Thursday 27 April 2017

Our Dreamtime’s Five Most Romantic Great Barrier Reef Anchorages

While all people have very different ideas as to what qualifies as a ‘Romantic’ location, cruising sailors can be even more extremely varied in their opinions. You will often hear one couple describing an anchorage as atrocious while another will be adamant the same spot is paradise on earth. Of course it all depends on the individuals’ own experience at the spot which can be affected by weather, other boats around and even if the bugs are biting or not.
Here we list five anchorages located off the Queensland coast where we had our own fantastic romantic experiences on Our Dreamtime. We’d also love to hear your nominations in the comments section below.

 1: Glassed out at Fitzroy Reef


Our Dreamtime anchored in Fitzroy Reef with Sea Whiskers at sundown.

We negotiated the narrow channels to exit Pancake Creek in the pre-dawn light by closely following our own GPS track. If we didn’t run aground coming in we were not likely to hit bottom going out exactly the same way. The full moon was yet to set in the West and the sun made an appearance over the opposite horizon as we cleared the rocks of Clews Point and pointed our bow North East. Our destination was an anchorage inside the coral lagoon at Fitzroy Reef, 35 Nautical Miles off the coast. Once clear of Bustard Head we silenced the motor and let our sails push us along at a comfortable five and a half to six knots. The ten knot wind was square on the beam while the swell was reasonably mild and the sun was shining. What more could anyone ask?

The entrance to the lagoon is very narrow and curves through with the menacing coral coming up near vertical to protrude above water level except at high tide.  We timed our arrival for just after midday so the sun would be high in the sky providing the clearest view of the coral below the water. 
Just after 13.00 hours Karen positioned herself on the bow for our passage through. With one of our small radios she was able to communicate exactly what she was seeing directly back to Rob on the helm as he followed the electronic chart. Once the boat was actually into the entrance itself the coral walls lining the edges were very clearly visible in the sunlight making steering through a lot easier.
We edged our way around a couple of bombies (coral outcrops that rise from the seabed) into a wide, clear area of sand in seven metres of water and dropped our anchor.  The water was so clear, we could see every link of the chain laying on the lagoon floor. This place was simply amazing. 
 By now the water inside the lagoon had totally glassed out and in very short order we were heading off to the reef to snorkel. The fish life was abundant and though the reef has suffered from some bleaching there were plenty of healthy colourful specimens to view. We spent a few hours in the gloriously clear turquoise waters transfixed with the world below the surface.
Snorkelling inside the lagoon at Fitzroy Reef

After hot showers we settled on deck with a bottle of bubbles and a fine selection of cheeses and experienced one of THE most amazing sunsets we have ever seen. It seemed to last for hours with the sky altering its spectacular display constantly. Nothing could be more romantic or could it?
Enjoying sundowners we had no idea of the magic Fitroy Reef was about to weave.
Once the sun’s glow disappeared completely, the clear but moonless sky turned ink black apart from the billions of stars glimmering above. The still water inside the lagoon was so glassy that the heavenly constellations were perfectly reflected on its surface. We had extinguished all lights below decks and now even turned off our anchor light for a short time to take in nature’s incredible treat. It became impossible to discern an horizon as the universe above merged with its reflection below. In every direction we looked, the star filled sky appeared to reach from high all the way to the waterline of our ketch. It was as if we were floating in a star filled sphere. We were in such awe we could only speak in whispers for fear of disturbing the moment.
 It was one of the most incredible experiences we had ever shared in our lives.

2: Naked Nirvana- Hummocky Island 


Karen sketching in the shade on the beach at Hummocky Island

Imagine strolling naked in the warm sun, hand in hand across a golden sand beach, slipping beneath  the surface of crystal clear, azure blue water to cool off as small waves lap the shore of your own uninhabited tropical island miles from any other human being. That, and so much more was what we delighted in experiencing at the amazing Hummocky Island, the first of our romantic anchorages north of the Tropic of Capricorn. 
 After dropping anchor in the small bay and freshening up with nice hot showers it was time to celebrate reaching the tropics. Right on cue, a near full moon appeared over the trees to welcome us and we popped a special bottle of champagne given to us by a good friend before we left to save for the right occasion. Thanks John, the Bollinger was outstanding. It went down very nicely in our new found serenity. Not to be out done by the moon, the sun then put on a dazzling display setting behind the western point to put a lovely full stop on our day.

Karen pouring the Bolly at Hummocky Island
 Next morning we were engrossed by the sight of a number of humpback whales putting on a display of aerial acrobatics for us just beyond the island’s western point. We witnessed synchronised breaches with two and three whales leaping high out of the water at the same time before falling back generating huge splashes. Tail waving was also a popular trick as was slapping the water repeatedly with their huge fins. The show lasted almost an hour before the pod submerged and swam on.
There were no lack of succulent oysters on the rocks on the point.
We then loaded the tender with food and drinks for the day and ventured ashore to the beach setting up our little camp in the shade of an overhanging tree. Being totally alone, clothing seemed totally redundant in the circumstances but we made sure we were well protected wearing our reef shoes, hats, sunglasses and liberal applications of sunscreen, particularly on those usually covered white bits. Then it was off to the rocks to gather some fresh oysters in the sunshine while the tide was low. Despite not being able to resist eating quite a few right on the spot, it really didn’t take long to collect a few dozen to enjoy with our cheese and crackers under a shady tree on the squeaky clean sand. Very decadent.
Fresh oysters, cheese, crackers and bubbles of course.
We were undisturbed by man or beast for the entire day with not even a bug interrupting our solitude. There’s little that can be more romantic than sharing your own special tropical island with your own special person.
Karen loves to sketch beautiful places we visit.


3: Hexham Island - Another uninhabited tropical paradise all to ourselves.


Our Dreamtime in the tranquillity of Hexham Island

After a peaceful night at anchor, we awoke shortly after sunrise to the sound of chicks squawking loudly in their nest high on a rock outcrop directly behind Our Dreamtime’s stern. The brood was raucously letting their mother know they were hungry and ready for more food. Once more we had a private tropical paradise all to ourselves and we were going to make the most of it. The coffee was soon brewing and a quick breakfast prepared and enjoyed in the sunshine on the aft deck as we planned our day in paradise.
Nesting birds were our only neighbours at Hexham Island.
We were soon on our way into Hexham’s golden sand beach in the tender. Karen set up camp under a shady tree ready for a morning of sketching and relaxation. The first order of business was a hike to the hill top above the anchorage to take in the breathtaking views. 
The climb above the beach was well worth the effort for the views.
On returning to the beach all the hiking gear was quickly shed for a refreshing soak in the bay’s crystal turquoise waters. We then dried off in the shade of our little campsite with a nice bottle of bubbles and some appropriate snacks.
Time to cool off after our hike.
Decadence on the beach

Karen with the sketch pad out again on Hexham Island

The pattern was then set for the day with cooling dips interspersed by shade time with more delicious nibbles and vino while Karen sketched and Rob buried himself in a book. This private island business has a lot going for it.
 When we finally ventured back on board we were treated to another spectacular sunset and agreed, our magical day had firmly put Hexham Island well up on our favourite romantic anchorage list.

4: Marcona Inlet - Special Occasions can be very special when cruising 


Our private beach in Marcona Inlet on Hook Island in the Whitsundays.

We had been holed up in the Whitsunday’s Cid Harbour for a week while a strong south easterly wind blew and rain fell. Although intermittent showers were persisting, at last the wind was settling down. Naturally we were keen to move on but Rob was especially so. The following day was our Anniversary and surrounded by dozens and dozens of charter boats in Cid Harbour was not where he wanted us to be.
The Whitsunday Islands are world class cruising grounds so finding somewhere truly secluded during charter season is not easy but there are some spots less travelled than others. We upped anchor a had a short but pleasant sail north to Marcona Inlet on Hook Island. It’s a secure anchorage and very beautiful spot but doesn’t have the high profile of nearby and usually crowded Nara Inlet. Most people anchor in a bay half way up the inlet but we made our way all the way to the end and were delighted to find the three little beach coves at this end deserted. 
 We have always tried to make birthdays and particularly our anniversary special events in our lives. We started a tradition on our 10th anniversary when Rob organised a three day break as surprise for Karen. Each year after that it became Rob’s mission to organise surprise anniversary celebrations for Karen.
 In the nearly two decades since, we have popped the champagne cork to celebrate another year of marriage in Paris, Bali, the ski fields of New Zealand, Hawaii, Ibiza, Rome and many fantastic places in between. Once we began our cruising life we wondered if we would have to forego this annual indulgence. Fortunately it’s only taken a bit of imagination and planning for us to continue to celebrate each year of our union in style.
 After days of miserable weather, magically the special day dawned clear and calm. We loaded the dinghy with everything needed to make our 31st Anniversary as memorable as any and made our way to one of the small beaches in the inlet. Tree lined with beautiful sand lapped by crystal clear warm waters, the setting was perfect. There was even a rope swing seat hanging from one of the trees.  It was our own private tropical paradise.

31 years on and going strong.

We soon had our chairs and improvised table set in the shade overhanging trees complete with linen cloth, Moet Champagne and a cheese platter. The rocks at one end of the beach became the location for our bush kitchen where we prepared the rest of our three course celebration lunch.

One of our most romantic anniversary settings ever.
Sitting in the sunshine on our own private tropical beach, eating delicious Crispy Skin Duck Breast in Raspberry and Chocolate Jus with French Champagne we were entertained by turtles surfacing nearby and a sea eagle soaring above. Then there was desert, Apple and Almond Tort with Passionfruit and Chocolate Sauce. Both the setting and our self prepared treat easily equalled any of our previous anniversary celebratory meal experiences including the one we had on the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Crispy skin duck breast on the beach

and Almond Tort with Passionfruit and Chocolate Sauce was a nice way to follow the duck.
 Special days are very special in the Whitsundays.
5: North East Herald Cay - amongst our most remote and romantic destinations ever.
North East Herald Cay - far, far away in the Coral Sea.

Anchored in the shelter of remote North East Herald Cay far out in the Coral Sea, 200 nautical miles (360 kilometres) from the Australian coastline, we arose to find only a gentle breeze blowing over the crystal clear waters of the lagoon. Taking in our amazing, unspoilt surrounds, we could only speculate on how few people have visited this idyllic setting before us. No doubt it would number in at least the hundreds, maybe even thousands over the years, but we seriously doubt if the all time total would reach five figures. The cays are a totally protected ‘green’ conservation zone with no fishing of any sort permitted. They are also a very important hatchery for a range of migratory bird species and sea turtles.
 As eager as we all were to get ashore and explore this unspoilt coral atoll there was a more important item on the schedule first. After two days of eating on the go during our rough passage from Townsville, Karen had prepared an awesome breakfast and we were not going to rush it one little bit. It was fantastic sitting on the stern in the sunshine, encircled by crystal clear turquoise water, listening to the waves washing ashore on the gleaming white sand beach of the island. Yep this place is paradise.
Most of the birds on the Herald Cays have more than likely never seen humans.

After breakfast we headed ashore in the dinghy and landed on the pristine beach. It was amazing. There were thousands of birds either circling overhead or nesting in the low trees which covered the entire island. The birds themselves displayed no fear of us at all. If anything they were more curious as to what the hell we were. Not wanting to disturb them, we kept a reasonable distance from the nesting birds but frankly they didn’t look as if they would care if we went right up to them. 
Oh the serenity!
The sense of solitude on this speck in the middle of the Coral Sea far, far from human habitation was overwhelming. It was impossible to feel anything other than at peace with the world.
Sipping chilled champagne on the beach and taking in this amazing destination we contemplated what a fantastic lifestyle we lead as cruisers. We toasted our good health and the choices we have made in life. Together we have made this dream come true.
 Romance is still well and truly alive and well on Our Dreamtime
 Please leave us a comment and tell us some of the most romantic anchorages you've discovered.
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The above are extracts from blogs published about our visits to these five amazing destinations. To read the full articles and see many more photos click through to your choice.

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