Southern Great Barrier Reef at last!

Having been hiding from bad weather at Fraser Island for a few days with a dugong and whales for company, we left the safety of Platypus Bay early Sunday morning and headed offshore, intent on being at the Great Barrier Reef for Chris’ birthday – 4th August. There still was a bit of swell and the forecast was for 15 to 20 knots SE abating overnight. That afternoon, we got to Lady Elliott Island, the very first cay in the Capricorn & Bunker Group after a long spinnaker run.

The island was not its usual bright green strip of vegetation surrounded by turquoise water. It was grim looking with a very cloudy sky and a dark and choppy ocean. And to add insult to injury we had to anchor in 18 meters of water – 100m of chain out – since both public moorings were taken. We suspect we will see a lot more of that during this season.

A few miles off Lady Elliott

The anchorage was rather lively and the sharp short chop did not settle overnight. In fact the updated forecast was for more of the same for another day. We can normally put up with a fair bit of movement at anchor, but even for us, this was rough and we had our most rocky night at the reef ever! We woke up to an overcast sky and inky ocean. After all that, a snorkel did not appeal, nor another day and night of rolling around, so we decided to move to the Lady Musgrave Reef with its protected lagoon.

Normally when you think of the reef you picture idyllic conditions with crystal clear turquoise water and brilliant sunshine. This time there are mornings of grey on grey and moody cloudy days.

Lady Musgrave cay and lagoon
Narrow Lagoon Entrance, looking back, with rain in the distance!
Anui is in the middle somewhere!

Even though the Lady Musgrave lagoon is a popular spot, we counted 35 boats at one stage, there is plenty of space to anchor. It is quite protected, you can paddle out with the kayaks, go ashore for a walk on the coral cay, and use the dinghy to explore different snorkeling spots. Wade has been spearfishing and catching us dinner! So life is good! It really is a special spot to come to and we have decided to stay a while rather than keep moving around.

And we had a few sunny spells during our first dives for the season and have been doing a lot of exploring. We met up with another cruising couple, Wendy and Alex on Gipsy, and have snorkeled together in a variety of spots in the lagoon as well as outside along the drop off. We had our best day ever when we swam with manta rays, sharks, turtles and even whales outside the lagoon wall. It was mind blowing!

The manta rays were so huge and graceful as they glided past us in a circuit with remora fish in tow! The turtles were endearing, the sharks not as much! As for the whales, they were very close to us although we could not see them underwater, but you could not miss their splashing around, deep loud grunts and blows as you surfaced!

Here is a selection of our favourite underwater images organised in a slide show. Most of the manta ray images were taken by Wade who was just at the right spot to photograph them flying by… and he might also have pursued them!

We realise how lucky we are to be here, safe, free to come and go, able to experience such wonders, while we know many of you are restricted with what you can do. Special thoughts go to our Victorian friends and family who are going through Stage 4 lockdown.

21 thoughts on “Southern Great Barrier Reef at last!

  1. Hi Chris
    Beautiful photos as usual. We can’t believe the number of yachts in general, everywhere!
    It was great to catch up with you in Mooloolaba, even though it was brief! You came through the WBB just after us and we watched you go North from our anchorage behind Inskip Point.
    We are heading still slowly moving north, slowly. Spent the day yesterday watching the whales and turtles in Hervey Bay.
    All the best, hope the weather settles for the both of us.
    Cheers
    Judi and Richard (Imagine)

    • Hi Richard & Judi. Nice to get your comment. We are in no rush either, enjoying the reef and the trouble free time. Hope we can share an anchorage somewhere for a proper catch up soon!

  2. You sound happy now. These are beautiful pictures you posted. Enjoy yourself! 🙂

  3. Hi Chris and Wade,
    Glad you are managing to enjoy some of the reef. What a coincidence we share the same birthday. I spent mine walking at Mount Kaputar and enjoying some excellent French champagne.

  4. Yay! You made it to your winter stamping grounds ….. enjoy the joys of the tropics!

  5. More than just a tad envious …… btw, I was in and out of the water on a Cornwall beach last week, had to catch a body wave at least once in the UK. The water was sooooo cold, I could hardly breathe! caught one wave and got out fast ….. miss our surf at Sawtell. Happy sailing, diving etc etc guys…..

    • Oh Phil we were thinking of you when the sun was out and we were playing with the critters! If it is any consolation it has been bucketing down for two days! We are waiting for the weather to improve to get out in the water again.

  6. Love the underwater shots, Chris and Wade–so many beautiful, colorful, and unusual looking fish, not to mention the spectacular turtle. I really liked the birds too, which I think included egrets and oystercatchers (or something similar).

    • Hi Mike, the beauty of this reef with its lagoon and coral cay is that you get a variety of wildlife both over and under the waterline. You are right they were reef egrets and oystercatchers. The unusual and colourful fish were the moorish idols and lots of blue pullers and damsels. Next time I will add captions!

  7. Your post brings back wonderful memories of the cay and lagoon. Birds on the cay and beautiful creatures in the water. I hope you continue to enjoy the reef and all it has to offer, go well and stay safe

  8. Woohoo! Finally back on the reef! Beautiful photos! And getting free food from Wade’s spearfishing! What are those sucker fish that follow the Manta’s around called?

    • Hey Craig – yes finally. We have been enjoying a couple of snorkels each day. The fish that follow the manta rays are remoras. They have a kind of suction cap instead of a dorsal fin and attach themselves to the larger fish.

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