Travels around Australia

Once I had cleared most of the big jobs on the boat I started to think about my grand tour of Australia, well at least the eastern half. How much ground could I comfortably cover in three and a half weeks, limited by time as I still had some jobs and purchases to organise when I came back. What did I want to see and how did I include sufficient time with my friends in OZ in the time available. As I planned and calculated the distances I realised I would have to cover 400 – 500km on many of the days to fit everything in. As with cruising I made a loose plan: I wanted to see Brisbane, The Gold Coast, Sydney, Canberra, The Snowy Mountains, Melbourne, The Great Ocean Road, Adelaide, the outback mining towns of Broken Hill, Cobar and my friend John Peachey had suggested the Opal mining town of Lightning Ridge with its hot springs and lastly Moonie, Australia’s only oil town before returning to Brisbane to drop off the camper van. I reckoned this would be drive of around 4,000 km so I needed something that would drive like a car that I could park anywhere. I chose a “Spaceship” which had everything I needed fitted into a converted 7 seater Toyota Tarago.

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My new land home for 3 weeks

Unfortunately I couldn’t hire a camper van any closer to Bundaberg than Brisbane which meant taking the Tilt Train from Bundaberg, 350km down to Brisbane, which proved an experience in itself and showed me a lot more of Queensland. Brendan and Marina on the boat next to mine offered to drive me to the station and pick me up again on my return. They lived in the next town, Bagara, and were long distance cruisers having circumnavigated a few years ago with their two young boys. A truly lovely couple – Brendan was Irish and Marina was part Italian, part Aussie. They invited me to dinner on my return with another 6 couples (all long distance cruisers) and it was a really interesting and fun evening. So my journey started with Marina taking me to the station to join the tilt train. We then travelled through the flat arid countryside of Southern Queensland until we reached Brisbane where I hired a taxi to the Spaceship depot.
I had advance booked my road toll passes for Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne so I wouldn’t have to worry about where I went and down-loaded two great apps – wikicamps which lists all the caravan parks, supermarkets and points of interest around Australia and FuelmapAustralia, it can be hundreds of kms between petrol stations so this app gives nearest location and fuel price with these two and Google Maps it was all the information I ever needed for my trip.
What impressed me as I set off were the huge distances between towns, good but mostly single carriageways in between, big skies (especially in the outback where you had horizon to horizon views in great flat landscapes) and that the towns and cities were much smaller than U.K. or USA not surprisingly given the country is larger than the the US with a population of only 24 million, most of whom live on Australia’s east coast.

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Unpaved road in the outback

As a Brit driving was easy as they drive on the left but I had been warned about some differences. You can’t turn right at many junctions in Melbourne so you have to either turn left and stop in a box until it’s clear to do a U-turn or you wait in the left lane and then whip round right when the lights change, very bizarre! Also you have to park with the directional flow of traffic, no crossing the road to grab that spare space on the other side of the road! The driving death rates in Australia are proportionally very high and Australians are very critical of drivers in general (not themselves of course) which is a bit of a puzzle because in my 4000 km apart from a couple of idiots, I thought the driving standard was pretty good. The big risk of course is from the wild life, hitting an emu or a kangaroo at 110km ph is going to be quite life threatening. There a lot of them about in the countryside (bush) and they’re big, some over 2m in height and they seem to like playing chicken, bouncing out when you least expect it. Anyway suitably briefed I launched my “Spaceship” in Brisbane and headed south to see Australia and its people, places and wildlife, my next big adventure. I travelled south down the M1. road to the Gold Coast south of Brisbane, passing through holiday towns clustered round beautiful sandy bays.

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My one and only selfie and it’s on my road

I stayed at three coastal caravan sites on my way down to Sydney. The last and most expensive in Pittwater on Sydney’s northern beaches which cost $AUD90 (£50.00pd). I was on my way to do four things in Sydney ; go to a Cruising Association lunch at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron; visit my friends John and Meryl; see Sydney Harbour and it’s famous bridge and; take in an opera in the Sydney Opera House.
I didn’t realise the Pittwater site was on John’s doorstep so we could have met up that day however I moved into Sydney proper and drove to the Yacht Squadron where around 50 members met up, of which I was the only overseas yachtsman while everyone else was based in and around Sydney. Talking to a number of people the one thing they all shared as a passion was cruising in the Mediterranean. Each year they head off for several months to join their boats which they keep over there and to a man and woman they were all wildly enthusiastic about the Med as a cruising ground. After an excellent lunch we were challenged to tell of a sailing experience we had had last season where the best would be awarded a trophy, an annual award and most had a story to tell. I related the “Whale Tale” of our experience of being chased by a whale off Nuie and our attempts to escape his pursuit, much to my surprise it was voted the best tale and they presented me with the trophy. I offered to leave it with them as I wouldn’t be back next year to return it but they wouldn’t hear of it and said they would buy a new trophy for next year. It now has pride of place on the boat, a great memento!

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Lunch at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron

John Peachey and I go back a long way, we were both at college together in Liverpool in the 60’s, played rugby together, drank great quantities of beer and had a fantastic time. John met Meryl (his Kiwi wife) in London and moved to New Zealand and from there to Australia. We’ve maintained our friendship over the years. He had relentlessly insisted I come to visit him in Australia and here I was, admittedly a lot later than instructed. We met up the following morning and it was great to see John again after 6 years looking fitter than ever.

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John looking very slim

He kindly showed me the sites of Sydney, we walked the streets around the harbour, through the lovely renovated dockland, found a quaint café for 11’s, all very civilised.

 

We then drove up the coast and stopped for lunch at the impressive RSL club in Dee Why (a very up market British Legion) and then on to his home in Belrose to meet Meryl. We then drove back to Manly to get the ferry back to Circular Quay in time for my performance of La Traviata at the Opera house. Unfortunately it decided to pour with rain as I came off the ferry and headed for the Opera.

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The Joan Sutherland Theatre

Being soaked to the skin didn’t dampen the awe however of walking up to the floodlit building with its huge sweeping arches. I joined a presentation on the life of Verdi and the history of the opera given by the director which was an excellent idea and also a good opportunity to dry off. As I went into the Joan Sutherland theatre I had to pinch myself, this was one of the major places on my bucket list and here I was. A truly memorable day thanks largely to John for his great hospitality and company. That night I stayed at the Lake Cove caravan park close to the city centre and conveniently close to a railway station for my exit from Sydney after the opera.

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A Bush Turkey in Lake Cove Park

In the morning I headed south for Canberra but didn’t stop, driving through this open parkland city in the middle of nowhere, built as a compromise because they couldn’t agree on another city. It’s very spacious, clean, modern but a bit soulless.
On I drove through the very pretty Snowy Mountains and stopped at the ski resort town of Cooma.
The camp site there was quiet out of season so I thought I would build a campfire and started to gather wood from the surrounding bush when two other caravaners John and Laurel joined me with the same idea. The fireplace had a swing over grill on which I cooked my large steak while John cooked a whole pack of sausages. It was a very social evening round the fire drinking beer and wine and swapping travel stories while others joined us drawn by the warm fire on a chilly evening.
My drive the next day was through wonderful rolling countryside, winding roads, small dairy and arable farms and everywhere there was lush green vegetation, quite a contrast to the dry scrub of Queensland. The road went through the Snowy River National Park which is mostly forested and winds its way down to the coast passed Lakes Entrance to the Mitchell River camp site in Bairnsdale. I was parked by the river which was nice until dusk when the mozzies came out in force, so it was back in the van with the windows closed having sprayed well, until proper nightfall.

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The Mitchell River

My next stop was to be Melbourne to visit Neil and Jessie who Gill and I sailed across the Pacific with in 2016 buddy boating with their boat The Red Thread. I went to Melbourne University where Jessie works and after a quick lunch she directed me to her friends house where I could leave the van. It was great to see her again and we talked non stop exchanging news since our last meeting. They have a delightful apartment overlooking the bay where you can watch spectacular sunsets from their balcony. Neil arrived home from work and over a few drinks with some friends of theirs, Emma and Antony, we brought each other up to date. Emma and Antony’s hobby is outback camping in their 4×4 Truck specially fitted out for survival trips and they make films of their expeditions on YouTube.
The following morning Neil and Jessie wanted to move Red Thread to a new marina nearer the sea so we had breakfast in the marina café and took Red Thread down the bay with two friends Emma and Yuri.

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Back on board The Red Thread with Jessie and Neil in Melbourne

It was great being back on board again we’ve had so many great times on on our travels together. We then slaked our thirst at the Royal Melbourne Yacht Club and caught the bus back into town where Neil and Jessie took me through the backstreet lanes to show me the terrific wall art that is such a feature of Melbourne.
The next day Neil had to go to work so Jessie and I visited an exhibition of work “Confine 9” by past and present aboriginal prisoners at an art gallery. This was part of a remedial program and some of the prisoners were there to talk about their work, dressed in blue prison uniform. Some of the paintings were really good and commanded prices over $1000. If the pictures sold the prisoners were allowed to keep the proceeds. The next day was a public holiday so Neil hired a car and we set off to visit some of the vineyards in the area, a gin distillery and then a wild life sanctuary where they tried to return injured or sick animals back to the wild.

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Neil Jessie Emma and Yuri

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Some of the amazing wall art in Melbourne

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After the wine tasting the gin!

On the Tuesday Neil and Jessie had to return to work so I took my leave to head west. I had a fabulous time with them, they are two very special people who gave me great experience that weekend and I just loved upbeat Melbourne.
My plan was to go along the Great Ocean Road with its spectacular views and wide sweeping bays and head towards Adelaide.

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The beautiful coast along the Great Ocean Road

My first overnight stop was at Mount Gambier and then I saw The Grampian Mountains not far away and back tracked slightly to go through Hamilton, Dunkeld, Balmoral on my right which was not at all like being back in Scotland. I decided to skip Adelaide having seen enough of big cities and I wanted to spend time in the mining towns in the outback so I headed for the town of Mildura on the Murray River en-route to the famous town of Broken Hill. Mildura is on the Murray river where they operated wood fired paddle steamers built in the 1860’s so I booked my passage. I asked the captain who was about my age if I could helm his ship having helmed everything from Arab dhows to Chinese junks and cargo ships and he agreed. I learned a lot from the captain about life on the river, he’d spent his life plying boat’s up and down the 2000 km of navigable Murray, the largest river by volume in Oz (although the Darling is the longest at 2700 km). It was a very special pinch me moment, I took the steamer and it’s 150 or so passengers down the Murray river for about 10 miles.

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MS Melbourne, my first voyage on a paddle steamer

The captain told me that in its heyday the boat’s carried 3-400 passengers and people queued on shore to ride the river but after the financial crash in the 1980’s the tourist trade dried up and didn’t recover and now cargo goes by road in the massive road trains.

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Happiness is driving a paddle steamer

These magnificent paddle steamers only just earn their keep, maintenance being such a big cost. After my boat trip I decided to walk the riverbank as far as the first lock which as it turned out was being repaired by divers and not operating. The lock was built in 1890 and still had its original lock gates, a testament to the build quality in those days.
From Mildura I headed for the famous mining town of Broken Hill along a road where you could travel for an hour or so without seeing another car and through countryside as flat as a pancake, fields (if you can call them that) so big you can’t see the other side because of the curvature of the earth. Out here there was nothing, just an occasional track leading to a farmhouse you couldn’t see and sign posts saying kangaroos for the next 200km.

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Miles and miles of bugger all

There were emus as well wandering along the roadside and the occasional carcass. The kangaroos were much less fortunate, I counted ten dead ones in a one hundred metre stretch, killed by the giant road trains at night who stop for no one least of all a kangaroo. I missed a few myself, startled by the noise of an approaching car they jump in any direction and if one comes through the windscreen you’re dead meat as well. One old miner told me that had happened to him and he just bailed out of the car and the door shut behind him. The kangaroo was still alive and destroyed the inside of the car with his powerful legs. Everything inside was a write off and when he put in his insurance claim for a new car the company sent a surveyor up to Broken Hill to see the car, one glance was enough, he turned round, went back to Sydney and paid his claim.
I stopped for lunch at a billabong and was really disappointed not to see the jolly swagman! It was a short meal, the place was seething with flies that went up your nose in your ears and ate your lunch. I then spent the next couple of hours trying to kill the flies in the camper van. In the end I stopped sprayed the inside with fly killer and sat on the roadside waiting for it to work. Definitely a place for the corked hat, I was told my experience was nothing compared to the wet season which is far worse when everyone has to wears hats with nets on for three months.

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My first billabong

As I drove down the road I was amused by the imagination used in creation of the letter boxes at the end of the tracks to the sheep and cattle stations. There was a 6 ft Lego man with a slot in his chest, brightly painted old fridges and oil drums, hollowed out trees, dog kennels, miniature houses with their family name on, milk churns and even an old cannon.
I was thrilled by the solitude, the huge skies and faraway horizons and searing heat of the outback; this was the stuff of dreams of Australia and then suddenly after 400 kilometres you arrive in Broken Hill with its mighty slag heaps and railway sidings to take the ore to the coast for export. This town of 18,000 people has to have everything shipped in on massive road trains from all over eastern Australia – Sydney is over 1000 kilometres away. The water for industry and domestic use is piped for hundreds of miles from the Murray and Darling rivers and Broken Hill has the largest solar park in the Southern Hemisphere to keep it operational. It’s a miracle the place survives but it’s the silver and lead ingot that boundary rider Charles Rasp found while riding his horse round the station fences in the 1880’s that has sustained this remarkable town, it’s now the worlds largest resource of lead and zinc in the world.

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Brokenhill from the Load

After visiting a mining museum run by a man from Chester in England I had worked up a thirst and went to the hotel which looked like it was on a cowboy film set. The hotel barmaid said she envied me travelling on my own, “master of your own destiny and no one else to consider and you can go your own way”. She had a point but then I have no one to share this incredible experience with which of course with company would inevitably bring compromises. I think a bit of both is a good balance but difficult to achieve. I’ve been fortunate to have good friends in Australia and some really nice people who broke up my solitary confinement and gave me a much needed human touch.

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Down the mine but sadly no gold

 

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These boots were made for mining!

My next stop was another 400km away at the copper and gold mining town of Cobar which looked much like Broken Hill; wide streets, old colonial buildings and dust everywhere, a bit like an old fashioned western set. I visited the Heritage centre where they told the story of Cobar’s origins when three guys stopped at a waterhole in 1870 and found copper ore, it’s now Australia’s biggest copper mine and in 1992 they discovered gold as well. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any lying around and digging for it in that heat wasn’t a fun prospect.

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Just a few guys I met while prospecting

The last outback mining town on my trip was recommended to me by my friend John Peachey. Lightning Ridge is famous for its black opals, not found anywhere else in the world and it’s hot spring pools. I visited both, going down a mine which wasn’t very deep, maybe 30 metres underground and taking a dip in the towns free hot pool, which was very hot and took me some time to get in. Once in I could only stay there for a few minutes, feeling like I was being slowly cooked. A thermometer at the poolside gave a temperature of 42C but it supposedly had therapeutic properties and I did feel really good afterwards.

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An original miners shack from 1870

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Entrance to an opal mine in Lightning Ridge

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Camels were used to move supplies in the early days

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Small mining plots in Lightning Ridge

The mines around the town vary from fully equipped and automated to a hole in the ground dug out by a pick and shovel. The town attracts a motley bunch of prospectors, some avoiding tax, immigration authorities, prison or grasping ex wives and it has more than its fair share of characters. I had dinner in the camp kitchen with two of them who barely made a living digging holes in the ground. They told me only that only one in ten find opals and of those only one in ten make a living and only one in ten of those get rich. Anyone can buy a 50m square plot for $5000 which gives you mining rights for a year. Consequently the town is surrounded by a shanty town with tin sheds or a caravan on each of the plots and small mounds of spoil. A good quality one carat opal can fetch $8000 so you don’t need to find many to make a living.
On my second night there I met Carlos and Wendy over dinner in the campers kitchen. She from San Salvador he from Malawi, with three young boys, all recent immigrants. They had taken a year out from their home and work in Melbourne, bought a caravan and were circumnavigating Australia.
Wendy posts a blog of their travels at https://wendy367.wixsite.com/morinlife
The nasty things you have to live with in the Australian outback are the bugs, the flies that get in your ears, mouth, nostrils, the mosquitoes that take up where the flies leave off at dusk (I suppose we’re fresh meat from Europe) and the no see-ums who have a liking for ankles and feet and wee an acid urine which creates an intense itching. Fortunately the itch only lasts for an hour and doesn’t cause lumps like a mosquito bite. In one of the caravan sites I stayed at had a sign that read “The kangaroos and emus have as much right as you to be here however if you see any snakes please let us know urgently”. No mention of the spiders with killer bites or the ants that climb up your legs to bite you in delicate places – but then Aussies are pretty laid back about their deadly creatures, I suppose they live with them every day!

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The whole town of Lightning Ridge is supplied by bore water which comes up under natural pressure from 1200m down, no pumps. There are no hot taps in houses as water comes in at around 50*C and has to be cooled to drink it. It has a distinct sulphur taste but it’s quite drinkable once you get used to the taste. I liked Lightning Ridge; it was my idea of an outback town, hot, dusty, hotels with verandas, wooden houses and full of hopeful characters drawn by the appeal of finding buried treasure.
I turned to head back to Brisbane and decided to stop for the night at Moonie, Australia’s only oil town and a drive of 390km. It’s a real one horse town; it has a roadhouse, caravan park and petrol station and only 30 people live around here. The roadhouse is also a bar, social centre, sports club, food store and cafeteria. The walls in the bar area are decorated with lots of dead wild boar heads and big stuffed fish, interspersed with John Murray paintings (the renowned Lightning Ridge artist). It was here I met Mary, a widow in her 80’s, at the bar, she took the stool next to me, bought a drink and for five minutes eyed me up. She must have decided I didn’t bite and talked for an hour without drawing breath or pausing. I got the history of the town, her childhood,, her family, her chickens, her marriage, her home, her likes and dislikes with lots of amused smiles and winks from the bar staff and locals, “another innocent trapped by the deadly widow barfly”. There was no escape from the torrent of information and no opportunity for questions! After I finished my steak I managed to duck out as she ordered another drink to fuel the next hour.

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John Murray painting

Then it was back to Brisbane through rich farm land, so flat that flooding is a regular occurrence in the wet season, everyone has snorkels on their 4×4’s and the road is marked every mile by depth gauges. Eventually I reached the outskirts of Brisbane and the end of my incredibly trip. I spent a night in the YMCA near the station and the following morning returned by train to Bundaberg, to be collected by the lovely Liz who volunteered to be my taxi as Brendan and Marina were away getting their gearbox fixed.
I now had 4 weeks to get the boat ready and I used every day of it. Poppy a gap year student from England was the first of my new crew to arrive. She had arranged to take her Padi open water dive qualification before we set off.

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The new Bond girl

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Eni and Marion joined the crew

A few days later Eni and Marian two young Germans touring Australia and New Zealand arrived with their herb garden in a window box and we were ready to set off.

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The last supper BBQ at Bundaberg Marina before we left.

A fellow cruiser Terry who had lost his guitar partner told me one night I was his new musical buddy and that we would be playing at the Lighthouse Hotel as a duo with six songs we had learnt. The good news was I had ten days to learn to play them. I could play a few chords having bought my ukelele at Christmas but I was nowhere near good enough for a public performance. To his credit Terry held firm and pushed me every day at practice. On day ten we left for the Lighthouse Hotel with Carol, his wife and Poppy, I don’t think I have ever been so nervous. We actually learned eight songs and played them that night with me heavily supported by Terry but it was a great experience and the beginning of a belated musical career.

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My musical public debut on the stage at the Lightning Hotel in Burnett Heads with Terry off Little Dove

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Poppy and Terry playing at the Lighthouse Hotel in Burnett Heads.

On the way north we stopped at many of the places I visited on the way south but one new one was Middle Percy island, 70 miles of the coast, which was occupied by six people who farmed on a subsistence basis and maintained the Percy Island Yacht club which was housed in a large A-frame structure which was first installed in the 1960’s. The building had hundreds of plaques left by previous visiting yachts. Poppy and I took the dinghy ashore and had a barbecue there on the first night and met with a family.

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Cate stamping out our Percy Island Yacht Club tags on a WWWII US dog tag machine

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At Cate’s Homestead on Percy Island

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Cate saying farewell as we leave the homestead

 

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Poppy hanging around the yacht club

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The plaque we made to hang in the A-frame with hundreds of others

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Poppy cooking dinner on the Percy Island BBQ

At Great Keppel Island, scene of a storm on our last visit didn’t disappoint this time either and we were hit by strong winds while anchored on the north side. In the night my kayak broke free but at least the dinghy was still safe. I ordered a new kayak from a company in Melbourne and asked them to deliver it to the marina in Mackay, some 100 miles north. They offered a 3 day delivery, ten days later we were still waiting in Mackay for it to appear, after 3 revised delivery dates, the nature of couriers in Australia.

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The last time we used our kayak

It was here I decided that Eni and Marian were not suited to being crew on Romano and we parted company, they agreed it wasn’t working out so it was all quite amicable. I had been warned by another skipper of the difficult combination of German and vegetarian in crew members which proved true and they were particularly anti with Poppy and the boat was a much happier place afterwards.
Poppy and I set sail for Brampton island in pretty lumpy seas and 25 knots of wind but she coped well.

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Sunset off Brampton Island

We anchored off Swordfish Point and Poppy took the new kayak ashore to explore. I had already walked the island on the way down from Cairns the previous year. The next morning we sailed 35 miles north to Whitsunday Island through the tidal Solway Channel at 9.5 knots and anchored off the beautiful 3 mile Whitehaven beach which we had to ourselves once the trip boats left for the day.

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Poppy in charge

Our next stop was Butterfly Bay on Hook Island in the Whitsundays where you moor to free buoys provided by the National Parks authority. The water was really clear and the reefs had good coral and plenty of fish life, we saw grouper, parrot fish, angel fish, butterfly fish and Poppy saw a small reef shark. It was an idyllic anchorage so we stayed for a few days one of which was my birthday. We spent the day diving with the Hookah and scrubbing the bottom of the boat. Poppy made a lovely lemon drizzle cake for afternoon tea and we split a bottle of bubbly before dinner.

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My 30th Birthday with lovely lemon drizzle cake. Thanks Poppy

We decided to do an overnight sail, her first on Romano, for the 140 miles to Magnetic Island. We each did a 6 hour watch Poppy took the 8 TIL 2 and got the moon and I didn’t, it had set by the time my watch came around but I got a great sunrise in compensation. Bacon and eggs and fresh baked bread taste really good after a night watch!
We arrived in Horseshoe Bay at 11.00am and went ashore to explore this holiday destination island. There’s one street that runs along the beach front where the bars, restaurants and shops are strung out and here we met fellow cruisers from Bundaberg on their way north for the Indonesia Rally. We grabbed a table in the IceCream parlour and swopped experiences on our sailing so far. I came in for a lot of leg pulling over the age difference with Poppy.

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Racy new swimming trunks, a pressie from Poppy

We caught the local bus which runs on the one road on the island and got off at Nelly Bay where the ferries come in but there was nothing there so we did a quick shop in the supermarket there and caught the bus back.
The following day we set off on the walking tracks around a few more bays, snorkelled on a reef in Florence Bay, visited the WW II fort where we found an enormous spider the size of my hand in a disused ammunition bunker. We also saw some tiny micro bats hanging from the roof in the same place and a sleeping Koala in a eucalyptus tree, my first ever Koala in the wild. We covered about 10 kilometres over the day and stopped at the pub and ice-cream parlour for some well earned refreshments with some fellow cruisers from Bundaberg who were going on the Darwin based Indonesia rally.

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He or she is a hand span wide

We went into Townsville to replenish stocks having cleared the fridge and freezer and found a Woolworths supermarket (the brand still exists in Australia) and had a brisk sail up to Dunk Island about 30 miles north. The forecast was for 3 days of light winds so we decided to take the opportunity to sail out to the reef proper, selecting Nathan Reef as the best for coral and reef life. We weren’t disappointed! The reef is 30 miles off shore and it felt strange anchoring in what appears to be the middle of the ocean but in fact the depth was 10 metres close to the reef. The wind duly died and we had a quiet first night. A mini cruise ship was anchored nearby its occupants paying $1800 for the privilege but they soon left and we were on our own on the ocean.

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A passing mermaid

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Google Earth photo of Nathan Reef where we spent two days in near flat calm

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We thought maybe of using the hookah so we could dive but most of the reef was 5 to 10m which we could free dive easily and the air lines would just have got tangled around the coral heads. The visibility was superb, around 50 metres in places, the coral varieties amazing and so many fish, it was a snorkeler’s paradise. On the first day we took the kayak to the edge of the reef and while putting my fins on I rolled the kayak over spilling its contents, much to Poppy’s amusement. We spent 2 hours in the water, exploring the reef and saw lots of new varieties of coral and fish life and enjoyed the attentions of a black tipped reef shark who was as interested in us as we were of him. After a couple of hours in the water we were chilled and so it was back to the boat for a hot shower, a warm in the sun and a cup of tea. We have Marine life almanacs on board so we spent time identifying the coral and fish life we’d seen.

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A curious black tipped reef shark

The following morning Poppy cooked a full English breakfast for us, to fuel the day ahead and as the sun rose in the sky to illuminate the reef we set off again this time paddling over the reef in the kayak to pick our best anchor spot. We found a big sand patch in which to anchor the kayak and set off exploring again with lots of sandy channels among the coral and bommies hooching with fish life.
In the evenings we saw some amazing sunsets over the distant land, time for a beer and nibbles before dinner. This was the stuff of the cruising life and to see Poppy’s excitement and interest was so rewarding, sharing the experience is what it’s all about.
On the third morning we set sail for Fitzroy Island 40 miles away, the wind was still light at about 10 knots so we motor sailed to get there in the light. We picked up a mooring buoy, Poppy’s got the feel of the boat and can put her spot on the mooring buoys first time. Fitzroy is a resort island with regular ferries from Cairns packed with tourists of the least adventurist kind and I’m afraid we got pretty snobby about the resort trolls.

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Poppy on holiday on Fitzroy Island off Cairns

We climbed to the steep summit of the island with Poppy patiently waiting while I got my breath back. From the top there were some rewarding spectacular views and there lay Romano lying peacefully on her mooring 375 metres below.

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Cairns is now only 20 miles away and we have a 7 day wait to provision and have the boat surveyed and measured for her new Part 1 registration and to collect Terence our new crew member.

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Terence our next crew on Romano

Poppy’s excited because we bought an acoustic guitar together and she has a new kindle coming both of which we bought on Australian EBay for delivery to the Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron. Poppy is already an accomplished player it’s my next challenge after the Ukelele. It means we can play together on our way through Indonesia and Terry (also a guitarist) on “Little Dove” is also keen for us to sing and play as a group at Rally gatherings.

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How excited can a girl get?

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Love at first sight

The journey from Bundaberg to Cairns, a distance of 700 miles started with Eni and Marion a young German couple and Poppy on board as crew but sadly it didn’t work out with our German vegetarians and they left the boat in Mackay. Poppy and I completed the last three weeks of the journey to Cairns and I had to rely on her to help with sailing Romano which provided the opportunity for her to get to know the boat better and she proved a quick and able learner. Each time crew joins or leaves, life on the boat changes and it will change again as Terence, an Irishman, joins us in Cairns.
My next blog will cover the Indonesia rally from Cairns to Singapore in a few months time.