The islands of the Southern Whitsundays are little frequented by yachties, other than as convenient stopovers on the way to somewhere else! We had been told these islands are worth exploring and we agree. In this post we take you to Scawfell, St Bees and Keswick Islands, where we spent five days.
We were itching to get back into cruising mode, which to us means easy little sails, beach walks with the pussy cat, snorkeling and small hikes and finally this is what we are doing!
Anchored on our lonesome at the western end of Refuge Bay, we had the quietest nights there after weeks of so-so anchorages affected by swell. It’s pretty, you wake up to birds singing, we had our own little sandy beach for Bengie to stretch her legs.
No bush walk there, and the island is heavily treed and rugged, but the appeal was the peace, and surprisingly the snorkeling. We did not expect much as the visibility was limited and the reef looked a bit like rubble. Rather than big colourful coral heads, you get bland sandy shades but amazing patterns in the hard coral and a variety of soft corals that sway in the current. Only small fish there, although a white tip shark did circle around and I could not help but yelp! We tried our $45 dinghy rope ladder there and are sad to say it is a waste of space! It swings under the dinghy as soon as you try to step on it… So impersonations of whales beaching themselves were seen as we heaved ourselves back in the good old fashioned way! We will order some decent ones as soon as we get internet coverage!
St Bees Island
We headed next to St Bees, had a nice little sail under main and jib and anchored in the Egremont Channel that runs between St Bees and Keswick.
We stayed there for three nights and used the dinghy to get to the snorkeling sites of the NW Corner and Homestead Bay. When you first get in the water there, you think: lots of rubble and brown algae. But both sites were interesting again! The NW Corner was a little creepy, with deep dark canyons possibly hiding big monsters, but in fact it was full of tiny little juvenile fish, gorgeous soft corals and lots of interesting tubes-like sponges.
The Homestead Bay at the SW end of the island was great fun. Big dinghy ride down the Egremont Channel which was an adventure in itself, particularly on the return trip with wind against tide! By the way, having a strong speedy dinghy is such a treat especially when the current runs at 4 knots! The bay was shallower and more open, with interesting soft corals we had not seen anywhere else. Lots of coral trout, stripy snappers, crayfish and other good to eat treats if you can catch them! We went back twice so Wade could catch us dinner with his spear gun, to no avail! I stayed out of his way focusing on sponges, soft coral and baby fish!
Connie Bay on the northern side of Keswick was our next dinghy trip from the anchorage. A feature of this site are the deep narrow canyons in the reef, where all sorts of fish patrol, some rather big! So Wade was ready with his speargun again, even put champagne in the fridge in anticipation of a big catch. Nothing caught! Wade was very disappointed and is still sulking. But I caught him in action at least!
The reef flats at low tide are just under the surface, sometimes not enough to swim over, so you follow the deep channels which meander like a maze. Interesting to find your way back at times!
Our next post will take us to Brampton Island.
24 thoughts on “Southern Whitsundays Series – Scawfell, St Bees, Keswick”
Terrific! We have not been to St Bees or Keswick. Perhaps this time.
Well worth a visit. We will stop there on the way back south to see the southern bays.
At least you spent quiet nights to have refreshing sleep. Take care Chris. 🙂
Active days in a nice protected anchorage means good sleep!
Beautiful photos. It is easy to write off a place because the coral is not “colourful”, but you have captured the hidden sights beautifully. Glad to read that you have found calm anchorages and all is well with Anui. I enjoy reading your blogs each time. Thank you.
Very nice feedback, Richard. There is so much to see if you take your time and are looking for beauty and surprises!
Great photos Chris
Thanks Henry – it is a scenic region!
Tried this method guys?
Thanks Neville, We had seen this method on another video before. Might give it a go next time, however this is a bit athletic for most of our visitors. So dinghy steps are the go!
also someone told me this one works ok…bit expensive though!
Hi again Neville, managed to order the Dicks Dinghy Ladder – also expensive, but a few friends have it so it comes well recommended.
Beautiful pictures. 🙂
$45 ladder bodge ideas: tie something heavy to the bottom. Hang ladder off the back
Hi Murray! It needs to be something heavier than we are! We tried putting our weight belts on – no good. New steps ordered, waiting for us at Airlie Beach!
Love the coral photos. Shame you missed catching a fish Wadie but photos were great
He looks the part doesn’t he Sue! BTW new ladder ordered. Amanda and Neville on Bossa Nova have one and swear by it!
Yes dinghy ladders! My BEST boat purchase a few years back. I looked online everywhere. Found one at Rib Force on the GC. Aluminium, curved around the tube, but more importantly it has a fold out bottom section so it doesn’t go under the dinghy. It’s brilliant! You may remember seeing it last year? I recall it being $220 but well worth it. 👌
Hi Amanda, yes we do! We have a Dicks ladder waiting for us at Airlie Beach!
Have just finished a 2 week charter in Croatia. The thought of an anchorage to yourself, and the good snorkelling sounds nds very appealing . ( Croatia is full of charming little towns, with great sailing between islands, but the number of boats is staggering, and this isn’t even peak season.)
Welcome back Meredith! Yes the crowds would put us off. No pretty little villages here but the Southern part of the Whitsundays is much quieter than the main Whitsunday Islands which we will skirt around this year. So so snorkeling around where we are but we can head to the reef for clear waters and colourful marine life.
Man: it was so good to read this post … it should be us this time next year! These are the islands I am actually looking forward to visiting the most. Anui is looking great by the way. That classic Crowther stance. The asymmetrical hulls make her look powerful.
Great to hear guys! These islands are worth a good look and even in the 20 knots SE we have been getting they offer good protection. Thanks for the kind words about Anui. She is a good looking cat and sails really well. Here is to sharing an anchorage with Selah soon!
Very cool to hear about these overlooked gems. Great action shot of Wade too! Not to mention the gorgeous soft coral shots. Seems like got into a nice little routine there too. You must both be very skilled snorkelers now. When we went on the reefs off Cairns last summer, we did scuba and snorkeling – kind of enjoyed the snorkeling even more than the scuba. Except for the night scuba dive where you could see loads of sharks – feel much safer sharkwise with scuba than just with snorkel.
Welcome back to our site Craig! Yes we are having fun after putting the hard yards to get Anui sorted.
These islands are very pleasant. The snorkeling isn’t wonderful but it is fun to look for surprises. Interesting what you say about liking snorkeling better than diving. We have both got our dive ticket but would rather the hassle free snorkeling with beautiful light for photography. You see a lot anyway.