This week we are taking you reef hopping to two sites that were new to us: Lodestone and John Brewer Reefs. Discovering new spots is always exciting. We had heard a lot of good things about those two from fellow cruisers so were hoping it would be fun and it was!
Here is the satellite map of the area again so you can orientate yourselves.
We got to Lodestone Reef in sunny weather with a 10 to 15 knots breeze. We were so lucky to have this place to ourselves. There is a public mooring there which we took, but there is plenty of clear sand to anchor in 8 to 10 meters of water, so no stress!
This reef system is a large platform reef, edged by coral and a network of gutters and bommies at either extremity. You can get a good overview from the aerial shots which clearly show the live coral heads in brown. Although a bit breezy, Chris managed to send the drone up the highest to date and far enough away from the boat to get panoramic views of the reef system.
A good thing at Lodestone is that fishing is permitted. Wade caught us a large coral trout and a smaller sweetlip. The catch provided some very tasty meals for us and Bengie who had a special birthday treat! She is a bit partial to coral trout and has demanded more at every meal since!
The reef was quite healthy, with lots of plate and branching corals in tight formation. There is a lot to explore and we only investigated one little area. So much more to see!
Luckily a week later we snuck out again to Lodestone from Magnetic Island. We took off for a short escapade during a break in the weather. We snorkeled in the maze of bommies to the left of the boat. Here is an aerial view of the area.
This time around we saw a few interesting critters as well as the usual corals and smaller fish: a huge ray (about 1m20 in diameter), a grouper, a spine cheek clownfish which Chris was so busy observing she got a surprise when she looked up and saw two whitetip sharks circling at rather close quarters. Here is another slide show from our second visit:
Birds were plentiful at Lodestone too: terns, booby birds, noddies. One particular noddy broke our heart. We called him Speckles because he was covered with white flecks (we later found they were splashes of guano). He came on board at the previous reef and stayed with us for two days, flying around the boat, landing on the front, resting on the boom, the deck, the sugar scoops. When we woke up the second morning, Speckles was looking rather worse for wear on the back step. We went for a snorkel. When we came back he had died. Very sad, but he chose Anui as his last resting place which is special.
John Brewer Reef
Now this reef has been on our wish list as well as that of our friends on Oceaneer. So we had a rendez-vous there on the last good day of calmish weather. Only 10 miles from Lodestone, it was a quick and easy hop, but we were warned John Brewer is a bit of a minefield with bommies, particularly if the two public moorings are taken. We could see about 8 masts in the distance as we left Lodestone! But never doubt… as we were closing in, several boats were leaving, including our friends on Bossa Nova! The two moorings became vacant and we had our pick of the easiest one to get to.
John Brewer is a kidney shaped ring reef with a large lagoon. There are several gaps in the reef wall on the northern flank allowing boats to get inside, but the quantity of coral heads makes it a challenge to navigate; you certainly need good light to weave your way in and out, a spotter at the front… and you’d better record your track! It is not one for the beginners or faint hearted!
This is what one quarter of this reef looks like from the air. It is really vast so hard to capture in its entirety.
Now there is a reason John Brewer is so popular and on our target list: the museum of underwater art, which is located in 18 meters of water at the NE end of the lagoon (top right hand corner of the panoramic image). Best to do this with scuba gear as the art installation is quite deep, but at the very least we had a chance to practise our freediving! The museum has been created to inspire and educate people about reef conservation. There are sculptures, a greenhouse with statues of scientists and children studying the coral, coral garden beds, all this with fish swimming around; it is fascinating. Here is a link if you would like to find out more. https://www.moua.com.au/
The site will be transformed over time into its own ecosystems thriving with marine life. Dee and son Riley on Oceaneer scuba dived and filmed the inside of the greenhouse with wonderful clarity.
These are photos from our own descents and ascents!
The snorkel along the reef wall was also sensational, with an abundance of fish. There were schools of pullers, fusiliers, damsels, sergeants and larger fish like batfish, barracudas, Maori wrasses, all cruising along luxuriant gardens of soft and hard corals. You can see layer upon layer of plate corals covering the walls, soft corals like the sarcophyton, numerous crinoids and gorgonian fans. It was astounding!
This slide show clearly displays what a thriving reef looks like!
It is heartening to see that the reef is quite healthy in an area which is not far from the coast and frequently visited. We hope we continue to enjoy these discoveries.
The weather is of course always in charge of the duration of our reef escapades. But with no hurry nor particular destination to reach before we turn around and go south, we can linger!
We have been anchored at Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island, during the persistent strong winds. It is nice to be able to go for bush walks and attend to a few maintenance projects. But having spent longer than we had hoped in this spot with 100 other boats, it is time to move on! We are leaving tomorrow and we’ll resume our reef hopping north.