The trip so far can best be characterised as a series of highs interspersed with many ‘what the hell are we doing’ lows.
On our way from Airlie Beach to Cairns, we made a stop at Magnetic Island, which was definitely a high. Who can find fault with a beautiful tropical island full of history, beaches, baby koalas and bare back horse rides on the beach? Not us.
On the same leg, we also made an overnight stop at a tiny, uninhabited island along the way, where we beach combed, swam and generally enjoyed ourselves - another high. That’s until we tried to leave and discovered our anchor got stuck on a rock. There is nothing quite like being stuck in an exposed anchorage with no one else around to get the blood pumping. Graham came through again and at the next low tide, dove down and unstuck us with some expert manoeuvring at the wheel from me. Phew.
And so we made it to Cairns around the second week of September. It was meant to be a short stop over on the way to Darwin then Indonesia, but the prospect of rushing to Darwin just to clear the cyclone season did not appeal. What’s the point of sailing past all these cool places and communities without having time to linger? None! So instead of rushing we opted for the slightly intimidating PNG route. The visa process seems pretty straight forward at least. Well, when I say straight forward, we did spend about an hour walking around Cairns in 30 degree heat locating the PNG consulate, only to be told by the German consulate at the same address that they have moved to “somewhere on Grafton street”. Graham had some fun walking the entire length of that street, only to arrive at the new office after 12pm, when it closes for the day. The next day, he made it there in time to submit our application, and so, PNG it is. We’re both a little scared as this is definitely off the beaten path. The plan is to start in the southern islands of Louisiades then slowly move north towards the island of New Britain then travel west along the the north coast of Papua (mainland PNG) on our way to Indonesia. We think this is roughly doable in 10 weeks or so, but time will tell.
Cairns has mostly been a blur of rushing around various shops buying things we think we need and grocery shopping. The boat is definitely sitting a few cm lower in the water from the extra weight. Every nook and cranny is filled with food (ok maybe some booze too). Over provisioning is a well known phenomenon among cruisers and despite reading blogs about this and laughing my head off, I still could not not stop myself from buying too many kilos of rolled oats, enough dried fruit and nuts to climb Everest and species of beans, lentils and spices I’ll probably never cook. I even thought it was a good idea to buy chickpea flour. I’ve never used this in my whole life so what I’ll do with it, I dont know. I first realised that Graham may have been suffering from the same over-provisioning anxiety when he returned to the trolley with cans of Spam the other day. Don’t worry, he put it back. But things get crazy sometimes!
There was some time amongst the chaos to visit a few sights. Kids loved seeing big ‘salties’ at a crocodile farm (they are huge - you really dont want to see one in the wild).
The nature around Cairns is spectacular and while we had a car, we made it a priority to visit Crystal Cascades, a local swimming hole with beautiful (and crocodile free) rock-pools, waterfalls and lush forest surrounding it all. Aah the serenity.
We also summoned up the courage to visit a nearby reef and even spent the night when we discovered moorings. Reef is not a boat’s friend even in the best weather, so for the inexperienced like us, it can be a bit scary navigating. But once we tied up, we noticed the colour of the water, the fish, and the best coral so far on the trip.
Actually, it has been a bit depressing seeing how much of the coral is dead first hand. Every time we snorkel I keep thinking, well if we just go a little bit north of here, it will get better. And it has to an extent, but the Great Barrier Reef is well past its prime, even in Cairns. Given the number of tourist boats going out every day here, I am amazed that people still pay and that word hasn’t got out. Sad but true.
We also stayed in Blue Water marina just north of Cairns for a week to enjoy the luxuries (local laundry, unlimited hot water on tap, you know…civilisation) and knock off some boat projects. The entrance was up the narrowest channel / river we’ve navigated yet but oh so very calm compared to our rolly anchorage in Cairns river. We met a lovely local family there who invited us for dinner and we spent the week invading their house and hanging out. Thanks guys! I heard after we left that a crocodile was spotted around where our boat was parked, apparently you’re not supposed to wee off the back. It could have been worse.
And now after almost a month of preparation, we are itching to leave, not least because the wet season has officially started and cyclones, though unlikely, are a possibility. We need to get to the equator, stat. The PNG visas are in, we have enough dried food to get us across the Pacific and the weather is looking favourable. So in a couple of days, we are off!
There is no internet where we are going, so other than basic comms through our satellite phone, we will be truly off grid for a while. If satellite techno proves compatible with posting, we will be sure to share some pics.