Thursday, August 15, 2013

Balmy Days In The Barnard Group

Incredibly, after our Family Group sea kayak trip, the weather continued to look good for sea kayaking – fine weather and calm winds were still in the forecast. After a one day turn-around in Ingham (staying again at Palm Trees Caravan Park) we drove north to Cowley Beach – a very pretty small village on a gorgeous white sand beach and packed our kayaks for a five day trip to the South and North Barnard Islands.

Stephens and Sisters Islands

From Cowley Beach it is seven kilometres southeast to Stephens Island where there is a small Queensland National Park campsite. We had incredible paddling conditions on glassy water with only a 20 centimetre swell. Schooling fish kept pace with us as we paddled out.

After unpacking our kayaks and setting up camp, we set off to explore the island. Stephens Island is only half a kilometre wide and has a rough coral beach on the west side, a bit of scattered mangrove on the south side and an incredible rock shelf the entire way around the island. You can walk right the way around the island on this rock shelf which is undercut into big caves all the way around. The water was so clear we could see big wrasse swimming on the rock reefs off-shore and also watch schooling fish and turtles swimming by. A couple of pawpaw trees are loaded with pawpaws and there are coconut palms as well.

Back at our camping beach, we spent some time working on those cursed eskimo rolls, and swam in the warm water before sitting on the beach and watching the sunset.

We planned to stay a day at Stephens Island and I woke up at 6.15 am the next morning and walked around the island again on the rock shelf. A dead pelican, one of about five we saw, had washed up on the rocks overnight. After breakfast, we paddled around the island and over to Sisters Island where we spent an hour snorkelling on shallow rock and coral reefs on the east side. Many sea birds, including pelicans live on Sisters Island.

We paddled back to Stephens Island for lunch, and spent the afternoon rolling the kayaks again and walking around the island.

Kent, Jessie, Hutchinson, and Bresnahan Islands

I was up at 6.15 am again and, as the wind was light, we packed up and paddled 7 km north to Kent Island. The winds were relatively light, but, in the channel between Jessie and Kent Islands a fast current runs and the water was a bit bumpy. Just as we entered the channel we saw a big dorsal fin slicing through the water and a 4 metre tiger shark swam past our kayaks. We had met an aboriginal fellow on Stephens Island who told us that the tiger sharks cruise around the waters of Kent Island as the fast currents attract spanish mackeral.

Kent Island is Commonweath land and the small beach on the west side is very steep and made up of broken up coral. There is good snorkelling on scattered coral bombies on the north side of the island if the cruising tiger sharks don't bother you. There were a couple of other kayakers at camp and we had a good talk with them getting some local paddling and weather information.

We had breakfast, set up camp at a nice site with a picnic table, and then walked up a steep trail (recently brushed out thanks to the sea kayak group) to a light station on top of the island. Unfortunately, the surrounding forest is too high to see over so there are really no views at all.

The wind had increased somewhat, but was still only about 10 or 15 knots from the east. We paddled around Kent Island encountering some interesting paddling conditions around the east and south sides where deep water runs up to the island. On Jessie Island, we landed and checked out some sea caves and rock arches, eroded into the island, and then paddled over to Hutchinson and Bresnahan Islands, both delightful little islands with steep coral beaches on the west side ringed by clear water and reefs.

I went snorkelling off Kent Island in the afternoon before we did our eskimo rolling practice, but Doug did not like the idea of snorkelling with a patrolling tiger shark in the area. We had a lovely quiet evening sitting out watching the sunset in the warm tropical night.

Lindquist Island, Browns Beach

We had a bit of rain overnight, but it was clear in the morning and the sky was a dazzling mixture of pinks and oranges as the sun came up. The weather was perfect for paddling with light winds again, and we idled our along the south side of Hutchinson Island past a big sea cave that ran right through a bluff on the island and over to Bresnahan Island.

It is less than 1.5 km northwest to Lindquist Island and we watched spanish mackeral jumping clear of the water as we paddled across. Lindquist Island is rocky all around, but we managed to find a tiny bit of sand to pull the kayaks up onto. There is brilliant snorkelling off the northeast side of the island where big boulders drop into the water and form coral covered vertical walls. This was the healthiest coral we had seen – many varieties and lots of reef fish swimming around – and the water was nice and clear.

The weather was really too nice to go back, so we paddled across to Double Point on the mainland and north to Browns Beach where we camped for the night. A Jabiru was on the beach as we paddled in and we saw fresh cassowary tracks in the sand. This beautiful beach has a small island near the southern end. The sheltered waters of the bay were good for yet more kayak rolling practice that afternoon. After the coarse coral beaches of the Barnard Group, the fine soft sand of Browns Beach made a nice tent site.

Browns Beach to Cowley Beach

The sun came up in a blaze of colour over the little island off Browns Beach. We walked north to the end of the beach before returning and packing up camp. Then, an easy 1.5 hour paddle south around Double Point and down Cowley Beach with fish jumping beside us and sharks and rays visible in the clear water along the beach.

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