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Sydney - Bundaberg - Lady Elliot 22 January

Luck was with us again for our four-hour flight to Bundaberg.  There were storms in the south, between Sydney and Melbourne, but nothing on our path to the north, apart from some innocuous clouds.  We hugged the coast for much of the way.  Like Sydney, there were bays and beaches in abundance, the difference being that these were uninhabited for the most part.  Bundaberg's main industry is sugar cane and we saw plenty of evidence of that on the approach.  Later we learnt that the local distillery was British-run and I felt honour-bound to visit it.  But by the time we had finished an excellent lunch at what is probably the most posh restaurant in town called 'Les Chefs', the distillery was closed.  What a pity!

We checked into a cheap-and-cheerful motel and had a rest to save our energies for the main activity of the day which was to be at night: turtle watching at Mon Repos Beach, about 15 km east of Bundaberg.  Between November and March each year, loggerhead turtles come and lay their eggs in a hole on the beach and  10-12 weeks later the hatchlings push their heads up out of the sand and make their way down to the sea.

Little did we know beforehand just how popular this activity would be. The set-up at Mon Repos is now highly organized to avoid disturbing the turtles. The number of people allowed to see an 'event' (egg-laying or hatchlings) is limited to 70. That still seems quite a high number to me but infinitely better than having over a thousand people tramping around with torches as was previously the case. When you pay your entrance fee, you are given a sticker with your group number. In spite of arriving half an hour before opening time at 7 p.m., we had had to queue and were only in group 3.

Experts are posted at various sites along the beach to watch for something to occur.  As soon as  they see either a female turtle emerging from the sea, or a hatchling pushing its head through the sand, the next group is called. While waiting for our number to be called, we were entertained by a park ranger and a slide show.  After a while we got so sleepy that we lay down on our hard benches and took a nap. Four hours later at 11 p.m., we were just about to give up waiting when our number was finally called.

We followed our guide along the beach and stood in a circle round the 'nest' to watch as one little head after another came up through the sand.  The little turtles tend to go for light, so those of us with torches were asked to stand in a line between the hatchlings and the sea and shine the torches low onto the sand in front of them.  Sometimes they headed in the wrong direction and we had to pick them up and turn  them round.  We only saw about a dozen hatchlings in all.  The experts said that, as over a hundred eggs are generally laid, these must have been the tail-end of the batch.

The next morning, Flemming and I parted company with Ray to fly to Lady Elliot Island.  As the southernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef,  Lady Elliot's main attractions are snorkeling and diving.  Ray preferred to hire a car and explore the coastline.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to fly our own plane to the island.  Only the resort planes can land there.  So, with 6 other passengers, we boarded a Britten Norman Islander for the half-hour flight.  The main hazard on the approach was birds.  There are so many of them that I am surprised none of them got mangled in the propeller.  The screech of birds greeted us as we stepped out of the plane.  All the trees are covered with birds and birds' nests.  It's exactly like the Hitchcock movie, except that the birds don't attack on the whole.  Flemming tried to walk round the island via the  beach and had to retreat when some sea gulls kept dive-bombing him. I learnt that before the resort existed, the main reason for coming here was to collect guano.  It doesn't surprise me - the place stinks of the stuff!  Apart from silver gulls, the island is mainly populated with bridled tern and white-capped nodd.   They neither look nor sound attractive.  Even if someone went wild with a shotgun and killed half the birds there wouldn't be a noticeable difference in population unless, of course, the other half flew away in fright!

The more 'luxurious' reef units with private facilities were all taken, so Flemming and I are housed in a tent cabin.  There is a double bed and bunk beds.  The latter have come in most useful.  We were only provided with a small coffee table which was not high enough to sit at and work on the computer.  But Flemming remedied that by strapping the table to the lower bunk with a belt and resting one of the legs on our upturned waste bin!

As I said above, the main reason for coming here is to snorkel and dive and we've not been disappointed.  Apart from all the coral, we've seen a huge variety of colourful fish of all shapes and sizes, including parrot fish, needle fish, squid, leopard shark and black tipped reef shark.  Flemming even saw some turtles on his dive yesterday.  One can also have the chance of seeing turtles laying eggs and hatchlings here.  But here they only do it at night, near to high tide and high tide has been at the ungodly hours of 3 and 4 in the morning!  We were going to make the effort this morning but were deterred by a storm.  In fact the wind was howling for much of the night.  Flemming was anxious that the cabin would get blown away!

26 January

More success since I wrote the last paragraph.  High tide last night was at 6 p.m. when it is still light, so the best time to go looking for turtles was as soon as it got dark around 7 p.m. - a much more civilized hour for us.  We made our way along the side of the runway to the beach and almost immediately we saw fresh tracks which led to a dark shape kicking up sand under some trees.  We didn't want to disturb it so continued our search for other turtles and soon found another one, this time out in the open so it was easier to make out its shape.  I think that one had already finished laying its eggs and was about to return to the sea.  Flemming took a picture of it and we let it go at that.

We've come a long way since leaving Geneva.  According to the signpost, London is 17,026 kilometres away!

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The approach to Bundaberg with its sugar cane fields.

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Midnight on Mon Repos beach. After surfacing, this hatchling is heading for the sea.

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Lady Elliot island with its
550 m long runway.

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Arrival at Lady Elliot island by Britten Norman  Islander.

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Birds galore! Nesting white capped nodds

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Flemming surrounded by dive bombing gulls.

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Frequently isolated showers approach the island.

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Angela inspecting turtle tracks from the previous night

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Turtle heading back to sea after laying eggs

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It's a long way from home!

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