Australian Marinas

Australian Marinas

As the last week of my nine month stay in Australia comes to an end I want to talk about the boating and the wonderful marinas that welcomed us along our way.

The boating is fantastic, I have done 2500 miles of coastal boating and only seen one third of the country, it is big! I have experienced the beautiful cities of Sydney and Brisbane and every coastal town from Sydney to Darwin. This has covered the coasts of three states, and here each state is bigger the Europe. Everywhere we have gone there is a love for boating, Australians love their boats.

Surrounding the entire North East Coast of Australia like a base of a Christmas tree is the Great Barrier Reef. There are arguments about where it stops and ends but from the tale my depth sounder tells we were always in it. Rarely did we see depths of over one hundred feet even when we were many miles off shore. This phenomenon causes a much different type of coastal boating than say the west coast of the US where you drop thousands of feet in a short distance from land. The currents run stronger, the seas flatter, and the hazards aplenty.

The coast is a cornucopia of great anchorages, harbors and bays. As depth is never an issue and the wind from a steady direction, any place sheltering you from the southeast trades is a good anchorage. The topography of Australia is mostly flat with small mountain ranges that come near but not to the coast. This provides for many lazy river systems with long and winding deltas. Many are natural harbors once you pass by the river bars. As much of my experience is in the West Coast of the US, river bars and no stranger and the procedure is well known to me, cross at the end of a flood tide near slack. If you keep to this all the river bars are easily navigated if they have the needed depth.

Unlike our coasts, the depths run shallow, I mean really shallow. It took some getting used to, making way for miles with sparkly a foot under the keel, did I figure the tide right? Many I time I asked for local knowledge and was told, “no worries mate, you have almost a meter at high tide” I was offered a guiding hand several times navigating shallow tricky passages by locals who saw my foreign flag and hailed me on the VHF to follow them, always a welcome call.

Along with all the ports, rivers, bays and islands there are a plethora of marinas for the weary traveler. I had some wonderful experiences at some of these small, privately owned marinas. Many are also part of a “yacht club” or “sailing club”.

Note that here anything with a sail, half sunk, rust bucket, as it may be, but it is a yacht. Power boats are not considered yachts, they are; stink pots, motor yachts, launches, but never a yacht. This took some getting used to and I admit to an angry jolt when asked why I did not have a “proper yacht”.

A “yacht club” or any other boating club name is not what you might expect coming from the US. Here a club is usually a gambling establishment with “Pokies” or slot machines, an Australian obsession. Australia has less than 1% of the world’s population and twenty percent of its slot machines. It will have an adjoining marina and often a great sailing program. It is not an exclusive organization nor do they offer reciprocal moorage to other yacht clubs as is done in the US. The marina will charge commercial rates (never cheap) to anyone regardless of club status. You get a temporary membership when you enter the building which is mostly for the gambling. This is not to say the facilities are anything but top rate, most are amazingly swank and the people—you will hear this allot—are always very friendly and helpful.

There are few, like the charming Cammaray Marina, which are family owned and run. A few are part of resorts, some are government operated like our public ports and many are privately run by larger companies. As with everything in Australia, the moorage costs are high, they vary from a bit over US pricing to absurd. The highest was a small older,plain marina in Port Stephens at $225 at a night—yikes we anchored there for sure. The lowest was $40 and the average for Furthur is $60-70 a night.

Coming north from Sydney I stayed a long while at Empire Marina, this is an investor owned and employee managed marina in the Ky Rang gai National Park. The setting was picturesque and the facilities top drawer. The staff was incredible as well as the venders who had shops at the marina. Next up the coast was Port Macquarie which is a small port owned marina, again warm and charming staff, albeit one guy.

Coffs Harbor was one of our favorite stops, rural town with a combination fishing and pleasure craft marina, amazing natural harbor and exquisite scenery. We also pulled into Crowdy Heads Boat Harbor for a late night stop. The books indicated a much better kept facility than we found, run down pilings with a few fishing boats attached. We tied to four pilings and spent a pleasant night before our pre dawn departure, a welcome all be it rustic retreat from a gusty evening.

We next entered into Southport and the water ways leading to Brisbane. This was the trickiest bar we saw but almost unnoticeable at slack tide. The area is home to much of the boating industry in these parts and the largest boat show in Australia. Here we found cheaper fuel—never thought I would be happy to pay six bucks a gallon—as Queensland has one less fuel tax than NSW. We stayed at a series of exquisite “clubs” in this area until we were north of Brisbane.

Next stop was Mooloolaba, really one of my favorite places in Australia. It was found in a docile river entry and a slightly run down albeit nicely managed marina. From there we were finally able to anchor inside of Frasier Island. This was the start of many great anchorages where I only used 50’ of chain and had 4/1 scope!!

Bundaberg was the next place requiring fenders and lines and again a well run marina with nice facilities shore side. A bit of a drive to town but the marina has rental cars reasonably priced.

The first real taste of the GBR was our wonderful stay at Lady Musgrave Island; we were back in the tropics! This atoll is much like the wonders of the Tuamotos in French Polynesia. Coral reefs that form an anchorage and a small bit of land at one end define Lady Musgrave, so good to be back in this type of place.

Gladstone Harbor was next on the list, nice marina, close to town, even an amusement park right next to the marinas, Ferris wheel and all.

By now we were bouncing from marinas to outer anchorages on the chain of small islands that dot the coast. From Keppel Bay Marina we anchored at Great Keppel Island then to the famed Middle Percy Island where the hook hit the white sand and we swam ashore, something we would not do much farther north as we entered crocodile country.

The next stay was on the top of the “must do’s”, the Whitsundays. I passed on the Able Point Marina at over one hundred bucks a night and a ridiculous ten million dollar liability insurance requirement, the anchorage was very inviting. I will say the marina is very nice, albeit half empty. One would thing they could see the correlation between obscene pricing and vacancy.

We enjoyed a wide selection of anchorages in the Whitsundays, even a few quiet nights at the outer reef. The Parks system has installed many mooring balls in this area, they are easy to retrieve and almost always available.

Our time in play land came to and end and up the road we went, with the ability to anchor more and more inviting. The next town was Townsville, a historic place with a real pleasantness about it and a marina to match.

A few more great anchorages including the mystical trip inside Hinchinbrook Island where we found Port Hinchinbrook Marina had been thoroughly destroyed by the cyclone. That brought us to Cairns, the last town on the way north. We stayed at the bustling marina and became friends with several of the commercial operators. This place rocks and is the focal point to the GBR for tourism.

Weather became an issue so the next stop was a short hop to Port Douglas a smaller tourist town with real charm and a nice marina managed by a large corporation which is gobbling up marinas like mad.

For the next few hundred miles we ran all day and dropped the hook after dark, arose before dawn and did it again. There are a few places we simply never saw in daylight saved for another trip. We arrived at Lizard Island a bit weary of the howling winds and rough seas so stayed an extra day, did a dive and socialized with friends also on their way north.

Civilization quickly left us on the last stretch of the east coast of Australia. This is an area barely reachable by four wheel drive. There are no lights on the shore, no sign of life and nothing but miles of beautiful, protected water and great anchorages. The only company was fishing boats and a few of us all headed to Darwin for the Rally.

The last of our Australian marinas is the strangest. The tide range in Darwin is over twenty feet, every day! And the shore side is again long sloping river deltas so there are no good places for marinas. Never say the Aussie spirit is easily dampened. The have made marinas by dredging out areas and sealing them off with locks. The marina we are in, Bayview Marina, is a lovely place, no current, well protected and well above sea level most of the time. The water level never changes inside although just outside the iron wall is rises and falls plenty. To enter you must contact the lockmaster, a friendly chap, and schedule your passage. This must be done at near high tide as the water way leading to the marina all but disappears at low tide. So for the last week I have slept above sea level, strange concept.

I have thoroughly enjoyed boating in Australia and wish I could see more. I hear the trip west of Darwin is amazing and maybe someday I will return. I want to thank the many people who have made this part of the trip possible and the great marina staff who were always friendly and helpful. None of this would happen without the Australian love of boating, and the great people who travel the Australian waters. I salute the Australian seafarers all.

1 thought on “Australian Marinas”

  1. Brian

    It was a pleasure to meet you and spend time with you whist you were in Brisbane. Particularly good fun was the America/Chicago/Frampton/Brian Wilson concert.

    Fair winds and flat seas mate.

    Andrew & Sonja

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