Australia: Rally fun in Bundaberg

Wednesday morning we headed to the Rally office and picked up our goody bags.

Later on we headed to the Welcome Down Under Cocktail Party suited dressed in our official t-shirt and Australia tie…… We mingled with other cruisers and were even interviewed by the local press.

At 6pm we settled down to watch the official welcoming ceremony which was given by a local aboriginal family. Very interesting to hear a little bit about their ancient culture.

The owners of The Baltimore restaurant are actually from New Zealand so they invited a Maori family along to give us a traditional welcome also. Very nice to see both indigenous peoples coming together.

Oh yes and SV Begonia didn’t get the dress code memo and came dressed to impress. Can you believe that Kyle (who is actually American with Scottish heritage) carries his full Scottish gear on a boat? They both scrubbed up very well and looked great.

We then had welcome cocktails, loads and loads of canapes (which were really more like full meals with quiches, fish and chips, sausage rolls, prawns etc etc). There was live music and dancing. Overall a fun evening. Here are Jacob and Hanny enjoying their cocktails….

Thursday morning and we headed to the Lighthouse Hotel in Burnett Heads on their courtesy bus for the first of our information seminars. This was about how to stay safe amongst the many hazards we could face here Down Under – all very low key and amusing – but very pertinent information for those of us who had never visited this country before. This was followed by information about VHF usage here (as the marine volunteer service will keep track of us throughout our journey) and then useful weather resources.

After a short break there was an introduction to cruising the East Coast of Australia. When we signed up for all these seminars we weren’t sure how much value we would get out of them. But, I have to say, they are absolutely worth attending. You certainly can’t beat local knowledge of where to go and what to look out for plus ‘do not miss’ anchorages. These sessions make rally participance particularly worthwhile.

Later on we stayed at the Lighthouse for drinks and ended up being on the last courtesy bus back. That seemed to set the scene for the week LOL.

Friday we were back at the Lighthouse and this time the seminar was focused on cruising from Tweed Heads to Sydney. The information about anchoring / mooring / marina dwelling in Sydney was particularly helpful, especially finding out more details on the restrictions on liveaboards and the madness in the harbour that is New Year’s Eve for the firework display. We definitely plan to be in the Sydney area for Christmas and New Year 2020 so we’ll bank all this information for then.

Oh yes, and throughout the scheduled rally days there are prize giveaways. Here are just a few and some lucky winners.

After another short break we attended the next seminar which covered Sydney to Tasmania. This was very interesting although, realistically, I don’t think we’ll sail down that far. The flight sounds like a much more attractive proposition LOL.

Back on the courtesy bus to the marina we headed to Morphie to rest up for a little while then to the Cruiser’s Cove for a pot luck / hootenanny (jam session). The marina very kindly supplied all the meat again (sausages, lamb chops, steak and chicken) and Aso (SV Bla Ellinor) and I prepared the BBQ meat. We started cooking and everyone just left us to it – at one point I had people queuing with plates to get their meat. I refused to play that game and Katie (SV Mezzaluna) kept them at bay as we filled plates of meat which were then put out on the pot luck (sharing) table. Eventually the whole lot was cooked and I was able to sit down too (I had kept some back on the BBQ for us as I knew there was a good chance there would be none left by this time). John (the Rally organiser) appreciated the not-insignificant effort involved and thanked me for cooking for everyone – and then bravely cleaned up behind me! Thanks John.

Saturday and it was Mud Crab Racing Day! We headed over to the Ocean Pacific Seafoods parking lot and got ourselves prepared for the Bundy Muddy Derby. We had a look at the lovely fish in the factory before we started to bid on the crabs.

These crabs would cost about AUS $40 to buy in the market so we set that as our upper limit for the auction.

We were lucky enough to secure a nice big boy (you only eat the male of the species here) and obviously was named Morpheus.

The auction was over, the crabs were placed on the Down Under flag and the first one that left Australia (as chalked on the ground) was the winner. And Morpheus came joint first with SV Jonas. Woo hoo! That meant a $50 credit in the marina against our berth. Very happy. Jacob and Hanny were very nice and released their crab but we kept ours and he was put in the pot for us to collect the following day.

After the crab racing we headed to the Cruisers Cove and had free beer, wine and prawns. They were huge and absolutely delicious, and the cold beer and wine went down well too. All very kindly donated by sponsors – amazing support here in Australia for this rally – and they should know that we thoroughly appreciate their kindness and deep pockets. Too many to mention by name but particular thanks to Ocean Pacific Seafoods, the Down Under Rally, the Northern Breweries and the Bundaberg Port Marina.

After the feast we sat down to watch the iconic Australian movie The Castle. Really enjoyed this – it was very funny. Afterwards we headed over to Jodie and Steve’s boat for pontoonies. What another great day!

Sunday there was a Charity Swap Meet in the marina and lots of cruisers turned up with their treasures from the bilge. Before that started we headed to the laundry as we knew many cruisers would have gone to the local market or be searching their boats for treasure. This worked out just perfectly as the machines were free and people had to wait for us. We even got to have another great breakfast in The Baltimore while the washing was going around in the tub. A good start to the day for sure. We did wander the event and were not sure how much was sold or swapped but it did raise a bit of money for the Volunteer Marine Rescue Service here in Bundaberg so it must be considered a success.

Oh yes and Richard went and picked up Morpheus who had now been cooked which had turned him a lovely red colour.

In the evening there was another Hootenanny session but this time we were a little late arriving and a little early departing. Think the hectic schedule might have just caught up with us at this stage LOL.

Monday morning and it was the 11 November. In Burnett Heads there is a memorial park and we walked there for the 11 am service. It was very moving and I got quite upset thinking about Mum and all those who had left us and it felt particularly poignant to buy a poppy this year. Was very glad that we had attended.

Afterwards we headed into the Lighthouse Hotel for lunch (which wasn’t that great) and then settled down for the next seminars. First session took us cruising the east coast from Bundaberg north to Cairns and beyond. We definitely plan to head north next season to explore for a while so, again, another very interesting and relevant session.

Another short break and there was a Land Cruising seminar – great help and resources in terms of flights, rental cars, which season to drive around (particularly in the Outback), what to watch out for (apart from the obvious dangerous critters LOL) etc. As we plan to stay in Australia next year this was another helpful slot.

Afterwards we stayed behind (again) and had a really fun evening….coming back on the last bus cuddling the blow-up boxing Kangaroo!

You know I mentioned the numerous sponsors….well, the prizes pulled out of the hat throughout the week were amazing and valuable up to the tune of $1,100. On the last day alone there was $1750 of prizes given away. We weren’t lucky enough to win any of the serious prizes but were very pleased to come away with some dinghy boat wash. Our luck was clearly limited to the horse and crab racing sessions LOL.

Tuesday and it was the last formal day of the rally. We had an impromptu lunch break in the Cruisers Cove where Leanne very kindly cracked open Morpheus and showed us how to clean a mud crab. Richard was very happy munching his way through all of this…..

In the evening it was back to the Lighthouse for the Done and Dusted Rally Party. We were treated to canapes and a couple of free drinks plus a live band.

So there was chatting, laughing, music and even a bit of dancing. And, yes, true to form we were back on the very last bus again getting back to Morpheus around 11.30 pm.

So the questions those of you will probably be asking are: Why do the Down Under Rally at all? What are the benefits? Is it worth the money? And the answer to all of them is, definitely do it, it’s a no-brainer!

The rally is actually not that expensive; you get advice on how to prepare for your arrival into Australia to ensure you meet the custom / bio-security needs; all your arrival costs (including the wood pratique) are covered; you are virtually guaranteed a discounted marina slip on arrival; and Bundaberg is wide open so no difficult navigational hazards to boot. Bundaberg Port Marina are very welcoming and the staff are incredibly helpful.

There are also prizes, events and discounts from lots of sponsoring organisations which we are definitely going to make use of (for example our haul out and storage costs in The BoatWorks later this month is at discounted Rally rates). And do not under-estimate the huge value of the local knowledge being imparted. I just know that we are going to have a much better stay here than we would have otherwise with the information that we have gleaned throughout the welcome week.

The other main thing to mention is that this is a “Destination Rally” not a hand-holding one. So you need to be self-sufficient and make your own passage decisions, particularly about departure dates as you are free to leave when the conditions are right for your boat and arrive in your own time. And you can select what you wish to attend and what you don’t – there are no compulsory elements. You can also be as social as you like or not if you are not that way inclined.

Overall we’ve had an amazing time and would definitely recommend joining the Down Under Rally if you plan to head to Australia in the future. John and Leanne make it look easy but they have both worked their socks off to make it so seamless for us – so a huge thank you to them both for their efforts and friendship.

This morning, Wednesday, we have just come back from shopping in Burnett Heads (with a ride back from the supermarket courtesy busy, what a fantastic service!). I’m blogging while Richard is chilling. The wind is howling and we are trying to plan our departure – it is looking tricky and, of course, we have the added pressure of haul out dates organised and flights booked. We can obviously delay our arrival by a few days and just work longer and harder to get ready to haul but that’s about it. So any plans of exploring as we head south is definitely not going to happen. We just need to focus on getting there. There is a window to start moving south in the next day or so for at least the first half of the journey. We’ll then plan to get to a protected anchorage and wait until the conditions are good for the final push and run as fast as we can. To be fair, it is actually not that far to go but the strong winds, forecasted storm activity and potential hazy conditions because of the smoke from the bush fires all need to be factored into the planning.

Bye for now