Saturday 16 August 2014

Fraser Island - Whale Time

Gary Davie and Jonathan Rihan joined me for a week of paddling on Fraser Island in Whale season with no set agenda or plan other than to paddle up to Sandy Cape on the biggest spring tides of the year and to enjoy the remote north end of this beautiful island, away from the tourist boats whose diesel engine drone would be enough to drive me up to the Whitsundays if I was a Humpback Whale on my yearly migration to the warmer climes.

The trip coincided with the August 2014 full moon which was the closest the moon passed to the earth this year which gave us the opportunity to enjoy some wonderful sunsets and sunrises with only whales, dolphins and the occasional dingo for company.

Fraser Island is a sand island with amazing amounts of fresh water available if you know where to look.  With this in mind we chose to bring along minimal water, with Gary bringing a water filter which allowed us to restock our water supplies whenever we wanted.  This filter did a brilliant job of turning brackish water into clean drinking water.

  We took less meals than we needed on the basis that we would catch some fish along the way and we could make do in the event that our fishing exploits were unsuccessful.  Armed with some frozen worms and some backup dehydrated worms we were lucky enough to catch a couple of meals, though we had to work for it given the amount of commercial fishermen who were netting all the way along the coast up to Sandy Cape!  Yup, was a bit angry about the exploitation that is happening in this beautiful part of the world - not sure if some of the commercial fishing was happening in areas that they weren't supposed to be in as it just wasn't policed adequately - and how is inshore netting sustainable?

We ended up staying at each campsite for two nights which allowed us to relax without the pressure of having to move campsites every day.  To do this we paddled some longer days with 38 kms being the shortest paddle and 50 kms ending up the longest (not to mention the 20 knot headwinds we slogged into on that day!).  We spent the rest days fishing, beach combing and just chillin' whilst watching the Whales and Dolphins pass by.

 Day 1 saw us paddle from Urangan Harbour to Awinya Creek.  There was little whale activity in the lower part of the bay, and most whales sighted would have been swamped with Tourist boats.  The bulk of our Whale sightings were from Awinya Creek northwards with the best interactions being around Rooney Point.

Our first campsite was about 800 meters up from the creek mouth (close to where the 4WD's cross the creek).  We had some sand flies to deal with but apart from that we had fresh water (at low tide) on one side and the beach on the other.

Day 2 was a rest day and cook up day to try and lighten our boats for the paddle up to Sandy Cape.

Day 3 was a 42 km paddle from Awinya Creek, with a directish line to Rooney Point and up to Sandy Cape.  We had a couple of whale encounters on the way to Rooney so our track may have had some diversions in it. We had a mother and calf very interested in us as we headed towards Rooney - the photo's below show them coming up under my kayak for a closer inspection.

The mother took a liking to the Grey Taran.  Initially, she came out of the water vertically about a meter away from the kayak to have a closer inspection.  We moved away a little and then she came up under the kayak again and lifted her fluke less than a meter away from Gary who didn't really hang around to appreciate the close encounter.  I always feel privileged to paddle with these gentle inquisitive giants who seem to be very aware of their size and have never actually touched our kayaks, though have moved within a meter of us.

After this amazing encounter, we paddled around Rooney Point up to Sandy Cape where we were greeted by a couple of large Manta Rays, some sharks and more Dolphins.

Day 4 was a day paddle up to Flinders Sand blow and a visit to the Sandy Cape Lighthouse where we topped up our water supply and got some patchy Telstra 3G reception from the table in front of the lighthouse. The Dolphins kept us entertained chasing fish into the shallows and feeding on them as the whales passed slowly by.  There were a number of bait fish schools which made themselves scarce as the commercial fishermen came through with their nets.

Day 5 had us paddling into a 20+ knot headwind at times on our 50 km paddle back from Sandy Cape to Awinya Creek via the scenic coastal route.  At times, our progress was down under 3 kms/hr with the gusts and against tide.  We had a number of Whale encounters along the way, including a couple which we assume were mating in the waters near Wathamba Creek.  We had been watching a whale coming out of the water and lifting its fluke and pushing another stationary whale around and were concerned that something was wrong with the stationary whale. She was very large and it was not normal behaviour for her to be floating on the surface.  We didn't get too close as we were concerned the other whale that was pushing her around may have been distressed and didn't want to get in the way - but when we paddled over they moved off together looking a little sheepish and perturbed with our interruption.

After another downpour, the wind dropped and swung more easterly and after a short period of calm, we paddled into the evening with the incoming tide down to Awinya where we setup camp in the rain and wind in the dark.

Day 6 was a rest day to dry out our gear and clean out some food for our trip home.  We caught a feed of whiting for lunch and I did some exploring of the swamp lands along Awinya Creek.

Day 7 was the trip back from Awinya Creek to Urangan Harbour via Moon Bank.  We had decided to get back a day early as the weather was closing in and they were predicting a lot of rain and wind for the following day.  We made some good time on the way back with some contrary cross winds and some lumpy seas.  We had a short break on Moon Bank in the lee of the grassy hummock offering us some protection from the wind before we made the next hop into the Harbour and hot showers!

Last time I paddled to Sandy Cape I was in an overloaded skeg boat and was on my way to paddle the 90+km crossing to Lady Elliot Island and up through the Capricornia Cays.  I couldn't help reflecting that paddling these faster touring boats with rudders certainly would have made that trip a lot easier on the body and a lot safer.  Looking forward to the next big trip in 2015!

I have a theory that there is some symbiotic relationship between Humpback Whales and Bottle-Nose Dolphins.  I have seen these dolphins guiding the whales through their local waters both at the top of Fraser Island and at North Stradbroke Island.  I will see if I can dig up any research in this area and will share my findings.  The following link is a quick edit of some of the whale footage and images I captured whilst we were on this trip, and you may notice that Dolphins are photo bombing the whale footage on various occasions.

For those of you who have read my trip reports before, I usually do a what worked well and what turned to crap section.  So, nothing turned to crap and we had no gear failures to talk about but the things that worked really well were:

  • Gary's special yogurt recipe (overnight prep so ready for breakfast); and
  • Water purifier/filter (Platypus Filter Review). 

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