August in Adelaide and winter was dragging on. The tropical delights of far north Queensland were beckoning with day temperatures of 29 degrees and water temperature of 26 degrees.
I met up with another ACC member, Ken, at Wongaling Beach (6km south of Mission Beach) and we were introduced to 6 other participants and our 2 guides from Coral Sea Kayaking for a quick rundown of our route and gear. David was our host assisted by the delightful Michelle both kayak and rafting guides in Australia.
It was a 2hr bus ride to Lucinda where we packed our 4 Doby doubles (a roomy NZ design) and the 2 single kayaks: a Sea Bear (Paddling Perfection NZ) and an Ocean Raider (Rosco Canoes). It seems everyone had some experience at kayaking so we were soon off under the jetty and across the inner Hinchinbrook Channel to George Point (5km) at the southern end of Australia’s largest island National Park. This is where the backpackers finish/start their 4-day walk of the heritage 32km Thorsborne Trail along the length of the island.
Then it was onwards another 7kms to Sunken Reef Bay for our first nights camp. Our kayaks were fibreglass and handled quite well considering we had packed for 7 days: 10 tents and personal gear, $800 worth of food, carrying water (10 litres per kayak), kitchen with 2 gas burners, fishing gear, 2 hammocks, library, and lots more. The weather was perfect on the water with a current and light breeze out of the SW. The beaches had footprints of monitor lizards and white-tailed bush rats which were eventually overrun by our many footprints as we carried the heavy kayaks well above high-water line.
Our routine took shape. We had the afternoons to explore, write diaries, photograph or just soak up the sun and scenery. About dark the nibblies would come out while David and Michelle began the elaborate meal preparation. Michelle made delicious vegetarian meals supplemented by beef, chicken and later our fish catch. Lunches were beautifully laid out at stops along the way and breakfasts of cereal followed by cooked eggs/beans/pancakes, etc. There was not going to be any weight loss on this trip! Our guides also had entertaining and lively stories about rafting and kayaking in countries like Nigeria, Korea and locally on Queensland’s Tully River.
Day 2 we rounded Hilllock Point to Zoe Bay (7km?). There is a good creek flowing here and a brisk 15 minute walk took us to a delightful waterfall. We had a climb to the top before a refreshing swim at its base followed by a hearty lunch back at the beach. 10km further on was beautiful Agnes Beach with views onto Agnes Is. and the rocky little channel separating it. We had been watching the views of Mount Bowen (1105m) as we paddled north but mostly it was mist-shrouded with the adjacent Thumb quite clear. Ken paddled the front of our double and, outside of Marine Park boundaries, towed a lure hopeful for a fish. It was a game to spy green turtles (brown actually, the meat when cooked turns green) as they pop up their heads for breath.
We made a brief stop in Little Ramsay beach to top up our water containers in Warrawilla Creek behind a pretty little lagoon then moved on to Black Sand Beach directly below Nina Peak (maybe 10ks altogether, a short day). Some of us made the sweaty climb up the peak for the views along Ramsay Bay Beach, the ‘African Queen’ mangrove channels of Missionary Bay at the north end, and the coastline we had just paddled. Mount Bowen still was hiding in cloud.
Ramsay Beach is 10km of sand. At the southern end of this beach the Thorsborne Trail turns over a sand dune into a mangrove boardwalk to meet a ferry for walkers returning to civilisation. We continued past Cape Sandwich to camp at Banshee Bay. Again some of us chose to paddle out around Channel Rocks and Eva Is. and it was here that David caught by lure a good sized Trevally which was well appreciated at dinner. There was enough raw fish to soak in lemon juice and eat as crevice next day! Turtles were popping up regularly! Back on the beach, my dip into the ocean was short-lived when I disturbed two Shovel Nosed Sharks – a cross between stingrays and sharks and totally harmless. I also saw my first Blue Bottle jellyfish beautifully sparkling in the glassy water.
Now we were at the top end of Hinchinbrook Is. and paddled a straight line across Shepherd Bay to Cape Richards with the hope of seeing dugongs come up for air as they grazed on the seagrasses below. Our lunch stop was in comfort at the Hinchinbrook Is. Resort – at the moment closed due to renovations but providing drinks to day trippers off the ferry. This was the end for the 5-day paddlers who were to catch a ferry back to civilisation. Michelle finally herded the rest of us out to open water and soon after setting out, Ken caught a 70cm spotted mackerel on the lure which did nicely for dinner at our new campsite on a sand spit on the west side of Gould Is. where we enjoyed a tremendous sunset.
It was a 3hr leisurely paddle (18kms) to smaller Wheeler Is. part of the Family Is. group and one of the few permitted for overnight camping. Now, we had hoped to see whales in this stretch of water but had a surprise visitor instead! Coral had just had a brief dip in the ocean to cool off and only a few minutes after resuming paddling a rather large Hammerhead shark (12 feet long?) cruised up behind us, somewhat curious I think/hope. David first saw it beside his kayak (him being in the rear). At his shout we all had a look and saw the slender vertical tail fin over a metre above the water. The shark passed under us – a blur of grey and I got suddenly concerned about the consequences of an entanglement with the lure we were trailing. But the shark had lost interest and disappeared.
This paradise island camp had a lot of broken coral which was hard on the feet and, like most of our trip, huge granite boulders begged to be clambered over and around while dodging the thick rainforest vegetation. Also the island had a rich variety of fish life passing by – judging by the small crafts fishing in the area.
Our last day was as perfect as usual. We cruised up the east side of Bederra Is. past a granite outcrop resembling a battleship, up the west side of Thorpe Is. turning towards the mainland about level with Dunk Is. A pod of dolphins bid us farewell as we approached South Mission Beach. We unloaded kayaks and sorted our gear and had a quick shower before a celebratory lunch at the boutique hillside dazzling white restaurant, The Elandra, with spectacular views towards the islands.
Total around 100km. Lee Bruland