The Hinchinbrook jungle is so tropical, I can see the humidity.
The low cloud sky hides Australia’s largest island National Park in a mystery veil made of the finest rain. We sailed into the wilderness island from Orpheus and Pelorus Isles in the south east.
Skipping along with a leisurely 15 knots of breeze in the spinnaker, our 45foot Wharram catamaran brags a respectable 7.5 knots. The catamaran is for sale. To find out more please go to www.acatamaranforsale.com
We pass the bulk sugar wharf spitting out from mainland Lucinda for an 3 unlikely miles into the Coral Sea.
Humpbacks lolled indifferently on a slow swell, mother whale and calf basking on the surface, unperturbed by our swishing hulls close by. They allowed us to pass at about 50 meters and then dove deep away in silence.
Zoe Bay, on sea side of Hinchinbrook Island
Depth in Zoe Bay is 9 meters in the middle but shallows to large sand flats reaching one third of the way out, drying on low tide. Today, it’s all slop and roll from the south easter. We scooted around the northern point to the next beach, Ramsay’s, for overnight protection from the swell. Ramsay’s rolled all night too, but it was mildly tempered by the rocky outcrops on the headland.
Next day’s dawn arrived windless, dry and hot…promising perfect conditions to be in back in Zoe Bay. The Hinchinbrook veil had evaporated to reveal a Fantasia style Hall Of The Mountain King view. Sometimes, not often, I get overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and natural history of my surroundings and Zoe took my breath away.
Eons and Eons
The island is made up of Paleozoic Igneous rock, pink granite to the layperson. Paleo is derived from the Greek palaios meaning old and zoe, meaning life…”ancient life”. If Hinchinbrook was a movie it would be Jurassic Park, sorry, I’m a sailor not a paleontologist.
You see, we’ve been slowly cruising the Australian east coast and islands for 8 months now and I have to say that Hinchinbrook Island has the greatest biodiversity of all Australia’s islands. The flora and fauna here now, like the flathead fish and lace monitors still closely resembles the creatures that lived here back in that paleozoic era.
It was the first day of an Australian spring when we arrived, the mangroves and melaleuca were in blossom. I distinguished at least 10 different varieties of mangrove oat Zoe Bay alone, apparently there are 30 varieties spread across the island. Minimal weed invasion and introduced pests plus the abundance of freshwater and sea life makes it an idyllic paradise.
The sharp peak of Mount Bowen scrapes the underbelly of a clear blue sky at 1142 meters elevation. Mount Diamontina towers over pink granite cliffs and lightly wooded, steep sided valleys. The foreshore of Zoe Bay is a natural promenade, a long sandy arc with a creek at each end and a lush rainforest backdrop speckled with coconut loaded palms that reach toward the sea.
Beyond the rainforest is an irresistible Zoe Waterfall, tumbling over giant boulders, down through the forest to the beach at the southern creek. It’s great for us to walk in the deep shade of a forest again after being at sea for so long. We breath in the fresh green perfume and floral mangrove notes mingled with the earthiness of forest humus. Great iridescent blue Ulysses butterflies weave around us and lead the way through a trekkers camp zone. We sidestep a dark colored lace monitor who has no fear of humans. Follow the trail uphill., over a clear flowing brook, through a grass tree maze, we traverse up the valley wall. The sound of rushing water and birdsong is all around us.
The trail plateaus and the forest gapes open to show her hidden gem, a turquoise, sun drenched pool. It is emerald deep and wide, the size of two, maybe three tennis courts. Freshwater teams continuously over smooth round cliffs above.
We swim and climb and grasp at slippery crevices to pull ourselves under the torrent. Pummeled by warm water, swimming against current, brushed by the spray on wind. We revel in the freedom of swimming free, away from threat of sharks or stingers or crocs.
We glide to the edges and meet schools of overly friendly jungle perch living amongst the beachball boulders at the edge of the great pool. The shoe sized, striped brown fish are hoping to nibble on loose skin flecks, if we let them.
A beginner’s abseil course takes us up another level above the pool. We haul ourselves up the boulder face with the help of a heavy knotted rope, well secured at top to a steel picket embedded in the granite.
We are far from the top of the mountain, maybe one fifth of the way up, but still the view of the bay and mountains and waterfall is extraordinary. The lookout is freckled by small waist deep pools big enough for four people to ‘cool jacuzzi’ in delightful comfort. We sit on basketball sized pink granite marbles that have been tumbled smooth in the pools over eons. With our backs to the precipice and the dramatic vista beyond, we let the magic wash gently over us, drenching our heads occasionally under the fall in the hot sun.
Small groups of walkers come and go to the Zoe Bay waterfall on day two of a three day Thorsborne Walking Trail along the spectacular Hinchinbrook east coast. They are delivered and retrieved by boat from the mainland, carrying bedrolls, a tent, simple food in backpacks. They refill their water bottles at pristine streams along the way.
To protect this beautiful and unique environment , the Queensland National Parks Authority issue a limited number of permits for the designated campsites which are beautifully positioned in small rainforest clearings just off the beach. The island forest is a safe habitat to many native animals. We spotted goannas, wallabies, bush rats and small bats or flying foxes plus a few varieties of ‘busy in the day’ lizards. Flathead and whiting team along the seashore. Each campsite is provided with large metal chests for trekkers to store food in over night.
Zoe Bay’s Best Anchorage
Meanwhile, our weather forecast is for more southeasterlies to come, so we decide to seek calmer anchorage inside Zoe’s little northern creek. A scouting mission in the tender, at dead low tide, revealed a nice deep channel between submerged rocks on the starboard side and a steep drop off sand bank on the port….after crossing a shallow sand bar at the entrance. Inside the creek is a deep hole at the first bend then the creek veers westward across a wide and shallow sandbank, dropping off again into deep holes 200 meters up stream.
The southern creek also offers great protection for smaller craft like trailer sailers and motor boats. It requires careful navigation around submerged oyster rocks on the port side at the entrance.
Back on board our 45foot catamaran, we wait for the water to rise high enough to let us pass in, leaving one hour before the top of the tide. That gives us an hour to spare, before the tide ebbs. If we happen to get stuck on a sand bar, we still have some incoming tide to float off.
I’m always the spotter when we navigate these small estuaries. I stand on the bow wearing polarised sunnies and point at the rocks and submerged logs the skipper needs to avoid. Exiting a creek is always a little less tense because we plot our track on the GPS going upstream and then simply follow the path out when it’s time to leave. We chose the deep hole to anchor, ensuring we stay afloat on the lowest tide.
The creek anchorage is perfectly still and silent in amongst the mangroves. The only movements are the tidal flow around us and a colony of Sacred Kingfishers hunting insects on sand banks.
Oh yes, insects! Dawn and dusk are punctuated by clouds of biting sandflies but we easily solved that problem by burning mosquito coils during those few hours.
The creek is too narrow for us to swing on anchor at change of tide, so we tie out some long lines to the mangroves to hold us in place, better than drifting into the bushes each time the tide turns.
Marine Yellow Zone
Fishing, crabbing and bait netting are allowed at Zoe Bay because it is a yellow zone. Not ones to miss an opportunity, we dragged our bait net on the beachfront, picking up some small, live bait fish. Later, we took the live bait far upstream, amongst the flowering mangroves and mud banks, and caught, eventually, a beautiful Estuary Cod and a sturdy, hard fighting Mangrove Jack. Both delicious filleted, pan fried in butter and lemon pepper.
Nothing goes to waste when we get into hunting mode. The discarded fish heads and frames are perfect crab bait. We drop the traps in deep water close to the banks and leave them overnight for wandering crabs to discover. We enjoyed a seafood feast fit for kings each day up the creek at Zoe Bay.
One caution I should mention is beware of crocodiles. It is well known that crocs inhabit the west side of the island in Hinchinbrook Passage near the mainland. It is their ideal habitat. But there are indications of crocs on the seaside in Zoe Bay as well, in both north and south creeks.
We did not see a croc, or footprints or the tell tale mudslides they use to slip silently down into the creek. However, one of our crab pots had the bottom cleanly bitten out by a mouth the size of a small sombrero. Another crab pot disappeared altogether, towed away by something powerful.
I couldn’t resist croc spotting at night from the safety of my high deck. I scanned the dark estuary with a torch, hoping to see, hoping not to see, beady red eyes watching our every movement, waiting for the perfect moment to ambush us. Nothing showed in the torch beam.
These secrets of Hinchinbrook are absolutely worth investigating by sailors or trekkers.
- Sailors can try the all weather anchorage in the north creek at Zoe Bay, remembering to enter on high tide.
- Zoe Falls has a hidden pool at the top of the falls, you will find it by climbing down around the oval pool to the drop zone.
- Crocodiles are masters of camouflage, trust me, they are definitely in the creeks at Zoe Bay.
After seven days in this perfect Garden of Eden, without phone or internet or television, we head south around to the west side of the island, to explore the mighty Hinchinbrook Channel. Stay tuned.
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