Queensland: Be seduced by Lady Musgrave Island

By Jennifer Ennion

Jennifer Ennion braves the journey to Lady Musgrave, the second-southernmost island in the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef beneath Lady Musgrave teems with sea-life, and the island is home to green and loggerhead turtles between November and February. Photo / Thinkstock
Great Barrier Reef beneath Lady Musgrave teems with sea-life, and the island is home to green and loggerhead turtles between November and February. Photo / Thinkstock

The swell rears its ugly head at a queasy three metres. The wind lashes the boat at 30 knots.

A middle-aged Italian man is bent over, hands on head, shirt off, back sweaty, and we haven't even left the marina yet.

Being able to pride oneself on having a tough belly is a badge of honour intrepid travellers wear, and I have mine firmly pinned to my chest for all to see.

As we cross the Coral Sea I ignore the Italian sitting in front of me, and the sweaty tub of a man who is encroaching onto my seat beside me - he, too, in dire straits.

I try to enjoy the wind in my face and the refreshing salt spray on my body, yet it is hard to ignore all of the people in pain.

"Just keep looking at the horizon,'' my husband tells me as he laps up the sunshine.

"I already am and it's not working,'' I want to scream, but I hold my tongue.

Stay calm and focused, I tell myself. The boat's not moving at all. It's just a little rubber ducky bobbing in a bath.

But my stomach won't swallow the lies; it's doing backflips and is already too far gone.

The double-decker tour boat slaps against the waves the entire hour-and-a-half it takes to reach the coral cay around Lady Musgrave Island, situated off Queensland's Discovery Coast. And my sturdy stomach is nowhere to be seen.

I continue my horizon mantra but it doesn't work. It is inevitable that five minutes before we moor I too am hunched over, head between knees, plastic bag around mouth.

However, determined to prove my belly is made of steel I soldier on. Seasickness isn't going to win.

Leaving the top deck of the boat, as others sit moaning in pain, I board a glass-bottomed vessel and putt over to Lady Musgrave.

It is gorgeous - unbelievably untouched. It is the second-southernmost island in the Great Barrier Reef, with Seventeen Seventy being its nearest mainland town. (Lady Elliot Island is the southern-most.)

It's not as well known as its siblings up north (Hayman, Hamilton, Daydream) because there are no artificial attractions - no windsurfers for hire, no five-star hotels and no cocktail bar.

Musgrave is about getting back to nature, and what a beautiful specimen she is.

This Lady is home to a number of bird species including white-capped noddy terns, silver gulls and wedge-tailed shearwaters.

The terns nest in the flourishing pisonia trees, found covering the 14-hectare island.

As we take a short tour we stare up into the tree branches where a healthy population of terns is looking down at us.

After the shore excursion we enjoy hours of snorkelling in the aqua lagoon, and to my delight green turtles grace us with their presence.

Green and loggerhead turtles nest on Lady Musgrave between November and February. Camping is allowed on the island but is prohibited in February and March, to protect turtle hatchlings. Camping is also limited to 40 people and there are no toilets or fresh water.

After snorkelling we head back to Seventeen Seventy. The wind has eased only a little but doesn't pose a problem as this time we're heading with it.

Still, I am glad when I disembark, the queasiness of seasickness slightly lingering.

In the evening we watch the sunset over the creek from our site at 1770 Camping Grounds.

Situated on a peninsular near Joseph Banks Conservation Park, Seventeen Seventy is a quiet place. Although it does attract backpackers it stands far apart from the hot spots of Airlie Beach up north or Noosa further south.

The town gets its name from the year Captain James Cook landed at its shore in the Endeavour.

A short walk from the campsite up a hill is a stone structure in Cook's honour. Every year the town also hosts the Captain Cook 1770 Festival.

From the monument and through the bush you get a great view of Eurimbula National Park, which sits to the north of Round Hill Creek. From further up the road the outlook is even more impressive.

If you're fond of a spot of fishing, follow the path leading back to the water where you can cast a line off rocks or from the sand beside the mangroves.

If that sounds a little too sedate, jump in a fourbie and head out of town to Deepwater National Park. The park is south of Agnes Water and fun to explore, offering a fairly gentle 4WDing experience, despite occasional corrugations.

Once you've exhausted yourself exploring, head back to camp, crack a cold beer and pray the remainder of your trip passes slowly. After all, you may find you're unable to escape the attentions of a little Lady called Musgrave.

IF YOU GO:

GETTING THERE:

The main highways and most of the roads into Seventeen Seventy are tarred and are no issue for small cars or caravans, however if you want to explore the national parks you will need a 4WD. Gladstone to the north and Bundaberg to the south are both about 120km away. There are a few roads that lead to the Discovery Coast, including the Bruce Highway if you're driving south, the Isis Highway if you're coming from the south-west, and Bundaberg Lowmead Road if you choose to pass through Bundaberg. Just be sure to have a map so you pick the right turn-offs.

STAYING THERE:

1770 Camping Grounds is situated right on the waterside along Captain Cook Drive. There are large powered and unpowered camping and caravan sites, clean amenities, a laundry, free barbecues and a camp kitchen. Visitors can hire boats, kayaks and canoes, while reception has basic groceries. For more information call (07) 4974 9286 or check out 1770campingground.com.au.

PLAYING THERE:

Seventeen Seventy is pleasant all year, however be mindful of Queensland's wet summer months that may make trips into the water a little wild. It's also a popular destination for Christmas and Easter holidays so avoid these times if you want to steer clear of crowds.

To find out more about Lady Musgrave Island go to ladymusgraveisland.com.

- AAP

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