Frankland Islands / Taylor Reef Cay / Burnett Patches/ Armistice reef & more.
Numerous fascinating islands and coral reefs fit between glorious coastal mountains to the west and the deep blue coral sea to the east. It’s always a great pleasure taking different routes and doing a little exploring when cruising between Cairns and Townsville.
In the spring of 2019, the Frankland Islands was our first stopover. A well known and well-used group close to the coast. Campers are allowed on several Islands, a tourist boat calls at Normandy Island most days, and there are three public moorings. Our new crew member “ Miss Pugliss” suggested we did a little exploration in our dinghy. We found an idyllic little picnic beach at the end of Mabel Island. A perfect outlook with a prominent rock outcrop which blocked the wave action and gave us a patch of clear water to play in. Good snorkelling here as well.
On to Beaver Reef, 40nm east of Mission Beach. It has a pretty little sand cay that washes over at high tide has and some nice snorkelling around the fringes. However, we were keen to find a better and more secluded location. Taylor Reef was just a few more miles further east and appeared to be just perfect; a quiet green ( no fishing) zone with an ideal anchorage just 250m from a 140m long sand cay that remains exposed at high tide. Perhaps it would wash over in a big storm, but that didn’t bother the thousand marine birds who appeared to be enjoying something substantial to rest on. A few masked Boobies had laid eggs, and a lone turtle 🐢 may well have been the first to start a new nesting ground. The coral around the fringes of the reef was a little sparse but with plenty of fish life. Some delightful coral in just a few meters depth near the cay made for beautiful snorkelling and fun under/over photo opportunities.
I was also delighted to make friends with a group of little squid. They had often hung about my anchor chain but up till now had never let me close. This occasion I can thank the biggest squid in the group, which I supposed might have been the matriarch. It decided I was more of a curiosity than a threat and the rest followed. It’s a phenomenal feeling when I make a trusting connection with wild animals, I wonder if they feel the same. Anyhow, I got a couple of happy snaps to remember my little friends with.
The marine parks and fisheries called on us on Thursday, and it was reassuring to see they were policing this pristine area. Pity they hadn’t come back at the weekend. The weather turned to a glass out, and an influx of civilisation interrupted our peaceful existence. Good to see people enjoying themselves but disappointing to see several ignoring the zoning. People camped on the cay on the Saturday and Sunday nights frustrating the heck out of the nesting birds. To top off our disillusionment, we found a sizeable drifting ghost net. Its no doubt been slowly drifted down from Asia on a deadly journey opening and closing with the action of waves. It may eventually wash up on the mainland or more likely be caught up on a coral reef. I asked the marine fisheries authority to see if they could remove it. Hopefully, they did, but it’s awkward retrieving something long, dense and possibly snagged 20m deep.
Barnett Patches is an assortment of incompletely charted reefs. No Cay here, maybe just a little one during spring tides. Even though we are just 22nm SW from Taylor Cay, it was totally different. I felt the tranquillity off a remote place, no boats, no distant flashing Nav lights, no crackling from the VHS radio, and anchored just 6 nm from the continental shelf. A sweet anchorage down the SW end of the main reef gave us all the weather protection we needed from light NE winds and the gentle 1m ocean swell.
The wide-angle diving here was superb. Just 300m from our anchorage was a ripping current that most days past over, around, and thru a small uncharted reef. The coral was well fed, thick and in perfect health. Several off the gullies winding thru it were astonishing. Table corals piled on top of each other, branching species filling gaps, assorted fans and everything coral-like combined with a moving myriad of multicoloured fish. What a magnificent scene! I like a stroll thru a flower garden, but nothing on land compare with the splendour of an abundant coral garden.
Sounds to be good to be true, well the downside is the powerful current that makes it all happen is also a danger to the unwary. We found out the hard way that the flood tide rushes in with a sudden punch not long after the low tide mark. On our first dive, it had us scampering back to the boat. At half tide, I clocked it at 5 knots. Diving at high tide was a better strategy. With our vessel parked in the right location, our dives and exit were safe and comfortable. Even so, it would have been nice to have had a support person back on our vessel. A dinghy at the ready for a pickup, luxury!
We had a brief and fun stopover at For & Aft Reef not far east from Hinchinbrook Island. We anchored in 22m depth and fell back to an interesting looking bommie. We jumped in, and swam down the chain to check our anchor. I was quickly excited by a large curious shark that immediately started following me. Sylvie couldn’t care less about my shark, she was beckoning me over to her furiously. So much for my shark shot, but I did get to see an absolute monster crayfish. It backed up under a ledge before I could get the full picture proof that’s its body was at least 80cm + long, and it looked like it weighed 25-30kg. Of course, nobody believes us. A little study revealed crayfish never stop growing and depending on the species and location they may live anywhere from 20 – 100 years. I think this one was at least a 100!
I wonder what sought of shark that was, maybe a 3.5m black whaler?
From here it’s 30nm back toward the coast to the pleasant Palm Islands. Then a 20nm hop for a meal at the Picnic bay pub at Magnetic Island, to check our bearings. The night lights of Townsville are indeed beautiful.
For another of our posts of the Townsville area click here
To see all our images from cruising the GBR, Coral Sea and PNG click here
If you would like to dive the Townsville area from a charter boat then we recommend the experienced people at Adrenalin Dive Townsville. For information go to there web site click here.
2021 exploration of Armistice reef
With calm conditions, it was time to explore the very edge of the continental shelf 25 km east of our base at Taylor reef sand cay. Here the Pacific swell rolled in unimpeded and despite neap tides, currents were quite strong at times. We found very healthy valleys of hard corals down to 25m on the windward east side with a smattering of caves and schools of fish. We had three good dives but it was tricky anchoring close to the edge of the reef, definitely not an easy dive location.