Nothing beats being on our own little sand patch in the middle of the ocean.
And there is no better place to experience these beautiful natural places than the area between Cape Melville and Lockhart River.
-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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
Flipping lures with barbless hooks around the snags can be productive for a brekky of Mangrove Jacks.
I shot this as I Crawled out after a dive. The Noddies and Terns get quite a surprise.