Nothing beats being on our own little sand patch in the middle of the ocean.

I can only image just how good it would be kite surfing of these inner Sand Banks.

           Sandbank on Magpie Reef.   I can only image just how good it would be kite surfing of these Sand Banks.

And there is no better place to experience these beautiful natural places than the area between Cape Melville and Lockhart River.

on the sand in the blue map

-A veritable smorgasbord of sand cays, sand banks, sand islands, even sand creeks and rivers await to be explored. Many of them wash over at high tide, so each day they present a shiny new face to be rediscovered. There is not much traffic to contend with either– we were there most of December 2015 and only saw one other boat. It was just before Cyclone season but nevertheless it felt rather eerie. Even in the cruising season boats are either intent on pushing north to recognised anchorages, or are rushing south while the trade winds are getting their breath back. Nobody ever seems to take the time to explore this superb section of the GBR. It’s an unhidden treasure.

We arrived at Davie reef Cay on the outer edge of the GBR early in the summer. The conditions were ideal and it was the perfect time of year for us to work our way north and explore the sand cays. We found that some were marked on the charts and easy to locate, others were not. Some were missing altogether or turned out to be just large coral rocks sitting atop a reef. The large cays of Tydeman, Davie, Sandbanks Seven and Eight are well developed, with large populations of nesting birds and turtles over spring and summer. The smaller cays on Rodda, Ham, and reef 13-237 wash over at high tide, which encourages the resting crested terns and noddies to return to work. A tiny cay on Derry Reef, just 40m long at high tide, is trying to grow up, and we watched in awe as three turtles struggled up its short, steep face to nest.


A tiny sandy that washes over at high tide.

             A typical tiny sand cay on the outer edge ready to wash over at high tide.

We were usually anchored in the west end of the passages in 20-30m depth.  While the breeze was a placid 10-15knots, we were comfortable and swung around peacefully with the tidal currents. After a few days, the winds picked up to 20 knots & life became bumpy, but we persevered until we reached Reef 13-237, then headed ENE back to the mainland at Lockhart River.

on the sand in the blue under water 1

                                         Diving the passages.

on the sand in the blue under water 2

Rodda and 13-237 reefs had the most suitable ways to take our dingy over to and dive from.   After a dive it was magical to be able to crawl out of the water onto our own beach,  just a few birdy pals to greet us. A lot of water flows through the passages so we always planned our dives for the change of tide; it’s perfect to be able to move out and back with the current. Grey Whaler sharks, barracuda, big wrasse and sweetlips visited out of curiosity, and occasionally a pygmy Devilray cruised overhead. Most exciting for us, though were the diverse, healthy corals and the many sea slugs and little critters that frequent the walls.

Marine birds on vegetated Sandbank Eight.

             Marine birds on vegetated Sandbank Eight. Brown Boobies and Sooty Terns are the most common.

Sandbank Eight was our favourite cay. It’s large and vegetated with an abundant marine bird population and vast numbers of nesting turtles – we spotted around 100 green turtles each night, but we had been there before and witnessed over 500 churning and heaving sand in all directions.

on the sand in the blue Turtles

                      Green Turtles on Sandbank eight. A major breeding location .

On the return trip south it was time to explore the inside passage which has many fascinating small Islands just a few kilometres from the mainland. They offer reasonable weather protection to anchor behind and are quite beautiful.

Anchored behind Pelican Island.

                            Anchored behind Pelican Island.

A little further out there are many large reefs aligned East-West that have incredible Sand Banks with extensive tidal flats. Often they run for many miles. What fabulous sheltered places for kitesurfers and such a magnificent seascape it is with white sand snaking its way thru the sandy green waters. There are thousands of beautiful birds like pelicans, Reef Egrets, Oystercatchers, Sandpiper’s, Terns, Stints, as well as a few boobies and Noddies.

The sand flats await Pelicans, Reef Herons, Oyster Catchers,Terns, little Stints as well as a few of the usual Boobies and Terns.

It’s not just birds either, at high tide black shadows cruise the shallow waters: big sting rays, schools of Eagle rays, many species of sharks as well as a few feeding turtles.

During the top half of the tide, we can move Flash Dancer across the sandy reef top to near the sand banks. Alternatively, we anchor behind the western end fringe and adventure over to the sandbanks in our rubber duck.

We never got to see all but we thoroughly enjoyed the sandbanks on Magpie, Hedge, and Grub Reefs and explored the superb little islands of Night, Lowrie, Fife, Pelican, and Stainer.

Depending on your draft and conditions its possible it's sometimes possible to sneak into sandy creeks and rivers.

           Depending on your draft and conditions it’s sometimes possible to sneak into sandy creeks and rivers.

Fishermen have their secrets, occasionally past on over a few beers. So I’m not allowed to tell you about fishing prospects in the sandy creeks along the coast, but I will say the Mangrove Jacks are sweet, and there is plenty of them — in between the crocs that is 🙂

on the sand in the blue fishing            Flipping lures with barbless hooks around the snags can be productive for a brekky of Mangrove Jacks. 


                       Rodda Sand Cay doesn’t appear on any charts but is one of our favourite places.

on the sand in the blue 1knight island_0046 copy

        Night Island is a safe anchorage and a fun place to visit. Often crocs are laying on the beach, so be careful.

on the sand in the blue 8

            Hedge Reef Sandbank runs for miles and at times is covered with bird life.

on the sand in the blue lowrie island

            Lowrie Island is beautiful little Island to explore when the weather’s reasonable.

on the sand in the blue 7

        There is only one tree on the very tiny Stinger Island, and this Noddy was full of complaints when disturbed.


   We take immense pleasure wandering the sand banks, but it’s usually impossible to reach their end and make it back before the high tide arrives.


on the sand in the blue 3

           I shot this as I Crawled out after a dive. The Noddies and Terns get quite a surprise.

Even places like Fyfe Island have superb sandbanks running for many kilometers at low tide.

                Even places like Fife Island have superb sandbanks running for many kilometers at low tide.

Cape York ...Lockhart River has the only supplies between Cooktown and Thursday Island at the top.

Cape York …Lockhart River has the only supplies between Cooktown and Thursday Island at the top. Map from Hema Maps.



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  1. jason Gray on 31 May 2016 at 1:12 pm

    Robin – Your photos are truly amazing. I love reading your articles and seeing what I am missing out on in life !!!! You’re right, I can only imagine also how awesome it would be kiteboarding those sand banks. Keep an eye out for amazing waves for me also! Safe travels mate


    • Robin Jeffries on 1 June 2016 at 9:15 am

      Thx Jason. I’ll keep my eye put for that left-hander. But with the pacific easterly swell and the strong ESE trade winds blowing most of the year it’s not a good part of the world for board surfing. Summer NW storms might stand the waves up … but nobody wants to be on the FNQ outer reef or the Coral Sea then due to cyclones and sudden bullet storms coming down from PNG. (:

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