Willis Islets — South Willis Island weather station
We dropped anchor behind a small coral islet with a strange looking building perched on the top of its six-metre high peak. I thought it would feel weird seeing civilisation out here, but every map of the coral sea shows the Willis Island manned weather station, so I guess my brain was ready for it. I was looking forward to meeting its occupants so called them on our VHF radio. “Willis Islets, this is Flash Dancer, do you copy,” me with smiley voice. “Flash Dancer this is Willis Island, what is your intentions here,” a Gruff voice replied. “We are just cruising around the Coral Sea and thought you might like a little company. Knowing your isolation my partner has baked you a banana and pumpkin cake, it’s still warm,” says me cheerfully, thinking maybe I’ll get lucky, and they don’t eat cake — I’ll get to devour it all by myself.
“Oh, the Government closed the Island to visitors several years ago, but we can meet you on the beach below the high water mark.” Mr. Gruff has now lightened up; he is now Mr. Happy. There goes my cake!
Willis Island is Australia’s most Easterly manned weather station. Four personnel make-up the only tiny drop of civilization between Australia and New Caledonia.
We met three of them and had a most pleasant chat. They worked six months without any physical contact with the mainland and hadn’t talked to anyone else in person since they arrived on the island two months ago. We hadn’t met anyone since a brief encounter with a yacht which arrived at East Diamond Islet from Vanuatu four weeks before. The joy of a good conversation cannot be underestimated.
The anchorage here would be problematical in rough weather. But at this time the winds were light, and we were able to enjoy a snorkel in the evening and then watch our new friends release a large weather balloon the next morning. It is part of a daily coordinated worldwide release of identical weather balloons.
Even though we never got to check out the weather station in person it was well worth visiting this islet, learning of its essential functions and briefly meeting the hardy people who man it.
For more info on Willis Island click here.
Mid-island has small bushes and plenty of nesting birds and Green Turtles. One turtle had just deceased. As it back-filled sand on top of its eggs, it had undermined a sand rock which then slid back onto its shell trapping it. A slow miserable death but a common occurrence around all the sand cays where they nest.
North Willis Islet
An unusually long low flat cay. The only coral sea cay I know of that runs in an east-west direction. The reef shape offers little protection from the ESE trade winds and Pacific swell. We were fortunate in the December of 2013 to be experiencing a quiet weather window so were able to park on the south side in six meters of water about 400m out from the Cay. Turned out the cays southern edge was full of rocks so for dinghy access we motored around to the north-west end where there was a beach.
We noted that the Pacific swell rolled around onto the northern sandy side of the cay, so I doubt whether it would ever be ok to anchor off, more like a good wave for board surfing.
No bush here but a large grassy area full of nesting birds. Absent were the red-footed boobies, black noddies and frigate birds that like to nest in bushes, but what was here was the most extraordinary numbers of sooty terns I have ever seen. Hundreds of thousands of them, incredible to see and the noise was deafening.
There was also an enormous number of land hermit crabs and a few small Grey Eels. The eels seemed quite at home slithering around shore rocks, but whenever I tried getting close for a photo the largest eel would come at me aggressively. I got quite a shock the first time. If he was making a statement, it worked, and I kept my distance.
Diving North Willis Islet.
On the south side of the cay at the edge of a sandy area is a large isolated bommie ideal for diving. It dropped as deep as 32m and with calm conditions and neap tides the visibility was marvelous. The new baby coral was doing exceptionally well, and a few old corals that had survived cyclone Yasi ‘s fury in 2011 were a joy to behold. A school of Jacks, a few sharks, garden eels and plenty of reef inhabitants made for an interesting 90-minute underwater exploring.