Sailing north to Australia’s remote and stunning Lizard Island off far north Queensland’s picturesque coastline…
As with several of the previous posts in this sailing series, I must apologise in advance for the quality of the photos. The 35mm negatives lived on the boat for years in humid conditions and a harsh environment, causing many negatives to stick together. The negs then moved on land in storage and endured heat – not great and many are ruined.
A resort (playground for the rich only), small airstrip for light planes (again, for the rich), the Australian Museum Lizard Island Research Centre (an excellent educational experience), and numerous fabulous walking trails across the island, keep you busy on blustering days.
A little history
Take a climb to some 358-metres above sea level arriving at the peak of the island, which is named Cook’s Lookout. Imagine Captain Cook standing somewhere in this area, charting his and crew’s escape out of the Great Barrier Reef’s maze of treacherous reef and shallows.
Cook aptly named the island “Lizard” after witnessing many lizards on the island. Perhaps he was running out of names this far north by the time it came to leave Australia.
Important as a sacred place to the Aboriginal people that knew the island as Dyiigurra, the island’s next historical and tragic chapter began with the harvesting of the sea cucumber.
During the late 1800s, sea cucumber fisherman Captain Watson, his wife (‘famed for her courage and endurance’), baby, and two Chinese servants lived on the island.
Following an attack from some mainland Aboriginals killing one servant whilst Captain Watson was at sea, Mrs Watson with her baby and servant climbed into a steel boiling tank and headed out to sea. Attempting to reach the mainland but instead drifting for days, all three perished from thirst. The tank, bodies, and Mrs Watson’s two diaries were found inside the tank, which washed up on one of the islands.
Black Marlin Fishing
World-famous for Black Marlin fishing competitions – mostly for the rich – this is not the reason for sailing this far north to the island. The reason is to dive the famous Cod Hole.
Apparently these days, it’s tag and release unless the Black Marlin caught is of a huge weight and length. I don’t understand this logic at all. Why kill such a massive and majestic old fish?
What to expect of Lizard Island
Striking Lizard Island offers powdery-white beaches, spectacular snorkelling and diving, and wonderful walking trails and hikes.
The winds blow hard and long in this northern point of Australia. Some days we’re confined on Naiad, baking cakes, and reading. The risk of capsizing the inflatable and drowning the outboard increases during 30-knot winds with bullets of strong wind shooting down the hills at 40-knots.
Naiad is the blue boat in the centre of this photo…
If you’re heading this way, you need to be fully self-sufficient with fuel, food, and water. Although some water is available on the island if you’re desperate, your closest town for provisioning is back in Cooktown.
You must take all rubbish with you and can’t bury rubbish on the island or throw rubbish in the sea. Designated camping is allowed with a permit. Again, you need all your gear and provisions.
A fringing treacherous reef protects the Blue Lagoon on Lizard’s southern side, which is simply gorgeous. Much of the reef is exposed at low tide, creating a calm lagoon. Boats are allowed to anchor in this pristine lagoon.
Although well-protected from the northerly winds and also providing only some protection from south-easterly winds, the lagoon’s entrance is also dotted with reef. As the entrance is a little tricky, only attempt this in calm weather.
Sadly, the wind isn’t subsiding at all so not keen to attempt the risky entrance – have to be content with seeing the lagoon from the island’s hill.
The Cod Hole
Renown as one of the best dive sites in the world, the famous Cod Hole in Cormorant Passage is home to the largest Potato Cod (fish) in Australia and many other types of exotic fish. And, only around 10NM (under 19-kilometres) from Lizard Island, so not far at all.
Located on Ribbon Number 10 Reef – part of the Great Barrier Reef’s outer reef, we wait for the wind to subside.
The further north you travel along Australia’s east coast, the stronger the winds become and seem to blow harder for longer spells. Starting out sailing from Townsville to Lizard Island a little late in the cruising season, we’re now running out of time to dive the Cod Hole.
This video by perceptor28 – Lizard Island Dive Trip to Cod Hole – Part 1 – taken in 2010 shows you what we missed.
Australia’s east-coast southerly (Trade) winds predominantly blow during the winter months and turn northerly during the summer. Although great to sail south in, the warm winds also signify the start of the cyclone season. Of course, with cyclones being unpredictable, we don’t want to take any chances and decide to forego the Cod Hole.
After waiting three weeks for winds to subside and a good window to dive the Cod Hole – neither materialise. Disappointed, we set sail bound for Townsville.
Sailing south to Townsville
As we’re heading south and this is the direction from which the wind is blowing, unlike the smooth sail north from Cooktown, it’s an uncomfortable sail with winds mostly on the nose.
At least it’s only a short sail until we reach our comfortable and protected anchorage once more in the lee of Cape Flattery. So, wait here for a couple of days until the southerly wind calms down to continue south.
The beach here holds much silica so this envelopes the cape with dazzling-white sand. This is home to the biggest silica mine in the world – Cape Flattery Silica Mines – and dates back to 1967.
Another short sail and we anchor in beautiful and protected Cape Bedford. Untouched and secluded, I love this private part of Australia’s coastline as you can easily get away from people. Though, it’s such a shame that the cruising season is almost finished and we’re flying through this area – would love to stay a while longer.
A quick stopover to provision the boat in sleepy Cooktown again but also to wait for the southerly wind to subside, then it’s bound for bustling Cairns. At least I’m not flat on my back on this visit.
Leaving Cairns, this time Naiad sails on the outside of Hinchinbrook Island as the channel takes a little longer to navigate through whilst working the tides.
Finally arriving in the safety of Ross Creek in Townsville, we pick up our birth between the two piles as before.