Alan Lucas recommends a safe Queensland anchorage which has a rich history.
Midway between Mackay and the Whitsunday Islands, at around 25 miles from each, Port Newry is formed by a group of islands against the mainland where it provides one of the few all-round protected anchorage in the entire region.
This non-commercial port was almost denied to recreational sailors early in the twentieth century when Mackay desperately needed port facilities superior to those along its riverbank. A number of alternative port developments were proposed, including a two kilometre-long viaduct from the mainland to Flat Island where finger piers and warehouses would be built. Another proposal was to capitalise on Port Newry’s naturally deep water and develop Acacia Island as a wharf and warehouse site that would be connected to the mainland by viaduct then to Mackay by rail.
Happily for recreational sailors, it was ultimately decided to build Mackay’s harbour closer to home, the 1930s seeing two breakwaters reaching seaward from the town beach.
Port Newry was then declared a national park and left in pristine peace amongst mangrove forests and rocky continental islands, it’s nearest civilised area being Seaforth, which is connected to Port Newry via Victor Creek and sealed road.
Victor Creek bulges with local vessels swinging on moorings in splendid isolation upstream of an imposing ramp and pontoon where fishing tragics can launch their zoomies into the great unknown. Displacement vessels may enter Victor Creek on a rising tide equal to their draft and anchor beyond the moorings long enough to walk into Seaforth for basic supplies before scampering back to Port Newry before the tide turns.
In 1934, four years before the area was declared a national park, a small tourist resort was developed on leasehold land on Newry Island by Fred and Marcelle Wooster who operated it for over twenty years.
A standout figure amongst their regular guests was Marcelle’s sister, Annette Kellerman, an international swimming star, vaudeville performer, acrobat, actress and women’s rights advocate. Born in Marrickville, Sydney, in 1886, Annette attempted to swim the English Channel three times, and during her regular visits to Newry Island she swam daily to Outer Newry Island and back with no apparent fear of sharks or crocodiles. Indeed, she often swam all the way to Seaforth for supplies, bringing them back to the island by hitching a lift. Film buffs may recall that Hollywood’s swimming superstar, Esther Williams, portrayed Annette Kellerman in the film Million Dollar Mermaid.
Two more lessees ran Newry Island Resort before it finally closed in 2001 when it was taken over by Queensland National Parks and Wildlife, an organization that had the foresight to retain remnants of the resort for their historical interest. A decade ago a weary sailor could wander up the beach to socialise over a cold beer. Now he or she can sit at the same arte deco bar and just contemplate nature, or wander around the picnic grounds amongst other remains of a once busy island resort.
National Parks and Wildlife maintains a walking track around Newry Island where ship-cramped sailors can start at one end of the old resort grounds and emerge at the other end with well-stretched and fully functioning legs.
Fringing much of the path are grass trees, some of which are draped in strange, tenacious, spring-loaded vines, and scattered here and there are remarkable green ant leaf nests.
Off the main track a branch runs down to the island’s western tip, known as Sunset Beach, where there are basic picnic facilities and an alternative place to land a dinghy.
On Outer Newry Island a track leads from behind the mangroves across to the weather side, passing an accommodation hut as it goes. This basic walled shelter can be rented from QNPW, or camps can be set up on Newry and Rabbit islands, subject to a permit being acquired. The islands of Mausoleum, Acacia and Rabbit have no walking tracks and all islands are rugged and rock-bound.
There are two entrances to Port Newry; one north-about Outer Newry Island, clearing Fish Reef to port, the other south-about Outer Newry in much deeper water, passing its amazing sentinel, Concertina Rock, to starboard.
Anchorages within the Newry Island group offer protection from all winds, the best southeast trade wind anchorage being under Outer Newry Island and the best northerly area being under Newry and Rabbit Islands. Rare offshore winds can be handled just about anywhere and if working into Victor Creek, anchorage south of Mausoleum Island is a tolerable place to await a tide high enough to carry your ship or her tender through the beaconed entrance channel.
Southbound sailors running the spring northerlies and finding themselves trapped in port by a bout of southeast winds need not despair if the food runs out: Seaforth is accessible and its two general stores promise elementary sustenance. But whether trapped in Port Newry or there by choice, it is a great place to simply relax and enjoy the serenity of a unique Queensland anchorage.