Tweet Manookatoo Adventures: Island hopping #2 - snorkeling our way back to Cairns

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Island hopping #2 - snorkeling our way back to Cairns

Low Island
With the generator in action again, and conditions perfect on the water, we cast off from Port Douglas on Wednesday morning, bound for the Low Isles. We chose to anchor closer to shore than the public mooring available, enabling easy access to Low Island and the reef. We enjoyed our Mocka's pies for lunch - the seafood was particularly delicious but the kangaroo pie was a close second! As the tour boats departed for the day we went snorkeling - the coral was amazing and there were so many beautiful fish it was like swimming in an aquarium. As day turned into night, the island's caretakers took their kayak and paddle board to the water - it must be lovely to live in such an idyllic location, but I'll bet you get sick of tourists! 
Michaelmas Cay
On Thursday morning we woke before 5:30, pulled up the anchor and headed off around Wood Island and south. The swell rolled as we ate our breakfast, but soon after 10:30 we arrived at Michaelmas Cay, a small strip of sand almost surrounded by reef, where another public mooring was free for us to pull up - a challenge in the wind and swell. This is another popular spot for tour boats and, as it is also a bird sanctuary, there were a lot of people on a very small piece of sand, surrounded by thousands of birds! The noise was amazing (the smell a little less inviting). We took the dinghy ashore for a short swim and to see the birds up close. Most are  varieties of terns, of all sizes and colours. After lunch and a lazy afternoon, we headed ashore again - after the last tourist left - and enjoyed a short snorkel, however it was quite a long swim out to the coral and the swell was an impediment. The first mate was also put off by small jellyfish in the water - even though they weren't irikandji and we had our stinger suits on anyway. We returned to Manookatoo and contemplated swimming off the back, but a multitude of large fish and   some reasonable sized black sharks were hanging around! At least the breeze stopped us being too hot, and the breathtaking scenery was worth the visit.
Vlasoff Cay
On Friday morning we attempted our exercises on a rolling deck before breakfast, then we dropped the mooring and headed off, just 4 nautical miles today, to Vlasoff Cay, an even smaller sand island surrounded by reef. Both Cays are part of the larger Arlington Reef area, with beautiful white sand and many coral outcrops making the surrounding seas the most exquisite colours. A helicopter was on the Cay as we arrived and many others flew over as the day progressed - it must look amazing from the air. We took the dinghy ashore and went snorkeling - we swam west first but the reef looked quite dead in this area so we swam east where there was a lot more coral. The swell made snorkeling a challenge so we didn't last long, returning to Manookatoo for a well earned rest! No tourist boats come here, feeding the fish, so we were not hassled by big fish or sharks, and enjoyed an afternoon swim off the back of the boat. Another boat picked up a mooring in the late afternoon but apart from them we were all alone on the Coral Sea. 
Fitzroy Island
Turtle!!
While conditions were a little "lumpy" overnight, it didn't stop us sleeping soundly and waking early on Saturday for a 5:30am departure, bound for Fitzroy Island. We made our way carefully out of Arlington Reef, turning south and passing Green Island before breakfast, then reaching Fitzroy Island at 9am, just as the first tourist ferry cruised in. We pulled up a mooring close to the reef markers, put on our snorkeling gear, and dived in! The water was so clear and the coral so lovely, to say nothing of the beautiful fish everywhere - it was magic! Later we took the dinghy ashore for a walk along the foreshore and out to Nudey Beach before returning to Manookatoo and enjoying a swim. After lunch we were snorkeling again, this time from the beach, but found it was nicer from the boat, with sections of dead coral nearer the shore. A couple of turtles swam beneath us - what a great treat! We returned to the boat to freshen up, then we cruised back to shore and Fitzy's bar in time for a Happy Hour drink before returning to Manookatoo, where we enjoyed our "usual" Saturday night three course dinner enjoying the balmy evening, then it was time for bed. 

With a lack of walking this week, we decided Sunday was Exercise Day, followed by a well earned swim! Later, we took the dinghy to shore and walked to the "Secret garden", a beautiful tropical grotto in the middle of the rainforest. After lunch and a laze, we donned the snorkeling gear again to further explore the beautiful reef so close to our boat, then dried off and dressed to go ashore for another "Happy hour" drink - what a great tradition! - followed by pizzas for dinner.
Our intention was to cruise into Cairns on Monday morning but the reef was just too inviting and we knew this was our last visit for this year, so we stayed put! After breakfast we decided to go for a "spin" around the island in the dinghy - the trip was a lot lumpier than we had anticipated and the first mate had quite a sore rear after bouncing up and down in the waves! We'd taken our snorkeling gear, hoping to find a quiet place, but were happy to return to Manookatoo and set out from there. Another lovely lazy day, with another snorkel and a final "Happy hour" at Fitzy's and we feel like we have really done Fitzroy Island justice! 
Nudey Beach
The captain was up and ready to go early on Tuesday morning and we cast off the mooring before 5:30am. We had breakfast as we rounded Cape Grafton and turned into Trinity Bay, entering the shipping channel just as most tour boats were heading out, and tying up at Port of Cairns Marina before 9am. The first mate had booked herself a massage, facial and pedicure, so she enjoyed a morning of pampering! The captain prepared a prawn lunch on her return, then the lagoon beckoned for a reviving afternoon dip. That evening we enjoyed dinner at Ala Turka restaurant on the Esplanade - a place we'd been to before - and it was just as delicious as we remembered. 
A busy place!
Cairns Lagoon
Wednesday was our last day exploring Cairns, so we started with a walk around the port and down to the Lagoon, planning a swim and not realizing that this was cleaning day and it didn't open til 12! Returning to Manookatoo for breakfast, we ventured out again and did our final shopping, then the first mate went to the Art Gallery and wandered the local shops before meeting the captain at the lagoon just after 12 for that much anticipated swim! We returned again after lunch, making then,oat of the opportunity before casting off our lines and cruising around into Trinity Inlet for a last night on anchor. We found a quiet spot near the entrance to Smiths Creek and spent the afternoon watching the multitude of working boats - tugs, naval ships, border patrol, bulk carriers, fishing boats - a very busy part of Cairns most tourists would be unaware of. Later we took the dinghy over to the Cairns Cruising Yacht Club for an afternoon drink, returning to the peace of Manookatoo for dinner and bed. 
The Navy meets Border Patrol
Thursday marks the end of November and the end of our cruising for this year. We are heading for Half Moon Bay, where Manookatoo will spend the summer/wet/cyclone season in Blue Water Marina, and we have a lot of work to do to get her ready before we head off: taking all the covers, carpet and cushions down from upstairs, hoisting the brig and fastening it on the upper deck, cleaning and wiping all surfaces to try and prevent mould growing, double tying all ropes in case of cyclonic winds. We hope to come back to a clean, dry and safe boat in March next year, and continue our cruising adventures!
Farewell Cairns!




The Captain's log: Port Douglas to Cairns "island hopping"
Distance: 78.2 nautical miles
Fuel: 86.9 litres

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