Tipping the top end
  |  First Published: September 2012

The top end continues to be the most isolated part of Fraser Island.

This northern peninsular has almost been locked away by policy makers by closing tracks and not allowing further roads to be established through this remote area. The last remaining tracks from Orchid Beach and Ocean Lake to the beach north of Wathumba Creek have been closed or made unavailable for public access. The beach continues to be the only way of access, and then only as far as the lighthouse track, 6km west of Sandy Cape. From here to Rooney Point, and south to Wathumba Creek, the beach is closed and is accessible only by boat.

It needs to be stressed that this part of Fraser Island must be classed as a semi-remote area and signage to that effect is displayed at the southern end of Ngkala Rocks. The only residents north of Orchid Beach are the rostered staff of Sandy Cape lighthouse.

The starting point for our trip to the top end is Orchid Beach. Here a well stocked store can help with the usual provisions including fuel. The sand ramp just to the north takes us down onto the beach for access up to Ngkala Rocks. Camping is very popular around the track into Ocean Lake. Being protected to some extent from southerly and southeasterly conditions, relatively comfortable fishing is usually available.

Ngkala Rocks, about 6km north of Orchid Beach, is one of the island’s largest exposures of coffee rock. Remnants of ancient buried island swamps produce some great features for the angler to enjoy, however they can also prove to be a barrier, or at least a hindrance, for travel further north.

Just how much of a problem this might be largely depends on the continually moving sands along the island beaches. In rare times, the rocks might be largely covered allowing almost uninterrupted access. More often, however, it is necessary to take the bypass track behind the rocks. Unlike the relatively civilised bypasses behind Poyungan and Yidney rocks, the South Ngkala bypass is not boarded. Before making an attempt, it is a good idea to walk through, checking out the conditions and considering the ideal vehicle and driving settings. It is also important to know that you have the track to yourself from one end to the other as the last thing you need is to meet another vehicle at the halfway low stretch.

About 3km further along the beach, North Ngkala rocks are often sanded up but need to be negotiated carefully, particularly if travelling over exposed rocky sections. Another 10km further, Browns Rocks can present similar problems but there are usually reasonable bypass tracks.

Ten kilometres of sandy beach is usually trouble free before reaching Sandy Cape, Fraser’s most northerly point. To the north lies the infamous Breaksea Spit, the result of the island’s migrating sands wanting to continue their northward movement. The spit has seen a number of boating disasters in the past, where small boats have attempted to traverse gutters across the spit, taking shortcuts to outer reef grounds.

Turning the corner, it is just another 7km to the entrance track to Sandy Cape lighthouse. It is a pity that this is the end of the road for public vehicles as some of the most interesting features lie ahead at Rooney Point and beyond.

From my perspective as an angler who likes different challenges, it is the great variety of fishing opportunities the top end produces that has the strongest appeal. I guess there is also something about grass being greener over the next hill. Certainly the remoteness of these beaches might mean that there are going to be more fish but I am of the opinion that the relative absence of beach traffic might also be a positive factor.

All of the expected open beach species are available right up to Sandy Cape. While some believe that spawning tailor reach the end of the line off Indian Head, massive schools continue to make their way further north. In fact, I am inclined to believe that the highly oxygenated and food-rich waters of Breaksea Spit might be every bit as important as Indian Head as a spawning area.

From the relatively quiet waters inside Waddy Point to Ngkala Rocks, tailor are taken in the many well formed gutters and around the rocks themselves. Further north, the more typical open beach conditions return with no shortage of brilliant tailor-producing features. Probably the most exciting ones are to be found right at the Cape where seemingly confused forces of waves and currents carve temporary gutters and spits. Schools of baitfish often get caught up in the confusion and try to find refuge in the calm waters inside the spit, with tailor and other interesting predators not far away. I receive frequent reports of spotted mackerel as well as queenfish and GT being taken from the beach just inside the spit.

While whiting have been disappointing along most of the ocean beach, the beach west of Sandy Cape produces fish reliably all year round. Bream, flathead and dart are also taken in these relatively quiet waters.

Ngkala Rocks and Browns Rocks and many small formations in between form features that attract a variety of travelling and mostly resident species. As all regular Fraser Island anglers would know, it is a continually changing landscape of sand and rock where coffee rocks are involved.

When sand movements completely cover beach exposures, it is most likely, at least towards the bottom of the tide, underwater outcrops will still be within casting range. During its season, tailor hold over the deeper reefs particularly where there is white water coming off an outer break. In these conditions spinning with Knights of 65g and 85g always seems to produce quality fish. Then there is always the chance of connecting with a GT or even a Spaniard.

There are a number of resident species, the most predominant being the tarwhine. Others include the sooty blubberlip (or bruin), gold-spot blubberlip (or spotted perch), Moses perch, small snapper, stripey and Maori sea perch. It is my understanding that most spend the majority of their time over deeper reefs, a little further offshore, beyond the last line of breakers. When conditions are to their liking, they move in over the inshore rocks to feed.

One of the challenges of targeting these coffee rocks dwellers is to figure out, with some reliability, just what these optimum conditions are; I am still working on that. The blubberlip and tarwhine show a particular preference for pipis and sea worms, while the sea perches and small snapper will also accept small blue pilchards and half WA pilchards.

Almost the entire eastern beach south of Ngkala Rocks is zoned yellow in the Great Sandy Marine Park. This means that these beaches see very little commercial netting, the only exception being bait netting. However, north of Ngkala Rocks and around the northern and western beaches as far as Moon Point, the zoning is blue, indicating that commercial netting is permitted. My advice is to steer clear of commercial fishers who have a right to be working these beaches.

If you are considering taking a day trip to the Cape from further south on the eastern beach, you need to take into consideration the time needed to reach Orchid Beach as well as what is needed for the final stretch. With optimum travel over the lower half of the tide, it would be over ambitious to attempt the forward and return journeys either side of a low tide. It would be better to do the northern leg on the first part of a rising tide, spend time over the top of the tide fishing the Cape, the gutters or the rocks, then wait for the falling tide for the return down the beach.

Driving conditions are likely to be anywhere between excellent and impossible, depending on weather conditions and the degree of sand build-up. In fact impossible conditions are not a rarity with the beach being declared closed beyond Ngkala Rocks. In such situations, special dispensation is given to lighthouse personnel to use the closed beach to Wathumba Creek and the access to Orchid Beach, when staff changes are required.

With the variety of possible driving conditions, it is essential that only high clearance 4WD be used. This applies particularly to situations where a certain amount of rock hopping is required. It should go without comment that vehicles should carry all the necessary safety and recovery gear including snatch straps. It is also recommended that vehicles travel in groups so that help will always be on hand.

Camping is permitted in areas that are not declared closed. Freshwater is not as readily available as it is on beaches further south so campers are advised to take their own supplies. As this part of the island has no rubbish collection enclosures, visitors must take all their rubbish with them when leaving.

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