Lucinda and the Palm Island Group are the perfect distance from Townsville, our home town in North Queensland. A journey there is long enough to give a going on holiday feel and short enough to arrive in 1.5 hours. This week the weather was perfect for snorkelling and fishing at Pelorus Island and Orpheus Island just half an hour from Lucinda and Taylors Beach on the coast near Ingham.
I had better confess straight away that I don’t have an underwater camera so there are no beautiful coral shots to show you, just one or two taken from the boat…
Getting Ready to Fish for Coral Trout
Buy Pilchard Bait
First stop was the Morley’s Iceworks in Lucinda for the Pilchard bait that coral trout just love.
We decided to fish first and snorkel second and headed around to the seaward side of Pelorus where the water was a little calmer.
This seabird was singing as we left the boat ramp at Dungeness.
Approaching Pelorus Island on the left and Orpheus on the right.
Pelorus Island North Queensland
Pelorus Island lies 800m north of Orpheus and is surrounded by fringing reefs. Coral Princess Cruises have a long term private lease on a patch on the southern land side of the island which their Great Barrier Reef cruises use for picnics.
Pelorus is also known as North Palm Island and as Yanooa Island by the aboriginal community. As we circumnavigated the island I noticed a white rotating turbine on a hilltop which I later found to be a navigation structure built by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, together with a service helipad.
Pelorus Island Camping. Free Camping (without facilties) is allowed. Wood Fires Allowed. Bring everything with you and leave nothing behind. It’s usually camping on a deserted island!
Pack a lycra stinger suit or lightweight 1m wetsuit.
After an unsuccessful half hour fishing for trout, the coral bommie off the back of the boat looked too inviting. The word Bommie comes from the Aboriginal word Bombora meaning Mountain of Reef and is a stand alone reef structure of any size.
Lines were retrieved and snorkelling gear unpacked. Marty’s black and blue 1 m wetsuit looks the part while my faded blue and yellow old stinger suit is anything but. But hey, the fish donn’t care and the bumble bee that kept trying to land on me obviously thought I was a flower.
Blue and yellow fusiliers escorted us over a fair crop of coral but nothing too flash, and no clams or coral trout – but it was fantastic to be snorkelling on a reef – it had been far too long. We noticed scrape marks on the brown coral structure – most probably from the buck teeth of parrot fish as they chew the coral algae.
We had forgotten to bring the removable boat ladder, but all those Gym Body Balance classes and Arc yoga classes paid off and I had no trouble clambering over the back of the boat using the motor leg to boost myself up. I’m fairly certain Marty was relieved he didn’t have to haul me in!
Next we tried another Pelorus snorkelling spot marked with two white float moorings, reasoning that the moorings might indicate the presence of good coral.
My heart started pounding as I swam straight into a wall of white flower shaped corals that looked like an art installation with other coral colours in the yellow range. Beautiful.
The shy fusilier fish didn’t come out to play, choosing to hide in the dark cave recesses instead.
The Coral could be seen from the boat.
Our final snorkelling spot was on the Pelorus side of the channel that seperates the two islands and it was the best spot of the day. I found myself inside a small sheer drop amphitheatre of hard yellow corals surrounded by gently swaying soft corals, smooth hard brain corals and a lonely fragile fern coral that leant into a 30cm gap between bommies.
In between the clumps of colour sadly, were open spaces filled with dead branch coral. The sun chose this time to disappear and the colours became correspondingly subdued, but still a good array of dusky pinks, bright purples and yellows including the only clam sighting of the day.
Fat long brown sea cucumbers sat on the sandy bottom and here the schools of fusilier fish did come out to play. They looked so close, yet frustratingly always just out of reach. They were not the thick schools I remember swimming amongst on Low Isles (out from Port Douglas) many years ago but it was still a delightful experience.
Coral trout, parrot fish, Butterflyfish, Stripeys and a lot of small brightly coloured fish whose names elude me, darted here and there amongst the coral. I think we both realised this would be our last snorkel for the day and we lingered, soaking it all in as we criss-crossed the area, popping our heads up periodically to check on each other, the boat, and to point out special sights.
FA18 Fighter Jets
Back onboard, a pair of FA18 fighter jets flew very loudly overhead – fingers in my ears loudly. No sooner had I unblocked, than they crept up from behind, tipping vertical above us, before shooting off toward Palm Island. We felt very insignificant in our 4.75m boat as they roared overhead – awesome but scary.
Fighter Jets are a common sight in Townsville and these guys were probably up here practice bombing Rattlesnake Island (further south toward Townsville).
Orpheus Island is a National Park Island, 23km south-east of Lucinda. It can be accessed by private or charter vessels. The 12 km long and 1 km or less wide, island is home to the luxury Orpheus Island Resort, the James Cook University Orpheus Island research station (tours available call (07) 4777 7336) and three areas for self sufficient campers (fees apply).
- Yanks Jetty
- Pioneer Bay
- South Beach
Heading down the seaward side of Orpheus Island.
Yanks Jetty Orpheus Island
Rounding the southern end of Orpheus we headed to Yanks Jetty, so called because it was an American submarine repair station during WWII. The old facilities have long gone but the name remains. The pontoon is a popular stop with undercover picnic tables and resident fish to feed and swim with.
There is a 100m Exclusion Zone for fishing around Yanks Jetty.
Fishing in the Marine Park and Zoning Plans
We are always careful to abide by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Zoning Plans and positioned ourselves in our favourite fishing spot in the Yellow Zone outside of the Green Zone on the southern tip of Orpheus Island. Green Zones can not be fished at all.
Fishing in the Yellow Zone
I floated a pilchard out the back of the boat, made myself a creek prawn sandwich and prattled on about what a gorgeous day it was and then… I landed a 10kg Mackerel. Well to be fair it was a joint effort. The fish swam around the anchor rope and Marty untangled it for me and swam it down the side of the boat so I could pull it in. I’m claiming it.
One hook/One line/per person/No Spearfishing
The Zoning Plan does not control bag limits and fish size. That is controlled by Queensland Fisheries.
Know before you go.
Can also be accessed from Taylors Beach 20 km to the west on the mainland.
Scuba Dives can be arranged via Remote Area Dives.
Fuel for our outboard motor cost $50 for the day.
As we prepare to visit Sicily and the Croatian islands of Vis and Hvar, I thought this the perfect opportunity to share two North Queensland Islands with you. At the end of the day we both asked ourselves why we don’t snorkel here more often. It was agreed we will do so in the future – we are so lucky to call this part of the world home.
Do you have islands that are special to you? Are they tropical islands or cold-weather islands?
This post is linked to Noel’s Travel Photo Discovery over at Travel Photo Mondays.