktown to Flattery 37 (we only skipped Lizard cause it was too windy to do anything-- everyone loves the place though). Lizard to Ninian 57, Ninian to Flinders 33, Flinders to Morris 63, Morris to Lloyd bay 52, Lloyd to Margaret 66, Margaret to Escape river 72, Escape to Red Island 45 (great fun through Albany passage with the current).
Red Island to Cape Wessel 340, Wessel to cape don (popham bay) 300, popham to hawtaham 60, hawtham to darwin 40.
Many of the above anchorages are just around the corner of a bay with protection from SE. We found it worthwhile to motor way up to the head of the bay in many of them and we got out of the roll. Sometimes an extra 5 miles of motoring but worth it. They are still so big and so very shallow even 2 miles from shore that you are anchored in the middle of nowhere but comfortable.
It's windy up here-especially north of Whitsundays.
I think this year may have been slightly more wind than usual but only slightly. Out of about 50 days underway we motored only parts of 4 days. Most everyday we saw 25 knots at some point in the day. At least 25 days we saw 30 knots or more- usually for a good portion of the day. We had 4 days of 40+ knots and this meant gusts over 50. In Cooktown our wind generator was ripped completely off the boat. It has survived many 50 knot squalls but somehow while we were ashore it took flight. We returned to the boat to find it had ripped itself off the pole, torn out its wires and departed for points unknown-- luckily it did not hit any other part of the boat on its way. Skies were grey 5 days out of 7. We were in long pants north of the Whitsundays and still wearing fleece until Cairns.
We found the Queensland Wx reports to be quite accurate. They are on 8176 at 0730 and every 4 hrs thereafter or available on winlink. The Grib files were mostly a joke. The Gribs routinely showed 15 knots while we had 25-30 knots.
In 2004 we had the Sheila net at 0800 on 8161 - this covers the entire coast then we started an over the top net on 6516 at 0830 as people neared cape york and went across Carpentaria. This improved propagation and reduced congestion.
In 2004 we went out to Lady Musgrave and to the barrier reef islands off the whitsunday's -- the diving was just OK nothing spectacular. This time we had planned to dive the barrier reef proper near Cairns- unfortunately we missed our opportunity due to high winds. My suggestion would be to take a commercial dive boat out of cairns to assure yourself of a barrier reef dive. We purchased a very good dive site guide that gives the info you need to dive the reef from your own boat but neither we nor any of the 100 boats we heard on the net ever made it to the reef due to high winds. Most boats did get in a snorkel at Lizard to see the giant clams but for us that was the week of the 40 knot winds.
Cairns is the last major town on the coast but from there to Darwin is still over 1,000 miles of hard sailing in strong winds. Consequently when 100 boats all arrive in Darwin with broken parts and want everything fixed for the rally start date 2 weeks later-- it is pandemonium. My suggestion would be to arrive there early. From Darwin you can travel inland to nearby but spectacular Kakadu National Park and also to Ayers Rock. We found when we 1st checked the internet for Ayers rock tickets they were about $400 round trip. This was about 6 weeks advance-- from there they went up in price every few days so book early.
The rally info said the marinas will not take reservations but we called Reeve at Cullen Bay and made a reservation which made life much easier
In Cooktown we did a tour to see some Aboriginal cave art-- it was OK and made use of one of the days we were stuck there but the art was only from 1930's. The guide, Willie from Gurubi tours was interesting. It was OK but not great. In Flinders Island area there is some very good cave painting however.
In Lucas on the Flinder's group page the anchorage in Owen channel is very good though we moved once and found it more comfortable about where the 9 meter mark is on his chart. From there it is a 2 mile dinghy ride to the cave- If you come thru the channel on your way to the anchorage you will see the spot from your boat. Just where Lucas shows the rocks on Stanley you will see two house size rocks just off Stanley Island. Take your dinghy and land on a tiny beach opening just west of those rocks. Walk up the beach a few meters and you will see signs and a trail to the other side of stanley. Once you get to the other side of the island turn left and walk along the beach until you see a boardwalk going up and left. Follow it up to the cave. Nice paintings.
At Escape river we came in 1 hour after low tide in 10' waves. Rather than go over the 2.3 section on the chart we cut in earlier at the 3.6 section to find the 7.3 meter bit then went north in it and came in. Sort of a Z shaped route. That helped in that we had a shoal to our south breaking up the waves. Doing it that way we had 15' minimum all the way. It will make sense when you look at the chart.
We all came up the river itself rather than over by turtle head island anchorage. In the river leave all the pearl rafts to port and come up and anchor BEFORE the area where the rock is in the river itself- just before a slight bump on the left bank horizon. You need reasonable light to see the pearl floats.
For the trip over the top we were able to find an out of print copy of Northern Territory Coast Guide by John Knight which we copied- it was VERY helpful-- we sent ours to Briana so maybe they can make copies for others. It is essential for timing the tides in Van Diemen bay and into Darwin.
Red Island on top has a good grocery for fresh stuff - we went from there to cape wessel then wessel to cape don (Popham Bay) then Cape Hawtham then Darwin-- you need to do the last part from Cape Don with the tides as the currents are up to 6 knots. If you have more time you can go to Gove which everyone liked and then day hop from there. Most people had rough passages across the Gulf- everyone described it as a washing machine with waves from 3 directions-- we got lucky with the only period below 30 knots in about 2 weeks (we had 25 knots plus gusts) and it was 10' seas but fairly regular.
Have fun and see you in Indonesia.
Rob and Dee
Additional Notes on our 3 years in Australia.
We loved Mooloolaba- spent 2.5 years there.
Aussie highlights for us. Tasmania.
Tamworth country music festival- did it two years in a row.
The Christmas to New Years festival of music and everything else at Woodford - close
to Mooloolaba and NOT to be missed. Expensive but REALLY fantastic. Go for at least 2
days or more. Any travel is great - we did snowy mtns,Kosiocko,Sydney, etc. another trip did ayers
rock. Also rented a Cessna 172 or 182 for flights to Snowy mountains, Wilpena pound, Mildura, Adelide, Canberra, etc. (Rob is a pilot)
We cruised up to Whitsundays one year- OK but nothing special. You could see all of it as you head from Mooloolaba to Darwin.
If you do go to Whitsundays by far best diving is out on the reefs -and if you have a compressor as we do you can do some good diving. We dove Lady Musgrave and the other reefs north of Bundy and also the reefs just past the northern most whitsundays. Not the Tuamotos but OK.
I know of NO cruisers- ourselves included who did ANY diving as we went north from Bundy to Darwin. Conditions ALWAYS TOO rough. The only way to dive that part of the reef is to leave your boat in Cairns a few days and go on a commercial dive boat which I recommend.
Langkawi Malaysia is best for shipping parts in I think. Singapore and Thailand OK I guess. We flew to the US from Thailand so brought everything in ourselves.
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