Reef Hopping Offshore of Townsville – Part 1

The GBR runs SE to NW about 40nm from the coast between Cape Upstart and Townsville. As you head northwards, you can choose to follow the coast or take the offshore route and hop from reef to reef. You can guess what we did!

Our reef hopping to date in this region has brought us to four separate reefs, but there is more to investigate. It’s a matter of the weather letting us do what we like!

Today we are taking you to the first two after our recent escapade to Stanley Reef: Wheeler and Keeper Reefs. We went there on our own.

We left Cape Upstart on a windier and more overcast day than ideal, but with a period of calmer weather forecast, we just went. No regret is all we can say. We enjoyed gorgeous sails, found no one else at our destinations and were free to hook onto a public mooring, so no stress anchoring among the bommies!

Wheeler Reef

This reef is quite small and round, with a shy little cay that only appears at low tide on the NW flank. There is a public mooring and although you could anchor it is deep with not a lot of sandy space. The day being overcast and the breeze a little fresh the mooring was vacant! Lucky us!

The sand cay at low tide, covered with seabirds
A Noddy visiting from the cay

There is not a lot of protection at Wheeler, but plenty to explore underwater with gutters, canyons lined with mainly hard coral in relatively good health, and all sorts of big and small fish patrolling these! Fishing is not allowed there as it is a green zone, so it was just look, see, photograph… oh and try to stay calm when a much bigger shark than us cruised past. Wheeler is apparently known for its mega fauna! The visibility was good despite the weather and chop in the water.

Here is a gallery of our favourite shots. They are not as vibrant as usual due to the grey skies above, but do give a feel for the condition of the coral and fish life. Considering this reef is on the line closest to the coast, it is faring well.

Keeper Reef

Our next hop was only about 15nm on. Oh what a keeper this reef is, just as we remembered! Again, we were there by ourselves, picked up the mooring and were all set! With brighter weather and slightly less wind, the first thing we did was fly the drone to check out the anchorage from up high, the shape of the reef and best snorkeling spots. This gives us such a different perspective!

Stunning Keeper Reef

As you can see it is quite a big platform reef offering better protection. Despite the absence of a cay the seabirds paid us a visit: a big booby bird and a noddy we called Speckles because of its splashes of white. Both stayed on the boat for ever, quite comfortable with us coming close to them. Don’t you poop on our deck!

Next came the snorkeling with beautiful coral again in good condition, interesting canyons and great visibility. It is amazing the difference when the sun is shining, all the vibrant corals and colourful fish really stand out.

It is always special when the reefs you discovered a couple of years ago and which stand out in your memory, do not disappoint when you revisit them. Although there are traces of damage you can see on some of the table corals and a few patches of filamentous and turf algae, overall we found both reefs were healthy.

Join us again next week when we will take you to two new to us reefs: the magnificent Lodestone and John Brewer reefs.

23 thoughts on “Reef Hopping Offshore of Townsville – Part 1

  1. Loving the reef adventures. A few days ago we stayed at Little Black Reef and snorkelled at Block Reef after reading about it from your 2020 exploring. The Block Reef coral was still in great condition and we had it to ourselves but the weather didn’t hold for long.

    • So good to hear! The weather windows have been short and you have to be ready to go in marginal conditions but the reward is worth the effort! Hope to catch up at an anchorage somewhere!

    • There is a bit of a sad story about Speckles… more on this next week. The weather has been temperamental and we are hiding at Maggie. Might get back out again tomorrow.

  2. It’s good to hear Wheeler & Keeper Reefs are still in good condition. Your post brings back good memories 😃💖

  3. Sounds like you’re having the needed fun you’re missing during the lockdown. I’m so glad to see that the reef corals are looking better. Enjoy! 🙂

  4. Beautiful photos & so heartening to see healthy reefs, I particularly like photo of Anui at Keeper Reef. Such stunning colours and only vessel in site. Wonderful!!!

    • Hi Lindy, it’s glorious to have such stunning reefs to ourselves. We tend to go out even if the conditions are a bit on the fresh side. It often works in our favour.

  5. Running out of superlatives! Great pics, esp liked the first, mean looking noddy …. like he’s saying, “get off my boat”

  6. Hope you get to john brewer reef and get plenty of pics of the art display. Happy sailing

  7. Wow. The water seems so clear and beautiful and the colors of your underwater shots are so vibrant. Your shots, Chris, including the drone shot, are absolutely stunning. Thank for including the map, which helped a lot in trying to orient myself.

    • Thanks Mike. Yes the water was crystal clear… hardly any backscatter to clean up on the photos. It is the beauty of going offshore: no sediment or run off from shore. As for the drone shot, daring to go high up and far away from the boat to get the all encompassing view is the secret but it is nerve wracking! The reward is discovering what the whole Reef system looks like.

      • Ah, like so much in life, your drone shots are an exercise in balancing risks and rewards. My guess is that you are gradually learning how far you can push the envelope in terms of flying high and suspect that weather is one of the key limiting factors.

      • Absolutely, stronger winds make it hard to control the drone and also mean the battery is used up quickly to punch forward. If it runs out the drone lands… bad luck if it’s over water!

  8. I also love the drone shots, they give a great perspective of the reefs you visit. best watch those sharkies. the coral and fish look so healthy. glad to see the birds visiting Anui, brings back memories of the ones at Elizabeth.

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