We finally made it to Lizard Island in the late afternoon on 28 September, anchoring at Watson’s Bay on the northwest side of the island. The bay is wide and reasonably well protected in a strong Southeast. Some 20 boats were in there, including several luxury motor vessels complete with multiple large tenders to amuse their paying customers.
Our first full day there was quiet because of the weather. It was very blustery, over 20 knots and did not let off until late in the afternoon when we ventured ashore for a quick reconnaissance trip.
We ended up doing some chores: cleaning the boat, doing a ton of laundry, making a huge bread loaf. We downloaded the walking tracks map, intending to roam around the island over the next couple of days.
Friday was a lot more active: a walk up to Cook’s lookout for Wade, Murray and Chris. The hike up to the highest point on this island was worth the effort with great views of Watson’s Bay as we climbed up the rocky ridge, of the lagoon on the southern side as we reached the top and the outer reefs in the east. It was a good aerobic exercise up the steep track and rocky slabs! Here are a few shots taken with both the Olympus and the iPhone for the panoramas.
We ended the day with a meal ashore at the Marlin Bar which was very pleasant with music and a nice change from having to cook for four every day!
Saturday morning, we took the dinghy over to Mermaid Beach on the northern side for a snorkel. Some areas were sparse, with expanses of sediment interspersed with regrowth and the visibility was not wonderful, but what we saw was encouraging.
Overall this little patch of reef on the northern side of the island looked significantly better than most of the Ribbon Reefs. It is in recovery with good cover of the fast growing Acropora in branching and plate form as well as the hardy soft coral species of Sarcophyton, Lobophytum and Sinularia. But it is very much a kind of mono culture for hard corals which limits biodiversity, and Acropora are also the most susceptible to storm and heat damage, so we will see how long they last!
There were not many large fish, but plenty of little ones.
Next came a quick snorkel at the Clam Garden in Watson’s Bay. It apparently is not what it used to be, having been smashed by cyclones and bleaching, but again, the soft corals were recolonizing the patch and some of the clams had survived. We hesitated about going there under threat of a lone croc, but it had not been seen for weeks, so we were brave.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science research vessel was anchored in the bay when we got back. We can only hope they survey the Ribbon Reefs and shed some light on the outlook for the coral reefs out there.
We could easily have stayed longer than 4 days at Lizard Island and could have waited there for the northerlies to arrive, but who knows how long this would take! With dwindling fresh food supplies, a pussycat that needs a vet visit, and a short window of lighter conditions forecast for a few days, we thought it wise to head back south.
So we escaped while we could on Sunday 2 October, headed for Hope Island, 65nm south.
We did not rush back to Cairns from there, instead meandering our way between islands and reefs where the conditions were forecast to be much lighter. There is a marked difference in the intensity of the winds the further north you are.
We will probably get back to Lizard Island again next year and use it as a base to explore further afield. There is a lot more to do: a few more walks, the Research Station to see ashore, and several reefs and islands to visit further north.
For now see you somewhere north of Cairns in a few days.