Mother and baby Humpback whales celebrate spring
Getting from Dunk Island to Cairns took a little patience so say the least.
For two nights we rocked and rolled in our Dunk Island anchorage hiding behind the tiny bit of lee shore offered by the sand spit near the airstrip. The winds blew solidly all day and night and nobody left the anchorage, but another yacht joined us. As the last yacht out towards the spit they must have been very uncomfortable indeed.
Eventually the forecast predicted a slight decrease in wind speed, so we set off early for Mouriliyan Harbour. It’s only a 20nm passage, the first fifteen with the wind directly behind us and then some lee afforded by Kent Island, the larger and northernmost of the North Barnard Group. When we rounded Kent Island to head west and inland , Andrew spied two Humpback whales, a mother and her calf. They were practicing broaching and tail slapping and we watched them for half an hour or so as they travelled past us. Needless to say we have many photo’s of the water just after each broach! As we passed them the mother whale rolled onto her back, both pectoral fins in the air, we presume to recommence feeding the calf. It’s something we have never seen before. The calf slapped its tail and settled in. Much to our amazement we have heard that female humpback whales do not feed for the entire time they are in the tropical waters. They produce an incredible 600 litres of breast milk per day for their young and lose serious amounts of body mass doing so. A tough post natal diet!
Mouriliyan Harbour beckoned. It’s an amazingly deceptive narrow gap in the hills, but once there a sizeable and well sheltered harbour. For us it was a blissfully peaceful anchorage. It’s one purpose? It is a shipping wharf for sugar, often transported as Mollasses and despite it’s narrow entrance it accomodates cargo vessels of up to 200m in length. There is a small fishing fleet on pile moorings and behind them a channel which accomodates small craft. Beyond that lies the rest of the Moresby river, lined with mangroves. The fishing is good here and we regularly had small tinnies (aluminium dinghys) working the shore next to us, angling for barramundi amongst the mangroves.
The wind strengthened again and we waited another day. Day six from Townsville and we were keen for a shower (no swimming here, crocodiles abound!) so we were delighted to have the couple who man the pilot boats for the harbour come alongside and give us directions as to where we could shower in the VMR building. They gave us the most recent copy of The Coastal Passage, and directed us to the only shop in town: The bait shop at the boat storage yard. Here we bought ice and to my delight a kilo of frozen cooked prawns, perfect for paella today and wraps for tomorrow’s lunch. I longingly eyed off the coral trout, Moreton Bay bugs and Mud Crabs…
On our way to the shop we passed a Cassowary warning sign on the road. I was just about to remark to Andrew how those signs usually mean you won’t see any wildlife when one appeared, wandering about the gardens of the sugar storage shed! It looked like the local pet who would most probably be a nuisance at the friday afternoon after work BBQ’s! Alas no camera! (Non Australians: a Cassowary is a very large bird, native to Australia. They do not fly and are approximately 1-1.25 m in height. They are only found in the tropics and look similar to an Emu)
Again the wind blew and blew as we sat snug at anchor for that day and enjoyed our Paella in the twilight. Early the next morning we set off for Fitzroy Island. Fitzroy is a continental island 42nm north of Mouriliyan Harbour and just 15nm from Cairns.
With 22 knots apparent behind us and making speeds of 7.5 knots we flew along. Deep aqua blue water sparkled beside us and we were happy to arrive by early afternoon. We saw a few tuna or mackerel jumping out of the water and several flying fish but no whales.
Fitzroy island has a resort, a camping ground and a day visitor centre. There are walks through the forest and up to the lighthouse. The resort was redeveloped last year and looks quite attractive. Day visitors can buy a pass to use the pool, but the swimming and snorkelling off the beach is just as good. Much beloved by the locals is Foxy’s Bar, a ‘seventies themed pacific island bar’ (their words not mine!) which offers reasonably priced meals, live music and well priced drinks, all with spectacular views across to Cape Grafton and out to Green Island, a Great Barier Reef atoll. It’s a very chilled out place. Local sailors head over on Friday nights, just to watch the football on tv and still have a view!
Fitzroy Island has eight marine park moorings, due to the coral growth, but you can anchor outside of the moorings. Picking up the second most southern buoy we found our anchorage to be rolly and our mooring buoy bashed the boat nonstop all night. The northern end is to be favoured in SE trades.
Early the next morning I fed our stale bread to the fish, Andrew capturing a snap of a Remora, commonly called a sucker fish, who came to gobble up half a loaf all by himself! Remora fish have a suction pad on the top of their head which they use to attach themselves to mush larger fish for transport and feeding purposes. The suction pad is about 8 x 15 cm long and can leave a really nasty bruise should one latch onto your bare skin! A bit like the house guest you wish you had never invited! Goes away eventually, but not without pain!
Being very short on water we dropped the mooring and headed to Cairns first thing the next morning.