There to Here – Chesterfield Reef & On to Oz

We’d heard of uninhabited Chesterfield Reef, but there was little information available about visiting there. The reefs belong to New Caledonia, a French territory, and we received authorization to stop.. Departing Vanuatu with warm southeast winds, dolphins in our wake and a kaleidoscope of butterflies off our bow seemed to portend a good passage that was, in reality, fast and smooth. We were not alone on this passage, red-footed boobies hitched rides along the way.

 Brown boobies and red-footed boobies hitched rides en route to Chesterfield Reef.

Brown boobies and red-footed boobies hitched rides en route to Chesterfield Reef.

We approached the reef in daylight, thank heavens, because relying on our chartplotter would have been disastrous. Other cruisers had provided us with entrance and exit waypoints and those, combined with a diligent lookout led us to a calm, inner lagoon and a peaceful anchorage in the middle of the deep Coral Sea.

 The chartplotter certainly didn't agree with our eyeballs!

The chartplotter certainly didn't agree with our eyeballs!

To say that Chesterfield Reef was other worldly is an understatement. The lagoon was alive with sea turtles, sharks, fish and even whales. The small islets were inhabited by thousands of nesting birds … boobies, terns, frigates and noddies. On shore, nesting turtles were laying eggs, crabs scuttled among the rocks and exotic shells littered the beach. It was heaven on earth.

 We were in New Caledonia, France!

We were in New Caledonia, France!

Just a little taste of Chesterfield Reef ...

It was hard to leave this magical anchorage and move on, but cyclone season was fast approaching and Oz (what Aussies call home) beckoned. We continued across the Coral Sea and made landfall at Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia where we checked in and joined up with other Port-to-Port Rally participants for a fine welcome down under at the Bundaberg Port Marina. After so many months on the hook, it was quite the luxury to be in a marina with so many amenities. It was also our first introduction to kangaroos ... right in the field adjacent to the marina. And the birdlife in Australia boggles the mind.

 Iconic Australia ... kangaroos in Bundaberg.

Iconic Australia ... kangaroos in Bundaberg.

It was easy to just hang out at the marina, but friends were meeting us just after Christmas in Sydney, about 700 nm south. We initially thought this would be a quick and easy trip, so we dallied a bit longer than we should have. The weather gods conspired to make the passage more of challenge than we anticipated. Instead of a straight shot, we coast-hopped most of the way into New South Wales, crossing bars, ducking behind islands into calm anchorages to avoid stiff winds on the nose and big seas.

 We found refuge from adverse winds and seas on our passage from Bundaberg to Sydney. Above, Bongaree Jetty

We found refuge from adverse winds and seas on our passage from Bundaberg to Sydney. Above, Bongaree Jetty

Finally, we were sailing past the Sydney Heads into Sydney Harbour and it was amazing. It’s the stuff dreams are made of … and it only got better.

 Sydney Heads ... entering Sydney Harbour

Sydney Heads ... entering Sydney Harbour

We arrived just in time for Christmas dinner aboard Nine of Cups with cruising friends, John & Sean on Active Transport. Alas, the supermarket had sold out of turkeys and we had to settle for turkey shanks (drumsticks) instead, but it certainly didn’t dampen our holiday spirits.

 Christmas 2011 - with John & Sean FROM  Active Transport

Christmas 2011 - with John & Sean FROM Active Transport

The highlight of the season was Sydney’s New Year’s Eve celebration. Oh, my … the anchorage was crammed full of boats by late afternoon. The thrill of watching this world-class fireworks display up close was beyond belief.

 New Year's Eve 2011 - Anchored in Sydney Harbour

New Year's Eve 2011 - Anchored in Sydney Harbour

We also had the opportunity to watch the start of the renowned Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Coincidentally, we were in Hobart, Tasmania the following year to see the yachts arrive.

 Sydney to Hobart Race 2012 begins!

Sydney to Hobart Race 2012 begins!

Sydney is a vibrant, exciting city and we did our best to explore it while we were there. Remember, you can click on the thumbnails to view a larger pic.

A few day trips inland to the Blue Mountains and Australia’s capital city, Canberra, were terrific, but barely touched the surface of what Australia had to offer and just whetted our appetite for more.

 Three Sisters view in Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Three Sisters view in Katoomba, Blue Mountains

We were back to passage-making by mid-January, still fighting adverse winds and confused seas on our way south down the coast. Thoughts of heading back north had vanished. We were now keen to visit Tasmania. We sought refuge in Eden, a charming little town with a rich maritime history including whaling, fishing and lumbering.

 Eden was a great place to rest and sort out our main halyard issues.

Eden was a great place to rest and sort out our main halyard issues.

It was while in Eden, that we chanced to pick up a brochure in the visitor’s center about Gipplands Lakes. One photo showed a sailboat on the lakes and we wondered if the lake was deep enough for Nine of Cups. The draw for the area was the abundant wildlife … wallabies, kangaroos, echidnas and koalas! A bit more research and a few telephone calls and we were on our way to Lakes Entrance.

 Raymond Island's koalas were a big draw to the Gippsland Lakes area.

Raymond Island's koalas were a big draw to the Gippsland Lakes area.

Join us next week as we continue our exploration of Australia and head down under, down under to Tasmania.