Magdelaine Cays are a pristine, untouched wilderness. We soaked it all up during 12 days of sensational exploring.

Anchored behind Nth Magdelaine Cay a Tawney shark swims by me-- without so much as a g'day :)

   Anchored behind Nth Magdelaine Cay, a Tawny shark swims by me – without so much as a g’day 🙂

Magdelaine North turtle graveyard.

We arrived in early December 2013 and carefully picked our way thru shallow coral heads to a well-protected anchorage about 300m behind a strip of smooth sand. It looked peaceful, but on landing, a short walk to the windward side revealed storms had washed away most of the sand from between the coral rocks. Creating almost impenetrable obstacles for the many nesting Green Turtles who were programmed to enter from the southeast shore. Each night a life and death drama unfolded.

Looking SE a lethal field of coral rocks are now a huge obstacle to nesting green turtles. A large coloney of crested terns in the foreground .

Looking SE, a lethal field of coral rocks, are now a huge obstacle for nesting green turtles. A colony of crested terns in the foreground.

A dozen green turtles had recently become jammed between rocks and died. Some had made it across to the soft sand but were too exhausted to return to the water.

The turtle grave yard.Many perish amongst the rocks.

             The turtle graveyard. Many perish amongst the rocks.

We poured water over this mom to keep her alive while we dragged her back to the front beach–it took three hours, but she survived — my back slowly recovered.

Syl keeping thisnear death mom cool while we dragged her back to the water.

       Syl is keeping this near-dead mom cool while we dragged her back to the water. Not an easy task.

Magdelaine North diving

We particularly liked a location on the western end of the reef. To drift along a wall and watch sharks spiral up out of the blackness 70m below was exhilarating. We must have seen 50+ Grey Whalers on that first dive. Behind the drop-off, a labyrinth of coral heads rose from perfect white sand in 10-15m of water. Visibility was 30-40 m. A school of hundreds of Jacks made for the sort of wide-angle photography I like 🙂

magdelaine cay divingmagdelaine cay diving

magdaleine cay diving_

Anchoring on the wall — the good, the bad and the ugly.

On day one, the conditions were right, and we were hanging out for a wall dive. I was too impatient to mess about! We found a small broken indentation on the top of the coral wall, which allowed us the tricky possibility of nosing Flash Dancer over crushed coral and dropping the pick in just a few meters. She would be held off the wall by the breeze and current. “An easy drive along the wall was our prize .”
But after two failed attempts, I tired of hearing the complaints from our winch as I retrieved the weight of a 100m of chain and anchor dangling in the abyss, So on the third attempt, there balancing 35m down the wall face, our anchor stayed. Not up, not down, not caught and holding, just sitting there contemplating the fish swimming by.
So we launched the dingy, tied it to the reef and enjoyed our dive.
I’m sure our rubber duck was excited about the possibility of rescuing mom as she drifted quietly toward the Willis Islands. But to our pleasant surprise, she hadn’t moved. Never the less on our subsequent dives to that location, we found a safe sandy bottom not too far away and took the dingy over to the wall by herself. Much more intelligent.

Not a recomended way to anchor :)

                         Not a recommended way to anchor 🙂

magdelaine wall diving6

Diving the northern maze —  where are we?

I have always admired my first mates diving skills, especially her faultless underwater navigation. When my cylinder gauge shows about 50 bars, like magic, the boat or dingy anchor appears, and we are in the correct exit slot. It suits me fine not having to fuss with my compass and remember twists, turns and visual navigation points. Anyhow, that’s all up till NOW. We arose from a maze of coral canyons on our last dive to find the dingy a tiny spec in the distance — perhaps 400+ m and into a light current. Shit! That was one hell of a swim with my 125cft tank and camera set up. I made it back as my tank emptied. I have changed to a smaller 100cfm tank since then — and started looking at my compass again 🙂

magdelaine cay diving

Magdelaine South Cay

It doesn’t have a protected anchoring location. But the island itself is superb. It’s big and round with quite a  few trees, a tidal gully and plenty of vegetation. There are no obvious good diving spots in the water, but on land, the  Cay is a treat with thousands of marine birds and turtles.

magdalaine south cay 8

magdalaine south cay

magdalaine south cay 1

magdalaine south cay sunset

 Magdelaine charts 

Paper and electronic charts are not accurate for this location.  A row of Bommies and small reef areas off footsteps across the western side of what appears to be an open bay feeding into the North Magdelaine anchorage. There is no wide clear entrance in 20 me of water. Vigilance is required as the sun can reflect off the face of small easterly waves making Bommies less than obvious after 1/2 tide. If one was to be lulled into complacency by an incorrect GPS chart, a bruised keel could easily result ..ouch!

The sand cay is about 400 me away from where it appears on my plotter.

 Beware -- Charts are very inaccurate for North Magdeaine cay and Reefs.

                 Beware — Charts are very inaccurate near North Magdelaine Cay. When near reefs, we navigate primarily by sight.

Magdelaine Cays are 265nm east of Cairns

          Magdelaine Cays are 265nm east of Cairns. Map compliments of iSailor.  North Magdelaine is an excellent protected anchorage in strong trade winds. There are well-protected locations to anchor at Flinders, Holmes, and the Heralds on the way out.

To view more of our posts from Australia’s sparkling Coral Sea territory, click on the below:

Diamond islets click here

Flinders reefs click here

Herald cays click here

Marion Reef click here

Willis Islets click here

Coringa Islets click here

Osprey Reef click here

Bougainville Atoll click here

Ashmore Reef click here

Lihou Reefn Atoll click here

Get Free Email Updates!

Signup now and receive an email once we publish new content.

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.


  1. peter bickerton on 8 March 2023 at 2:48 pm

    loved your article on the remote lihou reef (we are diving with Spirit of freedom in November 2024)

    • Robin Jeffries on 9 March 2023 at 10:44 am

      Thx Peter. The full article will appear in the next Club Magazine, and I’ll put a full story on this site as well.
      Good diving. Cheers Robin

  2. Peter bickerton on 9 March 2023 at 11:51 am

    Thanks Robin, i passed on the article to the captain and our other dive friends. They have all appreciated your indepth article. We are also doing the lihou reef and Bougainville. With some others. So your information in invaluable especially with no moorings

    • Robin Jeffries on 12 March 2023 at 4:08 pm

      Spring, especially November, is the best time for these areas. Good luck 🙂

Leave a Comment