Friday 22 August 2014

Sea Kayaking around Lady Musgrave Island

One of Queensland's best kept secrets is that you don't have to pay a $100's to $1000's of dollars a night to stay on some of the beautiful coral cays that make up the Great Barrier Reef, you can do it for $5.50 a night (at the time of writing)! You just needs some camping gear and a sense of adventure.

There are a number of ways to travel to this island, via the Spirit of 1770 which visits daily from the Town of 1770, via your own ocean going boat, or if you are a bit more adventurous, via a sea kayak.  In the picture above we are having a break in the lee of the Lady Musgrave Island reef wall after paddling around 40 kms north-west from Lady Elliot Island in 2010 (from L-R; myself, Gary Forrest and Eddie Safarik).

Lady Musgrave Island is an uninhabited island around 60 kms off the Queensland Coast and is the southern most island in the Capricornia Cays National Park; noting that Lady Elliot Island is the furthest most southern island in the Great Barrier Reef.  It is surrounded by a very large lagoon, thanks to a closed-ring platform reef which protects the island from the relentless swell which predominately comes from the SE.  An entrance has been blasted into the surrounding reef wall which provides deep water access and safe anchorage within the protected lagoon.  A safe haven and popular drop in place for Yachts cruising the Queensland Coast. 

The island is predominantly covered with pisonia trees and she-oaks. It hosts a number of migratory birds (noddys, mutton birds, etc) during their respective nesting seasons, as well as visiting loggerhead and green turtles for egg-laying/hatching.  The reefs are teaming with wildlife and you are able to catch fish outside the designated green zone.  The waters of the southern Great Barrier Reef are amazingly clear, making this a fantastic spot for snorkeling and diving.

The Fairfax group of islands are a few kilometers to the north which would be a great day paddle if you had come over by boat and were basing yourself on Lady Musgrave.  Further north is the Hoskyn group of islands which again has a natural lagoon and is inaccessible to larger boats due to a closed-ring platform reef which holds a smaller lagoon with amazing wildlife.

The campsites are on the north west corner of the island and you would be best coming in at half-to-full tide to get over the reef edge saving a longer paddle around to the boat channel to get into the lagoon.  The swell breaking onto the reef wall will be very heavy so it would advisable to cross in the lee of the island if possible.  Surfing across the reef is possible, but dangerous given you can't really see if the waves are sucking dry on to the reef platform from behind and holing your boat or yourself this far off shore is to be avoided ;-)

The other bird life that we came across on each of the coral cays were sea eagles - generally one pair per island.  It would seem that their favourite food is sea snakes, closely followed by young turtles.

Snorkeling around the green zone allowed you to view sea life in a more relaxed state than outside where they seemed a bit more wary of the food chain thing.  There were lots of turtles in the local waters and some reasonable sized reef sharks that would cruise through every now and again.

The camping on the island was fairly basic, but there were toilets and an emergency phone.  These days I carry a single side band shortwave radio for weather scheds whilst I am off shore, but when we did this trip in 2010 we had an afternoon ritual of climbing the tower to get clear reception for the weather broadcast on the VHF radio.

Our trip was during the winter months and there were no bugs, and for most of the camping I slept under a tarp rather than putting up a tent.  Lady Musgrave was the only exception to this after I was visited by a rather large centipede in the middle of the night.  Apparently these must have been introduced with some of the building materials for the toilets as I didn't come across these on any other island.  It has been reported that they can give you a nasty bite and this one decided to try and crawl over my neck before paying the ultimate sacrifice :-o

Be careful of walking off the tracks through the centre of the island as the ground is littered with mutton bird nesting holes.  Also think about where you setup your tent as under the trees will result in guano coated camping gear!  Just one of many fantastic islands off the Queensland Coast which allow remote camping.

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