Bait to Plate

Kev Collins

Well known Restauranter and co-owner of Fish D'vine & The Rum Bar in Airlie Beach. When Kev's not working he's out fishing in the amazing food bowl of the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park or in his tinnie in the estuaries crabbing! His blog imparts wisdom, tales and info on all things fishing and food.

Not the White Cliffs of Dover

Kind of crazy that I get off a boat, to go and have a holiday on another one, but hey, you Just can never have too much fun messin’ around on boats. While not as famous as the White Cliffs of Dover, but in my view just as spectacular, the Red Cliffs of Weipa are virtually an unknown gem and one of the great natural wonders of Australia. Towering bauxite cliffs, which rise 60 feet from a sandy strip, right on the water, they have a magical reaction to sunshine, not dissimilar to Uluru. These cliffs seem to almost come alive in a late afternoon sun, glowing red and casting and golden hue across the ocean and surrounding landscape. To sit off Red Cliffs in the late afternoon, enjoying a cold beer, and reflecting on a day spend fishing and sighseeing further down to coast to Pera Heads and Boyd’s Bay is an experience shared by only a select few and yet is a part of Australia’s natural wonders which really should be experienced. You need to be there at dusk; long after the guided fishing skiffs have already blasted back to Weipa some 35 kilometres North to witness the breathtaking transformation from the dull dusty bauxite red to the explosion of luminescent colours which burst forth in the setting sun.

The unique structure of Red Cliffs which has evolved over time, include a 12 meter-deep top layer of bauxite sitting on a lower layer of white clay. Water from the wet season seeps easily through the bauxite, hits the clay layer and then follows this through to the cliffs where it virtually becomes a waterfall which starts along the clay line and provides amazing opportunities for an outdoor shower after some hard days fishing the salt water. Further South at Pera Heads a large freshwater stream gushed millions of litres of fresh water onto the beach and no visit is complete without a “dip” in Pera Pool or a shower at Red Cliffs “living the dream” of absolute isolation and sharing a unique experience with friends or family.

This is very much “off the beaten track” country. No roads and no access other than by water, but an option to experience a “caravanning” type holiday is available from Weipa Houseboats. The road to Weipa is open every year from early May and is constantly being upgraded with plans to be fully sealed by 2020.  It will, in time get busy, as access become easier and gentler on vehicles and vans. The campgrounds are clean, functional and well serviced but it is Weipa Houseboats which gives the real opportunity to experience the wild untamed and remote part of Queensland in safety, comfort and with the convenience of the ultimate cross over between boat and caravan. These houseboats are never going to win a beauty prize but are tough, functional and a wonderful holiday option either for a group of hardcore fishos, with friends, or showing the kids a part of Australia unlikely ever to be subjected to mainstream tourism pressure.

“Bareboating” a Weipa Houseboat is not like bareboating in the Whitsundays. Its charm is in the isolation and the level of self-reliance required. There are no marinas, no resorts to pull into and most certainly no snorkelling gear on board. It is about seeing and experiencing a place that has changed little since the dawn of time, spending an entire day without seeing another soul, spotting crocodiles, birdlife, manta rays, wild pigs, beachcombing and just spending time soaking up the awe-inspiring vistas which present themselves daily as well as the simple pleasures of catching a fish or 2 for dinner.

While a group of us have gone every year for some 15 years now and go as hard-core fisherman, as we have aged and mellowed it has become more and more about just “being there”, the food we eat and the new little places we find. As an avid fly fisherman there is no place in Australia like Weipa as it is on the west coast of Cape York, not only do you experience the sun setting into the sea but also have the persistent SE trade winds blowing off shore making Red Cliffs a calm anchorage from which to explore in even the windiest weather and with clear calm inshore beaches and the wind at your back, coupled with lots of fish and lots of fish variety the western cape is without question amongst the very best fly fishing destination in the world..

Did I mention the food? The basic rule on our houseboat adventure is I cook, somebody else washed up but meals of Chili Mud Crab, Crispy Skinned whole fish, beer battered barramundi fillets and great steaks usually sets the scene for coming home a kilo or 2 heavier then we go away, but hey, that is what holidays are all about. Post on my blog site if you want any recipes and everything is cooked on a combination of a big top deck BBQ and 2 little portable camp stoves. This years highlight meal was slow roasted pork belly, roasted garlic mash, green beans, spinach and a chilli apple compote. Relatively easy in my resatuarant kitchen but doing this for 9 hungry blokes on a houseboat had me under the pump.

Our Chili Crab cook-ups are legendary and I use the recipe developed over time in the restaurant which has become a Whitsunday Icon dish. Rather than fill page space here just drop me a line on my blog or Facebook page for the recipe.

Weipa Houseboats are really for the experienced skipper and a crew with adventure in mind but offers the only real access to one of Australia’s true natural wonders and should be on every adventure travellers bucket list of “see Australia First” destinations. While it, in itself may never get too busy, Weipa Houseboats only has 2 vessels which book out well in advance. While their web site may be all about the fishing, which will always be the main drawcard, I actually don’t think they quite realise what they have up there. It is an almost religious experience, not unlike the first time you see Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays or Uluru. Filled with awe and wonder at just what mother nature has blessed us with.