Friday, October 4, 2013

Across The Blue Ocean: Cooktown To Lizard Island By Sea Kayak

“There's crocs in that river, ya know” shouted a fisherman on the jetty by the Endeavour River in Cooktown “Saw a big one, just on the weekend” another fisherman added as our group of seven paddled past in our single sea kayaks. Tim, the main organiser of our trip, surreptitiously rolled his eyes and replied “We know.”

The Endeavour River, unlike many rivers in this part of Far North Queensland is clear, green and lapped by white sand beaches. Our boats were packed with six days food and around 40 litres of water and they felt heavy and sluggish as we paddled east out of the Endeavour River. Our destination for the night was a small rocky cove open to the easterly winds just north of Mount Stone on Cape Bedford. Instead of hugging the coast line, we would paddle east from Cooktown and then set a northerly course aiming somewhat east of Cape Bedford to allow for drift from the easterly winds.

Sunset Over The Endeavour River, Cooktown

A light east to southeasterly wind was blowing, not perfect for kayak sailing, but not terrible either. Once we turned to the north, sails on kayaks began popping up, starting with Pete and Smiddie, and finishing with Kev, whose homemade sail was not quite as easy to deploy as the Pacific Action sails the rest of us were using. Once the sails were up, our kayaks felt considerably lighter to paddle, but it still took us 5.5 hours to reach our campsite on Cape Bedford. Once we rounded south Cape Bedford the wind was a little more behind us and pushed us along to a shallow rocky cove where we pulled in to camp. After almost six hours in the kayaks, most of us had trouble standing up at first.

Sailing North

After unpacking, a late lunch, and some coconut gathering, we all walked up onto the open headland and wandered along to look north to the string of small cays which we would paddle past on our way to Lizard Island.

In the morning, the winds were still light as we launched – a slightly difficult enterprise with the tide out and more rocks exposed – and began paddling northeast on a steady course for Lizard Island. Over the next few days we island hopped, sometimes paddling as many as five hours a day, sometimes as few as two hours, steadily north along a string of deserted cays surrounded by clear teal water and fringed by white sandy beaches. We snorkelled with sharks, rays and turtles, marvelled at the amazing colour and variety of reef fish, floated over many coloured coral gardens in clear blue water, walked around tiny islands on white sand beaches, and watched as the sky darkened each evening as shearwaters returning to nest. 

The Amazing Eye Reef

On our fourth day out, we paddled past Eye Reef, a true sand cay, perhaps 30 metres around and lying amidst an exquisite fringing coral reef. We stopped and snorkelled over the reef watching rays, sharks and turtles skim across the coral gardens. We spent our fifth night at North Direction Island, a continental island with a tiny sand beach on the northwestern tip, surrounded by a fringing reef that was amazing to snorkel across. Reef sharks and mackerel patrolled the small sand beach, as we floated along the edge of a five metre coral wall on the southern side of the island.

Next day, the wind was blowing 12 knots from the southeast and we sailed northwest, only occasionally dipping a paddle in the water to Blue Lagoon, sliding into the lagoon between breaking waves through the small passage between Seabird Islets and Lizard Head. Sailing across the calm clear waters of Blue Lagoon, I watched as startled turtles swam under my bow and the bright colours of coral bombies flashed by and felt both gladdened by the wonderful adventures we had shared and saddened that our trip was almost over. It sure is a wonderful world. 

Coral Sea Sunset

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