Monday, 6 September 2010

camping and fishing in moreton island

This blog is for Peter.

Moreton Island is an ideal getaway, if for a day or two (or a few). It is perfect for those seeking a natural playground or simply to be alone with nature in its unspoiled state. Moreton is the world’s third largest sand island. It is a popular tourist destination but that’s not why i’ve gone there.
My workmates prevailed on me to go with them on this year’s fishing trip. Being mountain-born and bred, somehow the sea does not a have a natural appeal to me. And for some reason, i thought the fishing trips were on boats, and that to go on such a trip would be days of misery for seasickly me.

They’d already organised everything for the trip. All the essentials were checked off including items such as vehicular and camping permits which we needed for access to and permission to drive around the island and camp in a park, forest or similar reserve. I just needed to confirm whether i was in or out.
So anyway I relented. I borrowed a surf rod from a keen fisher friend from Besao, packed up clothes good for 4 or 5 days, and tagged along. There were ten of us in three 4wd cars. My group of three (Bertie, Peter and me) met in the office, squashed our gear in and drove to the port of Brisbane.
We fronted up to a wharf and got directed to the berth of Micat. Micat is a large speedy luxurious catamaran that runs daily trips from the port of Brisbane across Moreton bay to the island, for both vehicles and passenger.
We met up with our other fellows in the ferry and settled in the seats for the approximately 75 minute trip to Moreton island.
While en route we double-checked the vehicles and cargo (loose straps, deflated tyres, ice chests, rod holders etc including the really important items – grog).
Upon landing we immediately drove across the island to the eastern beach.

With our rods knocking rhythm on the cars's laden roof and hood, we took to the sandy dirt tracks through thick forested woods.

Some sections of the track are metres below the natural surface due to constant use.

We set up camp on the eastern beach a couple of hundred meters in from the beach. The designated camp site was grassy, secluded and terrace-like. It’s about 5 metres above the high tide and with enough trees offering protection from the winds. Facing eastward is the vast blue expanse of the blue pacific. Watching the waves roll in to the sandy beach reminds again of the beauty, the greatness of nature.

Straightaway after setting up the tents and mess, we hastened to the beach.

We rigged our rods, wetted the lines and got on the grog. We used waders to repel the wash from the waves but more importantly to keep warm.

Hey these waders are too small!

I put on a raincoat to keep the waves off when i waded in.

We fished until the sun set in the west before we piled into our cars back to camp for dinner.

 Dinner was a grand feast prepared by our master chef. He prepared feasts every evening, as well as breakfast, and the odd lunch, for the five days and four nights we were on the island.

After dinner, the boys started a fire, and we watched the billions of stars sail slowly by overhead in the firmament, until it got too late or too cold, in my case until i got too drowsy (from 'exercising' my arm).

We rose on Day 2 to another orange glow in the east, as the sun had now made it to the opposite direction from where we last saw it, greeting us with its bright sunshine.

With the mind dulled from relaxing (no not from drinking the night before), I picked up someone else’s waders by mistake. I tried to rectify my dullness with a quick cup of coffee, before we rushed off to try another fishing spot. I waded in a few times to cast a line.

As the sun rose, some of the native fauna came to check us out. A couple of sea eagles circled around.

One even came close, daring us. I tried tiptoeing toward this seaeagle or seahawk to double-dare but it must have mistaken my camera for a trap and took off.
Some shorebirds and seagulls came looking for a feed but we could not oblige them.

It’s a glorious sight when a pelican spreads its wings and glides down to land beside you on the beach.

We moved to another beach where we found some more pelicans patrolling the beach for some drunken fishermen that they can wangle fish from.

They tapdanced around trying to hypnotise us, but we stared them down and did not yield the beach.

They backed away and called their seagull mates for reinforcement.

The gulls lined up but we could not be deterred from there. I told them my friends can do a better linedance than them. My friends can do a circle dance - pattong heh. The island might be their territory, but we paid good money to gain access to this fishing real estate if for a few days. "Here's to you gulls", i said as i raised a glass and took some gulps.

My eyes were straining in the bright haze of the mid-afternoon, but still no joy with spotting where the gals, I mean the fish are.

A seagull tried to block our way and would not move off until we paid our tong in fish. Their pelican friends came to assist in their blockade so we had to go another way to get back to camp.

‘White rock’ used to be a huge white rock sticking out of eastern beach. Over the years it had stood steadfast against the elements but is now just a stump of its former grandeur. We found ‘white rock’ still holding the fort.
The rock like the island is changing in response to the ocean current and winds.

The beach is pretty as a picture and vice versa, the picture is pretty as a beach.

We drew some lines on it with tyre tracks. The fish still weren’t biting so we slaked our thirst again and again.

I found a tree overhanging the beach and acted as lookout for fishing spots.
From my perch on a branch I could almost see New Zealand (Hey Philip!) but no fish.

We drive around to the small village of Kooringal in the south, and then went exploring.
The western beach is inaccessible even in low tide.

My company were reluctant to go the 15 km almost impassable route. From the backseat I tried to convince the pilot Bertie, that this was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and that we could always turn back. Peter nodded along, and so we plowed on through the soft sand, debris and fallen trees and driftwood.

We passed some dead turtles on the 15km detour. I believe they get caught in the rotors of boats, get badly cut, then crawl up to the beach where they die.

‘Green zones’ were set up to protect turtles and dugongs, but i don’t know how effective they are, as we pass a couple more dead turtles. We drove tentatively along the western beach for a good stretch but no anxious moments.

Eventually we come to the wrecks in Tangalooma.

We then traversed around the fenced-off and gated resort hotel apartments on the hillsides.

The sight of these fences is bad enough in the natural setting of the island, but even worse is the enclosed and manicured lawn of a helipad used to ferry the rich to and from the mainland.

That night we shared tales with another group who were camping with us.

The drinking, story-telling and tall tales went deep into the night as the fires burned on.
Don’t remember what dinner was. Chicken and pork chops or osso buco, something like that.

Day 3. And another glorious day like the previous two. But again there were no fish biting. So instead we toured around a bit more.

We visited a WWII defence battery emplacement bunker hill.

The views from the hill are awesome.

No sight of a foreign enemy but none of friendly fish either. There are some other wild flora that find habitat in the island, such as these bright dune wildflowers.

Back on the beach Bertie cast his line but only managed to wet his groin. Even the seabirds weren’t amused. After a few casts, we played noughts and crosses instead.

The camp was forlorn at the midmorning breakfast. At least the sun was radiant.
But we’re optimists if not hardheaded fishers, so we drove along the beaches, leaving our tyremarks on the sand, as we searched for another fishing spot.

Later we went looking for the local store, for some water and ice for the beer that keeps getting warm. We did more yarning than a CWA knitting session, but what do you do when there’s no fish?

We tried yet another spot back in  eastern beach.

I set up my rod to on a makeshift pole to catch any fish passing through my section. If only there was any.

The rod stayed still as i consumed another bottle of rum. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
My mates just watched me struggle with my casting form, rather my raising form.

A couple of luxury yachts cruise past disturbing the serenity.

The shadows grew longer, the husbands rang their wives, checking in saying they're behaving themselves and doing a lot of fishing, yeah right!

The pelicans tried blindsiding us for our bait – still no catch.

Bertie started posing with it instead. If it was me i would have been enjoying some pinikpikan that night.

Instead we drove up to the lighthouse on Cape Moreton.
This is a rocky headland at the north eastern tip of Moreton Island with some fishing spots and great vantage points for whale watching.

The lighthouse here was erected in 1857 and is the oldest lighthouse in Queensland. We spotted a pair of migrating whales quite far out to sea – looked like a mother and calf.

We waited for and took a couple of photos of the sun sinking behind the D’aguilar mountain ranges in the far distance.

I asked Pete to take my photo as i jumped the fence (trespassed) to stand beside the lighthouse keeper’s residence. We then leisurely drove back to camp.

Day 4. We started early, before sunrise. I walked to the beach to wait for the sunrise. On the way I came across pawprints that stopped metres short of our camp. This would have been a dingo foraging for food during the night. I also tracked down some seabirds’ trails and found where they were congregating the night before.

They even had chicks with them as the smaller prints tell. We don’t see these chicks during the day. I asked them to draw a map of Australia.

They did a good trace of moreton island instead.

Again back to camp for brekky. Bert baked some damper the night before. Partly burned but good.
After some breakfast, I went exploring the edges of the campsite, I found some strange markings on a tree.

Must have been made by Martians surveying earthling habitats. A knowledgeable person in our group said it's to do with the sand mining leases on the island. A boundary marker of sorts.

I found a dead crab, collected some seashells and little polished rocks washed up on the beaches.

The afternoon distraction was provided in the form of a little driving lesson. One of the cars got bogged in the sand. No drama.

Our silhouettes were a fixture on the sandy horizon as we cast our lines into the surf from crack of dawn to lingering twilight.

Day 5. Last day and last chance at glory. But even the pelican knows it can tease me. I tried catching a fish again (n times) but as the time to go came, I reluctantly packed up my rod.

That’s forlorn looking me.

We packed up, piled onto our cars and drove to the ferry. We loaded in, waved goodbye to the Tangalooma wrecks, and lazed on the catamaran’s decks on the ride back to Brisbane.

Sailing back, away from the island, entering brisbane harbour, we gaze back to see the playgrounds of moreton island that attract tourists from all around all year round.

The sand dunes, the blue waters, the thick forests and woodlands, freshwater lagoons and crystal-clear creeks, abundant wildflowers and marine life, colourful coral reefs and miles of pristine beaches.

These are some of the features for recreational activities like swimming and surfing, scuba diving snorkelling, fishing, sand tobogganing, bushwalking, dolphin and whale watching.

But somewhat diminishing the beauty of the island are the eyesores - the sand mines, the ‘desert’, even the mysterious wrecks, if one is unaware of their history.

 We sail on meeting some yachts and other luxury playthings. Also the ships that are part of the trade and industry that keep the economy going. These container ships carry tonnes of goods and products to and from all parts of the world. And so now i know the few days of R & R are over and that the hustle and bustle - the daily grind, is awaiting.

So how did the fishing go? I just camped :-). The others fished.
Ask me no questions, and i’ll tell you no lies...

Last week we bade goodbye to a good mate. Peter was a most able workmate in the 15 or so years I worked with and known him. He and I shared a tent on this fishing trip. As a team, we also travelled to many out-of-town jobs, on various work assignments. Peter has passed away. His quest has ended. I trust he’s found eternal rest.
By chance i came across an article mentioning Dylan's World gone wrong album. So Pete, I hope  your world's gone right...

I came to the place where the lone pilgrim lay

And patiently stood by his tomb
When in a low whisper I heard something say:
How sweetly I sleep here alone.

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