South Sea Island Living 2 April 2007

WOW – we returned this afternoon (Tuesday, March 27) from our south seas island on a bucking bronco of a small boat (maybe 20 feet long?) – an hour and 15 minute trip from Maureen’s Cove at the north end of Hook Island, across the channel, around Daydream Island, and across another channel. We had a few rain squalls during the night, and throughout the morning mixed with lovely sunshine, but the boat ride took us into a windy rainstorm, and we literally slammed down into the waves almost the entire trip home… it was quite a roller coaster ride, and we were drenched from head to toe.

As with most of the planning for this trip, Patricia actually ‘found’ Hook Island – she wanted to go snorkeling some place remote on the Great Barrier Reef (or see sea turtles, but it is the wrong season). Talk about extremes – our surroundings in the cove were such a far cry from the Outback, and even from the Great Ocean Road. And at first it really did feel a little like being stranded on an island, like Tom Hanks.

We learned *after* making the booking for the campsite that we would be provided with ‘stinger suits’ along with our snorkeling gear…hmmm…new wrinkle. So, since we knew we were being ferried to this island with a primitive campground (no water, no phone, etc.) to go snorkeling during ‘stinger’ season in part of the Queensland National Park system, Patricia bought a gallon of vinegar to bring along for stings, while I told her I hoped we wouldn’t be completely alone. We also saw a BIG sign in a seaside park in downtown Airlie Beach that told of all the kinds of stings and stingers, and what to do, by when, etc., etc. So needless to say, we were nervous. But Sunday morning before we left the dock, Barry, our boat captain, told us that hundreds of thousands of people snorkel every year, and only a handful are stung – we would be more likely to be struck by lightening.

The boat ride out took us past many islands and islets with spectacular scenery – tall rocky peaks, jungle green walls, rocky shores dotted with beaches – and two 5-star resorts. We were dropped off on the polished-coral (in other words, not sand) beach at really lovely Maureen’s Cove (it made you want to look for the Polynesian “nativesâ€?). Surrounded by steep forested walls, near a dry streambed, at first we thought we had the small camping area (3 picnic tables in fairly close proximity) to ourselves – there were only two or three sailboats anchored offshore, hosting small groups of snorkelers. Pat pulled on her stinger suit (really a scuba skin) and went snorkeling while I set up camp under a huge pair of trees with major-cooling shade. It was hot (about 90), but not as bad as I had expected, and the trees were wonderful. There was no sand at all really, except for a small patch near the streambed. We arrived around noon, and shortly after, the birds started yakking very noisily away right over our heads, like they were yelling at us, and we discovered more of the beautiful lorikeets we first saw in Sydney – it is hard to believe your eyes at how exquisitely colored these birds are – they almost don’t look real.

Our campsite was quite high above the water, so the snorkelers really left us alone, and some didn’t even come ashore, but jumped in and out of the launches from their bigger boats. One family in a smallish sailboat with a launch (all seemed to have launches, because they must anchor outside a defined area) came over and had a picnic at the other end, and then stayed anchored in the cove for two nights. Around dinner time, it looked like we would have the beach entirely to ourselves, but just before dark, another very tall-masted sailboat floated in and noisily dropped anchor, and disgorged a launch with about 7 people. They then began hauling stuff up the beach, and surrounded us with 3 more tents, using an air tank to blow up their air mattresses (great idea!). Luckily, they were asleep quite fast, but their colleagues, about 20 more of them on the boat offshore, were up partying until about 4am! So much for our ‘Cast Away’ image. The second day more snorkelers showed up, quite early, and then a huge yacht showed up, and dropped a ski-doo in the water, which proceeded to pull kids around the cove for about two hours. And so much for a quiet lay around!

The first night was so beautiful that we both slept out on under the stars (with our tent pitched in case of rain). Just as we climbed onto our sleeping bags, we noticed some large dark birds walking on the beach below us, and then they began swooping back and forth over us – for about 3 hours! And in between swoops, they would land on the trees above our tent and bicker loudly, as if fighting over a nest or something – it was so weird.

We snorkelled on both sides of the cove, and the fish were spectacular, although the coral was somewhat disappointing – the water seemed a little murky (maybe because of so much wind?), and much of the coral seemed dead, or quite battered. One side of the cove did have more interesting coral canyons, but it made us want to find a really great, pristine spot. I did see some beautiful giant clamshells with their vibrant colored edges. Pat had a little Sergeant fish come right up to her mask peering at her, and almost bump it. We also noticed that the tide was *much* higher and lower each day – could that be because the moon is rising again, and is nearly ½ already? The river bed/inlet area was very shallow, and we saw 7 or 8 three-foot-long long reef sharks stalking small silver fish – they attacked and the fish leapt out of the water where the birds grabbed them!

I found it a very relaxing 48 hours, though Patricia was a little bored without sand, surf, and stinger-free waters; on reflection, I realized that it is not possible to have a sandy beach, surf, and good snorkelling all at the same place. (I also spent some time designing a new campsleep system – I don’t like my sleeping bag and mat!)