When you see the fringing reefs around the Whitsunday Islands it is easy to feel dismay at the state of the battered corals and sparse fish population. It is a little better on the outer reef, but not a lot. And you wonder: Is it recovering or is it the last hooray? Are we hoping or wishing?
In this week’s post, we finish our tour of the Whitsundays, then off we go to Little Black Reef. It is a longer post with lots of photos, so you know the drill: make yourself comfortable and enjoy cruising and diving with us!
Manta Ray Bay
From Cateran Bay, where we left you at our last post, we sailed to Manta Ray Bay at the top of Hook Island, spending two days on a public mooring, sheltered by the tall hills from strong winds. The visibility underwater was a bit ordinary, which accounts for some photos being a little hazy. On the first dive, it was sunny enough to take underwater shots without strobes. On the second day, with very grey skies and drizzling rain at times, not to mention the desire to dive down deeper, we had to get the serious gear out! Here is what we recorded over the two days.
A bright episode was when we were visited by a gang of batfish. It was great fun getting underwater shots from the sugar scoops at the back of the boat. There were five or six of them; they came close, nibbled our fingers, were very social and photogenic! You can’t help but smile when you see them. Here they are:
Back to Tongue Bay and Hill Inlet
With a reprieve in the wind inshore and sunshine returning, we thought we’d motor around to Tongue Bay for a change of scenery and just enough time to download our emails underway, given we have been in internet detox for a while and were going to be again for days!
At near low tide, we walked up to the Hill Inlet lookout. We were lucky to have the place to ourselves in glorious sunshine, a great opportunity for some panoramic shots with the Canon camera, just in case it was too windy to launch the drone from the beach. But it was not! So Chris flew the beast briefly to get the shots she missed last time. Once you have done a reconnaissance flight, and understand the lay of the land, you are better able to compose the panoramic image you have in your mind’s eye: the arc of the Whitehaven Beach, the full view of the entrance to the inlet, meanders of the stream and the sight of adjacent Tongue Bay, with Anui in the picture. Those colours may seem unreal, but that is how it really looks! It is the most breathtaking spot in the Whitsundays. You can see why it lures us to return time and time again.
We could not resist taking Bill up Hill Inlet in the dinghy. With high tide at the end of the day, we started our little expedition mid-afternoon. It was great fun zooming around the bends and going as far upstream as the tide allowed, until we bottomed out with the dinghy a few times too many. There was talk of crocodiles hiding in the mangrove. We did see something jumping out of the water near one of the sandbanks we were stopped at. Bill thought it was a baby croc; if it was, mum never appeared, so all was well!
We flew the drone for a look and see from above, and nearly lost the dinghy which had been pushed off the sandbank by the wind while we were not looking! Wade had to sacrifice himself and get wet to recover it. Nobody else volunteered for the task!
The views of the meanders and vast expanse of mangrove from up high were fascinating. We so like seeing our surroundings from the sky!
Little Black Reef
One of the destinations we dearly hoped to bring our friend to was Little Black Reef. We must have all been hoping and wishing very hard because we got our chance to head out… not for long nor in ideal conditions mind you, but we had three days of moderate southeasterlies (12 to 18 knots), which was fine anchored inside a lagoon. It was enough to give Bill the experience of brisk sails, the spectacular arrival at a reef at low tide in bright sunshine, a taste of this serene place for a few days of freediving, fishing and discovery.
One of the special moments was seeing whales inside the lagoon on two of the days. The first day we saw a single one with very distinctive markings and battle scars. It huffed and puffed as we were wishing it to come close to Anui for a better look. But it kept its distance.
The next day four of them were frolicking right next to the boat: two juveniles and two adults.
Here is a gallery of this amazing encounter.
And of course we snorkeled. As usual we dinghied across the channel separating Little Black and Block Reefs and enjoyed diving along the wall, picking a different spot each day. There were large amounts of fish, including schooling trevallies and stripey snappers. The coral although very damaged by a mix of bleaching, storms and crown of thorns had pockets of reasonable cover and variety, and we saw our favourite creatures like the crinoids, the Christmas tree worms and several types of Gorgonian fans. Wade had fun spearfishing and caught us a trevally. Here is a selection of images in a slideshow.
We are now back at Airlie Beach. The experience of living on board for a while and cruising around these beautiful places have hopefully inspired Bill to set off on his own adventures on his catamaran Zed and also acted as a ‘reset’ for him. He is leaving us today after spending nearly two weeks with us.
We will be doing the usual reprovisioning and laundry chores, then it will be time to move on and leave the Whitsundays. Stay tuned for details of our cruising plans in our next post!