Monday, August 7, 2017

Whales, Dugongs, Sea Eagles and Caves: Keppel Islands

Rosslyn Bay to North Keppel Island and Conical Island

It is a calm and sunny Saturday and the boat ramps and marina at Rosslyn Bay are very busy. We look around for somewhere else to pack the boats and launch but the tide is low and nearby Kemp Beach, although quiet, requires a long carry of boats and gear so we settle for a gravel spot next to the boat ramp, although it will mean breathing in petrol fumes for the half hour it takes us to pack our kayaks.

Setting up to back into a sea cave

Paddling out around the breakwater, we meet the Capricornia Sea Kayak club coming in for coffee mid-way through their regular Saturday paddle. They tell us that Humpy Island has wonderful camping, Considine Beach on North Keppel Island, is lovely but buggy, while nearby Conical Island also has a good camp site. As their group heads in for morning coffee, we turn our boats to the northeast and start the 14 km crossing to North Keppel Island. From Rosslyn Bay, we can just make out the buildings of the Environmental Education Centre at the south end of the island, and aim squarely for the nearby beach.

Calm water

Sometimes these long crossings seem tediously slow, and sometimes they pass relatively quickly. This was one of the latter. We saw a pod of dolphins just outside the breakwater and a dugong near North Keppel Island as well as passing a few turtles. After a brief stop on the beach near the Environmental Education Centre, we continued north to Considine Bay where a few yachts and power-boats were moored off-shore. The campground is spacious with good shade under she-oaks but behind the campground is Considine Creek and a stretch of wet muddy mangroves - the source of all the mosquitoes we had heard about.

Sea caves North Keppel Island


After lunch, we walked the Ko-no-mie Trail which loops around the island on high ridgelines with wonderful views. We saw humpback whales spouting off the east side of the island. Back at the campground, we were undecided where to camp. Apart from the boats moored off-shore, the campground was empty so we would have a peaceful night, but the stories of blood-thirsty bugs had us worried and small island camps are always somehow nicer. In the end, as the sun set, we paddled a couple of kilometres over to Conical Island to camp under a big spreading she-oak. Ironically, the mosquitoes were pretty ferocious and we ended up in the tent way too early.   

Evening Light over the Keppel Islands

Sea Caves on North Keppel and Humpy Island

In the morning, I walked around tiny Conical Island while Doug paddled then passing the north east side of Corroboree Island we paddled down the east side of North Keppel Island. North Keppel Island might be only 5 km long, but there is a lot to see in that short distance with 3 or 4 very deep sea caves. With calm winds and seas, we were able to paddle right to the back of them all. A couple look almost impassable until you get close and then find you can back a kayak in for at least 50 metres.

Exploring sea caves on North Keppel Island

We sidled by the east sides of Pumpkin and Sloping Islands and pulled up on the small beach at Miall Island for lunch. This close to Great Keppel Island any feeling of solitude is gone, particularly on a weekend when power boats and jet skis are prolific.

On our way to Humpy Island we paddled past the defunct and rusting underwater observatory. A couple of people were snorkelling and we could see some fish swimming around the pylons but it seems dubious that the observatory ever provided great undersea viewing. Monkey Beach at the south end of Keppel Island was busy and it was a relief to paddle the 3.5 kilometres across to peaceful Humpy Island.

Looking down on Humpy Beach 

The camping area is behind a spit of sand with a deep water beach and is set under the shade of gently waving she oaks. It is a beautiful spot and seems far away from the infernal combustion engines around Great Keppel Island. A short track winds up onto the grassy hillside and follows the ridge along before dropping down to the beach near a small creek. The views are glorious and it is interesting to look south to Hummocky Island and Cape Capricorn where we paddled on our last trip.

Hummocky Island from Humpy Island

Barren Island, The Child and Red Beach

About 8 km east of Great Keppel Island lies Barren Island and nearby, The Child. Both are steep and rocky with no beaches and some fringing reef on the north side. Fortified with a solid breakfast of eggs and bacon, we paddled past Halfway Island, Clam Beach and the narrow spit of rocky reef south of Red Beach before paddling east to Barren Island. A gentle westerly blew up and made the crossing a little quicker.

Doug at Barren Island

The water is clear and deep off the north side of Barren Island and a colourful coral reef fringes this side of the island. Just east of Barren Island is The Child, a steep rocky islet with a series of caves used by nesting sea birds along the east and south sides. It was fantastic to paddle around both islands, looking up at steep sandstone and granite cliffs, and into the deep clear water. We paddled back around to the west side of Barren Island before heading back to Great Keppel Island. There is a light station on the headland just north of Red Beach and we aimed for this prominent marker.

Doug arriving at Barren Island

Red Beach is gorgeous and deserted with barely even a footprint on the beach. After many hours in the boats, we are happy to get out for lunch, a swim, and a wander along the beach. There is evidence of goats everywhere and the vegetation is pretty denuded. Apparently, the lease holder of Great Keppel Island is supposed to control the feral goats but there is no evidence of any control activities. We are only 5 km from camp and happy to paddle back to Humpy Island for the night.

Barren Island

Great Keppel Island and Mount Windham:

A friend had told us about walking tracks on Great Keppel Island so we decided to have a day out of the kayaks and do some walking on the island. First, however, we had to paddle over to Long Beach. Long Beach was deserted when we arrived, but day trippers do walk over from Fisherman Beach where the tourist accommodation is situated. A couple of old roads lead over the ridge-line from Long Beach but nothing is signed and there is a quite a maze of old vehicle tracks so it is hard to know which one to follow.

Red Beach, Halfway and Humpy Islands

The one we took ended up climbing up over a ridge-line before running downhill to the old tourist resort. The now defunct Keppel resort is just one of many along the islands and coast of northern Queensland. Some resorts get damaged by cyclones and are never rebuilt, and some, like this one, just seem to become unprofitable and get abandoned. Numerous plans have been proposed to rebuild Keppel resort but right now, the entire sprawling resort complex lies behind a wire fence and is simply falling apart.

The other side of Great Keppel Island

We passed a few tourists who had been dropped off by boats for the day wandering around looking lost. Great Keppel Island is not exactly as described in the tourist literature. There is still some accommodation on the island and a couple of shops, open sometimes, closed others, but the whole tourist area is falling into disrepair.

Eventually, we stumbled on an old sealed road leading east into the hills signed "lookout" and followed this. It was hardly salubrious walking, passing by more abandoned buildings and piles of garbage. No trees shadowed the road and we were in the baking sun. After a couple of hours of walking from Long Beach, we came to a sign pointing to Mount Windham and a bush track that offered at least a little shade and semblance of not walking through Thunderdome.

Evening light over Great Keppel Island

Mount Windham is 175 metres high and does offer good views of the islands to the south. We found a couple of short-cuts on the way back to Long Beach and were able to avoid the abandoned resort area, but these tracks also take you past piles of garbage. Great Keppel Island was proving underwhelming.

After lunch and a swim, Doug paddled straight back to Humpy Island but I detoured over to Halfway Island and paddled a lap around Humpy Island. Humpy Island from the water is pretty scenic with lots of little rocky passages to paddle through and high dark cliffs.

Humpy Island sunset

Big Peninsula, Middle and Miall Islands:

Finally some wind. A moderate southeasterly started blowing in the night and we anticipate a day of kayak sailing and quick travel. It is the most interesting paddling conditions we have had yet and we bounce our way out to the east quickly passing the peninsula south of Red Beach. Bald and Sykes Rocks protect south side of Wreck Bay and once we come around the peninsula north of the lightstation the sea is calm. 

Doug sailing along the east coast of Keppel Island

We pull into a small beach and walk up a shale hillside to height of land and out to the light station at the end. Goats have denuded all the vegetation on these eastern hillsides and they scurry away as we walk past. Back at the boats, we continue sailing north around Big Peninsula and pull into the sheltered beach on the north side. There is a lovely but small coral reef on the north side of Big Peninsula and we spend an hour snorkeling over the colorful coral gardens. In addition to lots of reef fish we see a small wobegong shark and two turtles, one quite large.

Wreck Beach from Goat Ridge

We still have favorable winds and manage to sail the kayaks, barely paddling a stroke across to Middle Island. On the north side, the two small beaches are being eaten away and trees are falling into the water. A bit more sailing and we are at Miall Island for the night. It's a reasonable campsite, but not near as nice as the others. It feels a little unloved with a fire pit (illegal) - which I disassembled - and long lumpy ground cover to camp on. The mosquitoes are surprisingly bad.

Looking out to Barren Island

Cetacean Encounters and Rosslyn Harbour:

It is about 12 kilometres back to Rosslyn Bay, and we have just the lightest puff of an east wind. Enough to gently fill the sails and lift the boats a little, but not near enough to sail. Not far off-shore of Miall Island we encounter a huge turtle, and, halfway to Rosslyn Bay we come across a group of three whales, we assume, based on size, Mum, Dad and baby. They are undisturbed by our presence and we float along beside them for a long time. Every so often, they gently rise to the surface and blow. As we sit quietly, we can hear their whale song. It is one of those magical sea kayaking moments that make all the long hours spent in the kayak seat worth every second.   

Ridge walking Humpy Island

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sea Kayaking 1770 to Emu Park

Day 1: 1770 to Bustard Head

The worst part of the day is over early with a long and tedious drive south from Rockhampton to 1770. Doug and I split the driving, N talks. At Agnes Waters we stop at a bakery for N to buy lunch. The town is busy with backpackers lining up to head out for a $17 surf lesson. The Great Barrier Reef extends all the way to Agnes Waters and south of that is the bulk of Fraser Island, which makes you wonder how much surfing you actually get for $17 off this coast line.

The boat ramp at 1770 is overlooked by a cafe and the patrons watch as we shuttle vast loads of gear - food and water for 10 days plus all our camping gear - down to the beach and somehow manage to stuff all of it into our three single sea kayaks. The last thing we do is attach our sails although it is hot and windless in the sheltered waters of Round Hill Creek.

The tide is low and we have to paddle three kilometres out the channel against the tide to Round Hill Head before we can point the boats north to Bustard Head. We plan to stay off-shore of the long curving beach of Bustard Bay and are expecting a long slog north to Bustard Head with heavy boats; but, a gentle south wind has built up and with sails the 20 km passes relatively quickly and we are soon rounding the headland to the west. A beautiful campsite under pandanus trees is tucked into a small cove right under Bustard Head and we pull in to make our first camp of the trip.

Clews Point from Bustard Head

I want to get up to the lighthouse before dark so set off straight uphill through the bush behind camp thrashing up a steep slope festooned with spider webs. I had some idea that I might run into the old track that is shown on the map but the bush just gets thicker and thicker and as day light fades, I bash back downhill to the shoreline arriving slightly west of camp. An easy scramble west around rocks and I am on a gorgeous little crescent shaped beach sheltered from wind and sea.


A ramshackle, and presumably failed, backpacker tent camp is deserted and derelict in the trees behind the beach. As far as I can tell from our map this is National Park land so I am not sure why the owners of all this garbage have not been ordered to clear it up. A short distance beyond the eyesore a National Parks sign marks the walking track to the lighthouse, but, it is dark now so I pick my way back over the rocks stopping for a night time swim in a small cove near camp.

Day 2: Bustard Head to Richards Point

I get up in the dark but do not reach the lighthouse early enough to see the sunrise. The lighthouse and out-buildings have been restored by volunteers after years of vandalism and now the area is all well maintained and tidy. A small cemetery nearby reveals the hardships of the times - the few graves in-situ chronicle whole families of early death.


Today we are paddling to Rodds Peninsula, a wide headland with Pancake Creek to the east and Worthington Creek and Rodds Harbour to the west. We first paddle around Clews Point and into the mouth of Pancake Creek. At least a dozen yachts are moored well into the sheltered waters and I am glad that in kayaks we can land and camp in places larger boats can not go. Into a westerly wind, we paddle across to Rodds Peninsula and slowly head northwest along the shore line. There is no sailing today.

After what feels like a long slog we pull into a small beach for lunch. The wind is stronger after lunch and as we paddle past each small headland traveling west we get into more and more wind. The spray flying off our paddles soaks us through. Richards Point looks like all the other small points except Ethel Rocks lies a few hundred metres off shore and the coastline turns due west. We pull into a tiny low tide beach sheltered between big boulders and Doug goes south while I go west looking for a campsite.

Sunset near Point Richards

We settle on a campsite under pandanus trees on a dune above the beach on the southeast side of Richards Point, Doug and I follow a beaten in vehicle track to Richards Point and then walk along the beach to the rocks near Flora Point. I am trying to catch a glimpse of Seal Rocks which we had hoped to use as a waypoint for the next days paddle, but the 20 knot wind has blown up big whitecaps and only a low non-descript landmass is visible to the west. There are a series of small creeks running out onto the beach between Flora and Richards Point which might provide fresh water if you went far enough upstream.

Flora Point

Day 3: Richards Point to Wild Cattle Island

The greatest danger on this section of coast is crossing the shipping channel that leads into the Port of Gladstone. The Port services almost 3,000 ships per year, most of them large tankers carrying LPG and coal. While waiting to enter the Port, the ships moor off-shore. There are so many (17 at one count) that at night their lights resemble an off-shore city. The recommended crossing for small craft is between channel markers G1 and G2 where the dredged channel is just under a kilometre wide.

Our plan is to head directly west from Richards Point to the north end of Wild Cattle Island, passing Seal Rocks along the way. If we are tired, we can camp on Wild Cattle Island, otherwise, we plan to continue north to Canoe Point and cross the shipping channel over to Facing Island to camp. It is 24 kilometres across Rodds Bay where the current ebbs east and floods west at up to 1.5 knots.

Rounding Richards Point we are dismayed to find the westerly wind blowing, although not nearly as strongly as the previous day. It is difficult to get our bearings as we cannot see Seal Rocks and are getting blown eastwards at a steady place.

Doug sailing past Hummocky Island

We paddle into a small beach near Flora Point and walk back into the trees to get out of the strong wind. A few compass bearings help us get navigationally sorted and we decide the best course of action is to wait an hour and see what happens with the wind. Currently, both wind and tide are against us making a crossing to Wild Cattle Island at least a 5 to 6 hour endeavor. By the time we have had a cup of tea in a sheltered location, the wind has begun to subside and it is time to leave.

As the wind abates, the tidal current also becomes more favorable and we are soon paddling across a very calm ocean heading roughly west. Hummock Hill on Hummock Hill Island provides a convenient landmark to keep on our right and soon I can see the white navigation marker situated roughly midpoint of Wild Cattle Island. This becomes our bearing point as we paddle steadily west.

By the time we reach Wild Cattle Island we are all feeling a bit tired and ready to camp. Doug finds a good campsite under casuarinas above the beach where deeper water comes close inshore. The island is being eaten away by the ocean and fallen trees line the beach in both directions.

The sea to the north and east is lit up overnight by flashing green and red channel markers, the light station on Facing Island and the yellow glow of the tankers off-shore.

LNG tanker in the shipping channel

Day 4: Wild Cattle Island to Facing Island

We get away early next morning hoping to catch the current north to Canoe Point and maybe even cross the shipping channel near slack tide. It takes an hour to each Canoe Point where there is water and garbage facilities available. Picking out G1 and G2 from Canoe Point is impossible as, although lit at night, they are 5.5 km north of Canoe Point. However, by lining up the yellow marker north of Canoe Point with Rocky Point on Facing Island, we know the approximate location of G1 and G2 and have something to aim for.

A brisk southerly has blown up and we make fast progress away from Canoe Point towards Facing Island. We would have completed the 6 km crossing in under an hour had Doug not noticed one of the tankers off-shore was heading south down the shipping channel towards Gladstone Port. Long conversations are difficult in kayaks bobbing in wind and waves, but Doug and I had no doubts that our safest option was to sail parallel to the channel until the tanker had passed by; a course of action recommended by the Port Authority.

Inexplicably, N, who is much more conservative than Doug and I seemed to want to go on, based on observations he had made the previous evening. The decision, of course, is a classic low probability/high consequence event. Tankers travel at up to 20 knots, take 2 knots to stop moving forward and have a blind spot that extends several hundred metres in front of the bow. Only a fool in a kayak would attempt to race one across a channel.


Curtis Island

In any event, we were now at near full ebb stream and sailing northwest in a brisk wind parallel to the shipping channel we were only just holding our position (the tidal current reaches 3 knots). It was not long before the tanker, the initials LPG writ large on the side, approached. The way behind the tanker was clear and we could resume paddling north to Facing Island. There was a tidal race near Oyster Rock which required some extra paddling effort but once we pulled into the bay we were out of the main current and we came ashore for lunch.

It is a pleasant paddle north up Facing Island and at low tide, all the rocky reefs provide interesting paddling over colourful coral gardens. We found a campsite just north of Pearl Ledge up in the dunes above the beach. I wandered along the tops of the sand dunes at sunset watched by kangaroos standing on the highest points. There are a couple of small wetlands behind the beach and plenty of birds.

North along Facing Island

Day 5: Facing Island to Curtis Island

In the morning, we continued following the coast of Facing Island to North Point where there are a scattering of houses. Just inside North Entrance, there is a council campsite with tank water and garbage, although all the boat campers were actually camped in the bush outside the campground. The tide runs at a couple of knots out of North Entrance but with a tail wind we sailed easily across not even noticing any drift.

Near Black Head on Curtis Island

Curtis Island, which looks uninspiring on the map, is actually delightful on the east coast. We had a good wind to help us along the beach leading to Connor Bluff and then along rocky cliffs to Black Head. In the bay west of Black Head is a QPWS 4WD campground and as we paddled into the bay we could hear loud music blaring out. Pulling in for a break as far from the campground as possible we had lunch while the bogans at the campground spun donuts on the sand beach.

I had picked out a couple of small bays away from the 4WD campsites and inaccessible by road. We chose the middle one to make camp and had yet another gorgeous campsite under tea-trees in a tiny sand bay enclosed by steep cliffs. That afternoon, I just had time to wander up the rocks at the north side of the bay where I found an old horse track that led through a lovely forest of gnarled old gum trees with an under-storey of black boys.

Camp on Curtis Island

Day 6: Curtis Island to Cape Capricorn

It is a gorgeous morning with a pink tinged sky at sunrise and before we leave I walk up the high point north of camp where there is a fabulous view up a coastline of rocky headlands and tiny sand coves culminating in the longer sand beach before Cape Capricorn.

Looking north to Cape Capricorn

We have a very light tail wind, just enough to puff out the sails, and it is a lovely paddle north along the rocky coast. After about an hour, we reach a tiny sheltered bay, the perfect spot for a short stop, and we pull in and wander along the beach. It is only about 13 km along to Cape Capricorn where we hope to camp, but now mostly sand beach.

A brisk wind has blown up from the southeast and is dumping wind waves onto the last beach before Cape Capricorn. Doug and I would rather keep paddling to camp rather than going through the hassle of landing our heavy boats, dragging them up the beach out of reach of the tide, and then man-handling them back down again, but N wants to land so we pull in beside some rocks. It is cold in the wind and hard to find any shelter so it is a quick stop and not really worth the effort.

Paddling around Cape Capricorn

Cape Capricorn is wonderful. Big shale cliffs with deep water running right up to the cliffs. An eagle has a nest on a rock platform on the east side and the north side has crenelated rock formations like tiny alpine ridges running into the sea. Doug and I paddle close in enjoying every moment, but N is out wide, perhaps worried about getting washed onto the rocks.

I had heard of a campsite at Jetty Beach below the lighthouse but when we get there, we find nothing suitable. The ground is steep and rocky, and the tiny beach will be gone at high tide. Paddling a little south, we meet a yachtie who recommends we paddle down to Yellow Patch, a few kilometres south in the mouth of a bug ridden estuary. We poke around for a while looking for a campsite that does not involve a kilometre long carry across grey mud to reach or sleeping on rocky steep ground but find nothing. N votes to paddle down to Yellow Patch but Doug and I win the vote, two to one, and we paddle back around the Cape to a good camp under tea trees tucked in the north corner of the last sand beach before the cape. The ground is soft for sleeping and there is even a picnic table. The only problem is the hordes of mosquitoes that descend as soon was we set up the tents.

The beach near Cape Capricorn

Doug and I walk up to the lighthouse and admire the expansive view of Keppel Bay and the islands. The north end of Curtis Island is all coastal sand and mudflats and the source of all the mosquitoes. Even in the wind at the lighthouse the mosquitoes are voracious. From the lighthouse, we follow an open grassy ridge back down to camp and move the table out onto the beach where the mosquitoes are much reduced. Strangely, once night falls they disappear and it is lovely walking along the firm sand beach under bright stars.

Cape Capricorn Lighthouse

Day 7:  Cape Capricorn to Hummocky Island

We have a short day planned to Hummocky Island where we want to explore the sea caves. It is 10 kilometres northeast to Fairway Rock and another 2 kilometres on to Hummocky Island. We reach the island at a semi-enclosed bay with a jagged rock wall providing shelter from the southeast winds. Heading east, we pass a low narrow sea cave that rumbles like a dragon as the sea goes in and then puffs out gentle plumes of sea spray.

At the northeast tip of the island there are two big caves which Doug and I paddle into. It is unusual to find sea caves like these in Queensland; they are more commonly a feature of the south coast of NSW or the east coast of Tasmania. N goes on ahead to the beach on the north side of the island, while Doug and I paddle into both big caves. The more westerly cave is larger and has swallows darting around under the roof and extends a very long way back. The small waves running in make a surprisingly loud boom as they wash up the rocks at the back of the cave.

Hummocky Island is a popular anchorage and five boats are anchored off the north side when sun sets but no-one comes ashore and we have the island to ourselves.

Ship Rock

Day 8: Hummocky Island to Divided Island

It is our longest day and longest crossing of the trip but our boats are lighter now. The tide floods west into Keppel Bay so we leave early to get some push from the current. We plan to camp at Divided Island but it is small and not visible from Hummocky Island. Peak Island, however, about 4 kilometes south of Divided Island is obvious and we want to visit it on the way past so we head off on a northwesterly course aiming straight towards the middle of Peak Island.
About 2.5 hours into the 23 km crossing we are perhaps 4 kilometres east of Peak Island and Divided Island is now clearly visible. I suggest that we could alter course and paddle more northerly to Divided Island but Doug is keen to visit Peak Island so we agree to carry on as per our original plan.

No sooner have we resumed paddling than N splits off and starts striking out to the south. We watch incredulously as N, who prefers paddling very close together, rapidly moves further and further south. We shout, wave our paddles, blow whistles, but, N never looks round and is soon a distant speck on the horizon. At this distance, it is hard to tell where N is going but he appears to be heading south to Arch Rock. I am gobsmacked and worried. Chasing him down is not an option, nor is calling him on the 'phone (his mobile is turned off and packed away), and the nearest land is 14 km to the west.

We discuss our (limited) options as we continue paddling west and finally decide that if we do not see him returning to Peak Island by the time we arrive there we will call Marine Rescue. I have an unwritten rule that you should never get into a situation that you cannot explain to rescue services, and am wondering how this situation can possibly be resolved under this assumption.

Paddling into Peak Island, we keep a watch on the tiny yellow speck that is N in case we have to communicate his "last known point." Gradually, he seems to be coming closer and finally we can see that he is now paddling north and he arrives at the south end of Peak Island a few minutes before us. He is tired out from some frantic paddling and imparts some garbled and rather inexplicable story about rogue currents from the Fitzroy River some 20 km to the south. In the ultimate irony, N explains that he thought he might have to call Marine Rescue to save us!

Peak Island from Divided Island

There is a beach on the NW side of Peak Island where we have a short rest and then paddle north past Split Rock to Divided Island where a tidal race runs off the south end of the island. The campsite at Divided Island is non-existent and we have to scratch a level area out of the dirt above the beach.

N rests in the shade while D and I wander around the island. At low tide the island is split in two and the north half is easy to walk around on rock platforms. Heading around the south half, I find a steep valley that I can scramble up through prickly pear to reach the 36 metre high point. It might not be a very tall island, but the view from the top is wonderful, and an eagle flies over head with a fish caught in its talons.

The lights of Emu Park are bright at night and a sad reminder that tomorrow is our last day on the water.

Doug on Divided Island

Day 9:  Divided Island to Emu Park

We have only 11 kms left to paddle and while N is ready to get back home, Doug and I would rather stay out, meandering north, camping on islands, and ignoring the "real" world. A whale broaches over and over to the west of the island while we have breakfast but is gone by the time we launch. We get away at 8 am and with a light beam wind soon arrive at Wedge Island where we go ashore for a few minutes.

Wedge Island from Divided Island

A bearing off the map lines up exactly with a curving white shape on shore that we presume is the "singing ship," located on Emu Point, adjacent to the boat ramp, and, as we paddle in, the white curve resolves itself into a sculpture, there is the jetty, behind that the boat ramp, and, after 9 days and over 200 kilometres the end of the trip.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Mount Larcom

Two hours into driving north to Rockhampton and I was melting down from inactivity. We were passing Gladstone and Mount Larcom, to the west, offered a good walk and a viewpoint from which to see our upcoming sea kayak trip. The access is north along Targinie Road to Lyn Road and a small gravel parking lot. As we had our caravan, we parked at the bottom of Lyn Road and walked up.

Mount Larcom

Surprisingly, for such a scenic walk so close to two large centres - Rockhampton and Gladstone - there were few people on the track - at least at first. The track is marked with paint splotches and tree triangles, but as it is eroded about 2 metres wide, you would have to try really, really hard to lose it.

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For the first 1.5 to 2 km, the track is flat, apart from dips into and out of gullies, and heads west until you are below a saddle north of the small rocky peak. This is where the elevation gain begins, and it is a steep, but easy climb up to the saddle. Once at the saddle, the peak is a short 130 metres above capped with a brief but potentially slippery rock scramble.

Doug on Mount Larcom


There are good views north to the Keppel Group of islands, south to Rodds Peninsula and east to the scattered islands along the reef. After a short stay, we walked back inexplicably encountering 98% of the people we saw along the way in the first 2% of the track. All up, it took us under 3 hours, but YMMV.

Looking north from Mount Larcom

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Fraser Island Sea Kayak

Urangan to Big Woody Island:

Pack a sea kayak for an ocean kayaking trip at any boat ramp in Australia and some old white guy with a gut - and I don't mean Santa - will come along and begin lecturing you on the dangers of setting out to sea in such a small, and, to an outsider at least, clearly unsuitable vessel. Right on cue, as we were loading our kayaks with a weeks worth of food and water at the strangely quiet Urangan marina, along came the old white guy lobbying out his opening salvo of "Do you know about wind on tide?"

It was windy; blowing strongly enough that when we had lunch before leaving, I had to make the salad behind a fortress built of dry bags to prevent the lettuce from being blasted over the parking lot. Perhaps that was why the marina, with three 4 lane public boat ramps and a couple of other private boat ramps, was so strangely quiet.

The old white guy hung around right up until we paddled off from the boat ramp, alternately complaining about modern times and trying to convince us that we faced certain death outside the marina walls. As Doug pulled away from the boat ramp, he shouted one last warning "The current will be ripping once you exit the marina."

It is only four kilometres across to Big Woody Island, passing by Round Island along the way. At low tide, the two islands are joined by a big sand flat, but at mid tide, we could paddle between the two islands to a small barely distinguishable point on the NW side of Big Woody Island where we camped for the night. This might seem like a pathetic effort for our first day out, and, you are probably thinking that the old white guy was right to be concerned about our safety, but, we wanted to catch an ebb tide across to Moon Point from Big Woody Island, and the high tide was really early in the morning.

As we were right around the shortest day of the year, the night seemed long, particularly when the bugs began to swarm around sunset (5.00 pm) forcing us into our tent. Morning could not come soon enough.

Sunset over Hervey Bay

Big Woody Island to Awinya Creek:

There is a big reef extending north from Big Woody Island that you have to clear before you paddle NE to Moon Point. Because Fraser is such a low sand island, Moon Point looks far away even though it is only about 8 kilometres. We started paddling across, our boats feeling heavy and sluggish so fully loaded, anticipating any moment to be hit by a strong northerly current but, it just didn't happen. The wind, however, was happening, blowing a solid 15 knots from the south with just enough westerly in it to fill our sails nicely and push us rapidly across to Moon Point.

It felt as if we flew past Moon Bank which, at all but the highest tides, is now dry and lightly vegetated, and continued sailing happily northward to Coongul Point. Moon Ledge, a long, low sandbank runs almost 6 km north from Moon Point to Coongul Point and offers shelter from the wind chop.

Coongul Creek forms a big and changing lagoon behind the beach and a number of yachts were moored in the lagoon. Sheltered anchorages are scarce for yachties out at Fraser Island and we were to find yatchs tucked into all kinds of unusual ancorages during our week long trip.

At Coongul Point we pulled in for breakfast and were enjoying the solitude until a couple of 4WD campers pulled up and began to unload all manner of gear. This was our cue to leave. It is inexplicable in a developed country (with a massive diabesity problem brought on by crappy food and sendentary lifestyles - but don't get me started) that the infernal combustion engine is allowed to drive just about everywhere in National Parks to the clear detriment of environmental values.

While we were onshore, the wind had switched to the southeast and was blowing at around 20 knots. We moved off-shore to catch the wind in our sails and, I at least, caught more than I bargained for. Due to some faulty kayak packing which left my bow too light, I could not hold my position and was gradually being blown west to the mainland.

After a couple of iterations of pull the sail down, beat into the wind back inshore, hoist the sail and get blown back out again, I settled in to a groove sailing along the shore-line with less wind, but more forward movement, while Doug sailed along further out.

Soon, it seemed like time to find somewhere to camp for the night as our aim for the trip was to paddle comfortable days not beat ourselves into the ground. However, we soon discovered that the best campsites (indeed, in some places the only camp sites) are beside creeks and all the creeks are accessible to vehicle based camping. Now the 4WD enthusiasts will scream and shout about this, but the reality is that where the infernal combustion engine goes loud music, drunken parties, huge (and illegal) bonfires, garbage and human excrement surely follow.

Tide, however, was in our favor as the camp area just south of Awinya Creek was now cut-off to vehicles from the south and north and we found a nice little spot sheltered from the wind beside a salt water lagoon. While we faffed around getting the tent up and wondering if those dark clouds scudding over head portended rain, it began to rain. We quickly got a tarp up but not soon enough to save much of our gear from a thorough soaking. Despite our plans to paddle easy days we had covered around 40 kilometres.

Fraser Island beach

Awinya Creek to Wathumba Creek:

One of the issues confronting a kayaker planning a trip to Fraser Island is the prevailing wind which blows almost incessantly from the south. This is great for speeding northwards up the island under sail, but results in some difficulty getting back. The last weather forecast we had was for light winds later in our trip so we had planned to paddle north for 3 days, allowing 4 days to paddle back south.

Wathumba Creek, which supposedly marks the limit of where vehicles are allowed to drive, was tantalizingly close, only about 13 km north. Today we planned to have an easier day, doddling up the island, past the vehicle zone and into blissful isolation.

It was a chilly morning and all our gear was wet so we had a later start than normal drying off what we could before packing it all away in the boats. I made sure to load the bow of my boat much more heavily in anticipation of a day sailing.

We had a light tail wind and found ourselves at Wathumba around lunchtime. A couple of yatchs were anchored in the lagoon, although at low tide, they sit dry on the sand. While we were having lunch, Steve, a friendly yatchie came by for a chat. Yatchies are really the only folks who understand sea kayakers and, as well as a good chat, Steve offers us water - which we don't need, but more importantly, an updated weather forecast - which we don't absolutely require but which no kayaker ever turns down.

Apart from the next day, when winds should be relatively light, the forecast is for moderate to strong southwesterly winds. Grand for sailing all the way to Rodney Point, but terrible for returning to Urangan.

We continue on, the lure of the vehicle free zone still strong although we now have some concerns regarding the paddle back to Urangan. We are now almost 60 km from Urangan, a distance we have covered quite easily in a couple of days, but, which will be a bugger to reverse if the forecast holds true.

Heading north we get in and out of the boats a couple of times at likely looking campsites but all we find is lumpy ground covered with long and scratchy salt resistant tussock grass. Landing and launching the boats repeatedly is difficult with the wind blowing onshore and wind waves washing into the boat continually.

Five or so kilometres north of Wathumba we see vehicles on the beach! Landing again, we find a vehicle track (new, one of our yatchie friends later tells us), and, for some inexplicable reason, Queensland Parks and Wildlife has allowed vehicles to drive out onto the beach and travel north and south for 50 to 100 metres. So, 4WD'ers being what they are, every vehicle on the island has to drive all the way to this northwest area of the island - that looks remarkably like the rest of the west coast - and right along to the sign prohibiting vehicles to the south and to the north, idle for 10 minutes, then turn around and drive off again. Braver drivers even edge past the sign before turning and returning on the bush track.

I'll admit we were finding Fraser Island a bit ordinary. Paddling up Platypus Bay, the scenery, while lovely, is all the same, and the continual rumble of vehicles driving mindlessly up and down was disturbing. We had seen virtually no bird-life - which can't be a surprise to anyone when the beach is as busy as a four-lane highway - and very little marine life. Getting away from the infernal combustion engine was not proving very easy, and, we had that strong wind forecast looming over us.

In the end, we decided to paddle back to Wathumba and a decent campsite rather than scratching out a lumpy bumpy one on the beach. Between Wathumba and the new track, the vehicles do not go, so we had some hope of a night away from bogans.

Paddling back into the wind was not as bad as we feared and we made reasonable headway, although by the time we had unloaded the kayaks and set up camp, it was dark. The moon, however, was nearly full, and the beach as bright as daylight, so we went for a lovely long walk. A pod of dolphins even cruised by the beach as the sun set.

Wathumba Lagoon fish

Wathumba to Awinya Creek:

Next morning we decided to have a day out of the boats exploring Wathumba Lagoon on foot once the tide went out. Steve thought this was a bit weird as it was the only day when the wind would be favorable for heading south, but now that we had given up paddling further north, we wanted to enjoy our time on Fraser Island, and Wathumba has the advantage of being away from vehicles.

As the tide drops, I go for a long exploration to discover the source of Wathumba Creek. The lagoon is almost completely dry and I walk a long way up river. Away from the vehicles, the sand is alive with soldier crabs, small fish, and other marine life. Alive also with sandflies and midges which are soon sucking off litres of my blood. Eventually, I get to the narrow river lined by thick mangroves on either side and I cannot get any further without swimming. The source of the Wathumba will have to stay hidden.

I push through the bush and over the dunes to the beach where the low tide has created a perfect walking beach and I walk north to the vehicle area. Half a dozen 4WD's are split between the two signs, having driven right up to the signs and just a car length beyond the sign. More come and go as I walk back. Once again, there is no sign of life along the beach.

During the day, the southwesterly wind has blown up, but, around 4.00 pm, as I am making some tea, the wind drops right down and, after another updated forecast from our yatchie friends, we decide to paddle south under moonlight to Awinya Creek.

We manage to get the tent down and all our gear packed in 40 minutes, and, as the sun dips down, we paddle out of Wathumba Lagoon and head south. It is gorgeous alone on the water under a full moon. The sea has quickly calmed and, apart from a cold wind that drains off the land, it is calm and peaceful. At Bowal Creek, I spy some campsites and we pull, in, but, we decide to continue on to Awinya Creek and our previous campsite. 

It is another 6 kilometres to Awinya Creek, so another hour, and we are both chilled by the time we arrive.  Camp and dinner are quickly sorted and around 9.00 pm we crawl into the tent. It is a cold night, and we have brought only overbags, not full sleeping bags, so we end up huddled in all our spare clothes in our inadequate bags. During the night, I keep looking at my watch and counting the hours until daylight and warmth, 8 hours, 6 hours, .4 hours..
Hervey Bay sunset

Awinya Creek to Bowarrady Creek:

The sun, when it finally crests the island, feels wonderful the next morning, but with the sun comes the wind, blowing strongly from the southwest. By the time we are ready to leave, the wind is into our faces at 15 knots and the water is choppy. Hoping it might drop a little around midday, we delay a bit before going, making a second cup of tea. Perhaps the wind eases a little, but, if it does, it picks up again very soon, but we set off nevertheless.

It is slow going into the wind and it takes almost two hours to paddle the 5 km to Bowarrady Creek. Bowarrady Creek flows fresh out to sea here, making a very small lagoon behind the beach. A yatch is pulled into the narrow anchorage and, when we get out for lunch, Charlie (the yatch owner) comes over to offer us hot tea. Charlie, like all the other yatchies we have met, has horrendous stories of bogan drivers and the garbage and excrement they leave.

We waffle back and forth about paddling further south today. The wind has only got stronger, and, according to Charlie, the next camps south are all full with vehicles. Behind the lagoon, there is a little sheltered campsite in the trees, and we will be safe from bogans as this camp is now inaccessible to vehicles.

Eventually, we decide to camp for the night. Doug drags his boat up and over the beach to the lagoon while I come up with the brilliant idea of paddling down to the mouth of the creek, a kilometre away, and "floating" the boat up the draining creek. Mistakenly, we figure that launching into the creek will be dryer than launching off the beach next morning.

This was definitely one of my worse ideas. Doug had his boat in the lagoon within 15 minutes, while I spent the best part of an hour dragging my boat up the shallows left behind the draining creek. The millimitre of water left in the creek at low tide is clearly not enough to float a kayak. In the end, I have to unpack the boat, ferry loads along the creek, drag the boat, ferry loads, and repeat until I finally get into deep enough water to drag the boat up beside Doug's.

It is cold again overnight and we huddle in all our clothes again watching the clock and waiting for morning.

Low winter sun

Bowarrady Creek to Big Woody Island:

The alarm goes at 5 am and I get out to check the wind and tide height while Doug stays in the tent shivering under his bag. The adiabatic wind is still draining cold air off the island, and it is chilly wandering around in my paddle clothes trying to gauge the tide height by my dimming headlamp - first trip ever I have forgotten spare batteries. Back at the tent, I crawl into my bag for a minute to warm up, and, if it wasn't so cold, it would be tempting to stay there but I know it will be at least as warm in my boat, so we get up, pack by headlamp, and set off down the creek to the ocean.

The creek is not quite deep enough to paddle, so we have to drag the boats a bit, and, launching through the creek outflow, I take three big waves over the bow getting thoroughly wet in the process.

We are both stiff with cold so it is hard to get into a rhythm paddling but as the sun gradually rises, we begin to feel some warmth on our backs, and at least the wind is still light. At Coongul Point, we pull out and spend a leisurely 1.5 hours having breakfast and taking a walk. There are no vehicle campers but a couple of yatchs are in the lagoon behind the beach.

The wind is more southeasterly today than southwesterly and we make reasonable progress all the way to Sandy Point where we pull out again. We have now decided to paddle back to Big Woody Island for our last night out, and, leave once the tide has switched to flood.

It is a slower crossing than a week ago, as the wind is not as favourable, but, we do manage to reef the sails fairly close to the wind and get a little push along. At Big Woody Island the tide is out, way, way, way out, and getting to land requires a few hundred metre carry. We cannot leave the boats as the tide is rising so fast they will be carried south, so we take it in turns carrying in our essential gear and minding the boats. Doug volunteers to bring the boats in with the tide while I set up camp.

Doug looks cold and lonely standing out in the water as I organize camp, and, as soon as I have camp all set up, I take him out a big mug of hot chocolate. Eventually, well after the sun has set, the tide has come far enough in that we can lug the boats the last distance into the beach and settle in for the night.

Just bad timing that's all

Big Woody Island to Urangan:

We are up fairly early in the morning to catch the tide and avoid a southwesterly wind. Passing Round Island at a higher tide than before we notice that it is full of birds. There are many more boats out than a week ago, and coming into Urangan harbour, we see that the ramps are very busy. I manage to pull my boat out on rocks beside the ramp, while Doug edges into a corner of the cement ramp. A friendly fellow cleaning the toilets nearby lets us use his hose to wash all our gear.


Before we leave Urangan, I look around for old, fat white guys who want to tell you how deadly sea kayaking is but they are all strangely absent. Driving south, we hit a pineapple stand and buy four big juicy pineapples for $5.