Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Remote Paradise that is Pancake Creek

September 24-25, 2015

Pancake Creek has no bar to cross and the channel is well marked permitting entry day or night. Once inside it is also a very protected anchorage and simply a magnificent place to stay for a few days or longer. It is accessible only by boat or via a very serious trek on foot through the national park. There is no vehicular access to any point close, not even a macho man attracting 4WD track.

Our anchorage in Pancake Creek with Clew Point at top, Bustard Head at right and Aircraft Beach between them.
We had entered in the late afternoon near high tide with the creek appearing as a very, very wide river mouth. When we awoke next morning the tide was closer to low with the massive sand banks shining in the sunlight. Pelicans swam on the glassy water around Our Dreamtime and sea turtles regularly surfaced to take deep breath near us. It was magical sitting on the stern eating our breakfast of mackerel fillets caught the previous afternoon and soaking in our surroundings.

There's nothing better than a breakfast of fresh caught fish.
Huge sandbanks appearing as the tide runs out.

 
We had heard very promising stories about Pancake being well populated with mud crab so after breakfast we lowered the dinghy and prepared to see if we could entice a few into our crab pots. We were soon making our way past anchored neighbours upstream towards some very promising areas of mangroves. There were about ten boats spread around the spacious anchorage, enough for company but far from a crowd. Still, we decided to put our pots down way over the far side of the estuary, well away from everyone where we figured Mr and Mrs Mudcrab would be enjoying an undisturbed life.

Karen preparing the first two crab pots.

When the tide goes out it goes waaaayyyy out.
We put two pots down in water filled holes on the sand banks then discovered a small hidden creek lined with overhanging mangroves that held about a metre of water even at low tide. It had all the earmarks of being mud crab heaven so we were very confident of gaining a good catch overnight with the pair of pots we set in there.

From out at the dinghy the very shallow creek didn't look all that promising.

We quickly changed our minds once we took a walk to have a better look. It had all the trademarks of crab heaven.
The rest of the afternoon was spent doing what we do so well, a fair load of not much. With small bait fish surrounding the boat, we did decide we should drop a line in the water in case any larger fish wanted to donate its body for breakfast. It is safe to say it was a fairly casual form of fishing with lines dangling and paperback novels in hand. That was until there was a splash, from behind the boat followed by a thud and flap, flap, flap. Forget the fishing line. A good sized mackerel had just jumped out of the water and landed in our dinghy floating off the stern. Thank you very much! Next morning’s breakfast was now in hand. The people on the two boats nearest to us couldn’t believe our luck. If we didn’t have the fish in hand we would not have believed it ourselves. By next day it was the talk of the anchorage.


Exhibit A: The kamikaze mackerel.


Exhibit B: One innocent looking dinghy.
Karen just had time to fillet our kamikaze fish before sundowners time when the nibbles and wine came out and we sat in the cockpit doing a fair load of not much again except eat, drink and enjoy another remarkable sunset. This cruising life can be so strenuous.


The anchorage was far from crowded.
We were up early the next morning to retrieve our huge haul of crabs. Except there weren’t any.Zip. Zilch.  Not even a single undersized one to throw back. We were stunned. It was the very first time on Our Dreamtime that we have come up totally empty handed with our pots. To have it happen in what looked like and was reported to be perfect crab territory was more than disappointing. We later spoke to two other boaties in the anchorage who had put pots out with the same result. Either the place has been over fished by professional crabbers or the local muddies are very elusive.

Our Dreamtime swinging peacefully on her anchor
With the pots all packed away back on the boat, we headed ashore to walk up to the Bustard Head Lighthouse for a look. It’s a 2.8 kilometre walk through the bush up to the lighthouse. The trail is fairly easy walking and pleasantly lined with native grass trees and assorted wildflowers. As you climb towards the lighthouse reserve itself you get a fantastic view of Aircraft Beach which stretches from Clews Point at the mouth of Pancake Creek back to Bustard Head.


 



Aircraft Beach is magnificent and not a soul on it.
Except pelicans. There's always pelicans.
The lighthouse is now fully automated but an enthusiastic group of volunteers each spend a month at a time living onsite as caretakers of the restored keepers cottages and grounds. For a modest $10 fee they also conduct guided tours up the spiral stairs to the light. The views from the circular balcony are spectacular.

 
This prism has now been replaced by a more powerful light the size of a beer bottle
 
Looking back over Pancake Creek. Our Dreamtime is the yacht furthest to the right.

The view south to Round Hill Head and the Town of 1770.

North

The Inner, Middles and Outer Rocks off Bustard Head
The tour also includes a small museum established in one of the cottages and a very comprehensive rundown of the history of the place. It was established in 1868 and was in fact the very first lighthouse commissioned by the then fledgling colony of Queensland. (Cape Moreton lighthouse does predate it but was built when the whole colony was New South Wales).  The lighthouse itself was constructed in England of heavy steel sections. It was test assembled at the factory then all the numbered pieces unbolted and shipped over for reassembly. It was far from happy days for the early lighthouse keepers and their families with murders, drownings and disease claiming a number of lives. Most of the victims now rest in a small graveyard on site.


A nice model of HMS Endeavour that Cpt James Cook sailed past here in 1770 naming the Headland in the process.
We certainly enjoyed the tour and the walk back through the bush. We stopped along the way for Karen to do some sketching of some of the sights including an area where rising sea levels has seen what was previously an area of bush become a salt pan full of spectacularly shaped dead gum trees.

Karen sketching on the walk back from the lighthouse

 
We were invited by cruisers we met on the walk, Elaine and Andy for sundowners that afternoon on their catamaran Twoflower. It was a very pleasant way to cap off what had been a very enjoyable day far from normal civilisation.

Pancake Creek was really so quiet, peaceful and naturally beautiful that we would have loved to have stayed a few more days. However, we really wanted to push on into the tropics. With a favourable weather  forecast for the next day it was time to go. Pancake Creek is definitely in our plans for the return trip south though.

We’ve said all along that this was to be our shakedown cruise although we never expected to get shaken down this much. Here’s the report card.

What worked.

Our cunning dinghy fish trap.

What didn’t work.

Our crab pots

What we did right.

Stayed a couple of days in Pancake Creek. It’s beautiful.

How we screwed up.

Didn’t stay long enough.

Good night from Pancake Creek!

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