Some days are meant to be. The Lady Musgrave Island Day, on the southern extremity of The Great Barrier Reef, was one of them.
The boat operator, Lady Musgrave Cruises was booked out Thursday, had a maintenance day Friday then was booked out Saturday and Sunday. After a chat with the office staff on site we were told we could come on Saturday morning at 8.15 am on Standby.
I knew when it rained Friday night and again at 7 am Saturday, that there would be cancellations. It was hard to get out of a cozy bed in a storm, but we did and there had been seven deferred bookings, so Yay, we were on. A quick check of the weather site, bom.gov.au suggested that the storm would follow us out to sea and there would be clear skies behind it.
At $175 AUD per head we were anxious for it to be good day. The crew handed out raincoats to those of us on the top deck and the life jacket safety spiel, “Tie the straps at the front in a bow or a desperate knot, whichever comes first!” had everyone laughing and at ease.
Just as we neared the island we came upon a pod of whales made up of mother, baby and male escort. After several flipper smacks and solid views we started to speed up for the island again and then there was a heart stopping moment when a fully grown whale leapt completely from the water and thumped it’s huge body back down with a mind boggling displacement of water. It was awe inspiring and whatever else the day delivered for us would be a bonus.
One and a half hours after leaving Town of 1770 we entered the lagoon of Lady Musgrave at 10.30 am through the narrow man made channel in the lagoon outer and moored along side another Lady Musgrave catamaran, not carrying passengers, that was in turn moored to the pontoon. Morning tea was served and then groups 2 and 3 snorkelled while group 1 went to the island. The groups went separately to the island to limit the amount of people on it at any one time. The island is a National Park and the lagoon forms part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. No collecting, removing, standing on the coral reef were some of the rules that were explained by the crew.
The water was a cool (by North Queensland standards) 22 degrees, so we hired short wet suits for $5 each which took the chill off. The vibe was unhurried and there was plenty of water to spread out in. Big fish abounded around the pontoon and on the coral reef timid coral trout peeked out from under coral bommies, sweet lip meandered in open water, while parrot fish of all sizes munched on the coral with their buck teeth. I was in heaven swimming with the schools of tiny blue, yellow and pink fish.
It was so exciting when first one and then a second turtle appeared – my first chance to swim with these gentle creatures. There were lots of harmless jelly fish floating in the water of the lagoon and these attracted the turtles. The jellies took a bit of getting used to, but once I realized they were harmless I just viewed them as part of the experience and enjoyed them. They were delicate graceful creatures, not the blubbery variety.
45 minutes in the water went by in a flash and soon we were helping ourselves to the smorgasboard lunch, which was staggered for the different groups so avoiding big queues. The home made salads were delicious and when I complimented the crew member in charge she admitted she had made them herself the day before as she was also a professional caterer. I can vouch for the chicken, prawns, watermelon and pineapple too – well swimming does make you hungry!
Grabbing shoes and cameras, group 3 piled into the glass bottomed boat heading for the island. We walked the gangplank and crunched up the coral beach into an opening in the natural pisonia forest where a crew member gave a short introduction to the island at the interpretive shelter.
We followed our guide down a sand and leaf littered track through the forest where Black Noddies nested in the trees, from eye level up, in nests made of leaves and their own poo. Evidently they migrate from Siberia and number up to 40,000 at times. Sadly some 20,000 die because the gluey sap from the trees sticks to their feathers and weighs them down. They in turn decompose and fertilize the soil to nourish the forest.
Back on the pontoon after our island jaunt, we couldn’t resist another 45 minutes in the water. Determined not to miss out on anything we criss-crossed the lagoon until we got weary and headed back toward the pontoon. Gazing down to the depths under the pontoon, the lagoon had one more surprise for us – a giant groper lazily patrolling his territory. Finally I was content to climb back onto the pontoon, have a fresh water shower and dry off.
Everyone had to take to their seats for a head count before leaving. I noticed they did it twice to make sure, as in years gone by there have been several incidents in Queensland of people being left behind.
After the biscuits, cheese and nibblies circulated, many heads drooped into unlikely positions. The clouds gathered again to farewell the day and back in the river due to a low tide we were ferried in tenders back to the jetty.
Fish and Chips and a cold beer for dinner – does it get any better!