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Bundaberg to Mooloolaba

Written by Cathy Siegismund
October - November 2003

After we had completed checking into Australia with customs and quarantine, we went to the marina office to check-in. The Bundaberg Port Marina is less than five years old and very nice. It has all the amenities you'd expect and is clean and well organized. At the marina is a fish market, a nice restaurant, a tourist info/booking shop, a chandlery, and a nice boat yard with a large new travellift. The only down side we found to the marina is that it is in a residential and farming community with a sugar processing factory being about the only thing within walking distance. It is close to 20 kms to Bundaberg. There is a complementary shuttle the marina runs to and from town a few times a day, but I think this would become a bit inconvenient after a while. However, for a location to make landfall, spend a few days while heading up or down the coast, or to have your boat put on the hard it was a great stop.

Bundaberg Port Marina

After checking in at the marina and arranging to use the marina's rental car the following day, we went for lunch. Going to a restaurant after a passage is always a nice treat. We then set about further cleaning up the boat, I did laundry, and we walked the docks and met some other new arrivals to Australia. We turned in early as we had a long list of errands for the following day. The next morning, we got up early, had breakfast at the marina cafe, and picked up our rental car at the marina office. We drove into Bundaberg past farms and sugar cane fields, which is Bundaberg's main industry fueling their sugar and rum factories. We also saw our first kangaroo crossing sign, but alas no kangaroos were spotted.

Bundaberg is a nice small city with a population of about 42,000. It was loaded with all sorts of amenities and services we had been without for the last five months. After our time in New Zealand, we were more experienced in what land-based amenities we would want and we wasted no time in beginning our "power nesting". We got an Australian sim card for Ken's mobile phone, went to an internet cafe to check our shore based email, exchanged money, had lunch -- naturally including ice cream, went to a gym, got hair cuts, massages, picked up some newspapers to start car shopping, and I got a pedicure. We went grocery shopping in a "developed world" grocery store, which is always a pleasant culture shock after shopping in the islands. We returned all of our treasures to the boat and then went to the movies. By the time we returned to the boat, our senses were overwhelmed and we were warn out from a long hot day of wandering around Bundy.

Clock tower in Bundaberg

We will likely visit Bundy again when we take Felicity north to explore the Great Barrier Reef next season. However, this time we only planned to stay long enough to clean up and re-provision from the passage, wait for good weather, and head for Mooloolaba, which is about 145 miles south of Bundy. The predominant winds along this part of the Australian coast are southerly. As we didn't want to beat to Mooloolaba and have to deal with the opposing Australian coastal current and southerly winds, we wanted to head south in either calm weather or with northerly winds. The winds had continued to be northerly since we had arrived in Bundy. They tended to be quiet to moderate in the morning and would become gusty each afternoon and evening usually accompanies by a thunderstorm. Even though the winds were predicted to be a bit strong, we decided to head for Mooloolaba before the winds shifted to the south.

Route from Bundaberg to Mooloolaba

We left early the next morning, but not soon enough to avoid a little excitement trying to back out of the slip, which are oriented perpendicular to the prevailing winds. We did the full-keel-boat-docking-dance, trying to back straight, having our bow caught in the wind, falling off, trying again, all with nervous owners of boats watching the spectacle. Amazingly after several failed attempts to spin Felicity around into the strong wind so we would motor out of the marina aisle, Ken just threw it into reverse and backed all the way out the aisle! This was a shocking feat as we normally back like a loaf of bread and never in a straight line. We then motored out the river entrance and were soon having a pleasant sail in 25 knot winds on the quarter as we made our way south across Hervey Bay toward Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Strait.

Approaching the Great Sandy Strait from Hervey Bay

Fraser Island, Australia's largest off-shore island, is a huge 120 km long sandbar. The island is one big recreational site and national park famed for 4x4 driving tracks around and through the island. There are over 200 fresh water lakes, numerous  campsites,  and it is the home to many dingoes. The Great Sandy Strait separates Fraser Island from the mainland. As you can imagine it is a narrow winding network of shifting sandbars. Fortunately, we purchased a good chart and the channel was well marked. That day we crossed Hervey Bay, entered the Sandy Strait and decided to anchor just inside the Strait around the corner of Woody Island, which offered protection from the northerly winds.

Anchored off Woody Island

The Straits are quite shallow in places even within the channel. We anchored in about 10 feet of water at what we thought was low tide. The wind was blowing quite hard and the strong currents opposing the wind often had us sitting over the top of our anchor.

Felicity's anchor chain pulled out directly aft of us with the strong opposing winds and currents in the Great Sandy Strait

With a goal of reaching Mooloolaba before some predicted strong wind warnings, which were to be followed by southerlies, we did not plan to spend any time exploring the Sandy Strait. We turned in early and set our alarm to get an early start the next morning. At about 0230, I woke up laying under the shelf on the side of the bulkhead in the v-berth. Even in my 0230 fog, I knew were aground. DOH! We weren't paint-the-bottom-of-the-boat aground, but we were on about 25 degrees of heal and not moving. We figured we were anchored in about 6 inches too little water. The tide however, was starting to turn, so we just went back to sleep. You've got to love those full keel boats. At least it was all sand, and dark so we weren't busted by the power boat anchored near us.

The next morning, we were thankfully again afloat, and got an early start so we could ride the incoming tide south to the middle of the Strait. Several hours later, after a fast ride of motoring at 7-8 knots with the tide,  we reached the middle of the Strait. The tide turned, and we got to then ride the ripping outgoing tide and continue our 7-8 knot motor to the southern end of the Strait.

Coast of Fraser Island from the Great Sandy Strait

The tides and currents in the Sandy Strait are quite a bit like those you find in Desolation Sound. We anchored for lunch and a little siesta near the southern entrance of the Strait. We wanted to wait for slack water to exit the Strait at a sand bar, which can have very strong currents and the crossing can be a bit dodgy if not planned well. We left at about 1330 and had a nice sail to Mooloolaba, except for some rather disconcerting thunder storms accompanied by an impressive lightening show that night.

We arrived at the entrance to the Mooloolah River at about 0130. We had originally planned to heave to, then decided we could handle a night entrance as the channel and entrance to the Mooloolaba Yacht Club Marina looked very well marked on our charts. The entrance was clearly marked and had good range markers. The entrance was narrow and a little scary, especially at low water, but we safely made it and found a slip. We were tied up and ready to turn in by 0230 Sunday morning, October 26. The next morning we awoke early to the sounds of a busy weekend marina. There were kids in sailing dinghies, the noises of the neighboring fishing and pawn boat fleet, competition surf boats, and people going out to enjoy the glorious Sunshine Coast weather. The marina was also bustling with an Etchell youth regatta, which was being postponed due to high winds.


Despite the sign and buildings being a little tattered around the edges the marina is quite nice

Mooloolaba Yacht Club Marina

Kids in sailing dinghies off Felicity's stern is a typical weekend site

The marina office was closed, but we checked in and got marina keys from the Yacht Club office.  The Mooloolaba Yacht Club Marina is located on the Mooloolah River, and is across the street from a lovely wind sand surf beach. Mooloolaba and closely neighboring Maroochydore, collectively called Maroochy, are resort/surf communities on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. Mooloolaba is about 90 km north of Brisbane. The town has a series of high rise vacation rental/hotels, condos, restaurants and numerous surf shops along the beach. A few blocks inland you find lovely large homes lining the canals of the river, similar to what you'd find in Florida.


View from the stern of Felicity of the canal homes on the Mooloolah River

We wandered the docks and soon met some friends, Stacey and Michelle from Orion. They gave us the lay of the land and a ride into town so we could rent a car. We were excited to be in Australia and couldn't believe the beautiful weather. We had a little trouble finding a mid-sized rental, but "surprisingly, had no trouble upgrading to a BMW convertible. It was a splurge, but it was great fun to drive.

The following week, we checked into the marina, moved to our permanent slip got hooked up to their wireless network and continued our power nesting. We both got new phones, joined gyms, and started car shopping. We made 3 trips into Brisbane, as there were more used car dealers and it was of course an excuse to explore driving the convertible. We wanted a big comfortable car for the long distance touring we plan to do while in Australia and had also decided on a 4x4. We started cheap and in our typical fashion ended up-selling ourselves to a fairly late model but very nice Land Rover Discovery.

Ken getting the keys to our new car

We took a fair bit of ribbing from the cruisers at the marina, as we parked our new car and our soon to be returned rental car in the marina parking lot.

The (temporarily) two car cruising couple

By the end of the week, we were pretty well "nested" and were ready to celebrate Halloween. Of course, Halloween isn't really celebrated much outside the US, but Stacey on Orion and I decided we were going to make a go of it on our dock regardless. There are a fair number of cruising kids on two of the docks at the marina so we knew there were going to be some trick-or-treaters about. We set off to the grocery store to find pumpkins. Go figure, in tropical Queensland in the summer there really isn't a large selection of big orange pumpkins. Wandering the produce aisle we eyed some rather small squash and large eggplant trying to envision them carved with scary faces. After some discussion, we settled on watermelon! They were large, easy to carve and better than pumpkin as you could snack on the insides as you carved.

Watermelon Jack-O-Lantern on Felicity's bow

Cath, more dressed up than most of the kids, handing out candy on Halloween

Over the next couple of weeks we have continued to settle back into marina life. We've explored several towns up and down the Sunshine Coast from Brisbane to Noosa. We have also enjoyed the fantastic location of the marina. We're a few minutes walk from the beach and Mooloolaba's Esplanade, a dining and shopping street, that runs along the beach.


Mooloolaba Beach



Mooloolaba's Esplanade

Each weekend the beaches fill with families, surfers and sun-worshipers all carefully watched over by Australian's famed lifeguards in their signature red and yellow caps. One weekend, while on my daily trip to Starbucks, I happened on one of Mooloolaba's surf boat competitions.



Mooloolaba Surf Boat Competition

We also celebrated Ken's birthday, for the first time in 2 years, not on a passage from the tropics to New Zealand. We went up into the Blackball mountains just west of the Sunshine Coast where we stayed at a lovely B&B and had dinner in one of the small towns.

View from the deck in our room at the B&B

Felicity is clean, hooked to shore power, and settled in for cyclone season at the Mooloolaba Yacht Club Marina. We will be flying home in December for a visit. It will be Ken's first time back in Seattle in over 3 years and mine in almost 2. We look forward to seeing friends and family. When we return we plan to enjoy the Sunshine Coast, explore Australia by land and air, and host several visitors from home.

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