Flinders reefs may be in the Coral Sea but are still easily reached by most cruising vessels.
Seventy nautical miles North East of Townsville gets you to a protected anchorage tucked away within Myrmidon Reef. Then you leave the protection of the GBR and cruise another 68 nautical miles, and you have arrived.
Back in 2008, I spent two weeks there with some good friends.The coral had been severely bleached ten years prior and hadn’t recovered very much, so at that time, we found the diving very disappointing. However the fishing and fellowship were excellent, and we had a fun time.My next visit was in 2014 with Syl, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how much the coral had improved. Here’s our story from the spring of 2014.
Flinders Reefs anchorage
What a joy it was when we arrived at the crystal clear waters that front the Main Sand Cay. We could make out our anchor as we let out the chain 30m away. Incredible! An automated weather station stands guard over a busy patch of sand, with a contingent of marine birds, including our favorite dainty Black-naped Terns. In the evenings, hundreds more flew in from the surrounding ocean and rested on the freshly washed sand spit.
Flinders Reefs Tiger Tales.
Tracks criss-crossing the sand, punctuated by big craters are evidence that a number of Green Turtles nest here. One day, a big old girl crawled up onto the spit to die. After three days, the carcass had swelled with gasses and floated off, becoming food for the Tiger Sharks that migrate to these areas for just that purpose each spring. Nature’s food chain in action…
Front row seat to the Flinders Reefs shark show.
Somehow the deceased found its way to the back of our boat, and we waited excitedly for our expected night visitors to arrive. Wearily, at around 4.30am we gave up our watch — six Tawny Sharks were enthusiastic, but not making much impression on penetrating the hard shell. But awaking after sunrise it was clear we had missed the main event. What remained of Mrs. Turtle was now lying on the bottom: a completely hollowed out shell. The Tawnies were still there–also in attendance was a big Tigershark that seemed to be eyeing me off. Several smaller three-metre examples lurked close by. Their body language suggested they were now well fed, so I felt confident that they were no threat to my ageing bones. I rushed to prepare my scuba equipment and underwater camera…tripping over my tongue as I salivated at the thought of an amazing close-up photo opportunity with one of the world’s great predatory fish. As I sat on the back step to gather my composure and suit up, one swam by my dangling fins. But, when I dropped into the water the Tigers nonchalantly dispersed into the blue! What an anticlimax! One little Tawny kissed my lens and then all the Tawny Sharks swam off as well— bellies full. Initially, I felt cheated, but I hung around and sure enough after five minutes one Tiger returned, although it still refused to come close enough for a good shot. Nevertheless, it was an impressive sight as it slowly cruised over the sand. It’s thickly striped body emanating a sense of controlled power. I thought how amazing it would have been to have seen them tear through the turtles shell in their early morning feeding frenzy. Later in the day, several Tiger’s occasionally dropped by and I jumped in with them each time. Eventually, one did tentatively swim over to me. But, in my excitement, I managed to crop its head out of my perfect shot! When the camera’s strobe fired a big Trevally raced in; the Tiger was startled and accelerated away–my epic photographic opportunity never returned.
Whose kayak – rubbish at Flinders Reefs
Later, the doldrums settled in, and the sea turned to glass. It was both fascinating and alarming observing civilisations’ junk drift by. We recovered a big buoy complete with rope and fishing line — a deadly trap for turtles — and even a Sea Kat kayak from NZ. It had become a nomadic home for what seemed like countless fish, so we left it to continue its Pacific journey.
Diving around Flinder’s Reefs.
Despite being bleached 16 years ago and since been smashed with several cyclones the calm conditions made for outstanding visibility. A dive along the South West reef wall was sensational. Our boat was only 20m from a bommie that rose to the surface, and our depth sounder showed 152m! Small scattered corals clung to the first 40m of the drop-off, then a ledge of large Gorgonian fans signalled the start of a sheer wall that plunged into the abyss. A hilite of this dive was finding an extensive coral cave that wormed it way about 30m under the wall. It finished where a magical beam of light shone down from a small opening in the roof. Surreal!
Another memorable dive was within the lagoon. A strong current rushes toward the western opening, pushing nutrients through a group of bommies that rise 45m from the lagoon floor. A multicoloured gully covered with feather stars, fans, whips and sea squirts of every conceivable shape is spectacular.
Tuna top-up at Flinders reefs.
After 12 days, it was time to stock up with fresh fish before we moved to the protected habitat of the Herald Cays. Trolling lures close to where the birds were active along the northern drop-offs produced one and a half excellent Yellow-Fin Tuna and a small dog tooth. The master chef ordered, “Just one more fish.” The rod bucked obediently to her request. As the reel screamed out a high pitched call to arms, the line just kept on peeling off. For the first 10 minutes I was having a thrilling battle with a monster from the deep, but after 20 minutes my back was broken, and a huge Yellow Fin tuna and I came to a stalemate. It was swimming in circles just three meters under the boat, and I was incapable of getting it any closer. I put the rod back into its holder and tightened the drag to maximum expecting it would soon be as exhausted as I was. Big mistake—the hooks straightened and our omega three prospect was gone.
Moving past Flinders Reefs.
We cruise another 60 nautical miles further out into the Coral Sea, and we are at the beautiful Herald Cays with well-protected anchorages and a Cay with incredible dense vegetation. But that’s another story.