After spending a few days on shore at Cairns, we were ready to set sail again for the Low Isles and Port Douglas.
Some highlights from this week’s sailing log were exploring the Low Isles, spotting our first wild saltwater crocodile in Port Douglas and swimming with reef sharks!
By Olly Gaspar, traveler, travel blogger & photographer for 5+ years with 600+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.
North to The Low Isles
The Low Isles are located roughly 35 nautical miles north from Cairns. It’s a popular spot for people to visit for snorkeling and exploring since it is only a short boat ride from Port Douglas.
We departed Cairns Harbour at first light, and enjoyed light to fresh winds from the South, which gently pushed Malaika North towards the tropical islets.
Exploring the Low Isles
The Low Isles is a small islet pair consisting of the smaller Low Island and a larger adjacent island known as Woody Island. Between the two is a shallow reef, with some parts even drying above sea level at low-tide.
Low Island has a famous lighthouse, which some opportunistic Eagles have used to create a large nest in. There are also several buildings to accommodate permanent caretakers, who are paid by Queensland Parks to live on the island.
In fact, Low Islands recently got some publicity for the advertisement of this dream caretaker job in news outlets across Australia. It definitely wouldn’t be a bad gig!
Low Isles Anchorage Information
For sailors, there are at least three blue Queensland Parks buoys that are available for cruisers and sailors on a 24-hour basis. We found that the best ones were the South-western most buoys since they offered the best protection from incoming swell, which seems to make its way through the middle of the two islets during high-tide.
Snorkeling With Reef Sharks
The Low Isles was our real first taste of the real Great Barrier Reef experience. The entire islet is covered with reef, most of which is very healthy. There were huge groups of Mackerel, thousands of schooling fish and large, healthy coral heads.
However, we did notice that there was some bleaching, a sad sight to see and a reminder of the horrific impacts of climate change.
We were also fortunate to spot several blacktip reef sharks which decided to circle Malaika for several hours at our mooring.
Feeding Bat Fish
For sailors and even tourists visiting the Low Isles via an organized boat transfer, you’ll probably notice the local batfish, who approach boats in hopes of getting a feed.
We had the same two hang around our aft diving platform during our entire stay on the Low Isles. Below are some shots I managed to snap of them feeding on the surface.
Port Douglas Bound
Of course, the late July trade-winds began to rile up toward the end of the week, forcing us to head back inshore towards Port Douglas a day or two earlier than planned.
Nevertheless, sailing into Port Douglas was a rewarding and special moment for the crew, who knew they had come as far North as planned for this voyage.
Port Douglas Anchorage
We were told of several council pile moorings that are available along the channel into Port Douglas for as cheap as $20 a week. However, as we entered, we knew it would be a little tight trying to fit our 15-meter steel motorsailer into those tight space.
Instead, we motored past the marina and sailing club and searched for a place to lay anchor at the end of the channel, deeper in the creek.
Here we met a lively character who lived on his “drink-aboard”, and helped us choose the most convenient anchorage location, beer in hand at 11 am.
First Wild Crocodile!
Our first wild crocodile sighting, in Port Douglas of all places! Less than 50 meters from our boat, on the banks of the mangrove, was a 1.5-meter crocodile basking in the sun.
We were pretty excited, so we took the tender for a closer look in hopes of snapping some photos.
Exploring Port Douglas
We had plenty of time to explore Port Douglas, including some short hikes and checking out 4-mile beach.
It’s a crazy place and it’s easy to see why they picked it for the set of one of my favourite movies; Fools Gold.
Working in the Mangroves
Since the trades were being stubborn, we decided that heading out to the reef and outer islands wouldn’t be the best idea. Instead, we took the opportunity to spend a couple of days exploring Port Douglas and working in the mangroves.
After only half a week, we were covered in sand-fly bites, on a constant lookout for crocodiles and more than ready to head back into bluer water. I don’t know how the guys live in the creeks on boats, but I’m sure the beers help a bunch.