Cruising Notes


Voyage Summary

Contact us

Website of sailing yacht Tokomaru2's circumnavigation of the world

Crew: Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon

Cruising notes Australia


Compiled by Nick Thomas in “Tokomaru2” a Westerly Conway. 11m LOA, 1.8m draft.                   June to September 2004



You need to have an Australian visa before arriving. This is easily obtainable via the internet for A$ 20. This exercise produces a number which you tell customs on arrival. This will entitle you to a 3 month stay (6 months possibly for US citizens). If you want something longer you will need to visit an Australian consul.

Australian customs must be notified 96 hours before arrival. There appears to be no way of contacting them by HF and VHF is not suitable thus the only practical way of doing this is via email to:

before departure from your last port. Tell them: boat name, names of pob, eta etc.  This may sound irksome but then Australia is not the place you would go to by accident. I assume there is no penalty if you are forced to return to port and therefore do not turn up.  When within VHF range call the local VMR (see below) say about 3 hours out.


Once having checked, in foreign yachts have to apply for a cruising permit. This is very straight forward and you simply have to state first and last ports of your visit. In our case Bundaberg to Darwin. The cruising permit allows you to visit everywhere in between. You do however have to check in with customs at every place you visit that has a customs office. This only takes a few minute while the jot your particulars on a piece of paper. The Customs offices on our route were: Gladstone, Mackay, Townsville, Cairns, Thursday Island and Darwin. At Townsville and Cairns we were able to check in by phone. In the other locations the customs offices were conveniently located near the port or marina.




Alan Lucas’ book Cruising the Coral Coast is invaluable.


The voluntary marine rescue VMR operates on VHF channels 28, 81, and 82. Using repeaters this service covers the whole Queensland coast. Local yachtsmen check in with them even for short day trips. They broadcast weather forecasts and other info at regular intervals.



There are two marinas, one near the mouth of the river and one down river near the town. The former is newer but about a 20 minute drive from town. The marina runs a courtesy bus to town. The marina will arrange customs and quarantine there is a quarantine anchorage which saves paying overtime. There are few facilities in the marina apart from the usual boatyard things a restaurant and bar but no shops. Bread only may be available from the bar. Bundaberg is a pleasant small town with all the usual towny amenities.


It is almost possible to day sail all the way up the Queensland coast. Alan Lucas' book has all the details.

Pancake creek

A very tranquil and sheltered anchorage. There is a bar but with a rising tide and Lucas' book not a problem. Take care when leaving the leading line to find your anchoring spot. There are no facilities here just a beautiful setting.


Another town with a pleasant marina situated a short way up a busy commercial river. The port authority likes to be called on VHF they will tell you if any commercial shipping is expected.

The marina has all facilities and is a short walk from town where also all town like items can be obtained.


Cape Capricorn

A rather rolly anchorage.


Great keppel island

A very charming and sheltered anchorage. Quite busy when we were there in June 2004. From the anchorage it is possible to walk across the island to the resort area. Here there are bars, restaurants and a small shop. The rainbow parakeets will be happy to share your sandwiches with you. The swimming is good here but cold in June.

The Percy islands are supposed to be a good stop but the anchorages did not seem to be very protected in the weather conditions we were having.



Port Clinton

This is part of a military operational area and is occasionally closed to yachts. VMR will broadcast if this is the case or you can call them to ask (on VHF as above). It is a very sheltered anchorage and very beautiful. There are no navigation marks to help you in so Alan Lucas' description needs to be followed carefully.


Island head creek

Similar to Port Clinton



Pleasant town and new marina with all usual facilities

You can hire a car here and visit a nearby national park to see the Duck Billed Platypus. 

Brampton Island

First of the Whitsunday's. A small resort near the anchorage which is pleasant enough but not especially well sheltered. You can get ashore at the ferry dock.


Thomas Island

A very pleasant sheltered anchorage on an uninhabited island.


Cid harbour

One of the most sheltered harbours in the Whitsundays and consequently very busy. You can go ashore for a walk but there is not much there except a camp site.



A pleasant town and marina which can be quite busy but they should be able to fit you in. The entrance to the marina is quite shallow so with more than 2m draft a low water entry could be sticky. The anchorage just outside the marina is also very shallow.


Magnetic Island

Horseshoe bay is a very nice anchorage but reasonably busy so you have to anchor quite a long way off shore. There are bars and restaurants, an ATM and some small shops. There is a nice walk into the hill with a good chance of seeing wild Koala bears.



The last big town in Queensland. Big new marina with a long entrance channel through relatively shallow water. This is the centre for North Queensland tourism and the principal jump off for visits to the Great Barrier Reef. The town is therefore very busy with tourists. All boating needs can be catered for including a very good chart shop for AUS and BA charts.



This is the very last town in Northern Queensland and the last place to obtain any stores before Thursday Island more than 400 mile further on. The entrance is quite shallow but not a problem. There is an inner bar and you have to go beyond this to find an anchoring spot since moorings take up much of the available space. Even so the anchoring is quite shallow. There are bars restaurants, an internet connection in the library, and a reasonably well stocked supermarket. Occasionally crocodiles are sighted here. There are pleasant walks around to view the Endeavour River where Captain Cook made the first European landfall on Australia.


Lizard Island

This is one of the jewels of the Great Barrier Reef. There is a very pleasant anchorage here. Ashore there is a posh resort, a parks department campsite, a marine biology research station and an airstrip for both resort guests and the public. The resort does not like intruders to there site but the beach is free to all. The resort does have a “fisherman's” bar which is open on some days to which all can go. There is water from a well which the campers use; it is slightly orange in colour. However, it is drinkable after boiling or treatment and certainly ok for washing. The swimming is excellent here. Indeed this seems to be the only place we found that was warm enough and is free of stingers and crocodiles and all the other nasties described with so much relish in Alan Lucas' guide and in “Hundred magic miles”. There are attractive walks on the island with good views and a good chance of sighting the 1 metre long lizards after which the island is named.

From here it is possible to take your boat to “the cod hole” at the north end of “Ribbon reef No. 10” where there are marine park moorings on the GBR. This has some of the best snorkelling/diving in the world.

Humpback whales and their calves are likely to be sighted all the way up the Queensland coast from Bundy to the Flinders islands in August to September.


Howick Island

A bleak anchorage in quite deep water

Flinders group

Several attractive anchorages amongst these islands. Some Aboriginal rock art to be seen ashore. Many fishing boats anchor round here but not many Australian yachts go further north than Lizard.


Morris island

A classic desert island. Palm fringed and uninhabited except by birds. A comfortable anchorage in trade wind conditions. It is possible to go ashore to the beach by dinghy. We saw turtle tracks, but not the turtle, on the beach.


Night Island

Also a good anchorage in trade wind conditions but a mangrove island.


Portland Roads

There is a settlement here with a road which connects to the rest of Queensland. The shelter is good and again many fishing boats may be anchored. There is a national park ashore but it would be a long walk unless you can get a lift off the rangers. There is reported to be water available and a public telephone.


Shelburne bay


A sheltered anchorage but there is nothing here.


Escape River

A very sheltered anchorage in a river which like others further south has no navigation marks. With Alan Lucas' help it is not a problem to enter. There are many shellfish rafts, some consisting only of balls on the surface so not easy to spot, throughout the river.


Albany passage

The current runs very fast through here so timing is important. Once in the passage the water was quite smooth although we reached speeds of 10 knots over the ground.


Horn Island/ Thursday Island

The more sheltered anchorage in trade wind conditions is off Horn Island south of the ferry jetties. Ferries run every hour or so from these jetties to Thursday island. There are some small shops on Horn Island as well as a couple of bars/restaurants and a laundry. Water is available on the northern jetty as is diesel for those brave souls who tied their boats to it. It has very rough staging. We obtained water and diesel by jerry can. The service station is situated between the 2 jetties.

The main action is on Thursday Island. There is a butcher who will vacuum pack meat and a small supermarket and various hardware shops.



Northern Territory

Tides are an issue all along the North coast of Australia: with a 6 metre range at Darwin. “Coast watch” – Customs aircraft are like to overfly and call up on VHF to ask for your details.




Darwin is a beautiful new city with every convenience and facility to prepare the boat for being off the beaten track whether Indonesia or Western Australia.

The 2 main possibilities here are anchoring in Fanny bay which is about 1 mile offshore or the Cullen bay marina. (There are 2 other smaller marinas but we did not investigate these).

The anchorage is ok if you have a good dinghy and outboard. Getting ashore and back can be a wet ride as the afternoon sea breeze can reverse the trade wind. At low water you have to pull the dinghy up a long way. There is a friendly yacht club with bar and restaurant. A good chandler is situated adjacent to the club. A bus to town runs regularly along the road outside. The club will give you an info pack and temporary membership. Up the hill, past the prison, there is a parade of shops including a supermarket and a very good butcher who will vacuum pack meat and sells a very nice Buffalo pie.

The marina has a tricky entrance and their chartlet is very useful guidance although we discovered less water than indicated which makes a low water entry problematic. The marina has a lock which operates once an hour in each direction. There is a waiting pontoon and fuel dock outside the lock. You need to call the lockmaster on VHF Ch 14 before arriving.

The main problem with visitors using the marina is the quarantine requirements even if coming from another port in Australia. The lockmaster will have to be given a days notice. Quarantine officials will inspect the hull for striped mussels, this does not necessarily mean a haul out, and all sea water inlets willed be filled with detergent. This procedure will take all day on the waiting pontoon.

There are bars and restaurants at the marina and some small shops. It is a fair walk to town. The chandlery at the YC is better than the one at the marina.

To checkout of Australia you need to make an appointment with the marina fuel dock. Then make an appointment with Customs to meet you at this time. You can arrange for duty free goods to be delivered to the boat at this time also. Customs will also refund GST on any purchases of over $300 made in the past month. You can bunker duty free fuel at the same time. You then have 24 hours to leave Australia or if checking out on Friday until Sunday afternoon.

Website © Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon 2008