Some facts and figures might add some perspective here. From the Boat Harbour at Urangan at the top of the Great Sandy Strait and the lower end of Hervey Bay, (south of where the 123km-long sand mass called Fraser Island hugs Australia closely), it's almost 50 kilometres in a straight line to Rooneys Point. Here Hervey Bay blends into the Coral Sea.
From the curve in Fraser's western beach in Platypus Bay, south of Rooneys Point at the northern end of Hervey Bay, to mainland Australia near the mouth of the Burnett River, on the coast near Bundaberg, is a distance of over 80 kilometres.
Yes; Hervey Bay is BIG!!!
Yet while the relative shelter of the Great Sandy Strait south of Urangan to Tin Can Bay is a popular boating destination, and the playground for a thriving bare boat charter/house boat scene, the more open water of Hervey Bay is not so much so.
Except perhaps for when the whales are there. Humpbacks frequent Hervey Bay from August to November and whale watching has been extensively and comprehensively marketed.
But you do not hear of too many people trailering their own boats, or for that matter cruising, to Hervey Bay to watch whales. But can that be done? In the best Aussie idiom; Abso-bloody-lutely! And in fact, speaking as one who has been trailering his own boat to Hervey Bay at least once a year for the past 18 years; AND has never been whale watching there; Hervey Bay is a great place to go boating. And to stay true to my established form in this fine publication; fishing of course!
The best thing about Hervey Bay is Fraser Island. And not just because it is one magnificent piece of landscape with endless beaches backed by towering sand cliffs fronting the brilliant turquoise edges of Hervey Bay and all the poetic stuff. Magnificent, endless, towering, brilliant, lovely, poetic, magic, special; think of a superlative and it's entirely appropriate to Hervey Bay.
Moon Point, on the island at the top of the Great Sandy Strait, is more or less opposite Urangan on mainland Australia. From there the island curves away to the north east as the mainland heads off in the opposite direction to the north west. Hervey Bay fills the space between.
What makes Hervey Bay particularly interesting from a boating point of view is that the bulk of the island shelters a strip along it's western beach from this part of the world's prevailing south-easterly winds. Crossing the top of the straits when strong winds oppose a big tidal flow can certainly encounter some pretty bumpy and, occasionally, dangerous water. But once across the top of the straits it can be blowing 35 knots from the south-east and close in to the beach the water is flat calm.
Within the bounds of reason, while it blows from the south-east, which it tends to do regularly in south-eastern Queensland, Fraser Island's west coast shelters the waters adjacent to it. There is, however, a message in here which astute skippers will never set aside.
When winds veer to the western half of the compass, the eastern side of Hervey Bay, that is along Fraser Island's western beach, is a good place NOT to be in any kind of boat. Thunder storms and blustery winter westerlies especially bring out Hervey Bay's dark side. An up-to-date weather forecast is as critical to plain boating commonsense here as anywhere.
Make no mistake, safety and commonsense dictate that any boat venturing out onto Hervey Bay needs to be what would be called an offshore boat elsewhere. This applies to both sides of the bay and before going on to some of the options for exploring what could be called the ‘island side', we must visit the other side, the western side of the bay, which happens to be the east coast of Australia.
North west of Urangan stretches the township of Hervey Bay, a collection of small seaside villages with quaint old-world names like Scarness and Torquay. An influx of retirees and the establishment of the whale watching economy have brought progress to the Hervey Bay township. Previously a holiday coast, Hervey Bay township remains one where progress, as yet, hasn't fallen foul to the degree of excess experienced in Queensland's metropolitan south-east corner.
The best launching facility by far is the public boat ramp at Urangan inside the Boat Harbour. Urangan Boat Harbour is a full service harbour and marina and base of operations for the local charter, commercial fishing and tour fleets. Volunteer Marine Rescue Hervey Bay also operate from Urangan and, with the aid of a VHF repeater on Fraser Island, monitor all of Hervey Bay and the Breaksea Spit area north of the island on MF/HF, 27mhz and VHF distress frequencies. Volunteer Marine Rescue Hervey Bay's call sign is VMR 466 and the all-volunteer service they operate is both excellent and truly commendable. VHF channel 22 is used for general radio traffic in the northern end of Hervey Bay being covered here.
Hervey Bay's other major VMR base operated by Volunteer Marine Rescue Bundaberg (call sign VMR 488) is situated in Burnett Heads Boat Harbour at the mouth of the Burnett River east of Bundaberg. This is Hervey Bay's only other full boat harbour/marina facility offering all tide launching for offshore capable trailer boats.
There are several other coastal villages along the mainland coast of Hervey Bay well worth exploring. Places like Burrum Heads, Woodgate and Elliott Heads offer a coastal holiday experience lost to memory elsewhere. Open water access from these places varies and tends to be dependent on the state of the tide. On the other hand, the Burrum and Elliot Rivers and Theodolite Creek are very suited to small trailer or cartop boats at home in sheltered, although often shallow water. The fishing's not bad either!
Hervey Bay's eastern island-side is quite a different experience. In boating terms this is not an area where anchoring close to the beach in a keeled or fixed propeller craft can be advised. Basically, on the island-side of Hervey Bay, sitting on sand at low tide can be expected. It follows that sailing multi-hulls and outboard or stern driven power boats are definitely preferable.
North of Moon Point several creeks flow across Fraser Island's western beach. Some of these can be entered by boat at high tide. I say some because this all-sand environment is dynamic and inherently changeable. Local advice on the current state of Fraser's western coast creeks is absolutely essential before venturing there in any boat.
At low tide it's usually possible to drive a vehicle across all of these creeks except Wathumba Creek situated approximately half-way between Moon and Rooneys Points. But don't expect to enter or exit Wathumba, which is several hundred metres wide and quite deep at high tide, unless the boat can be bodily picked up and carried across expanses of shallows at low tide.
If you enjoy beach camping instead of sleeping aboard, camping along Fraser Island's west coast is idyllic with the crowding so familiar at popular spots on the other side of the island likely only during peak periods such as school holidays. Many parts of the beach, however, are often not trafficable to 4WDs (again ALWAYS check locally before attempting to drive along the western beach). Vehicular access tends to be from tracks across the island. All the creeks between Coongul and Wathumba have designated campsites.
The National Parks campground on the southern bank of Wathumba Creek is not popular with people coming over to the island by boat because it's difficult to anchor there. People camping from boats at Wathumba are usually to be found on the northern side. There are no facilities on the north bank, but the showers and toilets and drinking water in the National Parks camp ground are easy enough to reach by boat at high tide.
Awinya Creek roughly half-way between Wathumba and Moon Point is another popular spot for boat camping. The channel into Awinya Creek is quite narrow, not all that easy to find, and I wouldn't recommend it except for the short period over the top of the tide.
Apart from the obvious warnings here and being prepared to tilt drive legs clear and allow the boat to go on the hard at low tide, there are a couple of things to be aware of before visiting Fraser Island's west coast.
Locals refer to cornflake weed. This is an algae growing prolifically on the bottom of Hervey Bay, which strong winds from the north and west deposit onto the western beach. On the beach it forms massive drifts, which proceed to decay and give off an ammonia smell soon familiar to visitors. The cornflake weed then becomes covered by sand to await a passing vehicle unfortunate enough to break into its greasy depths.
Thus the warning about driving the western beach. The smell you can live with. Perhaps less tolerable are biting midges or sandflies. Boating folk are familiar with these pests I know, but be warned that they are notoriously virulent here. Ensuring your sleeping space is fully insect screened and religiously wearing repellent when outside will keep them at a respectable distance. Which leaves mile-after-mile-after-mile of unspoiled sandy beach. Some spectacular campsites; water which positively glows turquoise at high tide; whales to watch in the winter time; fishing; and sunsets over the water to die for.
Much was once made in local tourism promotion of Hervey Bay's famous and tasty fighting whiting, then so easily caught along the mainland foreshore.
Whiting are a great family fun fish - if whiting are your thing! Personally, since my kids grew up, and unless I develop a hankering for a meal of whiting; I must say that Hervey Bay's famous fighting whiting are outright boring - at least in comparison to the sport fishing there.
Hervey Bay's open to the north topography acts as an enormous fish trap to gather in migrating mackerel and tuna on their way south in early summer. Masses of baitfish gathered to dine lower down a food chain, based on nutrient generated by the super productive nursery called Great Sandy Strait, hold together a sport fishery par excellence.
Mackerel tuna, and big ones averaging 6kg plus, longtail tuna up to 15kg or so, and the sweet-tasting spotted mackerel are the dominant species. Striped tuna and school yellowfin are sometimes encountered, particularly off Rooneys Point and, the every bit as tasty, Queensland school mackerel and quite a few Spanish mackerel can also be expected.
Lure tossers and fly fishers into adrenaline, screaming drags and the highly addictive braying moan of braided flyline backing unloading at warp speed across snake guides find Hervey Bay in summer and early autumn to be heaven on a stick. And that's not all.
Small, black marlin make occasional forays into the bay. These aren't reliable; but when they're hot they're hot! In one notable Hervey Bay foray back in the eighties self and lady friend tagged and released 20 baby blacks averaging 25-40kg in four days frantic fishing. This from my venerable old 4.5 metre Quintrex centre console.
We've never encountered such numbers in the subsequent decade-and-a-half but always keep an eye open for free jumpers or marlin lurking at the periphery of mackerel and tuna feeding melees. If either symptom is encountered more than once or twice we put in a few hours trolling a pattern of small, skirted lures.
Productive patterns include Pakula Uzis, Mosquitoes and Micro Roaches; or Yo Zuri skirts on Wilson's cup faced metal jet heads rigged to be 15-20cm long overall. This is inside Hervey Bay. Outside, east around the top of the island, Breaksea Spit stretches north of Sandy Cape for 30-odd kilometres.
East of the sand the water deepens dramatically to the very edge of the Continental Shelf itself. In some places east of Breaksea Spit with 100 metres of water under the keel, the spit's breakers remain clearly visible. Getting across Breaksea Spit is an undertaking never to be taken lightly. There are navigable gutters, but without having first sought local advice, attempting to access the unbelievable fishing east of the spit is most definitely not recommended.
Which leaves us with close to 50 kilometres of sand and, mostly, sheltered water along Fraser's west coast to play with. Sand, that's Hervey Bay. Fraser Island is the biggest sand island in the world. Over eons, the sheer weight pressing on sand deeply buried and containing peaty moisture soaking down from wetlands above has formed a semi kind of rock cum hard sand known locally as coffee rock. Where erosion has exposed this, particularly offshore from Rooneys Point at the northern end of Platypus Bay and Moon Point at the southern, coffee rock forms the closest thing Hervey Bay has to rocky reef. Reef fishing in this cross over zone between sub tropical latitudes and the bounty of the Great Barrier Reef, which begins off the northern end of Fraser Island, brings in a mix of species from each. Coral trout and snapper; red emperor and parrot fish, that's reef fishing in Hervey Bay. Fraser's western beach fishes well for bream and whiting. A yabby pump is all that's necessary to provide a ready supply of bait from the larger creeks.
Fraser Island Camping permits - a permit is necessary to camp on Fraser Island. The permits needed to take a vehicle onto the island are of course not applicable if you travel there by boat. Obtain camping permits from the Queensland National Parks & Wildlife Service; contact Brisbane office (07) 3227 8186 or 8185, or Maryborough office (07) 4121 1800.
Fraser Coast Secure Vehicle Storage - lock-up vehicle and trailer storage near Urangan boat harbour's public boat ramps. Don't leave vehicles unattended in the car park overnight, vandalism can be a problem. Phone (07) 4125 2783.
Hervey Bay Radio - call signs VMR 466 Volunteer Marine Rescue Hervey Bay and VMR 488 Volunteer Marine Rescue Bundaberg provide an excellent and entirely voluntary radio coverage of Hervey Bay monitoring all distress frequencies on HF, VHF & 27mhz. A VHF repeater on Sandy Cape lighthouse provides good reception throughout the entire Hervey Bay area on VHF channel 22. The Phone contact for VMR Hervey Bay is (07) 4128 9666; VMR Bundaberg (07) 4159 4349
|LOCAL NASTIES |
Ciguatera - ciguatera poisoning is contracted by eating fish containing the toxin. The taking of Spanish mackerel from Platypus Bay is prohibited by law because there have been several instances of ciguatera poisoning of people who ate Spanish mackerel caught there. There appears to be no problem with other species from Hervey Bay; however, bearing in mind that ciguatoxin is cumulative in both carrier and victim, the writer advises against eating ANY large specimen of ANY species from Hervey Bay.
Wind against tide - the northern end of the Great Sandy Strait between Big Woody Island and Moon Point can become very rough when tidal flow opposes strong winds. Ebb tides flow towards the north, rising tides towards the south. Avoid crossing the top of the straits while strong wind opposes a strong tidal flow.
Dingos - read the NPWS brochure about living with the island's prolific and ever more cheeky canines.
Sandflies - don't forget the repellent! Ensure sleeping space aboard and tents are completely screened.
Breaksea Spit - don't go any where near Breaksea Spit and especially never attempt to cross it without having first discussed it at length with experienced locals.
|FUEL WARNING |
Hervey Bay is HUGE and overwater distances have a habit of creeping up on you. Carefully calculating fuel range is a given, but even skippers experienced elsewhere get caught out by the sheer size of the place. CARRY AMPLE FUEL!!!