Friday, 14 January 2005

Heading South from Brisbane ...Dec 2004 - Jan 2005


During a happy hour one night in Musket Cove, Fiji, when asked what we would do in Australia during cyclone season, we started giving it some thought. Many happy hours & beautiful tropical anchorages later, with all memories of sailing in the variables fading away, we arranged with new cruising friends Lynn & Larry Lewis on the American yacht Zephyr to rendezvous in Brisbane & cruise south for the summer.

After a somewhat weather delayed passage down the Queensland & New South Wales coast we finally arrived through the heads at Port Stephens early December, the sky was a brilliant blue, a gentle breeze was blowing & we were lucky enough to pick up courtesy moorings right in Nelson Bay. These are provided in a variety of anchorages on the Australian coast and come with a tag on them indicating maximum boat weight & length and permitted length of stay. They are just great, often available, & as we were to find out shortly, this one was big & strong.
The Port Stephens area is lovely, several Sydneysiders have holiday homes there but it still retains a sleepy, laid back atmosphere with a great mix of walks - out to the heads or through the bush. A word of caution, keep your mouth closed, the pesky flies around these parts were very persistent & the odd one slipped in as appetizer! That afternoon, the marine weather update forecasted periods of damaging winds. We hadn’t heard this type of warning before but it didn’t sound good. So back to the boat & with extra lines on the mooring buoy we watched the clouds gather & shortly thereafter got knocked down to starboard, then to port. Short & not so sweet, over in less than 2 minutes, registered 70knots on the wind instruments but so quick you wonder if you might have just imagined it. Following that we were very diligent listening to forecasts, but luckily have not seen anything nearly as bad.
Moving further up into Port Stephens most of the shoreline is National Park & there are numerous bays, coves and shallow creeks awaiting exploration. Somewhat limited by our 2.4m draft we still managed to get right up to Lemon Tree Passage a lovely sheltered spot with excellent bush walks (well its not bush like NZ but you just have to accept its different). The evening chorus of birdsong here has not been matched anywhere in our travels & was truly outstanding. However the highlight of our stop was locating koalas in the wild, not an easy task spotting those bundles of fur asleep in the treetops. We decided a very early morning walk might find them a little more lively & were rewarded for our 5am start with a mother and baby very active, moving from branch to branch, just magic.

Time was marching on and we wanted to be in Sydney by Christmas so out into the big blue wobbly stuff again for an overnight passage south to Broken Bay. This huge sheltered waterway north of Sydney comprises of the Hawkesbury River, Cowan Creek, Brisbane Water & busy Pittwater. About 90 per cent of the shoreline is unspoilt National Park, there are numerous coves & inlets, many with courtesy mooring buoys again, so we spent several days exploring all the nooks & crannies of this magical spot. It’s not great for sailing as the distances are small & the wind funnels through, but for getting away from it all it’s superb with so many anchoring options. Late one afternoon we experienced our first taste of how hot the breeze can be if blowing from the outback, within about 20 minutes it rose 8 degrees, sure warmed things up! Again we did some great walks, startling wallabies in the wild, searching out aboriginal paintings & having well earned breaks atop rocky outcrops, taking in the incredible vistas. Happy hour creek dinghy excursions were always well rewarded with kookaburras, cockatiels, & all other manor of birds abound in their evening chorus.

Christmas was approaching so southbound once more to our final destination for the year, Sydney Harbour. As an Aucklander I confess I thought sailing into Sydney would be nothing special, I take it all back. Through Sydney Heads, around Bradleys Head, & wow, there’s the Harbour Bridge & Opera House silhouetted against the vivid blue sky. The seabreeze had filled in, we had full sail up, there were ferries, speed boats, yachts, kayaks, all coming from every which way – but Mark had not had so much fun since Thursday rum racing - he was not to be deterred, wanting a quick blast past the Opera House for a photo opportunity. Here we learnt that we can do a speedy controlled jibe two handed if the other option is colliding with the Opera House! Then it’s under the Harbour Bridge, sails down – phew – & we motored up past Darling Harbour, under the Anzac Bridge into Rozelle Bay, where we squeezed into the 2.5metre shallows & claimed a spot amongst several other cruisers. Made it!!!!!

We had a month in Sydney & each day was filled with a new adventure. From our anchorage in Rozelle Bay we would dinghy over to the famous Sydney Fish Markets in Blackwattle Bay then walk 20mins to Darling Harbour or beyond. Alternatively we would dinghy ashore metres from the boat & have a very short uphill walk to Glebe High Street, where overflowing with exotic cafes and deli’s we sampled some of the best & cheapest of Sydney’s culinary delights.
We spent Boxing Day bathed in glorious sunshine atop South Heads with thousands of others watching the start of the annual Sydney to Hobart race. For New Years Eve we joined the crowds on the water & anchored outside Taronga Zoo in a prime spot for the fireworks display. The harbour was so busy we really could have jumped from boat to boat, but Lady Luck was looking after us and there was not a breath of wind. The fireworks were just awesome, not to be missed. We anchored off Double Bay and dinghyed ashore for lunch to mix with the rich and famous. Next we went onto Watsons Bay for a cruisers reunion where all the “doing land stuff” cruisers arrived in their campervans & joined us “still cruising” cruisers to tell stories over a few tinnees with fish & chips.
Then it was over to the North Shore where we spent an enjoyable week at anchor in Little Manly, catching up with family & stretching our legs on the excellent harbourside walks. Discovering Sydney by water can not be completed without a sojourn under the opening Spit Bridge into Middle Harbour. This magical waterway is also surrounded by National Park but with some rather exclusive homes nestled in the trees. The fjord like inlets & secluded bays were superb, again most with mooring buoys, & considering we were there peak season it was not at all overcrowded. Shore access was limited throughout Middle Harbour, but for remote cruising so close to a large city it must be hard to beat.

On reflection of our time in Sydney we would give it 10 out of 10. There was an amazing variety of anchorages & we did not need to marina Balvenie once, they even have a “dial a fuel station”, who offered prompt service at dockside rates, excellent. Was it worth the overnight passages down the coast???? – well, as Tasmania was our next destination, it was just sort of on the way!!!!!!