Follow The Voyage: To The Heart of The Reef and Outback
Brisbane to Cairns | 20 December 2021
Master: Andrew, Expedition Leader: Damon Assistant Expedition Leader: Ash, Expedition Crew: Katie & Adam, Dive Instructors: Sally & Cai Guest Lecturers: Nathan & Lea
The following trip diary was written by Guest Lecturer: Nathan Cook
Day 1: Departing Brisbane
20 December 2021
After completing our SailSAFE requirements, we transferred to the impressive Coral Geographer. Embarking at 1600, the vessel departed Wagner’s Wharf at 1700 to begin our 13 night voyage of the Great Barrier Reef and beyond. We assembled on the Bridge Deck Lounge for a safety briefing and an overview of activities for the first couple of days from Expedition Leader Damon Ramsey.
As the vessel cruised to our first night’s anchorage at Moreton Island, we enjoyed an outstanding six course degustation meal with accompanying high quality Australian wines.
Day 2: Tangalooma
21 December 2021
We set off from the Coral Geographer after breakfast for a full day excursion enjoying the sights of the recently renamed Gheebulum Kunungai (Moreton Island). Gheebulum Kunungai means ‘lightnings playground’ in the language of the local traditional owners, the Quandamooka people. At 37km long & 10km wide, it is the third largest sand island in the world. Tall sand dunes, miles of sandy beaches, crystal clear creeks and lagoons, coastal heath, rocky headlands and abundant wildflowers make Mulgumpin (Moreton Island) a jewel in Moreton Bay.
Coral Geographer was moored at Tangalooma Bay as we joined the Spirit of Migaloo vessel for a nature cruise along the west coast of Moreton Island before enjoying a tropical lunch on board.
Back at Tangalooma Bay, guests had time to relax on the beach or snorkel the famous shipwrecks of the coast. Fifteen vessels were deliberately sunk to form a break wall for small boats also creating an amazing wreck dive and snorkel site. We snorkelled amongst the wrecks for about an hour, surprised at the amount of coral and marine life. Schools of parrotfish, surgeonfish and snapper populated the wrecks. Butterflyfish were common and we even saw a Wobbegong shark lying on the floor underneath on of the scuttled vessels.
In the evening, we were treated to another exquisite dining experience. A seafood banquet complemented by fine wines and good company.
Day 3: At Sea
22 December 2021
The day started on calm seas with a rolling swell gently rocking the Coral Geographer as we sailed up the east coast of K’Gari (Fraser Island). Snorkel and dive briefings preceded the fitting and distribution of gear in preparation for upcoming in-water attractions further north.
Guest Lecturer Marine Scientist Nathan Cook gave in interesting and thought-provoking talk on coral reefs, their health and suggestions on how we can all play our role in protecting them into the future.
Master Reef Guide Katie Tuesley shared with us some her history and passion for the marine world sharing information on opportunities for people to get involved in citizen science via the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park’s Eye on the Reef Program.
Purser Josh enthralled guests with a pre-dinner wine tasting session in the bridge deck lounge before another pleasant dinner in the dining room.
Day 4: K’Gari
23 December 2021
K’gari (formerly Fraser Island) is the world’s largest sand island and an area of remarkable natural beauty. The island was listed as a World Heritage Area in 1992 to recognise the island’s internationally significant natural features. This land is the traditional country of the Butchulla people.
After an early breakfast we transferred to Kingfisher Lodge for an exciting 4WD tour taking in Lake Mackenzie and Central Station, a former base for harvesting timber.
The clear waters of Boorangoora or Lake Mackenzie were spectacular. Most guests enjoyed a pleasant swim in the clear waters. Some of the more adventurous even swam across the other side of the lake.
Morning tea with coffee and Anzac cookies reenergised us for part two of the tour to Central Station, where our guides David and Paul shared some of the history of this logging industry. As we strolled along the silent and crystal clear Wanggoolba Creek, our guides pointed out Kauri Pine (Agathis robusta) used for shipbuilding, age old Satinae trees used for building piers and ships, giant Staghorns growing on Hoop pines amongst the many trees sought as part of the logging industry in the 20th century.
Passengers at Central station provided information by our guide from Fraser Island Tours. Marvelling at the large trees and the staghorns.
In the afternoon, some people enjoyed a fairly easy nature walk while others explored the culinary delights of K’Gari’s rainforest as part of the Bush-Tucker Experience.
Day 5: Great Keppel Island
24 December 2021
Glorious weather greeted us as we arrived off the south coast of Great Keppel Island. Splitting into two groups, some snorkelled and dived in the morning before heading to Middle Island for a glass bottom boat tour.
It was a high tide in the morning and the reef was abundant with grazing herbivores (parrotfish, rabbitfish and surgeonfish), feeding stingrays roamed the shallows searching through the sand for food, a green sea turtle and multiple epaulette sharks were also observed. Some people availed themselves of the short walk across the headland to Fisherman’s beach.
The glass bottom boat highlighted the diversity of hard and soft corals at Middle Island Reef. We spotted a small green turtle before heading over to the abandoned observatory and shipwreck where a large grouper, sweetlips and batfish appeared. We believe they were hoping for a feed as many tourist boats conduct fish feeds at that particular location.
A coffee and a snack at the bar and kiosk on Great Keppel preceded a return to the ship in preparation for Christmas eve dinner.
Day 6: Christmas Day at Middle Percy
25 December 2021
Merry Christmas from the remote reaches of the Great Barrier Reef.
It was a cloudy morning when we pulled into Middle Percy Island and met Robin and Annie, the current residents and caretakers of Middle Percy Island. Surveyed by Matthew Flinders in 1802, the first permanent non-Indigenous resident Jimmy Joss settled here in 1860. Since then, the lease has changed hands multiple times with the island being used to grow coffee and run as a sheep station until 1964. The current residents recently commenced a 20-year lease of a portion of the island.
The island is managed by the Middle Percy Island Conservation Park under the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. After landing on the island, some of the passengers enjoyed a short walk to the lagoon and mangroves. Other more adventurous travellers enjoyed a longer walk across to Rescue Bay. Robin and Annie introduced guests to the island, the ‘treehouse’ which is available for rent to stay in and the A-Frame – a hut containing wooden plaques and momentos from the thousands of boats that have visited the island.
In the afternoon we enjoyed a Zodiac cruise through the now-flooded mangrove fringed lagoon before heading to the nearby Pine Islets reef for a late afternoon snorkel.
Being Christmas, we celebrated with sunset drinks on the beach at Percy Island – a fantastic way to wrap up a wonderful Christmas on the Great Barrier Reef.
Day 7: Scawfell Island
26 December 2021
The ship arrived at Scawfell Island, home to the South Cumberland Island National Park. After breakfast we all went over the to the island to enjoy some beachcombing with guest lecturers Lea McQuillan and Nathan Cook exploring the diverse flora and fauna found on the beach. One of the highlights was evidence of multiple sets of turtle tracks from recent forays by turtles climbing the beach to lay their eggs. We saw at least a dozen sets of tracks leading to the dune at the top of the beach.
While on the beach we had the opportunity to swim and kayak the shallow waters of Refuge Bay on Scawfell’s north-west coast.
Day 8: Whitehaven Beach
27 December 2021
We were greeted by a rainy morning before the skies cleared to an overcast but extremely pleasant day sailing in the Whitsundays. Following breakfast we transferred to a local yacht, the Camira for a sailing trip to the famous Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island.
Travelling in the sea country of the Ngaro Traditional Owners, the crew of Camira hoisted the sails, despite the light winds, hoping to catch what little breeze there was as we sailed across the Whitsunday Passage. The Ngaro people have inhabited the Whitsundays Islands for more than 9000 years. Ngaro country was once a coastal mountain range consisting of a number of tall peaks. Around 6000 years ago, after the last ice age, sea levels rose resulting in the now 74 islands of the Whitsundays. The Ngaro people demonstrated their resilience by boating where they had previously walked.
The famous Whitehaven Beach and lunch setup (top), some of the inquisitive local goannas (bottom left) and an amazing sunset upon our departure (bottom right).
Arriving on the stunning white silica sand beach of Whitehaven we had a quick swim before we indulged in Mojitos and Aperol spritz’s followed by an out-of-this-world seafood buffet overlooking iridescent aqua seas.
We took a slightly longer route back to Airlie beach sailing past Hamilton Island. Most of us dozed on the deck on the flat calm seas enjoying the imperceptible roll of the vessel. It was a long and very rewarding day. Soon after our return we set sail and continued northwards up the Queensland coast, gifted with an amazing sunset as we departed.
Day 9: Magnetic Island
28 December 2021
Magnetic Island is one of the few continental islands home to a local Great Barrier Reef community. This area is well known for its distinctive environment and picturesque landscape featuring large granite boulders, hoop pines, sandy beaches and fringing coral reefs. We spent the day either walking some of the many trails, visiting the shops and cafes of Horseshoe Bay or venturing further afield to Alma or Picnic Bay.
Magnetic Island is known to the Traditional Owners, the Wulgurukaba or ‘canoe’ people as Yunbenun. The more adventurous in the group took the opportunity to undertake the Forts walk to a high viewpoint with 180 degree views of the island and surrounding ocean. The Forts consist of the remains of a signal station and coastal battery installations built on Magnetic Island during the second World War in 1942–43 for controlling shipping and defence of the harbour
Hoop pines wedged amongst the boulders and native kapok (Cochospermum gillivraei) trees producing cottonwool-like seed pods lined the trails while Koalas were spotted in the trees resting motionless amongst the eucalypt (Eucalyptus crebra) branches or feeding on leaves.
View from ‘The Forts’ (top left), Kapok trees on the slopes of Magnetic Island (top right), adventurous travellers in the hills of Yunbenen (bottom left) and John and Sharon Pinson at the start of the walk.
Returning to the ship in the afternoon was welcome respite from the heavy humidity in the still air. The breeze picked up in the afternoon cooling the air for us to enjoy the Coral Expeditions famous Vista BBQ.
Day 10: Longreach
29 December 2021
In the morning we departed a wet and rainy Townsville en route to Longreach in western Queensland. The region around Longreach is recognised as the land of the Iningai, Malintji and Kuunkari Traditional Owners.
Danny and Alan from Outback Aussie Tours picked us up from Longreach airport and we made the drive past the Qantas museum, the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the solar farm on our way to our first stop in Ilfracombe. Stereotypically, tumbleweeds rolled past the window of the bus as we made our way down the highway. The temperature hovered around 34oC (down from its average at this time of year of 39oC), groups of kangaroos and wallabies huddled under the few available shelters in the fields, emus stared back at us from the dry open spaces as the outback presented itself in all its glory.
Ilfracombe is home to the Machinery Mile, a collection of partially preserved and displayed machinery from farmers throughout the region. We lunched at the Wellshot Pub, home to novelty bar stools, memorial hats and money strategically stuck to the ceiling. After lunch we toured the towns of Longreach and Winton by coach, checking out the Thomson River and the Western Queensland Livestock Exchange locally known as the Winton Sale Yards. We were visited by local expert David Phelps who extolled the virtues of the country around Longreach and what makes it great for raising sheep and cattle (the nutritious Mitchell grass and the artesian water). Mitchell grass has unique properties with an ability to hunker down in times of drought and reshoot when rains return.
The Wellshot Pub (top left) and its famous bar stools (top right), being introduced to the Mitchell Grass on the plains (bottom left) and Qantas museum at the Longreach Airport.
At around sunset we arrived at Rosebank station where Traditional Owner Ron Beasley did an acknowledgment of country on our arrival. Great outback fair of kangaroo and lamb were accompanied by music and anecdotes before we made our way back to Townsville and set sail for Lizard Island.
Day 11: At Sea
30 December 2021
35 knot winds followed us up the coast as the Coral Geographer headed north from Townsville passing Fitzroy Island, Cairns and Port Douglas en route to Lizard Island in the far north of the Great Barrier Reef. The following waves made the ride pleasant despite the stormy conditions outside.
The day was filled with multiple presentations from the expedition crew. Damon provided an overview of upcoming opportunities and future possible trips with Coral Expeditions both domestically and internationally from the Seychelles to the Pacific. Guest Lecturer Lea McQuillan provided an overview of fish identification with her presentation ‘What Fish is That?’. Later in the day guest lecturer Nathan Cook expanded on reef ecology providing an overview of how many of the reef creatures interact to survive and thrive.
Other activities to pass the day included a bridge tour covering the ship’s operations and a cooking demonstration in the dining room. Later in the afternoon the winds dropped and flat, calm conditions provided an ideal accompaniment to evening drinks overseen by a stunning sunset. Hopefully a portent of things to come.
Day 12: Lizard Island Day 1
31 December 2021
Arriving early morning in Lizard Island after sailing over flat calm seas, the stormy weather of the last few days was but a distant memory as we headed to the beach for a short walk and our first snorkel of the day.
Guest lecturer Lea McQuillan lead a walk along the beach at the casuarina lined Watsons Bay, pointing out the pandanus, looking glass and matchbox seed pods. A juvenile crested tern rested on the sand as Lea regaled the guests with the story of Mary and John Watson and their explorations into the beche-de-mer trade in the late 1800’s. During the walk many of us participated in an impromptu marine debris clean up collecting washed up debris of mostly plastic, consisting of over 200 individual items.
Soon after, many of us enjoyed a swim in the crystal clear waters home to coral reefs full of butterflyfish, parrotfish, triggerfish, sharks, turtles and thousands of giant clams. A few quests enjoyed another opportunity to scuba dive and improve their skills before we head to some spectacular outer reefs in the next few days.
After lunch a small group enjoyed a short walk up the nearby Chinaman’s ridge overlooking Watson’s Bay and the Lizard Island Resort before pre-dinner drinks on the Vista Deck and the second gala dinner of the expedition consisting of a six-course degustation meal with matching high quality Australian wines. We celebrated New Year’s Eve with a party on the Vista Deck at midnight (Fiji time) to cater for the early risers, and again on Sydney time, and again on Queensland time. A fitting end to 2021.
Day 13: Lizard Island Day 2
1 January 2022
It was a small cohort of adventurers who took the early 6am transfer to Watson’s Bay for the walk up the largest mountain on Lizard Island to Cook’s Look. It was from here that Captain Cook surveyed the wilds of the Great Barrier Reef to find a way through what he thought was an almost impenetrable barrier. Even in the pre-dawn light the walk was hot with light (almost non-existent) breezes everyone made it to the top and back down again in around 2 hours.
Guest lecturer Lea took other guests across the island through the mangroves to the Blue Lagoon on Lizard Island’s south-east coast. The calm, clear water of Watson’s bay beckoned for a swim and kayak.
In the afternoon we went for a snorkel and dive at north-east bay, a shallow fringing reef with extensive coral cover home to a host of colourful marine life. Guests were wowed by butterflyfish, clownfish, seastars, Moorish Idol’s and a school of squid that befriended the entire group for their time in the water.
Day 14: Ribbon Reef #5
2 January 2022
Arriving early at the outer reef, the expedition team headed out to find the best snorkelling locations for guests to get a taste of the Great Barrier Reef in all its glory. During the morning snorkel we visited the south end of Ribbon Reef #5. Once the boat was moored, we were greeted by schools of trevally hunting on the reef edge over the drop off. Planktivorous fusiliers hovered in the blue scooping up particles drifting by. A number of guests availed themselves of the opportunity to enjoy the crystal clear waters enjoying a scuba dive along the reef wall. Grey reef sharks patrolled the deeper taters while inquisitive whitetip reef sharks cruised across the top of the reef flat.
In the afternoon a second snorkel site at the northern end of Ribbon Reef #5 displayed all the grandeur of the reef edge of the Great Barrier Reef. Deep channels funnelled ocean currents up onto the reef crest where the Pacific Ocean meets the Reef. Upon entering the water, we were greeted by giant sweetlips and groupers. Once again, a variety of reef sharks skirted the edge of the reef. Coral cover was spectacular showing strong signs of recovery after recent disturbances. Once again divers explored the depths and, fittingly for our final in water session, a manta ray cruised by to wave farewell to our dive instructor and say au revoir until next time to the guests of Coral Geographer.
Captain’s farewell drinks on the bridge deck lounge were accompanied by a slide show of the trip’s best images reminding us all of what an amazing time it has been.
Day 15: Arrival into Cairns
3 January 2022
Early morning arrival in Cairns signalled the end to what has been an amazing two weeks. A wonderful expedition made of great experiences building memories that will hold us all until our next trip.
Photographs by Nathan Cook, Reef Ecologic and Guest Lecturer with Coral Expeditions.