Riviera Owner's Trip to Lady Musgrave Island - Feature Article on Boat Advice

Lady Musgrave Island, Great Barrier Reef

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Exploring new places in a supported environment makes the adventure even more enjoyable. The team from R Marine Jones on the Gold Coast go on many sojourns with their customers every year. The most recent of these was the Great Sandy Straits Experience that included a trip to the southern extremity of the Great Barrier Reef. For most of the participants it was a 480nm (890km) trip that would take 7 days, including 3 days at Lady Musgrave Island.
Boats participating rendezvoused in Moreton Bay.  Five boats from the Gold Coast hunkered down for the first night on the north side of “Club Mud” (Mud Island) in the middle of Moreton Bay. Early the next morning, four more boats from the Brisbane region joined the fleet and the flotilla of boats ranging from 33 to 66 feet started their adventure.
Getting There
Leaving Moreton Bay the fleet of Rivieras headed north with the wind behind them. They made their first stop, which was unscheduled at Mooloolaba, about 100 nautical miles north of their starting point. The schedule change was made so the fleet could continue its voyage north in protected waters. It also increased the window of opportunity to cross the Wide Bay Bar that can be notorious to cross on the outgoing tide with a swell that has any east in it.  As lady luck would have it the southerly wind remained true and Cape Moreton did a fine job of blocking the swell creating a welcome flat crossing over the bar at Mooloolaba. Despite the benign conditions, the flotilla was shown the safest path for future reference. Keeping well to the north of the entrance to avoid the shifting sand bar that sticks out on the eastern side of the entrance. The journey also confirmed that the primary swell was a true southerly and the points of Cape Moreton and Double Island Point would be blocking out the swell, the wind was forecast to abate over night and drop right off in the morning so it was decided it would be best to camp at Mooloolaba Marina overnight in the floating marina berths at a cost of $42-$72 per night. Located on the north bank of the river 1.2km up from the entrance, the marina is secure, has showers and laundry facilities and a comprehensive range of marine services are located nearby as well as fuel next door at Brown’s Slipway. The Mooloolaba Yacht Club overlooks the marina and fed the group for the first night before the start of the next stage of the adventure at first light. We were rewarded for getting up before first light with an uneventful passage and crossing of the Wide Bay Bar.
Lady Musgrave Island on a Riviera
The conditions provided the group with an easy crossing over the Great Sandy Straits, so we headed north toward Urangan, a 50nm trip. The Great Sandy Straits Marina in Urangan is at the bottom of Hervey Bay above the Great Sandy Straits, the full marina facilities provided the opportunity for some participants to refuel. Those who did not need to stop pointed their bows north, north-east and continued another 43nm toward Bundaberg to top up provisions and for an overnight stay, their penultimate stop before the magic of the Great Barrier Reef begins. Bundaberg Port Marina is a full service marina offering 24 hour refuelling, hot showers, coin operated laundry facilities and a courtesy bus to take you to town.
Lady Musgrave Island on a Riviera
Lady Musgrove Island
After cruising for 2.5 hours at around 20 knots in conditions that could only be described as perfect with calm water and summer-like temperatures, Lady Musgrave Island slowly appeared on the horizon. It was picture perfect.
Lady Musgrave Island is an uninhabited Island at the Southern End of the Great Barrier Reef about 50nm north of Bundaberg and 32nm north, north-east from the town of 1770.
The island and the oblong shaped coral reef that surrounds it covers an area of about 3000 acres. The middle of the reef has collapsed naturally at some stage in it’s history leaving a stunning, safe, lagoon peppered with bomboras encased in incredibly clear water that is perfect for anchoring.
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Entry into the lagoon is via a deep-water channel marked on the north side of the reef, north east of the island. There has been much debate about the channel’s origins but it is generally agreed that it was created naturally but has been widened several times during the 19th century.
To enter, you need to line your boat up in the centre of the channel, as marked by the port and starboard lateral markers, and steer a course of 130 deg. With the sun behind you and the clarity of the water you’ll find it an easy channel to navigate, nonetheless it’s worth having an extra set of eyes on the bow to help guide you through.
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Formation and History
Lady Musgrave Island was formed by shingle ridges that have been cemented at their base from deposits during successive storms but, with its beautiful white-sand beaches, it is more like a sand cay. Another curiosity about Lady Musgrave is that traditionally Shingle Cays are located on the windward side of the flat reef but Lady Musgrave is an exception being located on the leeward side, like a sand cay.
The islands and reefs of the Capricorn and Bunker Groups are situated astride the Tropic of Capricorn at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. The Capricorn Group of islands consists of nine coral cays, the Bunker Group consists of five coral cays including Lady Musgrave Island. In 1803, Captain Bunker of the whaling ship Albion was the first European to discover the region and gave his name to the southern group. The first record of European contact with the island was in 1843 when Captain F.P. Blackwood of the HMS Fly was on a surveying voyage charting the islands and reefs of Queensland. He named the island after the wife of the Colonial Governor of Queensland, Sir Anthony Musgrave.
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The late 19th century saw the start of Guano mining on some of the Great Barrier Islands, including Lady Musgrave. Operations were only small as greater deposits were found on the surrounding islands and cays in the Bunker and Capricorn Group.
The island was popular with day tourists in the 1930s and in 1938-39 a more permanent resort, which consisted of six cottages, and facilities were built. The resort was managed by a couple who encouraged the preservation of the island and its surrounds. Unfortunately the start of WW2 forced its closure shortly after it was built.
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On the Water
The north-eastern wall of the lagoon, which is a popular snorkel and dive site, is a no anchorage area. The no anchorage area also ensures that boats can navigate to the Cay Access Channel. Anchoring is available adjacent to the ‘No Anchoring Area’ and there is plenty of water, in all tides, and plenty of swing room. It does get a little shallower further to the southeast. Most people come in the entrance and turn to starboard, dropping the anchor about two thirds of the way to the island.
The water is so clear it has many questioning the reading they are getting on their depth sounder but a dive into the water quickly confirms it is much deeper than it appears. The coral heads that also look dangerously close to the surface are at least 3.0m below the surface.
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One of the participants visiting the island for the first time said she was blown away by the bay’s beauty.
Comparing the time spent travelling from the Gold Coast to the island with a flight to Europe she said: “I couldn’t think of a better holiday.  I would much rather be surrounded by whales and dolphins for the 12 hours we were under way than with other people on a plane going somewhere less spectacular.”
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Not far to the east, the shelf drops off to the nutrient rich waters below. Several participants tried their luck on previously fruitful fishing grounds where many a Pearl Perch and Red Throat Emperor have been landed. Several hours later the anglers have landed a variety of fish including Spangled Emperor, Red Hussar and Pearl Perch but the northerlies and the full moon had the prized Red Throat Emperor catching up on chores rather than being tempted by the litany of offerings at their usual feeding grounds.
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On The Land
Lady Musgrave is one the most popular of the Islands within the Great Barrier Reef for camping, it has a semi-protected lagoon and a regular ferry service. Boat operators drop the campers off on the eastern shore and they walk to the camp grounds on the western side. Pisonia trees are the primary vegetation, but you will also find Casuarina and Pandanus trees. The western shore features a concrete slab that once supported the resort, the only other structures are the lighthouse and the composting toilets. You need to bring everything you need for your stay, including fresh water, with you and take everything, including rubbish, with you when you leave. Consider all the shells and pieces of coral on the beaches as a future home of some marine life so take only photos and leave only your footprints.
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Lady Musgrave Island is as a significant breeding site and an important roosting and feeding site for several species of seabirds. Nesting occurs between October and March with some species present until May. Green turtles also nest on the island and there is a small, but stable, loggerhead turtle population. Between November and February, female turtles come ashore at night to nest. It is still possible to visit the island during that period but it’s well worth reading the signs on the island to avoid any disruption of the turtles during nesting and hatching periods.
The days we were there were gorgeous with virtually no wind. On the first night we were treated to a rare double with the golden rays of the sun flickering on the tops of the darkening water as the molten orange ball disappeared behind the island to the west as a full moon made a grand entrance out of the sea beyond the reef to the east and lighting up the whole anchorage with a golden glow.
The protected lagoon and water clarity made for excellent exploring both above and below the water, the morning without wind made the water look even cleaner and more pure than normal. The low angle of the sun and the clarity of the water enabled you to see everything under the water, including the boat hulls, with incredible definition. The sky and the water blended with a blurred line while boats appeared to be floating in some ethereal medium between the two. Snorkelling, diving or just cruising in your dinghy looking through the water was a magical experience.
Lady Musgrave Island on a Riviera
After some beautiful days and nights in the lightest of winds, the fleet weighed anchor and headed home. In a fitting finish to an unbelievable couple of days the southerly winds blew us to Lady Mulgrave had turned to the north so we enjoyed the wind behind us all the way home too.

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