Interrupted Journey – North Queensland 2022 – Part 1

Part 1 – The Whitsunday Islands

Note: A video link appears at the bottom of this blog post.

Please Note: There is a video of the day in the Whitsunday Islands ay the end of this post.

The Mobile Sheathers are mobile again. We left home on the morning of Wednesday 10th August, for a tour that was planned to absorb the remaining days in August. But unexpected events occurred.

Our view to Port Airlie approaches

We departed in sunshine, came through a cloudy period around Gympie, then fine to our overnight stop at Gladstone. Brilliant sunrise on Thursday morning could only be seen through a window, without getting dressed and going outside, so no sunrise photograph.

A bit of rain south of Sarina and a bit more between Mackay and Proserpine but plenty of sun shining through the clouds as we topped the rise coming in to Airlie. We were able to enjoy that fantastic sunshine on blue water and green mountains view that is the reward for just getting there.

Whitsunday sunset from our balcony

We stayed at Club Wyndham, situated on the hill directly above the Port of Airlie, with little to obscure the view, after a fairly good drive, apart from road works. We estimate that at least 40% of the highway between Gympie and Gladstone has road works speed limits, 80, 60 or even 40 MPH if they get the chance. A bit frustrating but necessary. If you wonder why Australia is short of people to pick fruit, make coffee or all those other vacancies we keep hearing about, it is probably because so many are working building and repairing roads.

We enjoyed good weather at Airlie Beach, noticeably warmer than recent Redcliffe temperatures.  There has been early cloud, burning off to a clear afternoon.

New Shute Harbour Passenger terminal

On Friday morning, our first day at Airlie, we drove out to Shute Harbour to check out the new passenger terminal, built since the last cyclone. We also checked the logistics of the cruise through the Whitsunday Islands that we planned to do for suitability for Ruth, who gave it the thumbs up. We booked for the following day.

A view of Shute Harbour from near the houses on Coral Point, accessed from the road that runs behind and above the Shute Harbour car parking area.

We did a drive around the residential area that overlooks Shute Harbour area, then drove out to Mandalay Point (the range of hills opposite to Airlie Beach) to check on how the rich people live, or at least the houses that they live in. Some are beautiful houses with magnificent views of the bays and headlands around the residential area. A few original fisherman’s shacks remain.

Units on the hill at Airlie Beach.
The beach at Airlie Beach at low tide.

After lunch we did a walk around the Airlie town, including enjoying an ice-cream. Then back to our resort for a rest and dinner. Club Wyndham is built on the steep hill that overlooks the town and port facility. It is very steep but that provides the views. It is a very nice resort. We are staying here through the kindness of our son and daughter-in-law.

Shute Harbour Road in the heart of Airlie tourist strip
Poolside at Airlie, near the main beach
A recently completed mansion overlooks Airlie Beach
Cruise morning sunrise reflected on the clouds

On Saturday morning we drove out to Shute Harbour and boarded the “Nancy Wake”, our tour boat for the day.  From Shute Harbour we cruised past Daydream Island, through the Mole Passage and past the now unused South Mole Island where the once famous resort that was so badly damaged by Cyclone Debbie remains closed and unrepaired.

The charter yacht base at Shute Harbour

Our passage then led inside Cid Island and through the both picturesque and functional deep-water anchorage. The harbour was used for refuge for Naval vessels during WWII.

Daydream Island resort

The cruise continued through Hook Passage, the narrowing body of water between Hook & Whitsunday Islands and the shortest passage from Airlie and Shute Harbour to The Great Barrier Reef. The north-east part of Whitsunday is mountainous with precipitous drops to the sea. But not far along this coast is an inlet and Tongue Point, that provides a sheltered anchorage for vessels visiting Hill Inlet. A twenty-minute climb to the summit reveals sweeping views of Hill Inlet, Whitehaven Beach, Solway Passage and Haslewood Island.

A motor yacht making for Cid Harbour

With all back on board, lunch was served, after which we moved on to anchor off the southern end of Whitehaven Beach, to allow passengers ashore for a guided walk, sunbake or swim. My legs were a bit tired from the climb to Hill Inlet Lookout but I did go ashore for a walk along the beach. We were anchored there for about two and a half hours, with plenty of company from private and other tourist boats and even a small amphibious aircraft.

The southern end of Whitehaven Beach . Swim, sun bake, snorkel, hike. Take your pick.
Our tour boat, “Nancy Wake”.
A breaching Whale off Solway Passage

With all hands back on board, afternoon tea was served. We then set off then to complete our journey. We continued south through Solway Passage where we came upon some Whales playing, so stopped to watch their show. After a pause of 10 minutes or so, the Whales dived and we moved on past Hamilton Island and the neighbouring Dent Island and returned to Shute Harbour.

A Pleasure Boat passing Perseverance Island
The main Hamilton Island resort area
Hamilton Island Yacht Club and harbour entrance
Dent Island. The residence of the original owners is among the trees in the centre foreground.

The cruises past Hamilton Island provided an excellent view of both the tourist facilities and the stunningly located private accommodation on the northern end if the Island. This is a rich persons’ playground. Hamilton island Week was about to commence. Some of the large racing yachts were visible as our cruise boat proceeded past the harbour entrance, before turning for home. The afternoon light on both island and water was pleasing, as the sun moved towards sunset.

Hamilton Island, viewed over the stern of “Nancy Wake” as we headed back to Shute Harbour.

We had enjoyed a very pleasant day, to say the least. Lots of sunshine, seascapes, mountains, resorts plus more food than we could comfortably eat. We will move on tomorrow, very contented with our short stay in this paradise.

A Short Northern Safari – Watching the Whales

The Sheathers are mobile again. Ruth’s knee has responded to physiotherapy and the orthopaedic surgeon has given approval, so we have grasped a brief window of opportunity to get away before commercial responsibilities demand my presence in Brisbane. Then, of course, someone decided to call an election for 7th September thus reducing the size of the window by a few days.

This trip takes us up the coast, almost to Townsville and then to Charters Towers and around two sides of the Dinosaur Triangle, including Hughenden, Richmond and Winton. Then we plan to move through to Longreach, the gem areas of Sapphire and Rubyvale and finally home.

Because much of the area is very familiar to us we will be driving straight through much of it to reach the areas of interest. It is mainly about these areas that I will blog.

For years we have promised ourselves a whale watching cruise and although we had encountered a couple of whales while sailing in The Whitsunday Islands a few years ago we had never been up “close and personal” with them. So the first two nights of our trip were booked at Hervey Bay with a whale cruise booked on the intervening day.

There they are. ust under the water.

There they are. just under the water.

It is easy to feel at home in Hervey Bay. God has several waiting rooms in Queensland and Hervey Bay is one of them. But this weekend it was all “Go” as the Whale festival was on. But we didn’t see much of it because while others were parading the streets we were out on the water actually looking at what the shore based folk were celebrating.

Just cruising along

Just cruising along.

We sailed on the “Tasman Venture” and are pleased to report that it ventured nowhere near the Tasman. But it did venture to Platypus Bay which is the long sweeping expanse of sheltered water off the west coast at the northern end of Fraser Island. Whales come in to Hervey Bay as part of their breeding pilgrimage from cold Antarctic waters to the warmer waters of the Coral Sea.

Waving a fin.

Waving a fin.

A strong southerly current runs down the east coast of Australia, often reaching speeds 4 knots and more. The whales have to swim against it as they travel north. I have sailed into that current from Sydney to Brisbane and you certainly know it is there. So it makes sense to me that the whales would turn into Hervey Bay for some respite from the persistent current.

Here is a better view!

Here is a better view!

There were sufficient of them in the bay for us to find and spend time with three pods, two of two and one pod of three. Once you have two whales you have a pod. There can be more than two in a pod, of course.

They are being cooperative today!

They are being cooperative today!

From the first sighting excitement on the boat was obvious. There were around 60 passengers and as soon as the sighting was announced there was a rush to the bow. The Tasman Venture is a substantial catamaran but the shift in human weight caused the bow to drop and the stern to rise but we did not join the whales below the water. But the whales certainly joined us on the surface and gave every indication that we were welcome in their domain.

Another close view.

Another close view.

Pods one and two behaved a little differently at first but then settled into common behaviour patterns. There was much surfacing, venting, rolling and diving and heads popping up to take a look around. The skipper kept moving the boat so that everyone could see but the whales swam from side and from front to back, often swimming right under the boat.

And then there were two!

Swimming away from the boat.

Show business folk say that you should always leave your audience wanting more. Well this audience certainly wanted more and wanted it all afternoon. And we got it.

What ever is going on? Whales often take a look like this.

What ever is going on? Whales often take a look like this.

The third pod contained a seasoned showman. He was the largest whale we had seen, probably full grown, and must have been there before as he knew how to please the crowd. Whales have large fins on their sides called pectoral fins. On a large whale they weigh about a tonne. The showman whale repeatedly struck the surface of the water, sending up showers of spray and continued to do it time after time – almost like a child splashing in the bath.

The under side of a whale's tail.

The under side of a whale’s tail.

Top view of the tail.

Top view of the tail.

Then, with sunset approaching, he appeared to lose interest and started swimming away. The skipper, thinking that the show was over, started to open the throttles on the boat. The increased vibration seemed to warn the whale that he was losing his audience because he dived and breached. A breach is when the whale throws their body almost right out of the water. But he continued with his performance completing about ten breaches in succession. It truly was awesome!

The flapping pectoral fin.

The flapping pectoral fin.

Even the crew were impressed. We heard later that other boats had seen more whales than we did but none that we heard of were presented with the show that we had enjoyed.

It was about an hour’s run back to port through the deepening twilight. We watched the sun set over the land and the lights of Hervey Bay become brighter. The crew served

The start of the breach action

The start of the breach action

drinks and nibblies to help pass the time but there was lots of conversation as passengers discussed what we had witnessed on a rather unique day.

Later, back at the caravan park, we could hear rather loud music and then the even louder explosions of fireworks as the celebrations of the Whale Festival reached their climax.

I took quite a lot of video. AS soon as I have a chance I will put together some material and post it on You Tube.