Innisfail, in the dry season
Reviewed Oct 2017
We spent a week at Innisfail in early September 2017.
If you are looking for shelter, don't need to reprovision etc and are pressed for time, then Mourilyan Harbour, some 6.5 nm S of the Johnstone River mouth, may be a better option.
The Johnstone is not a straight-forward anchorage to enter, nor are some parts of the river that deep. Innisfail vies with nearby Ingham and Tully (and a host of other surrounding locales) for the badge of honour declaring it Australia's wettest region. Therefore, the river floods fairly regularly, so shoals can shift about.
Having said that, Innisfail is a charming town - the Art Deco capital of Australia, after most of the town was flattened by particularly nasty cyclone in 1918. One peculiarity of a historical perspective was the place was called "Geraldton" until about 1913. A coastal trader was expected with much needed supplies was due from an interstate port. It became well overdue. Upon making further enquiry, the vessel had indeed reached what the shipping agents thought was its intended port - just that it was on WA's mid west coast! The good citizens of the Qld town called a public meeting and got the wheels in motion to bring on a name change.
Back to navigating this river... the bar is wide, around 0.9nm. Shelter from the NE for the last two thirds is provided by Flying Fish Point. There is meant to by a Fairway Beacon (red and white barber's like pole, as found at Lucinda) in deep water at the bar entry. From talking to the locals, I suspect that got too hard for MSQ. Apparently, it's pretty handy to start near where the Fairway Beacon should be. After that, there are red and green buoys about 0.25 nm SSE of Flying Fish Point - then you head to the red buoys near the river entrance proper. (I haven't provided the first waypoint, as I suspect it shifts around a bit!)
Without local knowledge, with a displacement keel boat, you really have a lot of things going for you. If conditions aren't ideal, and you want to go in there, then go back to Mourilyan Harbour and wait!
Back to the Johnstone, we entered an hour before Mourilyan's 2.35m tide ... and for the bar crossing had a least depth, on about three occasions, of 2.5m. Going upstream to almost Banana Island is pretty straightforward, so long as you don't cut corners.
It's worthwhile noting that a small number of not insubstantial trawlers operate out of the River and they draw around 2.5 m, from what I have been told!
Leave Banana Island on your starboard hand and hold the southern bank (where all the boats are tied to jetties / pylons / pontoons) very close, say about 10 metres off the boats!
We found the shallowest area to be just before clearing the western end of Banana Island, but still had least depths of 2.2m, which was almost on the 2.35m high tide. (Ie) 0.15m at Chart Datum!
We anchored mid-stream, just east of the confluence with the South Johnstone. Deploy plenty of chain, as when the outgoing tide and the prevailing E/SE winds get some traction, well you certainly cover some territory!
Getting ashore is interesting. In Sept 2017, the local shire had constructed a concrete jetty on the western bank of the South Johnstone River. It is used by a local outboard powered vessel to take tourists to see the crocs - at $40 per head. You can do that for nothing, aside from the cost of running your boat!
The jetty is new, so there aren't any oysters - yet! The other issue is that there are locals who spend a lot of time fishing and socialising at the wharf. We were told to keep everything locked - and the dinghy locked to the wharf .... and not to leave the dinghy unattended after dark.
Immediately NW of the jetty is a private 15 berth marina. It is devoid of any facilities, aside from power and water. At the time of our visit, 11 of the berths had been taken over by the mortgagee and were for sale - apparently Council has the head lease. It will be interesting to see what eventuates. The berths seem to be fairly much occupied by locals, but there may be opportunities once new owners are found.
Within 15 minutes walk of the jetty, there are great Woolies and Coles, a heap of pubs and cafes, a BCF and even Bob Katter's Electoral Office! Apparently heavy engineering is also available, if you have major mechanical needs. Within 300m, There is a BP to Jerry can diesel etc and the laundromat, that also does gas refills, isn't far behind the BP.
The library in Rankin Street is also very welcoming, air conditioned, has a reasonable data allowance and you can charge your technology stuff.
We also hired a car for a day (ain't cheap - there isn't much competition) and went to South Wongaling Beach (where the Dunk Island water taxi departs), toured the Tully Sugar Mill, visited Paronella Park and the Mamu air walk - through the forestry canopy.
There are also many natural attractions in the hinterland, too.
We would return there.
Proximity to services, shops etc.
Wouldn't want to be there when the river is in flood!