|Queen of the Oceans|
Part 4: Australia
By Capt. Ian van der Watt—February 2002
A trip to Australia was next on the 1998 leg--a welcome, more Western change of scene after the exoticism of Southeast Asia--followed by Christmas and the first part of the new year in New Zealand:
The next stretch of the voyage was to Cairns around Cape York and via Arnhern Land. The latter region is protected Aborigine country, and you need a permit to venture on land. It has the advantage of being almost entirely tourist-free, making it irresistibly attractive to us tourists of course. Anchoring a mile off a town called Gove, I went ashore on the waverunner. Unable to see QOD, the customs officials were amazed to see me arrive in such fashion--not least because (unbeknown to me) the area is famous for its 20-foot-long saltwater crocodiles!
This was not the only time one of us could have ended up as fish food. There were also sea snakes swimming around the boat, one of which even tried to climb into the dinghy with me. And, after hearing about the tiger sharks that also call these waters home, taking a swim was swiftly left off the recreational agenda....
When Mr. Diamond and his guests arrived [in Cairns], I took them up to Kuranda and the Atherton Tablelands. We went hot-air ballooning, floating gently above the tips of the blue gums and paper bark trees, before enjoying the more down-to-earth pleasures of swamp riding in an amphibious vehicle. A marvelous day was made complete by a trip on a 21-kilometer [13-mile] skyrail called the Wet Tropics Experience. Suspended just above treetop level over the forests of Kuranda, you get to see an amazing diversity of wildlife from a unique perspective. Apparently this area has more species of moths and beetles alone than all the life forms on the Great Barrier Reef put together. Kuranda itself was also a treat, with superb bird aviaries and great restaurants....
The wind blew a sustained 50 to 55 knots during our entire stay [in Wellington, New Zealand]. Unsurprisingly, there are hardly any trees or flowers in the city because they all get blown out of the ground. But this was an extreme time by any standards, with at least five yachts taking part in the Wellington to Akaroa sailing regatta having to be abandoned and their crews rescued by helicopter....
Because of the rough weather and the fact that no one could say when calmer times would be on the horizon, the plan to sail to the South Island was abandoned and the guests flew there. After they departed we sailed for Auckland. Rounding the coast from Wellington, it was if someone had turned off the fan, with perfect sailing conditions all the way. The New Zealand coastline is extraordinaryily picturesque and, were it not so far away, everyone with a boat would love to visit.
We saw in the New Year in Auckland where Mr. and Mrs. Diamond and family flew back from their trip to South Island, before sailing up the coast to Barrier Island and the Bay of Islands. This is a wonderful resort area with some magnificent anchorages. A great place to take car trips and see the beautiful landscapes, including the Kauri forests, which are like the USA's redwood forests.
Waitang National Reserve, where the British and the Maoris signed a treaty in 1840, was absorbing and an ideal spot for bush walking and fishing. With its refreshingly mild climate and dolphins galore, the whole Bay of Islands area is definitely worthy of an extended stay. In fact, I defy anyone not to find New Zealand as a whole a joy--despite being there for some six weeks, I have still to meet a single bad Kiwi!
As we went to press, Queen of Diamonds was readying for a circumnavigation of South America, starting along its east coast (visiting French Guiana, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay), heading down to Ushuaia, Patagonia, and through the Straits of Magellan, then up the west coast (with stops in Chile, Ecuador, and the Galapagos Islands). Next QOD will proceed to Hawaii, hopefully continuing on to Micronesia and the Philippines. And as van der Watt says, "The homeward journey we'll worry about later!"
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.