Thursday, 27 June 2013

More pics from Stonehaven

Another aspect of beautiful Stonehaven Bay (pre-smoke)
While smoke continues to blot out the northern end of the Whitsundays, we're anchored comfortably at the western end of Airlie Beach.
Last time we were in this spot dolphins appeared in the bay at low tide, which reminded me that our final morning in Stonehaven Bay included a pod of dolphins who went around and around - feeding I guess.

The day before Royden discovered a beautiful fig tree and rock waterfall up one of the creeks. While I enjoy exploring new beaches, I'm a bit over rock hopping up mountain creeks - not to mention painfully slow in the `hopping' department.
Fresh water falls

At least three dolphins circled for around 20 minutes. Occasionally one would leap out of the water - whenever I had the camera pointing the other way!

Sea Piper in Stonehaven Bay

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Smoked out

Our lovely stay around Stonehaven Bay came to an abrupt halt at lunchtime when Marine Parks firebombed the northern end of Hook Island.
They'd sent a boat around in the morning saying this was going to happen and there would be a ``bit of smoke, and maybe some ash, but the sunset should be nice''.
It was a beautiful day - little wind and smooth water. We moved to the southern end of the bay early to enjoy a snorkel and had climbed back in the dinghy, drifting around enjoying some more coral when the red firebombing helicopter appeared.
In a matter of minutes plumes of smoke were rising from the ridgelines. With an increase in the wind speed, flames were licking up and the smoke thickened.
By the time we got back to Sea Piper ash was falling on the decks. We had originally intended to sail across to Airlie tomorrow and restock for our return to Townsville and then Cairns but instead we headed across the Passage today.
The red helicopter makes its appearance
Lighting up the ridgeline
With school holidays just beginning here and heaps of families out on the water and visiting the struggling resorts, you'd have to question Marine Parks timing. I also wonder why they firebomb these uninhabited islands anyway.

Heading back to Sea Piper
Now that got rid of those tourists
The beautiful day reasserted itself once we were clear of Hook Island. Hayman Island to the north was also blotted out.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Island time - then back to sea

Pretty colours and lots of variety at Stonehaven.
We've used Stonehaven Bay as an overnight stopoff quite a number of times this year and on our last visit, but Royden has snorkelled here just the once and me, never.
What a surprise it was to actually spend time here and explore its reef. It's some of the best snorkelling in the Whitsundays at the moment.
Many of the other better known reefs around the northern end of the Whitsundays have been damaged in recent cyclones but Stonehaven appears to be largely intact and teeming with fishlife. A fortnight ago we snorkelled until we were too cold to go on, then climbed into the dinghy and drifted across the crystal clear water and oohed and aahed at the bommies and fish.
Hence the reason we are back here for a few days, exploring some different parts and being just as impressed.

Between the last blog and this, Sea Piper has been tied up for a week in Hamilton Island while Royden travelled to Victoria for a meeting (and a whirlwind catch-up with children, two-out-of-three grandchildren and friends), while Heather flew up to have a week with me on the island.
We took full advantage of the free bus services, access to resorts, pools, bush walks and restaurants, as well as having extensive walks looking at some of the beautiful modern architecture, rock walls and landscaping that now dominates, lessening the impact of those ugly 80s' high rises. T
The views from the toughest bushwalk to Passage Peak were spectacular and worth every upwards step - and there were a lot of them.
Towards Whitsunday Island with the white sands of Hill Inlet
Towards Lindeman Island from Passage Peak.

The annual outriggers' regatta also kept us entertained with plenty of colour and hefty-shouldered men and women.
Day One of the Outriggers. Shortly after this NRE started a burnoff on Whitsunday and Hazelwood Islands (in background) to the left and the whole area became swamped in smoke. Great timing!

And then of course, there were the cocktails of various hues!
Day One ...
Day two .... etc

Heather and Royden swapped over planes and cars on Friday at the same time as Vikki and her sister Tanya arrived as part of their day trip from Airlie. We managed to catch up with them for a short time, during which we also bumped into Joy, Andrew, Sue and Graham from the Mornington Peninsula. Sea Piper has never had so many visitors in one day.
Hello - goodbye!

It was back to the high seas on Saturday with an easy trip around the southern corner of Whitsunday Island to Cid Harbour, there meeting our catamaran neighbours from the marina and sharing stories and an evening drink.
Dugong Bay

Resident of the walking track (sorry Leigh).
After a walk to beautiful Dugong Bay on Sunday morning, we headed up to Stonehaven for a rather swelly overnight anchorage, following the `Super Moon' and the lowest tide for the year at 0.04m, which exposed an incredible amount of reef.
Lots of reef emerging with the lowest tide for the year.

Yesterday's treat was a trip over to Langford Island, just south of Hayman. Langford has a long, long sandspit which grows even longer as the tide recedes. While the coral there was pretty ordinary, we disturbed a sleeping giant turtle who sluggishly swam away while we trailed along behind him. Of course it's the one time I haven't taken the camera.
Sun setting on Langford Island - bit lumpy as an overnight anchorage for us. 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Wallowing, wonderful whales

The little black thing in the middle of the picture is the back of a humpback whale.
The whales are here!
Yesterday we saw one breaching well off into the distance as we returned from a snorkel out at Bait Reef,
This morning, at least three were a few hundred metres off Stonehaven Bay rolling around, slapping the water with their flukes. I heard them before I saw them.
It was dead calm so their humped backs were clearly visible, along with their big white flippers coming out of the water and slapping down on the surface. I hope that is a happy signal for whales as it was certainly a happy moment for us.
The last few days have been beautiful so we've been making the most of it. We'd never been out to the Great Barrier Reef from the Whitsundays before and yesterday presented ideal conditions.
Waiting out the weather to the west of Airlie. The shipwreck on the right is one of several from ex-tropical cyclone Oswald earlier this year.
We'd spent the previous night in Butterfly Bay at the northern end of the Whitsundays then set off shortly after dawn for the 18 nautical mile trip with the wind perfectly and gently positioned for the Code Zero to give us a lovely run.
(Note: it was the calmest night we have ever spent in Butterfly Bay. Our last stay there was when Julie and Keith nearly got blown off the front deck  - in their swags - from the bullet winds that drive down the mountain.)
That's close enough thanks. These big ships move very fast..
Arriving at Bait Reef was no trouble. Working out how to get inside it to the moorings was a bit trickier in the overcast conditions. With a bit of sun in the right position you can usually work out a safe passage. Luckily we were on a rising (and therefore more forgiving) tide as we skimmed over the bommies with less than a metre to spare!
As we found off Cairns last year, the outer reef is stunning with clear deep water and loads of fish and coral. We snorkelled until we were shivering, by which time the sun had come out to warm us dry again.
There's a white tip reef shark down there if you look closely.
Loads of brightly coloured fish at Bait Reef
As the forecast was for winds to pick up through the night, we decided against staying out on the mooring overnight. It was swelly enough in the daytime!
By then we had watched a couple of boats go in and out of the reef gap and copied their exit route for a safer passage!
As we headed back to Stonehaven, again on the northern end of the Whitsundays, we watched a whale breaching out on the horizon. It made enormous splashes. We were so thrilled. Whales never lose the WOW! factor for either of us.
Following a beautiful sunset and the stillest night we were again treated to a whale show this morning, this time much closer.
The red marshmallow sunset last night.
Can't wait to see what today brings as those winds never arrived and the forecast is now for another beautiful day! Yay!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Zooming across the Passage

We were similarly rigged to this Seawind travelling parallel to Sea Piper crossing the Whitsunday Passage yesterday.
In the past fortnight we have experienced our smoothest crossing and our fastest crossing (two separate events) of the Whitsunday Passage.
Yesterday's trip across from Cid Harbour to Airlie saw us tip 9.4 knots under sail (main and head). Winds were forecast from 15 to 20 knots with the odd 25 knot gust but we were recording gusts of up to 30 knots with a good (or not so good) two metre swell. 
With the weather looking to improve for a few days, David had arrived from Townsville on the previous Saturday so we had finally dumped the Airlie Beach mooring and picked him up from the marina precinct before heading out to the top of Hook Island.
That was a bumpy enough ride after 10 days of big winds but nosing into Stonehaven Bay was beautiful, as was picking up the best located public mooring in the bay.
The first thing to greet us was a large turtle who hung around for a while.
You can see how close this curious turtle was to the back of the boat.
We had a walk ashore and the boys explored a creek while I lay on a warm rock and enjoyed the stillness.
Sunset from Stonehaven at the northern end of the Whitsundays.
The weather improved heaps on Sunday so we set off around the corner to snorkel Manta Ray Bay. This is one of the prettiest bays in the Whitsundays, I reckon. Recent cyclones have done a lot of damage to the coral but it is still a lovely place to visit.

After using every minute of the two-hour mooring, we set off down the east side of Hook Island, crossing through the Hook Passage between Whitsunday and Hook Islands at the change of tide. Perfect timing.
We dropped anchor in Sawmill Bay, (Cid Harbour) and enoyed more turtles and another beautiful sunset.
Sawmill Bay is a popular anchorage.

Full of enthusiam on Monday, we went to shore and walked the track to the Whitsunday Peak, taking about an hour to reach the top. The view from the top is spectacular and well worth the climb.
Proof you were at the top David.

By the time we'd climbed back down the dinghy was high and dry on the falling tide and the wind had picked up generously!. Thank goodness for our new lighter-weight dinghy as between the three of us we could carry it back to the water.
We re-anchored Sea Piper further into Sawmill Bay and decided to spend another night there rather than move on to a less sheltered spot.
We made it back to Airlie by mid-morning to drop David off (but not before making full use of having a car to refill gas bottles, do some shopping and pick up our anti-foul paint). Thanks David!
We're currently at anchor just to the west of Airlie and will probably head off to Double Bay (no phone, internet or TV) tomorrow.