This weekend was a three-day weekend celebrating the Queen’s birthday. Since I have never celebrated such an event before, when I was invited to go celebrate it on a remote island in the Great Barrier Reef, I figured that sounded like my idea of living like royalty.
Just about two weeks ago, I spent a couple of days on Orpheus Island for a class field trip. While I was there, I got to see Pelorus Island from the water and wondered what it would be like to explore it by foot; but I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to do so. But that is exactly what I got to do.
For a few years now the bush walking club has been trying to make this trip happen, but it has always gotten called off last minute due to windy conditions making it too hard for the boat to make it to the island. However, I got super lucky that this year as the trip finally happened.
We left Townsville at 5:45am on Saturday, only three hours after I had finally gotten to sleep. (I was up super late finishing a scientific report and then had to pack everything I would need for three days). So, I pretty much just had a nap for sleep that night, but I was super excited when my alarm went off in the morning and jumped out of bed ready for a relaxing and adventurous weekend.
The nine of us on the trip met the boat taking us to the island in Lucinda, about an hour and a half away from Townsville. We left the mainland at 8am and reached the shores of the beach awaiting our arrival about half an hour later. As we landed, to our surprise there were two other boats making their way to the shore as well. We hadn’t expected to share our beach with any other groups this weekend, but they appeared to be scuba groups so we figured we wouldn’t cross paths with them much anyway.
The first thing we all did once we off loaded all of our things, was claim our camp. We quickly staked out our space under the shadiest area on the beach. I chose to set up my tent on the sand, thinking it would be soft and comfortable. But, I learned that sand packs down hard and can feel pretty lumpy. As you can see below, my tent had a closet on the left, bathroom in the middle, and kitchen on the right, with a very spacious bedroom fit for a queen. I ended up hanging my food all from a tree limb after seeing everyone else doing the same. I learned that if rats are around, they will invite themselves into your tent for a midnight snack and I did not want any of that.There are two beaches on the west side of Pelorus Island, one in the north and the other in the south. We set camp on the northern beach, which was not a softy, sandy beach like I had imagined. It was mostly coral rubble and sea shells, which also has incredible beauty. At either end of our beach were cliffs and behind us was thick island vegetation.After spending the morning getting settled, after lunch we grabbed our packs and headed south to see how far around the island we could hike. Our plan and hope was to hike all the way around. Since Pelorus Island is only 1km wide and 2.5km long, we figured if it was passable, we would be able to hike our way around it this afternoon.As we hiked south, we eventually came to the southern beach, which is quite different than the one we made campon. This beach had softer sand, but it was still much rougher than the sand on my home beaches because of the coarse coral. On this beach there is also the smallest beach “house” hidden behind some palm trees and no trespassing signs. The beach house just sold about a week ago to a big casino owner in town who paid $1,000,000 for it. However, the beach itself remains a state park open to the public. In the photo below you can see a group who boated out to Pelorus for a picnic. I wonder what they thought of us stumbling on to the beach from the cliffs all hot and sweaty as they sat in swim suits sun bathing while drinking wine from fancy glasses. Perhaps they were more the ones living like royalty for the day.
After hiking for a couple of hours, we made it to the southern point where Pelorus Island is closest to Orpheus Island, separated only by a narrow channel. Because the tide was out, this was a great spot for some to refuel with a few fresh oysters. Since I wasn’t able to actually swallow any of the oysters that I tried at Cleveland Bay, I decided to give them a second go. After making some faces good enough to get others to laugh, and reminding myself to “not chew, just swallow” I managed to get one down. I politely declined offers of a second oyster afterwards, as I tried to wash the salt water taste out of my mouth.
The view of Orpheus Island and the channel was crystal blue and stunning. We could see into the water and the outline of corals living below. I wanted so badly to jump into the water right there and just swim back to the beach instead of hiking any longer. After hiking for a bit more, pushing our way trough the thick brush on the cliff tops, our hike leaders made the call that it was impassable for us today. Perhaps if we had packed a bit more water proof so we could take to the water where necessary, we could have made it all the way around. But, we figured that since we still had a few hours hike to get back to our camp, it was time to call off the explorations for our first day on the island.
After changing out of sweaty bush walking clothes, I joined the others for a quick and refreshing dip in the ocean. I am still getting used to the fact that when people say the water is cold, they do not mean cold like I am familiar with. Here the water can get cold, but it still does not come close to the cold water on the beaches of the Oregon coast.
As I watched the sunset, I walked along our beach in search of shells. I found many beautiful ones that I have never seen before. Since Pelorus Island is a state park, unlike Orpheus Island which is a national park, I was actually able to collect shells here to bring back to the mainland. For the weekend, I ended up laying out my treasures on a beach log. I didn’t expect everyone to love seeing them so much as well, but they all really did. Some of them even added their own treasures to the collection and several took photos of them on display.We all gathered around a campfire after the sun had set and abided to the unofficially official rule in the bush walking club that everyone has to stay up until at least 8pm. It wasn’t long after 8pm that I was tucked into my bed though. It was a full and wonderful first day on the island, but I was really feeling every hour of sleep that I had missed the night before and over the course of the whole week.
When I mentioned that this was remote island camping, I truly meant it. We had to pack in and out everything we needed for three days. Below is all of the food I packed. I did well for dinners, but I wish that I would have brought a bit more for lunches and snacks throughout the day, such as twice as much fruit. Thankfully though, I will have plenty for lunch and snacks on all of my future bush walks because I just received an incredible care package from my parents full of snack sized almond packs and peperoni sticks perfect for Australian adventures!
The middle photo below is the package of “7 Ancient Grains” with a mini can of corn added to it. I must say that the grains tasted pretty ancient, meaning they had no flavor at all. But, they had a decent amount of protein, so it was worth it. The bottom photo is the Thai Noodle Soup that I was very skeptical of. However, having it after those bland ancient grains, it far surpassed my very low expectations and is something that I will buy again for over-night bush hikes, even though it is not very nutritionally dense. At least it was something hot to eat that tasted good.
We also had to bring in all of our fresh water, about 15 liters per person. There were not any toilets either, and I must say that I am sure thankful that my dad taught me how to go to the bathroom in the woods when I was little. For many, having to take care of business out in the woods would be a deal breaker, but thankfully it doesn’t even phase me.
After a restful night’s sleep, we all woke around 7am and by 9am five of us were stepping off on a hike into the thick of the island jungle. Our plan was to hike along the ridge line from north to south as well as traverse the island from west to east and back again. We were shocked to actually find a marked trail right away. We suspect that it is from a local orienteering club. They had several check points around the island that we kept coming across.From our beach below, we could see a tower up among the tree tops. Being curious as to what it could be, we had this in mind as our first check point of the day. We found it only about an hour into our hike. Once we got to the top, we realized that it was not indeed the tallest point on the island. So, we took off southward towards the summit of Pelorus.By this point, we had well left behind the marked tracks, because sticking to those would be much to easy and not nearly adventurous enough for this group of explorers. We found the south-east side of the island to be much thicker and harder to move through, which is probably why there were not marked tracks around here. We kept stopping to check the maps and GPS to see if we had reached the summit yet, and we knew that we were quite close to it, but we hadn’t officially reached the summit. We figured that we were just to the side of it down the ridge a bit.
After working hard and not moving very far, we made the decision to rest for a bit while having lunch in a creek bed. My peanut butter and pineapple really hit the spot and perked me up a bit. After refueling, we continued hiking along the creek bed. We were hoping that it would lead down to the edge of the island so that we could then hike around the island again as we attempted yesterday, but we weren’t so lucky. The end of the creek bed was a steep cliff down to the ocean. While this yielded incredible views that we admired for some time as we watched sea turtles, it also meant that we would have to retrace our steps for a bit.
As we took back into the jungle, we were greeted by spiders and greens ants from all around. Being the leader of the group means that you face all of the spiders, however being in the back means that you get hit with the unhappy ants that were disturbed by everyone walking in front of you. At one point, I saw a green ant crawl across the lens of my glasses. This didn’t bother me too much, because there are often a few here and there while out on the bush, but it turns out that this was one of many that I had crawling on my head. I immediately felt them biting my ears, face, neck, and even my eyelid. That one really hurt the worst. I immediately stopped and tried to brush them out of my hair. By this point, I was getting pretty tired from the hot afternoon heat and intense brush we were pushing through.
The giant black spider below had a body the size of my pinky finger. I almost put my hand right into its web while scrambling up a boulder, but thankfully I saw it just in time. Had I not, I am pretty sure that both the spider and I would have ended up at the bottom of the rocks. The spider on the right is a St. Andrews Cross spider. This one was smaller in length than one of the legs of the black spider and had a very interesting web pattern.
As we continued along, we finally found the highest point of the island, which was a bit anti-climatic as there was absolutely no view of anything beyond thick island bush. But hey, we can still say that we made it to the top of Pelorus Island, around 200 meters above sea level.
After returning from this seven hour bush walk, I went on my first snorkel right off our beach and was in awe of all of the life right below the water’s surface. I saw feathered starfish, vibrant soft and hard corals, and the biggest fish I have ever seen in my life! I did not see it well as I was above and behind it a bit, but I think it was over four feet long and foot wide, it was a big, stocky fish. And that is the truth, not some fish story! I am pretty sure that had I gone for a snorkel the day before, I would have not gone on today’s bush walk. In the end, I am so glad I had time for exploring both the land and see at Pelorus on this long weekend. Over all, I think that the snorkeling here at Pelorus Island was even better than what I saw while at Orpheus Island, but perhaps that is because this was purely for fun where as Orpheus was a lot of hard work.
The entire next day I explored the beach hunting for more sea shells, tidal flats over turning rocks to see what was living below, and the water looking at more stunning corals and incredible marine life. As you can see, by this time my shell collection had grown considerably. But, some shells were much to big for me to keep, unfortunately.
Out in the tidal flat I found some beautiful Chiton (second row, left photo), a colorful clam, brittle starfish (bottom row, left photo), a super cool mantis shrimp (bottom row, middle photo), and a little fish.
Sunday afternoon, the president of the club asked me how much water and food I had. I thought he was just checking in, so I told him I had enough to last. But then he asked if I had any extra because he had just talked to the captain of the boat that brought us to the island and found out that he could not pick us up the next day as planned. The winds were too high he said. I thought for sure he was joking at first. But he wasn’t. I began trying to think about which classes I would miss if I didn’t make it to class on Tuesday. But, I also thought about how an extra day on an island didn’t sound too bad to me.
We ended Sunday evening with a campfire just like the night before, but this time we also had some sports entertainment. The Cowboys, Queensland’s rugby team, was playing another state team, but unfortunately they did not end up winning. As we watched the campfire burn, it began to rain a bit. It felt nice to me. I also ended up getting covered in sand fly bites, which was not so nice. I only counted the bites on one leg, and it totaled over 30 bites. But, I would take the bites any day if that is the price I have to pay for a weekend on a secluded beach.
When Monday came around, Keith asked the one remaining scuba group on the beach if we could hitch a ride back to the main land with them. Thankfully, they said yes, at 4pm.
I spent my morning snorkeling two more times before packing up my campsite around noon in a bit of a rush as I was told that our departure time had been moved up to 1:30pm. After I packed, I joined everyone waiting on standby for the scuba group to begin loading up their own belongings. But, instead we saw a few people dressed in wet suits waddle out to their boat and appear to take off for another dive. A bit confused as to why they were leaving for a dive when they told us we were leaving shortly, we all discussed what leftover food and water we had as we joked about not having any idea when we were leaving.
I decided that if they were headed back out on the water, then so was I. And I am so glad I did! This final snorkel was the best one of my entire trip because I spotted an octopus! It was under a coral not too deep below the water surface. I was able to easily dive down and check it out. We made eye contact and I could clearly see one of its tentacles all rolled up under the rock. It was amazing and I so wish that I could have taken a photo of it to share with you. As I swam back to shore to actually prepare to leave, I had a huge smile on my face and a heart bursting with blessing of incredible experiences that this weekend had been.
It was just after 4pm when we finally boarded the big boat with the scuba group. Looking back on Pelorus as we headed for the mainland was gorgeous. It was hard to believe that I had just spent a weekend on a remote island in the Great Barrier Reef. I never would have imagined that I would have the opportunity to do so. In my mind, only the rich and royal get to do such a thing. While I am not royal, I did actually feel rich in the treasures that I was leaving the island with both in the form of once-in-a-lifetime memories and treasures from the sea.
If I ever get to celebrate the Queen’s birthday again, I really hope that it can be in similar fashion.