Standing on top of Mt Cook felt amazing. Here we were with our feet planted on the very ground that Captain Cook stood 245 years ago when he was desperately seeking a way through the dreaded barrier reef into the safety of the open sea, after repairing his ship Endeavour at Cooktown.
The long, steep trudge (no steps cut out of the rock for him) up to the top of what later became Mount Cook was well worth the struggle. For there, between mile after mile of dangerous fringing reef, Cook sighted three gaps that would potentially allow escape from the grips of the cruel reef that had already almost “done for” the Endeavour and its crew.
I can well imagine the floods of emotion and relief that Cook must have felt on discovering the escape route. His boat was safe, his crew were going to live, he was going to see his family again!
To make his run to safety, Captain Cook selected what later became known as Cook’s Passage. We, on the other hand, when seeking a way through the Barrier Reef a mere 28 years ago, opted for One Mile Passage (probably because it sounded nice and wide with less chance of hitting coral).
Unlike Captain Cook we wanted to find a way in, not the way out.
We had just sailed across the Coral Sea on our way back from Papua New Guinea and it had been a horrible crossing. All we wanted after four long days and nights beating into the wind was the safety and calm of the anchorage in Watson’s Bay at Lizard Island.
We were exhausted after battling extremely high winds with waves breaking over our decks and which were at times, almost as high as our mast. We had fully reefed our mainsail and had a tiny storm stay sail up and still rocketed along.
For each of the four days and nights we stayed down below, popping our heads up every 15 minutes to check for other craft around us, hazards etc.
We were buffeted around so much it was even impossible to boil the kettle, let alone cook anything
Thankfully we had met a delightful group of people in Port Moresby and one, a Canadian called Nancy had made us a delicious coffee, sour cream.and walnut cake as a farewell gift which we ate for breakfast , lunch and dinner during the nightmare trip.
The cake recipe has since that time been called “Nancy’s Lifesaver cake”.
We arrived at One Mile Passage in the very early hours and it was still pitch dark. In those days there were no electronics to tell you where you were or to guide you through hazards, reefs or shallow water. Instead, we had to wait until there was enough light to take sights and calculate exactly where we were.
With the greatest reluctance we had to turn back where we had come from and wait for sunrise before turning back to find the One Mile Passage.
Our brains were so tired and befuddled we couldn’t think how to calculate the reciprocal course and Jonathan still swears that he had even forgotten how to turn the boat around. However, eventually we worked it out and at first light we made our way through the reef to anchor and have a long, long sleep.
Because we hadn’t cleared customs or had our passports stamped we weren’t allowed ashore at Lizard Island which was so frustrating as it looked tantalisingly beautiful.
This time it was different and going ashore was all the more delightful as we had waited such a long time to get there!
It was a wonderful walk up. Mount Cook with spectacular views and lots of unusual bird calls. We saw a highly colourful parrot with a bright red beak, but otherwise the wildlife remained hidden in the bush. The only wildlife Captain Cook saw were lizards – hence the name of the island.
Half way up the steep climb on a sloping ledge of rock, Telstra users were able to receive a telephone/ Internet signal. Crouched on the rock, yachties of all shapes and sizes were bent over their lap tops, iPads and phones busy texting, emailing and talking to family, friends, insurance companies, and trades people. All getting their last communication “fix” until we arrive at Thursday Island in a week or ten days time.
We left the “internet cafe” and walked for another hour or so before reaching the summit where we met a few others on the rally. We put a stone on the Cairn, and signed the visitors book kept in an old wooden crate along with a lot of pens and one muesli bar
This stunning spot has a much earlier history than that of Captain Cook, it is also a sacred place for the Aboriginal people of Lizard Island. Large stones, used in ceremonies for thousands of years still remain and we wondered what these meant to those who held them sacred and hoped we weren’t dishonouring them by tramping over the ground around them.
On another walk, to the lagoon on the other side of the island, visitors were asked not to walk among the grove of Pandanus trees as the area held special meaning to the Aboriginal people of this area. As we walked passed them we wondered:
Did Captain Cook know the Aboriginal people were there? They would have certainly known that he had landed on the island
If the rocks could talk what stories they would tell…..